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NFL comps for eight top Heisman Trophy contenders

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Richard Shiro/Associated Press
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has 23 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions through 10 games this season.

Less than four weeks from now, one player will become immortalized by winning the Heisman Trophy. This year's race is wide open, so late-season matchups will be crucial for the top candidates.

Here is my ranking of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy heading into the home stretch, and because I look at the game from a draft perspective, I've included the NFL comparisons that scouts will draw for these players to gauge their potential impact at the next level.

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1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

NFL comp: Tyrod Taylor
Watson is averaging more than 400 yards of offense in the past three weeks, leading the Tigers to big wins over North Carolina State, Florida State, and Syracuse. Watson's arm strength is very good -- he throws the deep ball with touch and accuracy -- and he's a great athlete in the open field. But like other quarterbacks with great athleticism (Robert Griffin III, Jake Locker, Mike Vick), Watson will have to prove he has the pocket presence -- and an ability to stay on the field after taking hits as a runner -- to succeed at the next level.

2. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

NFL comp: LeGarrette Blount
Henry has cleared 200 rushing yards in three of the last four games, and scored nine touchdowns in those contests, helping the Tide all but secure a SEC Championship Game berth. The hot-and-cold nature of Alabama's passing offense and the fractured arm suffered by running back Kenyan Drake means Henry will carry the load for the rest of the season. His size (listed at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds) makes him a difficult comp for current NFL backs, as you don't see many backs with his tall frame in the league anymore. Past draftees like Chris Brown, Brandon Jacobs, Brian Leonhard, are Anthony Thomas were of a similar style to Henry, and had mixed results. Blount, with his power inside and ability to break through for big gains, is most similar to Henry.


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3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

NFL comp: Arian Foster
Over the first seven games of the year, Fournette was the Heisman favorite. However, he has been slowed over the past two weeks, accumulating 31 yards vs. Alabama and then 91 yards vs. Arkansas in consecutive losses for LSU. But the sophomore's talent is special, as he combines power, speed, and elusiveness like Foster does when healthy. He'll be the best pro of this bunch.

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4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

NFL comp: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Mayfield's play against Baylor last weekend (270 pass yards, 76 rush yards, four scores) vaulted him into the Heisman conversation, and he could continue to climb with outstanding performances (and wins) against TCU and Oklahoma State. The junior is a true gunslinger with quick enough feet to make defenses pay. Mayfield reminds me of Fitzpatrick, who is more athletic than you'd think and never saw a throw he didn't like.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

NFL comp: T.J. Yeldon
Without "Zeke", the Buckeyes wouldn't have a chance at another national title. While Ohio State's quarterback play has been up and down, Elliott has been steady as a rock, rushing for more than 100 yards in each game and scoring a touchdown in all but one contest. The junior ranks third in the FBS in rushing yards (1,425) and leads his team in scoring with 16 touchdowns. Like Yeldon, Elliott can explode out of a hole with breakaway speed. He can bounce off of traffic inside to find creases to exploit for big gains, as well as operate effectively as a receiver out of the backfield. Yeldon's just starting to make his mark in the NFL, and I expect Elliott to eventually do the same.

6. Christian McCaffrey, RB/RS, Stanford

NFL comp: Fred Jackson
The nation's leading all-purpose threat averages 242 yards per contest. McCaffrey's combination of tough running and quickness makes him one of the most exciting players to watch in the country. McCaffrey, a sophomore, reminds me of Jackson, who covered 1,000 yards as a runner and kick returner and caught 46 passes for 371 yards in 2009. I expect McCaffrey, who is the son of former NFL receiver "Easy" Ed McCaffrey, to consistently contribute as a runner, receiver and returner on Sundays whenever his time comes.

7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

NFL comp: Le'Veon Bell
If Cook hadn't struggled through a hamstring injury, he would be on his way to 2,000 yards this season. He's averaging more than eight yards per carry despite dealing with the hammy, making him one of the more explosive runners in the country. With his low center of gravity, vision, receiving ability and speed, the sophomore has a great NFL future, if he can stay healthy and out of trouble.


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8. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

NFL comp: Emmanuel Sanders
Coleman was shut down by Oklahoma last week (3 catches, 51 yards), but that should not stop us from appreciating his excellent season. The junior still leads the country with an average of 137 receiving yards per game, and has scored 20 times -- tied for ninth-most in college football over the past 50 years. Coleman possesses all of the traits you'd want in a receiver except size (5-11, 190). Although he isn't physically dominant like Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson, Coleman is perfectly capable of becoming a consistent playmaker in the mold of Antonio Brown, Julian Edelman and Sanders.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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