The idea for this article came from the guys at The First Team on College Sports radio. They butchered two top 10 lists last week, and inspired me to create a list from the eyes of a guy that follows CFB recruiting religiously, watches as much CFB as humanly possible, and has played CFB season long and daily fantasy for the past 5 years.
There are biases in any list you make, but particularly so when you talk about college football quarterbacks. It’s clearly not fair simply comparing the numbers Logan Woodside puts up in Toledo’s offense to what a guy like Wilton Speight puts up in Harbaugh’s system.
I think the key is in trying to figure out what each guy’s WAR is. I think Lamar Jackson is a way overrated passer, but what he does with his feet requires nothing from his teammates and couldn’t be replicated by anyone in the country.
Another issue with putting together these lists, how do weigh in potential? Potential production as a passer and runner? A statement like, if Malik Zaire can learn the system, win the job, and stay healthy, he’s a Heisman candidate. To me it’s the guys that have a combination of unique ability, upside, and experience that belong at the top of this list.
Honorable Mention: , Malik Zaire, Drew Lock, Jesse Ertz, Eric Dungey, Matt Linehan, Shane Buechele, Nick Stevens
30. Kenny Hill – Texas Christian
Given the system he runs, schedule he plays, and crazy number of weapons around him, Hill’s 17/13 TD/INT ratio and 61% completion percentage last season were unacceptable. That being said, the potential is there for him to have a monster year this season. He still has a career completion percentage closer to 65%, and ran for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He flashed his upside against a solid Georgia defense in the bowl game, with a 67% completion percentage, 220 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. We know this system can produce great quarterbacks, we will see if Kenny Hill can finally cash in on all of that potential and become one this season.
29. Justin Herbert – Oregon
A lot like Sam Darnold’s USC, the Ducks had two seasons in 2016. One before changing QB’s and one after. The play of Herbert last season, along with the additions of Taggart and Jim Leavitt make the Ducks my pick for most improved team in 2017. Herbert put up a 1,936 yards and a 19/4 TD/INT ratio in 7 games as a true freshman last season. For a freshman, Herbert had a great feel for the pocket, great understanding of the office, and was extremely accurate. Taggart’s system is perfect for Herbert’s skill set, and he has one of the best groups of backs and receivers around him heading into this system.
28. Wilton Speight – Michigan
It is far from certain that Speight will win the starting job in Michigan, but that is more of a reflection of the depth and competition Harbaugh has created throughout the roster. When he’s on and accurate, Speight is arguably a top 10 thrower in the nation. He has the arm strength to make every throw, and will hang in the pocket and deliver the ball down field while taking a shot. However, it’s the ruts he seems to get into that keep him from being higher on this list. His bad games were so bad, it became nearly impossible for Michigan to win when Speight was off because he was incapable of making accurate short passes within the system.
27. Riley Ferguson – Memphis
Ferguson is a guy that I think most college football fans would have higher on this list. His highlight films I’m sure look great. He’s got a big arm, is mobile, flashy, and put up big numbers in a Tigers system that is clearly designed to do just that. That being said, if you put on the film against really the only two legitimate defenses he played last season, Temple and Ole Miss, he wasn’t the same player and his team was able to hang around despite a 0/3 TD/INT ratio in those games. That being said, his skill set fits the Tigers scheme perfectly, Anthony Miller is back, and both guys will put up monster numbers in their final season in the AAC.
26. Tanner Mangum – BYU
Taysum Hill was a BYU legend, a great leader and college football player, but was the second best QB on this roster the last two years. Mangum proved in his 13 starts as a sophomore, completing 60% of his passes for 3,300 yards and a 23/10 TD/INT ratio. Of those 13 starts 5 came against legitimate top 30 power 5 defenses, many on the road, and Mangum led the Cougars to a 9-4 record. He was a 4 star recruit, with one of the most accurate arms in the nation. Look for Mangum to get the BYU program back on track this season.
25. Shea Patterson – Ole Miss
Get ready for this dude to explode onto the scene this year. Playing in the SEC West, a brutal SEC West schedule at that (back to back at Alabama and at Auburn) with the drama that has unfolded with Hugh Freeze this offseason, Ole Miss is likely going to let their true sophomore QB throw it like crazy this season. Want a glimpse of his potential? Just throw on his senior year film from IMG. 24/7 had him as the 4th ranked player in the nation, 1st ranked QB, and highest ranked player coming out of Florida. Losing Dan Werner hurts, but Matt Luke should keep the offensive system in place moving into this season, so Patterson isn’t exactly starting from scratch in 2017.
