The Athletic / 2023 Heisman Fantasy Draft: Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and 30 more picks for NYC

Jul. 24, 2023
The Athletic’s Heisman draft returns with seven challengers aiming to knock off Bruce Feldman, who nabbed eventual winner Caleb Williams with his first pick in last year’s draft and rode USC’s electric quarterback to victory. Does Williams have what it takes to repeat, or will a deep, diverse 2023 field produce some worthy fellow candidates?
The format of this annual preseason exercise remain the same: We arranged writers in a randomized snake draft order and gave them four rounds to take their pick of this season’s Heisman candidates. In December, the writer whose four picks have totaled the most points earns 12 months of bragging rights.
Our scoring system:
Heisman Trophy winner: 15 points
Second-place finish: 9 points
Third place: 8 points
Fourth place: 7 points
Fifth place: 6 points
Sixth place: 5 points
Seventh place: 4 points
Eighth place: 3 points
Ninth place: 2 points
10th place: 1 point
Invited to New York City: +5 bonus
Midseason Heisman leader: +5 bonus
Here was the randomized order of our snake draft: 1. Nicole Auerbach; 2. Stewart Mandel; 3. David Ubben; 4. Chris Vannini; 5. Ari Wasserman; 6. Bruce Feldman; 7. Sam Khan Jr.; 8. Max Olson.
QB Caleb Williams, USC
QB Drew Allar, Penn State
TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
RB Will Shipley, Clemson
QB Jayden Daniels, LSU
QB Bo Nix, Oregon
RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss
DL JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State
QB Jordan Travis, Florida State
RB Blake Corum, Michigan
QB Conner Weigman, Texas A&M
RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin
QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington
QB Joe Milton, Tennessee
WR Xavier Worthy, Texas
RB Nick Singleton, Penn State
QB Quinn Ewers, Texas
QB Sam Hartman, Notre Dame
QB Jalen Milroe, Alabama
DB/WR Travis Hunter, Colorado
WR Marvin Harrison Jr. Ohio State
QB JJ McCarthy, Michigan
QB Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma
QB Garrett Nussmeier, LSU
QB Drake Maye, North Carolina
QB Cade Klubnik, Clemson
RB TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
LB Harold Perkins, LSU
QB Carson Beck, Georgia
QB Kyle McCord, Ohio State
QB Cam Rising, Utah
QB Tyler Buchner, Alabama
Round 1
Round 1, Pick 1: QB Caleb Williams, USC
Only one player (Archie Griffin) has won the Heisman twice, which gave me pause about picking the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Well, a very slight pause. I still believe Williams will be one of the best players in college football as long as he stays healthy, which means he should be among the top vote-getters — even if he doesn’t win it. This is a points play since I know it’s nearly impossible to actually repeat. — Nicole Auerbach
Round 1, Pick 2: QB Jayden Daniels, LSU
It’s pretty clear by now you have to be the quarterback of a Playoff-contending team to win the Heisman, and I’ve got LSU making the Playoff, so that narrowed my list considerably. Daniels is exactly the kind of exciting dual-threat QB Heisman voters love — not better than Caleb Williams, mind you, but let’s be honest, Williams isn’t going to repeat. No one does. — Stewart Mandel
Round 1, Pick 3: QB Jordan Travis, FSU
Travis’ breakout season paralleled the Seminoles’ emergence under Mike Norvell, and for the first time since the days of Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston, FSU can say it has the best quarterback in the Atlantic Division. There’s still another gear Travis can reach, and although his numbers may not be as gaudy as some of the Pac-12’s passers, he’ll have a great shot to get to New York City if Norvell secures another double-digit-win season. — David Ubben
Round 1, Pick 4: QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington
After reuniting with coach Kaleb DeBoer at Washington, Penix threw for 4,641 yards last year en route to a top-10 Heisman finish. In the duo’s second year together in Seattle (along with offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, who passed on the Alabama OC Job), I expect another big season and potential CFP contention. — Chris Vannini
Round 1, Pick 5: QB Quinn Ewers, Texas
Some people will make jokes that I’m a sucker for Texas. Maybe I am. But picking from the No. 5 slot, Ewers has the best odds of anyone available. It’s also easy to envision a world where he takes a huge step forward this fall and Texas is not only competing to win the Big 12 but also vying for a College Football Playoff berth. With an abundance of offensive skill talent, the Longhorns will have a chance to fill up the stat book. Also, a (potential) win over Alabama in Week 2 would help make Ewers a layup pick for most voters if things finally break Texas’ way from there. — Ari Wasserman
The mullet is gone — but Quinn Ewers might be back
Round 1, Pick 6: WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
