Was 2011 the Best College Quarterback Recruiting Class Ever?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2013

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 14:  Johnny Manziel #2 of Texas A&M Aggies waits near the bench in the fourth quarter during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Kyle Field on September 14, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Because of the immediate success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson, the NFL quarterback class of 2012 drew strong comparisons to the class of 1983. It was that class which saw John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly get selected in the first round. 

Might the quarterback class of the 2014 draft eventually get similar attention? We'll have to wait and see on that; the deadline to declare is still roughly four months away and we're not even a full month into this season. 

But many of the top signal callers who will be eligible for the next NFL draft have one thing in common: they're part of the esteemed signing class of 2011. As redshirt sophomores and juniors, this is a class that already has a Heisman Trophy winner and multiple All-Americans. Members of the class have led their teams BCS bowl appearances, as well as a national championship appearance. 

Given their accomplishments to date with the interest surround some of them as pro prospects, the 2011 signing class has the chance to go down as the best in the past 10 years—maybe longer.

This is a quarterback class that features some major star power, including Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, among others. 

We begin sorting through the class by identifying notable players who are currently—or, in one case, formerly—listed as starters. 

(All rankings used from this point forward reflect 247Sports Composite ratings.) 

Jeff Driskel, Jr., Florida

As a recruit: 5-star; No. 1 Dual-Threat QB; No. 16 overall. 

His career so far: Driskel has appeared in 19 games, starting 14 for the Gators. He's thrown for 2,238 yards with 14 touchdowns to nine interceptions during what has become an inconsistent stretch for the Florida offense. However, the Gators did finish 11-2 in 2012. 

Braxton Miller, Jr., Ohio State

As a recruit: 5-star; No. 2 Dual-Threat QB; No. 30 overall. 

His career so far: Miller led Ohio State to a 12-0 record in 2012, but the Buckeyes did not go to a bowl game as a result of a postseason ban. According to the school, his 3,310 yards of total offense that year was a school record and he finished fifth in the final Heisman voting that year. 

Brett Hundley, R-So., UCLA

As a recruit: 4-star; No. 4 Dual-Threat QB; No. 69 overall.

His career so far: Scoring a touchdown, a 72-yard run, on his first collegiate snap was only the beginning for Hundley. The redshirt sophomore has 16 career starts under his belt already and has set new school records for passing yards and total offense in a single season. 

Teddy Bridgewater, Jr., Louisville 

As a recuit: 4-star; No. 5 Dual-Threat QB; No. 100 overall.

His career so far: Bridgewater has emerged as one of the best, if not the best, pure passers in college football. His 3,718 passing yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012 place him third and fourth, respectively, on Louisville's all-time lists for a single season. He is considered one of the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.

Everett Golson, R-So., Notre Dame (currently not enrolled) 

As a recruit: 4-star; No. 5 Pro Style QB; No. 275 overall. 

His career so far: Golson helped lead Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season in 2012 and an appearance in the BCS championship game. However, Golson was suspended in May for the 2013 Fall Term for what he termed to be “poor academic judgment." Golson plans to re-enroll at Notre Dame in 2014. 

David Ash, Jr., Texas

As a recruit: 3-star; No. 6 Pro Style QB; No. 310 overall.

His career so far: Ash has appeared in 27 games with 20 starts over three years, but really began emerging as the starter last year. He's currently eighth on the school's all-time passing yards list. 

Kevin Hogan, Jr., Stanford

As a recruit: 3-star; No. 8 Pro Style QB; No. 374 overall. 

His career so far: Hogan took the starting job over Josh Nunes in last year's game against Colorado and finished the season undefeated. Hogan's biggest accomplishment to date is that he has yet to lose a game and he was able to beat three different ranked opponents in 2012 (Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA). 

Johnny Manziel, R-So., Texas A&M

As a recruit: 3-star; No. 13 Dual-Threat QB; No. 393 overall. 

His career so far: He was the first freshman, redshirt or otherwise, to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012. Though he's received criticism for his off-the-field behavior, he's easily the most electrifying quarterback in the country right now. 

Marcus Mariota, R-So., Oregon

As a recruit: 3-star; No. 19 Dual-Threat QB; No. 517 overall. 

His career so far: Mariota was surprisingly named the starter in 2012 over presumed favorite Bryan Bennett. He would go on to set a Pac-12 conference record for most touchdown passes in a season by a freshman with 32. He also led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (163.23). He's currently the betting favorite to win the Heisman, according to Bovada. 

So how does the '11 class compare to other ones from recent history?

The signing class over the past 10 years that stands out the most is 2008. That's when Luck signed with Stanford, Griffin with Baylor, Terrelle Pryor with Ohio State, E.J. Manuel with Florida State, Blaine Gabbert with Missouri and Landry Jones with Oklahoma. 

All but one of those players (Jones, a backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers) are starting in the NFL. And Jones left OU as the program's all-time leader in career passing yards with 16,646 yards. Griffin and Luck are the most decorated of the group with a Heisman Trophy and Davey O'Brien Award, and a Walter Camp and Maxwell award, respectively. 

The '11 class is not quite so accomplished from a national standpoint. There are fewer All-Americans, fewer national awards. Then again, Mariota, Hundley and Hogan all have been a starter for a year or less. Manziel is his own category as he's arguably the best player in the game today, regardless of classification or experience. 

Yet it is those less-experienced players generating majority of the buzz for the upcoming draft. With elements of the spread and Pistol formation making their way into the NFL, and with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly picking up the tempo with the Philadelphia Eagles, there's more intrigue than ever in quarterbacks who are accomplished passers and runners. 

Even Bridgewater, who is known more for his arm than his legs, has good mobility—though he tends to use it within the pocket with his eyes downfield. 

But regardless of whether any of these quarterbacks declare for the draft this year or the next, the upside for many of them has piqued the interest of pro scouts already. 

It's early yet, but CBSSports and Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller have three quarterbacks from the '11 class—Bridgewater, Hundley and Mariota—among their top draft prospects for next year. 

Specifically, those three are thought of across the board as first-round talents. Manziel is listed as a second-round talent by CBS, and there's some question as to whether he'll succeed at the next level, but he's already cemented himself as one of the great college quarterbacks.

And when your highlight reel includes ridiculous plays like this?

Yeah, a team will take a chance on him. It's just a matter of which one and when. The general belief is that Manziel will declare after this season no matter where he's projected to land. He simply has no interest in staying in an "amateur" setting, and frankly, who can blame him?

NFL clubs with more pressing quarterback needs will likely look to Bridgewater first though. The junior resembles Luck of a few years back in the sense that he already looks like a pro at the college level. His awareness in the pocket, accuracy and decision making are all at another level right now. 

Plus he throws a beautiful deep ball. He's currently on pace to become Louisville's third-leading passer all-time behind Chris Redman and Brian Brohm. 

Whereas Bridgewater's legacy is established, Hundley's is just starting to really take off. Jim Mora deserves a lot of credit for bringing an edge with UCLA that wasn't there under Rick Neuheisel, but Hundley is showing he's one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 at such a young age. 

Beyond his physical gifts, Hundley is, by many accounts, mentally mature beyond his years. Here's what Charles Davis had to say about Hundley on NFL.com

Hundley's poise and his maturity are growing with each game. He's developed physically. He is more thickly built this year, but I don't see any loss of speed. That tells me he put a lot of work in during the offseason. He can make every throw. He loves the game and has a tremendous work ethic.

I think he's everything NFL teams are looking for in a quarterback. He's mobile, but he's very accurate throwing the ball, too. It used to be that a quarterback would offer one or the other in his style of play. Now teams are demanding and getting both.

Hundley is still a raw talent, but his athleticism is catching the attention of the next level. 

Likewise, Mariota is a gifted athlete. What makes the redshirt sophomore an interesting prospect are not only his physical traits—he's 6'4" and 211 pounds—but his ability to move the Ducks' offense quickly and efficiently. Running Oregon's fast-paced offense centers around quick decisions and Mariota is able to digest play calls and execute as well as anyone in the country. 

Interestingly enough, Oregon is running about 10 plays fewer per game in 2013 (73) under first-year coach Mark Helfrich than they did in 2012 under Chip Kelly. That hasn't resulted in fewer points, though. Currently, Oregon is second in the country in points scored at 61 per game. 

The fact that the stars of the '11 class are this good as redshirt sophomores and juniors is terrifying/awesome to think about. The opportunity for one of these quarterbacks to win a Heisman, or for Manziel to win another, would make this one of the most accomplished quarterback classes in recent memory. 

There's also so much room for the likes of Hundley, Mariota and Miller to grow. They have the chance to be among the best quarterbacks to come through their respective programs. And UCLA, Oregon and Ohio State have had some great quarterbacks over the years. 

For so much talent to have been born out of a single quarterback signing class is mind boggling. It's a group that we all should sit back and enjoy watching while we can. 


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