24. Jacob Eason – Geogia
As a true freshman in an extremely run-heavy pro style offense, Eason showed flashes of the arm talent that made him the number one quarterback in the class of 2016. Eason has next to no ability, but has great pocket presence, and good feet while in the pocket. Not only did he appear to improve as the season went on, but you can see that growth in his game log. After throwing an interception in his first 5 starts, he went several without throwing one, and improved his completion percentage dramatically in the second half of the season. Look for that growth to continue in his second full season under Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney.
23. Logan Woodside – Toledo
Here is your typical ‘is Joe Flacco elite’ college football discussion. Just how good is Logan Woodside? His numbers were off the charts, his team went 9-3, and put up over 30 points in every single game. That being said, the Toledo schedule was pathetic. They didn’t face a single power five team. So where do you slot a guy that led his team to one of their best seasons ever, completing 70% of his passes while putting up 4,100 yards and a 45/9 TD/INT ratio? We put him at 23.
22. Austin Allen – Arkansas
I’m not as high on Austin Allen as some may think. If you are going to be the style QB that he is, a pure pocket passer with limited to no mobility, you have to take care of the football. His 61% completion percentage and 25/15 TD/INT ration weren’t terrible, but he had a solid offensive line and 4 or 5 NFL caliber pass catchers… there is no excuse for throwing 15 interceptions on 400 pass attempts.
21. Will Grier – West Virginia
Grier is officially off the juice and a Mountaineer, and looks to build off the momentum he built up in his half season as a Gator. Grier has above average mobility for a pocket passer (4 star, number 2 pocket passer in class of 2014). He really had a breakout game against Ole Miss in the 2015 season, where he completed 24 of 29, with 4 touchdown passes. He gets Jovon Durante and Ka’Raun White back this season, and will likely put up monster numbers playing in the Big 12, under Dana Holgorsen.
20. Kyle Allen – Houston
From the number 2 QB in the 2014 class to the number 1 QB in the 2015 class. Both guys will be in their first season as a starter in a new program. Allen thought he was transferring to play under Tom Herman, but Major Applewhite is certainly not a shabby consolation prize. I think we saw a very limited version of Kyle Allen as an 18 year old freshman, playing in the SEC, behind a bad offensive line at A&M. He’s arguably one of the best throwers in college football, a scary thought as he joins Applewhite and receivers Linell Bonner, Chance Allen, and Steven Dunbar.
19. Jarrett Stidham Auburn
Gus Malzahn has a QB again… How long has it been? Since Cam? I get that every QB puts up big numbers in the Baylor offense, but over the past two seasons they really haven’t. That is except for a true freshman, Jarret Stidham who put up 1,300 yards and a 12/2 TD/INT ration in what was essentially 3 starts. Stidham was a 4 star QB out of Stephenville, Texas with offers from just about every program in the nation. We got one glimpse of Malzahn’s offense with a guy with the arm talent of Stidham, and that was the 2010 national championship team. He’s 6’3″, can move, is accurate, and throws one of the better deep balls in the nation. With Darius Slayton, Kyle Davis, and Eli Stove all returning with some experience, the Tigers join Oregon as what should be one of the most improved teams in the nation this season.
18. Brent Stockstill Middle Tennessee State
Stockstill is another QB that simply fits his system perfectly. He’s intelligent, has a really quick release, makes good reads, and has above average mobility. He’s not an NFL QB, and really only has to throw a handful of routes running a Baylor-esque system at MTSU, but has been a perfect fit playing under his dad who is the coach at Middle Tennessee. Last season he missed three games and still put up 3,300 yards with a 31/9 TD/INT ratio.
17. Brett Rypien – Boise State
The rare QB on our list that plays in an NFL style offense, Rypien has dominated the Mountain West since taking over for Ryan Finley in 2015. The Broncos run the ball 56% of the time, compared to some of the offenses on here that favor the pass at a 65% – 70% rate. Rypien has put up solid numbers over his first two seasons, but a lot like Speight, has some really off games. He went 19 of 46 in the final two weeks of the regular season, a stretch that simply can’t happen this year with Jeremy McNichols and Thomas Sperbeck both leaving. He will need to step up in a big way and carry this Boise team in 2017.
16. Jalen Hurts – Alabama
The arrival of Jalen Hurts really changed the way Alabama’s offense has looked for the past decade. He was as efficient or accurate downfield as the typical Alabama QB is, but you would expect both his 62% comp % and 23/9 TD to improve in year two in this offense. His nearly 1,000 yards rushing and 13 rushing TD’s are really what sets him apart from anything we have seen from a Crimson Tide QB during Saban’s tenure. The key for Hurts in year two is how well he adjusts to Brian Daboll, and really how well Daboll adjusts his system to Hurts… something Lane Kiffin clearly did well last season.
15. Jake Bentley – South Carolina
Jake Bentley is going to be a dude in the SEC. Bentley flashed his potential as a true freshman, who skipped his senior season of high school, playing in year one of a system with limed weapons around him. He made some of the typical mistakes that you would expect from a kid that should have still been in high school, but he also make throws that there are maybe a handful of QB’s in the nation that could make. In year two with OC Kurt Roper (David Cutcliffe coaching tree), I expect Bentley to not only be one of the QB’s in the SEC, but in the nation.
14. J.T. Barrett – Ohio State
Again, there is a difference between a good pro quaterback, and a good college quarterback. There aren’t a lot of systems that Barrett would excel in, however in OSU’s system he is a top 12 QB in the nation. He’s built like a fullback, and has spent the past four seasons learning how to run Meyer’s system. His completion percentage dropped again last year (61%), the rushing production dropped, but his team went 11-1 and made the college football playoff. Outside of the Clemson game, he really did a great job of managing every game and not losing anything for his team. In fact his TD/INT ratio was an extremely impressive 24/5 heading into that matchup with the Tigers. Let’s see how he reacts to losing Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown this offseason.
13. Luke Falk – Washington State
Let’s be honest about Falk, he’s just another Mike Leach quarterback. There honestly isn’t anything too exciting about his arm, he doesn’t have a ton of mobility, but he is accurate (70% completion percentage) and he takes care of the ball (76/19 TD/INT last two seasons). He has to replace Marks and Cracraft this season, but we know Leach will have guys ready to plug in. Look for another monster statistical year from Falk as he enters his fourth season as a starter under Leach.
12. Clayton Thorson – Northwestern
Thorson is another QB that you had better throw the tape on before you judge him. Us DFS guys are going to look at his numbers and immediately write him off, but to rally his NW team with the o-line issues they had and the start they had losing to Western Michigan and Illinois State was something else. A lot like Bentley, Thorson had limited weapons around him, but makes throws that just scream upside and future NFL QB. Opposing defenses could key on Austin Carr and really make life difficult for the Wildcats. That being said, that will likely be an issue again this season, so this NW team will only go as far as Thorson can carry them.
11. Deondre Francois – Florida State
Francois is an underrated passer with unbelievable guts. He took so many shots behind that line last season, and will likely be under fire again in week one against Alabama. In addition to really being able to spin it, Francois has above average mobility and had 5 rushing touchdowns last season. Anytime you get an 18 year old that shows you the willingness to stick in the pocket, take a beating, and still make great decisions, you know you have something special.
10. Nick Fitzgerald – Mississippi State
For those of that didn’t get a chance to see Mississippi State play last season, Nick Fitzgerald is a force in the SEC. Given his athleticism, and how well he played over a small sample size, we thought he had a shot at being special, but 3,800 yards and 37 touchdowns? No way. we know the Bulldogs haven’t had a bell cow RB in a while. Well, Fitzgerald became that putting up 1,375 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns to go along with 2,400 passing yards with a 21/10 TD/INT ratio. While we think he has great upside as a thrower, the passing has to improve this season if the Bulldogs are going to jump anyone in the SEC West.
9. Quinton Flowers – South Florida
Two of my favorite dark horse Heisman candidates come from Willie Taggart’s old school (Flowers) and new school (Herbert). Flowers put up 4,300 yards and 42 touchdowns in Taggart’s system, and will no doubt push those numbers even higher under Sterlin Gilbert. While his leading receiver from a year ago, Rodney Adams, is now a Viking, the Bulls return just about everyone else in the receiving corps, and have a defenese that will keep the ball in their hands under Charlie Strong.