I cringed when I saw that I was picking so late in the first round, but I smiled when I saw Harrison was still available. With the possible exception of Caleb Williams, I’d say the Buckeyes’ star wideout is the best overall player in college football. As Ohio State breaks in a new quarterback, Harrison will be the offense’s headliner and I expect Ryan Day’s attack to continue to light opponents up. Harrison will be one of the top guys on our Freaks List in a few weeks. His coaches and NFL scouts rave about him, and he has shined in the biggest games: 10 catches for 185 yards at Penn State; 7 for 120 against Michigan; five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns in less than three full quarters against Georgia. DeVonta Smith proved special wideouts can win the Heisman. If Harrison can help Ohio State push past Michigan to win the Big Ten again, that will really help his cause. — Bruce Feldman
Round 1, Pick 7: QB Drake Maye, North Carolina
Snagging Maye here feels like good value. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and he was in the thick of the Heisman race last season until the Tar Heels stumbled down the stretch. UNC has a new offensive coordinator (Chip Lindsey) and a pair of new receivers (Kent State transfer Tez Walker and Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum), but I’m betting on Maye’s pure talent. No player accounted for more total offensive yards in 2022 than Maye’s 5,019. If the Tar Heels can play at the level they did when they were 9-1 and 13th in the AP poll last year — and sustain it through the end of the regular season — Maye should be squarely in the mix. — Sam Khan Jr.
Round 1, Pick 8: QB Carson Beck, Georgia
I honestly can’t believe you guys let Beck fall this far. How does the starting quarterback for the preseason No. 1 team and back-to-back champs end up going No. 8 in this draft? I get the appeal of the more established QBs, but I feel like I lucked out here. Beck is unproven, but I’m expecting big things from him this season, and the spotlight that comes with his job makes it a lot easier to garner Heisman hype. Also, I’m the guy who picked Jamie Newman in our 2020 Heisman draft, so I’m not afraid of risking it all for a Georgia QB. — Max Olson
Round 2
Round 2, Pick 1 (No. 9 overall): QB Kyle McCord, Ohio State
The starting quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes has finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting in five consecutive years and eight times since 2012. C.J. Stroud, Justin Fields and Dwayne Haskins all made it to New York. So I think I’d be a fool not to take McCord here, and I’m a little surprised he slid out of the first round. I’m feeling good about his chances of beating out Devin Brown and putting up big-time numbers in one of the top offenses in college football. — Olson
Round 2, Pick 2 (No. 10 overall): QB Cade Klubnik, Clemson
Ari already snatched one former Texas high school quarterback off the board (Ewers), so I had to make sure I snagged the next one. This is a bet on upside, of which Klubnik has plenty, and Clemson’s new offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley. Remember Max Duggan’s storybook run to Heisman finalist status? Riley was the coordinator calling the shots for Duggan, who didn’t realize his potential at TCU until Riley arrived. Klubnik, a former five-star recruit, checks a lot of boxes. He’s accurate, has plenty of arm talent, can extend plays with his mobility and has a great feel for the game. If the Klubnik-Riley pairing hits, the quarterback should wind up in the middle of the Heisman race. — Khan
Round 2, Pick 3 (No. 11 overall): QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
This is the most talented team Jim Harbaugh’s had since he’s been at Michigan. The Wolverines have a terrific offensive line and the best running back combination in the country. McCarthy doesn’t need to put up Patrick Mahomes-like passing numbers to make a legit Heisman case; he showed in Columbus that he can lead his team to a big win in a huge setting. If Michigan is a Playoff team — and I think it will be — at the very least I expect him to be a Heisman finalist. — Feldman
Round 2, Pick 4 (No. 12 overall): QB Sam Hartman, Notre Dame
A really good Notre Dame quarterback? Does anything else have to be said? Hartman left Wake Forest to go to a place that could develop him into a high NFL Draft pick. Nobody is expecting Notre Dame’s offense to lead the nation in scoring, but we have seen how much simply having an elite quarterback can do for a team. If Notre Dame has a big season and Hartman is the main reason, he’ll get votes. I thought this was good value because brand of school can play a big role in how Heisman voters think. — Wasserman
Round 2, Pick 5 (No. 13 overall): QB Joe Milton III, Tennessee
Milton’s career has been boom-or-bust thus far, but this is an upside pick. We are all ready for him to complete 70-yard bombs this fall in Josh Heupel’s offense after seeing what he could do in the Volunteers’ Orange Bowl win against Clemson. — Vannini
