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Heisman Watch 2015: Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette, and Derrick Henry

Here is how the SEC's big three running backs are doing so far.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We spent some time over the summer detailing players that we thought should be Heisman candidates in an ideal world. Some of those suggestions have panned out better than others so far.

Jeremy Johnson is not who we thought he wasLaremy Tunsil has yet to play a snap due to lingering offseason eligibility questions. My late entry for Alex Collins was undermined by his illness before Toledo and his team's general malaise.

But we did put up Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette, and so far those guys have been stellar. Along with Derrick Henry, who also has been superlative and has tremendous name recognition, they're in the thick of the early Heisman race.

Here is a look at how those guys have performed so far. My inclination would be to eliminate garbage time/cupcake games and hammer mostly on efficiency measures, but I'm not doing that because the vast majority of Heisman voters don't do that.

Player Carries Yards YPC Success Rate 10+ Yard Runs Explosive Pct. TD
Nick Chubb 56 468 8.4 57.1% 14 25.0% 4
Leonard Fournette 46 378 8.2 54.3% 8 17.4% 6
Derrick Henry 54 370 6.9 57.4% 9 16.7% 7

Fournette is keeping pace with the other two reasonably well despite missing an entire game's worth of stats from the McNeese State cancelation. He also has faced a pair of SEC teams in Mississippi State and Auburn, while Chubb and Henry have been able to face UL-Monroe and Middle Tennessee, respectively. It's a little early to say yet how good those defenses that Fournette faced are exactly, with MSU down a ton of players from last year and Auburn looking pretty shaky, but they are at least Power 5 outfits.

Chubb has probably had the easiest road so far, although it's possible that Vanderbilt's defense is the best of any that either he or Fournette has faced. Chubb shredded that Commodore defense for just under 9.95 yards per carry in an impressive outing.

Henry has faced the single toughest defense that any these guys have seen in Ole Miss on Saturday, though for what it's worth he had a higher YPC rate against the Rebels (5.52) than MTSU (5.33). His 11.3 YPC against Wisconsin makes up for it and keeps the rest of these numbers up, and it'd be the highest single game any have had if not for Fournette's 12.0 (!) against AU. Henry's seven scores help him out too, as Heisman voters do care about touchdowns, and Bama has used him more in the passing game (seven catches) than Georgia has used Chubb (two) and LSU has used Fournette (one).

Here are Chubb's splits based on down.

Down Carries Yards YPC Success Rate 10+ Yard Runs Explosive Pct.
1st 41 353 8.6 53.7% 10 24.4%
2nd 14 92 6.6 64.3% 3 21.4%
3rd 1 23 23.0 100.0% 1 100.0%

It seems strange that Chubb only has a single third down carry so far, but UGA has only faced 27 third downs all season. The Bulldogs have gone with a pass play 17 times versus ten run plays, and only one time was on third and short (when Keith Marshall actually got the carry).

Here is the same for Fournette.

Down Carries Yards YPC Success Rate 10+ Yard Runs Explosive Pct.
1st 23 212 9.2 52.2% 4 17.4%
2nd 16 85 5.3 56.3% 2 12.5%
3rd 4 11 2.8 25.0% 0 0.0%

His third down numbers aren't great, but you can figure that teams load up against him. Like with Chubb, first down is his best down.

Finally, here is how Henry breaks down.

Down Carries Yards YPC Success Rate 10+ Yard Runs Explosive Pct.
1st 30 149 5.0 40.0% 4 13.3%
2nd 18 171 9.5 77.8% 4 22.2%
3rd 5 13 2.6 80.0% 0 0.0%
4th 1 37 37.0 100.0% 1 100.0%

His best down is actually second, perhaps because defenses expect him on first down thanks to Bama's quarterbacking questions. If so, then that makes Fournette's first down performance all the more spectacular. Though Henry's third down YPC is low, it's because he's being used in short yardage. Look at that success rate. He's doing just fine there.

Player Pct. Of Team Runs Pct. Of Team Plays Pct. Of Team Yards
Nick Chubb 46.2% 29.8% 32.0%
Leonard Fournette 45.3% 34.1% 37.5%
Derrick Henry 45.8% 21.7% 24.1%

All three guys have received a plurality of their team's carries at the 45-46% range. It's the second column where we see Fournette's potential advantage here. LSU just hasn't thrown it as much as the other two, which makes sense given that Brandon Harris appears to be the weakest quarterback that any has after Greyson Lambert's record setting performance against South Carolina. Plus, Les Miles hasn't changed in his offensive preferences, while Nick Saban brought in the more pass-minded Lane Kiffin a year ago.

Fournette may be at a disadvantage for racking up raw stats because he'll only play in a maximum of 11 regular season games, but he's likely to be a bigger part of the Tiger offense than Chubb or Henry will be of their respective attacks. It's easy to imagine Heisman voters giving extra mind to Fournette because "he's their entire offense". Plus while Darrel Williams is fine, he's no Sony Michel or Kenyan Drake. Unless Derrius Guice starts playing more than spot duty and just blows up, there will be no perception of Fournette truly sharing the rushing load.

So that's your quarter-season Heisman Watch for the SEC, because yeah: everyone has played a fourth of their games already. Chubb, Fournette, and Henry are the top candidates for the conference so far, but don't discount Ole Miss's Chad Kelly. He's probably going to get some mentions now, as well he should. He's second nationally in passing efficiency after having played Alabama. He's also going to take on a larger share of the offense going forward because A) the Rebel run game promptly disappeared again once the resistance increased, and B) he'll stay on the field for more of the game in conference play.