Notre Dame football has darkhorse Heisman candidate in its midst

Notre Dame's Riley Leonard emerges as a darkhorse Heisman candidate, showcasing his potential and dynamic player under Mike Denbrock's system.

When the Notre Dame football program landed Riley Leonard this winter, there was much rejoicing by most Fighting Irish faithful. However, a small group of fans thought that a season-ending prematurely due to injury hampering his stats was a sign of the future. There were some fans who didn't think Leonard was all that good.

Perhaps the fact that Leonard was just named as one of five quarterbacks to be a darkhorse Heisman candidate by Pro Football Focus will convince some of those doubters that Leonard is indeed one of the better quarterbacks in the sport. And that they need to give him a little break before they start talking about the former Duke Blue Devil being replaced by Kenny Minchey, Steve Angeli or CJ Carr.

Notre Dame football has darkhorse Heisman candidate in its midst

PFF put a list together earlier this week that details why there are five quarterbacks to keep an eye on when it comes to possible Heisman contenders. In addition to Leonard, the site laid out the cases for Georgia's Carson Beck, Texas' Quinn Ewers, Oregon's Dillon Gabriel, and Alabama's Jalen Milroe.

One thing that can be said about that list is that the Notre Dame signal-caller is certainly in rarified air.

So why does Leonard qualify among that group as someone to watch when it comes to Heisman talk? PFF pinpointed his potential, as well as a supporting cast that was greatly improved over the offseason.

"While scouts may not be quite as high on him after a disappointing 2023 season that was cut short by injury, he still has a whole lot of potential as a big, strong-armed QB with plus movement skills," PFF wrote. 

His passing ability is key, but it's his ability to make himself a weapon on the ground that's going to be how he becomes a Heisman candidate. In Mike Denbrock's system, he could become one of the most dangerous weapons in college football. And take Notre Dame football to the playoffs in the process.