8. Josh Allen – Houston
Yes, believe the hype. Wyoming’s Josh Allen is an NFL-ready QB that was built to run the Wyoming spread system. He’s crafty and elusive in the pocket, and has a big arm. While I think Allen is likely the third QB off the board in next season’s draft (assuming Rosen and Darnold come out), I think he’s still worthy of a top 10 pick. The one thing that kept him out of the top five on this list was decision making. Give the schedule the Cowboys played last season, a 28/15 TD/INT ratio is unacceptable. With Tanner Gentry, Jacob Hollister, and Jake Maulhardt all moving on, Allen’s ability to make everyone around him better will be tested this season.
7. Trace McSorley – Penn State
All Trace McSorley did was take an offensive line and group of receivers that the Christian Hackenberg camp did nothing but complain about, and put up 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns on the way to an 11-3 record. McSorley is small, but has a plus arm, plus athleticism, and a ton of moxie. He keeps plays alive with his feet, keeps his eyes down field, and when the play totally breaks down he breaks the pocket and looks to run over DB’s. I don’t think he has NFL-type ability, but he may just lead the Nittany Lions to a B1G Championship and playoff appearance.
6. Jake Browning – Washington
Jake Browning was one of our favorite dark horse Heisman picks heading into last season. He’s talented, has a high football IQ, and is extremely well coached. His 48/9 TD/INT ration last season was bananas, but just 8.7 YPA with the supporting cast and favorable schedule he had last season keep him from being too much higher.
5. Josh Rosen – UCLA
It’s tough to make a case for Rosen this high coming off last season. He was injured, his numbers certainly weren’t great, and he says and does some boneheaded stuff. There aren’t a ton of success stories when it comes to entitled golden boy QB’s. Most seem to turn out like Manziel, Hackenburg, or Marinovich. That being said, his line struggled last season, and his numbers were dramatically skewed by the small sample size. I think he would have been a top 3 passer had he played the full season. Rosen is an NFL-ready talent, he’s got the size, IQ, and arm to play in the NFL right now, we will see if that translated at the college level in 2017.
4. Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma State
You could make an argument for putting Rudolph both higher or lower on this list. He plays in somewhat of an air raid system, in the Big 12, so a 63% completion percentage, and 9.13 YPA aren’t off the charts. However, his 28-4 TD/INT ratio was way off the charts, and his 4,000+ yards was good for 8th in the nation. Combine that with just how well he throws every route in the passing tree, and just how much upside he has as a passer, and Rudolph is definitely a top 5 QB.
3. Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma
Given the lull the Sooners passing game went through from the time Landry Jones left to when Mayfield arrived, what he has done in his two seasons has been nothing short of amazing. In his two seasons he has 89 total touchdowns, a TD/INT ratio of 76/15, a completion percentage just under 70, and he set the all time single season passer rating last season. He’s at his best when things break down, can get out of the pocket and run or throw, and by all accounts is a off the charts teammate and leader.
2. Lamar Jackson – Louisville
I sent this list to a friend and instantly got a reply not to send a list that didn’t have Lamar at #1. I get it, returning Heisman winner, coming off of a 51 touchdown season. The reality is in what was essentially a three game cupcake schedule his team lost four games. They scored 10 points against Houston, 9 against LSU, he had 4 turnovers in a loss to Kentucky, and on the season he only completed 56% of his passes in an offense that was completely dumbed down to quick reads. While the accuracy isn’t there, he has a rocket arm, can flat out fly, and deserves to be #2 on this list.
1. Sam Darnold – USC
Was there any question as to who was going to be number one? Darnold is the best QB college football has seen since Andrew Luck. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold took over the starting job in a loss to Utah, then went on to win 9 straight games. He completed over 67% of his passes, put up a 31/9 TD/INT ratio, but it was the intangibles that make him so unique. Darnold is a mobile, tough runner, can extend plays and make something out of nothing as well as anyone in the nation. He played his best football in USC’s biggest games, including a 450 yard, 5 touchdown performance against Penn State. Set aside his impressive skill set, arm strength, and accuracy, if we simply judge a QB by how much better he makes everyone else around him, Darnold is clearly the class of the nation.