Round 2, Pick 6 (No. 14 overall): RB Blake Corum, Michigan
I’m concerned about a committee with Donovan Edwards, but Michigan will be up big in plenty of games, and Jim Harbaugh still wants to smash opponents at the line of scrimmage. It’s hard to see the Wolverines not winning at least 10 games, and as long as Corum can avoid the injuries that halted his Heisman campaign last year (and his streak of eight consecutive 100-yard games), he’ll be back in the mix for sure. — Ubben
Round 2, Pick 7 (No. 15 overall): QB Bo Nix, Oregon
How was this guy still available 15 picks in? Nix was outstanding last season, should be even better this year, and his team absolutely has a chance to be in Playoff contention. He’s also a redemption story — the guy who didn’t pan out at Auburn, got a second chance and turned into a star — which Heisman voters love. — Mandel
Round 2, Pick 8 (No. 16 overall): QB Drew Allar, Penn State
The team I’ve talked up the most this offseason on the airwaves and in regular conversation? Penn State. I just love what we saw from so many Nittany Lions true freshmen last season, especially in the Rose Bowl win against Utah. Now the much-hyped Allar takes the reins at quarterback, perhaps later than some pockets of Penn State fans would have liked (though I understand why James Franklin stayed with Sean Clifford). Let’s see what Allar’s got in an offense loaded with young weapons. I’m predicting some splashy numbers and big moments in front of a lot of eyeballs. — Auerbach
Round 3
Round 3, Pick 1 (No. 17 overall): TE Brock Bowers, Georgia
I’m a little shocked it took me until the third round to pick a non-QB, but I’m thrilled that Bowers was still available. If any tight end can truly get Heisman consideration in the modern era, it should be Bowers. He’s electric and entertaining and such a crucial piece to the Georgia offense. I don’t know that the Bulldogs will three-peat, but I know they’ll be in the mix to win another title, which means Bowers might be the best all-around player on potentially the best team in the country come December. — Auerbach
Round 3, Pick 2 (No. 18 overall): RB Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss
I can’t begin to describe how furious I was when Nicole took Bowers right before my turn. Are you kidding me? He really could win the Heisman. I don’t know that Judkins can, but Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is going to give him the ball 30 times a game. He could run for 2,000 yards and be a finalist. — Mandel
Round 3, Pick 3 (No. 19 overall): QB Conner Weigman, Texas A&M
Unproven? Sure. But I saw enough last year from the five-star to make me a believer. He keeps receivers Evan Stewart and Ainias Smith, adds freshman running back Rueben Owens and, most importantly, now has Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator? Petrino is the same guy who squeezed 3,638 yards out of Tyler Wilson in his last year at Arkansas and convinced the NFL Wilson was worth a fourth-round pick. With all these new toys, Weigman is well positioned to have a breakout season, and if the Aggies follow suit as a team, he’ll get plenty of credit. — Ubben
Round 3, Pick 4 (No. 20 overall): WR Xavier Worthy, Texas
Worthy probably won’t win the Heisman because he’s a wide receiver, but if Texas’ quarterback play finally takes a step forward, it’ll be because Quinn Ewers (or Arch Manning) finally hits an open Worthy downfield. If Texas is Back, the quarterback will get the love, but Worthy would be another big reason. — Vannini
Round 3, Pick 5 (No. 21 overall): QB Jalen Milroe, Alabama
We don’t officially know who is going to be Alabama’s quarterback yet, and people are down on the Crimson Tide this year. But I didn’t forget who the head coach is and the talent that exists on Alabama’s roster. His chances may be hurt by the fact that Alabama doesn’t have any proven offensive skill players who can go out and win you a game, but what if that becomes Milroe? Snatching who I think will be the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback in the third round is a steal. — Wasserman
Round 3, Pick 6 (No. 22 overall): QB Dillon Gabriel, Oklahoma
In Oklahoma’s offensive system, quarterbacks can and almost always do put up huge numbers. Gabriel has proven he can do that. His 32-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2020 while at UCF is a prime example. I think the Sooners will be much better in Year 2 under Brent Venables, and Gabriel can be a top five quarterback statistically and make a run for Big 12 Player of the Year, which should get him into the Heisman Top 10 and get me a few points. — Feldman
