2014 College Football QBs with Best Arm Strength
Arm strength is the sexiest skill in football. The Johnny Manziels of the world can keep their impossible defiance of earthly physics and their tap-dancing acrobatics, because when push comes to shove, we all know that chicks dig the long ball.
But ranking the strongest-armed quarterbacks in college football is no easy task. Because arm strength is such a sexy skill, it is something that players and fans take seriously—borderline personally.
To combat that, we have put in the time to watch the game tape, read what the scouts are saying and come up with what we believe to be an exhaustive list of the 14 biggest arms in the country.
Keep in mind that "who can chuck the ball the furthest distance?" is not the sole criterion for measuring arm strength, because part of that has to do with torque. How far a player can throw the ball was a factor in this evaluation, but so was repetitive velocity.
Basically, we were looking for players who throw hard, far and often.
Here's what we came up with.
Just Missed the Cut
The following players do not lack for arm strength but were unable to crack our top 14. That doesn't mean they can't by the end of the year, necessarily, but they'll have to show a little more juice to get there.
The players with asterisks are the only exceptions: For them, moving up the list will be difficult because they aren't projected to start or play much in 2014. However, based on what they've shown in the past, it would have been remiss to leave them off entirely.
Here's the list:
- Kyle Allen, Texas A&M*
- Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
- Bryan Bennett, Southeast Louisiana
- Max Browne, USC*
- Keller Chryst, Stanford*
- David Cornwell, Alabama*
- Devin Gardner, Michigan
- Will Gardner, Louisville
- Daxx Garman, Oklahoma State
- Jared Goff, California
- Connor Halliday, Washington State
- Brandon Harris, LSU
- Taysom Hill, BYU
- Jeremy Johnson, Auburn*
- Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
- John O'Korn, Houston
- Trevor Siemian, Northwestern
- Nick Sherry, UNLV*
- Tyrone Swoopes, Texas*
- Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- Travis Wilson, Utah
- Max Wittek, Hawaii*
Notice anyone who is missing from the top 14 and from this section of the list? Sound off in the comments to let me know. I did as thorough of a job as I knew how, but that doesn't make it impossible for one of the lesser-known guys to have slipped through the cracks.
Just let me know—politely—and I'll look into it.
14. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Dak Prescott has an NFL arm but is far from being an NFL passer. He is capable of making every throw, but he misses far too often.
The arm strength, however, is definitely there in excess. Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage got to see it firsthand at the Manning Passing Academy, where he mentioned Prescott (along with Bryan Bennett and one quarterback-to-be-named-later*) as one of three passers whose arm strength showed out the most.
If he reels in his accuracy without sacrificing any velocity, Prescott could emerge as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in recent memory. According to ESPN's Rushing EPA (expected points added) metric, his running is already on par with Manziel, Jordan Lynch, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick.
Now he just needs to tie it all together.
13. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Nate Sudfeld is the best quarterback you've never heard of, unless you've heard of him, in which case you probably spend as much time telling people he's the best quarterback they've never heard of as I do.
He hasn't maintained the level of consistency one would like to see from a best-quarterback-you've-never-heard-of, but part of that can be attributed to splitting reps with Chase Coffman and Tre Roberson (and often both) the past two seasons.
In 2014, the job belongs to Sudfeld alone for the first time in his career. He'll have a good offensive line and one of the best running backs in the nation (Tevin Coleman) surrounding him, but after losing offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and receivers Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, Sudfeld's big arm will have to be put to good use.
It's unclear how well he fits Kevin Wilson's spread offense, but Sudfeld has the physical tools and has been with Wilson long enough (this will mark Year 3) to overcome that. Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net said Sudfeld has "next level size and arm strength."
12. Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Everett Golson is 6'0" the same way Manziel was 6'0" (i.e., only if he's standing on his playbook), but the ball comes off his arm like he's a good five inches taller. It almost feels like an optical illusion.
Of course, that was easy to forget during his university-imposed academic suspension last season, and even easier when freshman Malik Zaire was angling for his job this spring and fall. But whatever advantage Zaire had with his legs, Golson made up for with his arm.
Otherwise, he would probably be the backup.
Golson passes the traditional, how-far-can-you-cock-back-and-throw-the-ball test with flying colors, but that is not necessarily where his strength lies. Instead, his arm is best showcased in the middle third, on those needle-threading passes that go 15-25 yards.
Especially when he's throwing on the run—and thus generating most of his power from the upper body instead of the base—he is able to complete passes that a lot of 6'4" QBs struggle with.
Whether or not you think Golson "rode the bus" to the national title game two seasons ago (he didn't), it is difficult to deny what he put on tape as a redshirt freshman. Dude throws a mean rope.
11. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota has very good but not great arm strength. It registers as neither a positive nor a negative on his NFL scouting profile, but it probably skews closer to the former. If there were fewer positives about him to list, it might get pushed even further up the page.
In his preseason tape study, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller was particularly impressed with Mariota's ability to throw with power on the run despite playing through a sprained MCL in 2013. To maintain that velocity on a bum leg signals a great deal of upper-body strength.
Mariota already has one of the most accurate deep balls in college football, and with a healthy knee in 2014, he should get back to having one of the...well, deepest.
He won't ever threaten to crack the top five on this ranking, but he could definitely climb up a few spots by season's end.
10. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
According to Rob Rang of CBSSports.com, Sean Mannion rubbed NFL scouts the wrong way with his arm strength at certain points last season. He was unwilling to test the deep third against Stanford, Rang wrote, and he often relied on touch more than velocity.
It's true that Mannion relies on his touch to complete deep passes, but that is out of excess more than necessity. He doesn't loft the ball into tight quarters because he doesn't have the arm to rocket it; he does it because that's what the situation calls for. And unlike a lot of the other players on this list—the ones whose arm strength might stand out more on tape—he actually has the touch to drop it in there.
Mannion's arm doesn't jump off film the way you'd hope from a 6'5" first-round prospect, but if you look closely, you'll notice the ball always gets where it needs to go…when it needs to get there.
That's an A-plus for functional arm strength.
9. Connor Cook, Michigan State
The tools were always there for Connor Cook; he just never seemed to put them all together. That is, until the middle of last season.
Once it all started to click for Cook, Michigan State's offense reached a new level. He trusted himself and his receivers, and he looked great slinging the ball down the field or rocketing it into tight spaces.
Cook also went to work this offseason, sensing that he was on the verge of something special. Gerry DiNardo of Big Ten Network visited East Lansing during spring camp and said he couldn't tell what got stronger between Cook's confidence or his arm. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com had a similar reaction at the Elite 11 passing camp.
The result has been more than even Cook likely could have dreamed of. Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com had him going No. 9 overall in his first mock draft for 2015, citing how he pushes the ball downfield.
Here's your friendly reminder that Andrew Maxwell beat Cook in a quarterback competition last August and started in Week 1.
Man, what a difference a year makes.
8. Wes Lunt, Illinois
Wes Lunt's cannon right arm is ostensibly the reason he beat out redshirt freshman Aaron Bailey to start at Illinois this season.
At 6'5", he has the size of a prototypical Bill Cubit quarterback (think Tim Hiller), and his ability to get the ball down the field fits in well under Illinois' second-year offensive coordinator.
According to Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com, head coach Tim Beckman said Lunt's big arm allows the offense to "stretch the field in ways it couldn't before." Back in 2012, it also allowed him to become the first true freshman quarterback since 1950 to open the season as the starter at Oklahoma State.
Things didn't work out in Stillwater, but with an arm capable of testing the deep third, a coordinator who enjoys testing the deep third and a defense that will necessitate testing the deep third, Lunt's time in Champaign should prove longer and more successful.
He has three years of eligibility remaining.
7. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Brett Hundley's arm strength is a mixed bag. Sometimes it is good; sometimes it is very good. He just needs to sort some things out.
Specifically, Hundley must translate his short-to-medium velocity into a consistent deep ball. Whether the problem is mechanical or mental, he can't seem to get the same oomph behind deep passes that he can in the first two thirds. Bleacher Report contributor Cian Fahey—here writing for Rotoworld—explains how frustrating this can be:
On shorter throws, Hundley's velocity is very impressive. For long stretches of games his arm strength appears to be as good as any quarterback prospect from the past two years.
The warts on Hundley's arm talent appear when he tries to push the ball down the field. It may be a mechanical issue to do with his footwork and upper body torque, but Hundley's passes appear to float once they pass roughly 15 yards down the field. Instead of fitting the ball into receivers down the sideline or down the seam, his passes too often drift off target.
That drift Fahey talks about is the only thing keeping Hundley out of the top five. There are certain throws he makes—take, for example, this dart against Nevada last season—where you can literally hear the thud off the receiver's pads as he catches it.
Not a lot of quarterbacks can do that.
Now it's just a matter of diversifying his repertoire.
6. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Jacoby Brissett neither looks nor throws like he's a college kid. Every part of his game screams full-grown man.
He started two games as a true freshman at Florida in 2011, and even though the results were...well, a little shaky, they can be forgiven for having come on the road at LSU and Auburn. Those aren't exactly true freshman passer-friendly environments.
Now in his second year (but first eligible season) at North Carolina State, Brissett and his huge right arm are being counted on to revive an offense that got awful quarterback play in 2013. Part of that might have been comparative—NC State's previous two quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon, are both already good NFL players—but any way you swing it, Pete Thomas was sort of a dud.
