From expected to surprising to new: Top 17 Heisman candidates for 2021
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  • College football reporter.
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
  • Graduate of Northwestern University.

After a longer-than-normal wait to award the 2020 Heisman Trophy, let’s not waste any time in examining who could win college football’s top individual honor in 2021.

A disclaimer: This incredibly early list of candidates hardly guarantees Heisman success. LSU’s Joe Burrow didn’t appear on the list two years ago, and while I did include an Alabama wide receiver in the 2020 forecast, it was Jaylen Waddle, not DeVonta Smith.

All four of this year’s Heisman finalists are expected to declare for the NFL draft after next week’s CFP national championship. The number of offensive stars departing for the NFL creates an air of mystery around the 2021 Heisman race, and programs like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida and Texas will be replacing accomplished quarterbacks. Although not every draft-eligible player has made his decision, I’m not including the players who are widely expected to move on to the next level.

Like it or not, the Heisman is driven by hype. Spotlighted players from CFP contenders simply have a better chance to win. While stars from non-brand-name programs aren’t ineligible, they need to carry some level of name recognition to truly contend.

Here’s a look at 17 candidates, from the expected to the surprising to the new:

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