Round 3, Pick 7 (No. 23 overall): RB TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes are always in Playoff contention, which is seemingly a prerequisite to get a Heisman ceremony invitation. After a breakout freshman season in 2021, injuries slowed Henderson down in ’22. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the most explosive backs in the country, with the power to run defenders over between the tackles and the speed to take it the distance. The biggest issues for a potential Henderson Heisman campaign will be his carry total, as he’ll have to share the workload with Miyan Williams and the rest of Ohio State’s loaded running back depth chart, in addition to the other potential Heisman candidates on his own offense (Harrison and McCord). But this late in the draft, Henderson feels worthy of a pick. — Khan
Round 3, Pick 8 (No. 24 overall): QB Cameron Rising, Utah
I was looking to get Gabriel here, so props to Bruce for that pick. I’ll take a chance on Rising and hope he’s ready to go at the start of the season after suffering a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl. Sure, that’s concerning, but Rising did play hurt last season and still managed to lead the Utes to a second consecutive Pac-12 title. I really like the supporting cast around him, too. It’s a loaded year for quarterbacks in the conference, but don’t overlook Rising. — Olson
Round 4
Round 4, Pick 1 (No. 25 overall): QB Tyler Buchner, Alabama
Wild card pick! I don’t know if this is a steal or if it’s too high-risk. I can’t say with any certainty that Buchner will emerge as Alabama’s QB1. Even if he’s their guy to open the season, can he hold onto the job? I don’t have a lot to go on here, given Buchner only started three games at Notre Dame. But I’m choosing to believe that the fact Nick Saban and Tommy Rees felt they needed to go get a post-spring transfer means Buchner has a real chance of being their guy. — Olson
Round 4, Pick 2 (No. 26 overall): LB Harold Perkins Jr., LSU
The last round is for long shots, and Perkins is that, considering how rarely a defensive player wins the Heisman (only one has: Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997). But consider this a vote for someone who should be one of the best players in the country this year. Perkins, who started only eight of LSU’s 14 games in 2022, was relentless as a true freshman. He led LSU in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (7.5) and had 72 tackles, even though he didn’t play 40 snaps in a game until Week 8, per Pro Football Focus. Now that the first-team All-SEC pick has a full offseason under his belt, has a better understanding of how to operate in LSU’s defense and will see the field for longer stretches, it’s scary to imagine how good he could be. — Khan
Round 4, Pick 3 (No. 27 overall): QB Garrett Nussmeier, LSU
Fourth-rounders in this draft are fliers on sleepers or guys who you think might end up in the spotlight for one reason or another. LSU has enough talent to be a Playoff team. Jayden Daniels was excellent in 2022, but if he struggles or gets injured, Nussmeier is primed to jump right in. People inside the LSU program have gushed over his arm talent from the moment he arrived in Baton Rouge. He’s one of the 10 most gifted quarterbacks in college football, and he showed some of that potential when he threw for almost 300 yards in relief of Daniels against Georgia in the SEC title game. — Feldman
Round 4, Pick 4 (No. 28 overall): WR/DB Travis Hunter, Colorado
Don’t think that this pick is me buying into the Colorado hype. I think if the Buffs win five games during Deion Sanders’ first year, that would be a huge improvement. That said, Hunter has huge preseason name recognition, and the fact that he’ll be playing both ways is going to steal a lot of hearts. You may think that Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders would have been more likely to go first, but we actually know Hunter is good, his college career has been compelling from the start given his surprise commitment to Sanders and Jackson State, and he is potentially going to be awesome on two sides of the ball. — Wasserman
Round 4, Pick 5 (No. 29 overall): RB Nicholas Singleton, Penn State
Singleton had a monster freshman year at Penn State, with 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns (a Nittany Lions freshman record), and returns to power a Big Ten/CFP dark horse pick this year. If Penn State reaches those heights, Singleton will be a major reason why. He split carries with Kaytron Allen last year, but there’s more than enough to go around. — Vannini
Round 4, Pick 6 (No. 30 overall): RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin
I drafted Allen last year, and I remembered the pick going far worse than it actually did. That’s probably because the Badgers started 3-4. Allen still ended up with almost identical production to the previous year, but he was less efficient. Luke Fickell’s offense should be able to lighten up the box with more balance while still leaning on the team’s best talent. I’m OK running it back, even though I was furious Chris somehow landed Singleton with the 29th overall pick. — Ubben
Round 4, Pick 7 (No. 31 overall): DE JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State
By this point, I was just looking for any defensive player who could possibly be this year’s Chase Young or Aidan Hutchinson. Tuimoloau was just starting to come on last year, but he had as dominant a single-game defensive performance as I’ve seen in last year’s Penn State game. String a few of those together for a top-5 team, and you could see him getting hyped up. — Mandel
Round 4, Pick 8 (No. 32 overall): RB Will Shipley, Clemson
It almost feels as though Clemson is a bit of an afterthought this preseason, with Florida State generating most of the buzz out of the ACC. The Tigers have missed the CFP each of the past two years, and it was never more obvious than last fall that they had to fix their offense, which Dabo Swinney hopes he did by hiring Garrett Riley to run it. Shipley was fantastic a season ago when so much fell on his shoulders — both as a 1,000-yard rusher and as an efficient pass catcher — and I expect him to still be a critical piece of an offense that should see vast improvement in the passing game. — Auerbach
UDFA fliers
Although only the above picks will count toward the final scoring, we couldn’t help but add one more pick each to the mix. If any of the names below pull a Max Duggan and come from way off the Heisman radar to contend, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
QB Riley Leonard, Duke: I’ve been a believer in what Mike Elko is building at Duke since Day 1, though even I couldn’t have predicted a nine-win season in Year 1. I still think the Blue Devils are sneaking up on people just based on brand name. Otherwise, Leonard would be talked about as not just one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC but possibly one of the best in the country. A Heisman campaign out of Durham, N.C., seems quite unlikely … but I’ll stake a claim to it. — Auerbach
QB Dante Moore, UCLA: No true freshman has ever won the Heisman, but that door will bust open at some point. If the Bruins’ five-star QB wins the starting job and leads his team to a Pac-12 championship, maybe he can steal the show from his crosstown counterpart. — Mandel
QB Devin Leary, Kentucky: Can Kentucky win enough games to get Leary serious consideration? We’ll see, but Kentucky’s offensive line should be better, and the NC State transfer will have a pair of sophomore burners in Dane Key and Barion Brown as his top two targets. With Liam Coen back in Lexington calling the plays, I suspect Leary will have a better season in 2023 than Will Levis had a season ago. — Ubben
QB Chandler Morris, TCU: Might as well go with the guy who beat last year’s Heisman runner-up in fall camp. Some people around TCU say Morris looked better than Duggan in practice even during last season, but Duggan turned it on for the games. Now we’ll see what Morris has. — Vannini
QB Jackson Arnold, Oklahoma: This is a complete shot in the dark because Dillon Gabriel is the starter at Oklahoma and Bruce already took him. But the five-star freshman is a bona fide stud, and I don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility that he’ll make his way onto the field this year. That may not happen right out of the gate, which will hurt his odds, but if you’re going to take a chance on someone, why not an elite quarterback prospect at a place like Oklahoma? — Wasserman
QB Tanner Mordecai, Wisconsin: The Badgers’ reboot under Luke Fickell will be fascinating, starting with his hire of Air Raid disciple Phil Longo to run the offense. Longo has had prolific passers at most of his stops, including his last place, North Carolina. He has also had some potent run games to go with it, which should fit well in Madison. Mordecai looks like an ideal fit. At SMU, he threw for more than 7,000 yards over the past two seasons, with 72 touchdowns against 22 interceptions. If he produces something close to similar for Wisconsin, the Badgers are going to be back in the top 20, and he might end up as a top 10 guy in the Heisman race. — Feldman
QB Jalon Daniels, Kansas: Daniels had Kansas — yes, Kansas — at 5-0 before an injury disrupted his season last year against TCU. He earned some September Heisman buzz during that run. If he stays healthy in 2023, how good could the Jayhawks be? They last won eight games in 2008. If Daniels were to get KU to that win total or higher, he would certainly be worthy of votes. And in case you missed any of his highlights, Daniels would be happy to show them to you on the chain that he wore to Big 12 media days. — Khan
QB Will Howard, Kansas State: It was tempting to take one of those talented SEC QBs who went undrafted — KJ Jefferson, Spencer Rattler, Jaxson Dart — but I’ll take a shot on Howard just in case he ends up being this year’s Max Duggan. He really impressed me with how he played over his last six starts in 2023. I could see the Wildcats making a run to another Big 12 title with Howard putting up good enough stats as a dual-threat playmaker to get him in the race. — Olson

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