Brissett came out firing in this year's spring game, inspiring hope in Raleigh with 365 passing yards and a couple of touchdowns on 37 attempts. Exhibition stats have to be accepted for what they are (essentially meaningless), but a few of the throws he made that afternoon showed clearly that the zip is still there.
5. Nick Marshall, Auburn
Like Prescott, Nick Marshall needs to reel in his accuracy if he wants to make his arm strength mean something.
As of last season, the way he hurls the ball down the field feels more like a party trick than an actual pass. Like he's playing for the Harlem Globetrotters instead of in the NBA proper.
Still, when he was on target, Marshall made some throws last season that no other college player can make. They were unique to someone with converted-defensive-back athleticism but NFL arm strength—a Michael Vick prototype, if you will.
Missouri's defense is still trying to figure out what happened on the first touchdown of the SEC Championship Game.
Of course, that did not come as a shock to Tigers fans, who spent last offseason drooling over grainy footage of Marshall's one year in junior college: a season spent heaving 55-yard bombs off his back foot or 70-yard bombs off a firm, running plant.
The scariest part of those videos? He makes it look so darn easy.
4. Jake Coker, Alabama
This was by far the hardest player to rank. It wasn't even clear if Jake Coker should be eligible for the list in the same way Max Browne, Keller Chryst and teammate David Cornwell were disallowed.
Putting Coker here thus assumes two things: First, that he will win the starting job at Alabama over Blake Sims, and second, that he's exactly as impressive as the people around him say.
Florida State quarterback coach Randy Sanders, for example, said he's "never had anybody with [Coker's] size who throws it as well as he does," per Feldman. When asked for first impressions on Coker during SEC media days, Alabama receiver Christion Jones responded plainly, "He's got a cannon," per Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report.
But that is all conjecture, which for obvious reasons is not ideal in talent evaluation. Coker did provide some film in mop-up duty last season, but because those situations were so meaningless, it neither validated nor belied how he's been sold.
Still, when December rolls around, I do not want to be on record as the idiot who doubted Coker's arm strength. In the same piece cited above, Sanders compared him directly with a certain Heisman Trophy winner—a player who is forthcoming on this list—by saying "Coker's arm is kind of at a different level."
In that case, having him down at No. 4 might be too low.
3. Bryce Petty, Baylor
Baylor's offense turns a lot of short passes into long gains, which tends to inflate a quarterback's yards-per-attempt numbers. But Bryce Petty was just as good throwing the deep ball as his stats (10.4 YPA) indicate.
Built like a linebacker (6'3", 230 lbs) and capable of moving outside the pocket, Petty's arm strength is one of the many physical traits that landed him at No. 6 on Feldman's annual "Freaks List."
He rarely underthrows his receivers when he has them open on a deep route, which is encouraging given how often Baylor players tend to get behind the secondary. In those cases, arm strength is the difference between a long completion and a long touchdown.
Baylor scores a lot of long touchdowns.
*Note: For those reading chronologically, Petty was the quarterback-to-be-named-later on Prescott's slide. That is, he is one of the three whose arm strength stood out to Phil Savage at the Manning Passing Academy.
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Criticize the long wind-up all you like: When Jameis Winston has time to set, plant and throw, hardly anyone can sling it harder.
NFL quarterbacks included.
Befitting Winston's temperament, some of the most-talked-about examples of his arm strength actually came outside the football field. One was in his moonlighting role on the FSU baseball team, where in addition to hitting 92-94 mph on the gun as a pitcher, he also gunned out runners at third base from right field; and the other came when he chucked a football over the neighborhood frat house.
But, really, it's what Winston did en route to the Heisman Trophy, national title and top quarterback rating in the country that places him so high on this list. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder would not have given him a 14-out-of-15 in arm strength for no reason.
"When it comes to Winston," Felder wrote, "all cliches apply: The kid can throw a frozen rope and toss it a mile."
1. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Christian Hackenberg is 19 years old, you guys. Nineteen years old!
He was born 11 months after Justin Bieber.
You'd never know it from the look of him, though, and you'd especially never know it after watching him throw a football.
Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer chose Hackenberg's arm for his Frankenstein quarterback creation, saying he throws with "the kind of pace that simply cannot be taught." Kramer also passed along a video of Hackenberg during spring practice where he flicked his wrist for one of the most meaningful meaningless completions ever recorded.
With two full seasons to go before he's even allowed to declare for the NFL draft, Hackenberg already has professional scouts drooling at a level not seen since Andrew Luck. It takes a special sort of arm to earn that praise for a player with limited (albeit underrated) mobility.
And a special sort of arm is what he has.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT