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Ex-Red Lion QB Chad Kelly a Heisman Trophy dark horse

The Associated Press
  • Chad Kelly is a former Red Lion High School quarterback.
  • Kelly is the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.
  • Kelly led Ole Miss to five victories over Top25 teams in 2015.

The pool of candidates for the Heisman Trophy is a deep one. Derrick Henry, the winner from Alabama last year, has moved on to the NFL, but five of the next six players in the voting are back, led by runner-up Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.

Also returning are Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, LSU's Leonard Fournette and Florida State's Dalvin Cook. All of them, along with Ohio State's J.T. Barnett and Georgia's Nick Chubb (if fully recovered from his knee injury), are in the first wave of contenders for 2016.

Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) is considered a dark-horse candidate for the 2016 Heisman Trophy. Kelly is a former Red Lion High School quarterback.

Here are six players who could insert themselves into the Heisman conversation:

Chad Kelly, senior quarterback, Mississippi: The strong-armed Kelly is the top returning QB in the SEC and listed high on NFL draft boards for 2017. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly led the Rebels to five victories over Top 25 teams, including Alabama on the road, and they are expected to challenge in the SEC West. A big showing against national title contender Florida State in the opener would push Kelly into the top flight of candidates. Kelly is a former Red Lion High School quarterback.

Ex-Red Lion player Kelly says he's best QB in nation

Royce Freeman, junior running back, Oregon: Freeman's 3,201 yards rushing the last two years are the most by any player in a Power Five conference. He broke LaMichael James' single-season school rushing record with 1,836 yards in 2015 and was the only FBS player to pick up more than 100 yards from scrimmage in every game. He also led the country with 36 runs of 15 yards or more.

Greg Ward Jr., senior quarterback, Houston: Ward led the Cougars to a 13-1 record that was the best in program history, and he'll step into a big national spotlight in the opener against Oklahoma. He and Clemson's Watson were the only quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 last season. He also was fifth in the nation with a school-record 21 rushing touchdowns. His 16 runs of at least 20 yards led FBS quarterbacks and all players in the American Athletic Conference.

Seth Russell, senior quarterback, Baylor: Russell led the Bears to a No. 2 national ranking and six straight wins before a neck injury against Iowa State ended his season. He threw for 29 touchdowns and more than 2,100 yards in seven games and also ran for 402 yards. He opened last season by accounting for six touchdowns against SMU, threw for six TDs against Rice and in his last full game threw for 380 yards and five TDs and ran for 160 yards and a TD against West Virginia.

Jabrill Peppers, sophomore linebacker, Michigan: The last two-way player to win the Heisman was the Wolverines' Charles Woodson in 1997. Peppers could be the next. He's moving from safety to a hybrid linebacker position. He also has shown the ability to excel at a half-dozen other spots, not to mention returning punts and kicks. "Anything is accomplishable for Jabrill Peppers in the game of football," coach Jim Harbaugh said, adding that Peppers has "greatest-in-the-world type of athleticism."

Josh Rosen, sophomore quarterback, UCLA: Rosen threw for almost 3,700 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman and set a school record by going 245 consecutive passes without an interception, though he ended up with 11. The Bruins are transitioning from the spread to a pro-style system that suits him better. He has a new quarterbacks coach in Marques Tuiasosopo and new offensive coordinator in Kennedy Polamalu. As good as Rosen was last year, he figures to only get better.