B/R CFB 250: Top 16 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Through interviews with B/R Experts Matt Miller, Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer, authors Brian Leigh and Brian Pedersen have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, Brian Pedersen presents the Top 16 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.
Other CFB 250 Positions
- Pro-Style QBs
- Offensive Linemen
- Running Backs
- Defensive Ends
- Tight Ends
- Defensive Tackles
- Outside Linebackers
- Inside Linebackers
The dual-threat quarterback has become the most coveted type of player in college football. That athlete with a special blend of passing acumen and running ability who can just as easily go from one to the other in a moment's notice. Across the country, more and more teams are moving toward an uptempo offense, and having a quarterback who can do it all is essential to this attack.
But just being able to run and throw effectively isn't a guarantee of success, as several of the players who were on our preseason list of the top dual-threat QBs have either dropped in the rankings or out of them altogether. They were replaced by another batch of great mobile passers.
The following rankings are based primarily on players' skills as college players rather than how they'd fare in the NFL. Though they may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, their goals are centered on helping their teams succeed.
The ratings are based on a tabulation of four different categories (arm strength, accuracy, mobility and intangibles) and based on evaluations made by our writers in conjunction with Bleacher Report football experts.
NOTE: Any ties in overall grade were broken based on which player would gave a hypothetical college all-star team the best chance to win.
16-14. Golson, Jones, Mahomes
Arm Strength: 23/25; Accuracy: 20/25; Mobility: 16/20; Intangibles: 23/30
The former Notre Dame quarterback never fully grasped Jimbo Fisher's complicated offense, eventually losing his starting job late in the season. His skills weren't able to transfer over to the pro-style system, which completely eliminated his dual-threat tendencies.
Arm Strength: 24/25; Accuracy: 20/25; Mobility: 16/20; Intangibles: 23/30
Though he started the majority of the Buckeyes' games, Jones wasn't able to carry over the success he had from last year's postseason run into 2015. He struggled to make his strong arm also an accurate one.
Arm Strength: 23/25; Accuracy: 21/25; Mobility: 16/20; Intangibles: 24/30
Mahomes accounted for 42 touchdowns during the regular season in his first season as Texas Tech's full-time starter, pacing one of the top offenses in the country. He made a lot of mistakes but also had enough big plays to negate some of the miscues that come with being a young quarterback.
13. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
"His deep ball is unbelievable. Even the deep ball he doesn't connect with, it's right there. He's a young quarterback kind of learning on the fly. I love his poise. I love his confidence."
It didn't take long to see what kind of an arm DeShone Kizer had at his disposal. After coming off the bench for the injured Malik Zaire against Virginia, he rifled a 59-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller, and then in the final seconds he threw an absolute seed to Fuller for the game-winning 39-yard score.
Kizer showed the kind of ups and downs you'd expect from a redshirt freshman, sometimes forcing a throw instead of looking for another option. His 63.3 percent regular-season completion rate was impacted by some rough outings late in the season.
The 6'4", 230-pound passer can barrel over defenders, which made up for not much lateral quickness or outright speed.
Kizer seemed to play on adrenaline alone early on, and once opponents began to figure out his tendencies, the miscues started to pop up. He'll develop into more of a leader over time.
Notre Dame could be dealing with the same issue in 2016 that Ohio State had this season if Zaire comes back healthy and creates a quarterback controversy. Kizer did nothing to indicate he won't be given every chance to win the job outright.
12. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
"It's been hit or miss with him. The coaching staff was reluctant to let him loose, but when they were forced to against Georgia...he played well. I wouldn't say he's regressed, but I wouldn't say he's developed down the stretch. Another offseason knowing the staff has faith in him will help."
Joshua Dobbs' third season in the program showed the progress he's made in getting stronger, resulting in more power on his throws. This didn't always produce results, though, because Tennessee's receiving corps failed to develop a go-to weapon down the field.
At 59.9 percent during the regular season, Dobbs regressed from an overall standpoint, but he was less inconsistent. He topped 61 percent in his final three starts.
Tennessee's offense became more run-oriented as the season went on, though that didn't always include Dobbs. The wild running he showed late in 2014 only popped up a few times this year.
Although coach Butch Jones proclaimed he wanted Dobbs to become a "CEO quarterback," per Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Volunteers played more like a team whose decisions were made by a board of directors. This resulted in several blown leads earlier in the season, when Dobbs should have been asked to do more on his own but was handcuffed.
Dobbs' late-season play in 2013 and 2014 made for great promise in 2015, but he didn't take that next step that Tennessee hoped for. If the Vols want to compete for the SEC East next season, it will be up to him to provide more.
11. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
"He has been the perfect quarterback to take the Ole Miss offense to the next level. While he has made some mistakes through the air, his big-play ability is second to none, he's much more dynamic on the ground than his predecessor, Bo Wallace, and is as tough as nails."
The nephew of former NFL star Jim Kelly inherited the family cannon of an arm, something Chad Kelly showed off quite often in his first season with Ole Miss. This didn't manifest in terms of distance, but rather being able to rifle the ball into a tight window where only the receiver could get it.
Kelly's gunslinger approach got him in trouble during the middle of the season, with 11 interceptions in a six-game span. But he didn't throw a pick in Ole Miss' final three regular-season games, topping 70 percent efficiency in four of the last seven contests.
His legs were what stood out the most when Kelly was at Clemson in 2013, and with Ole Miss he was the team's best running weapon. He's not particularly swift, but opponents only managed 18 sacks.
Kelly was booted off Clemson for conduct detrimental to the team. Then after playing a season in junior college, he had a run-in with the law in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, just before coming to Ole Miss. He's kept his nose clean in Oxford and should be looked at as more of a leader next season.
Once Kelly started to stick to the game plan and not freelance, he became a heck of a player. He's set numerous single-season school records, several of which were previously held by Eli Manning.
10. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
"He avoids pressure with his legs. Against Duke, he just kind of took that game over, constantly making plays with his legs. He moves like a running back with his legs."
Marquise Williams managed to turn an odd, half-cocked throwing motion into nearly 5,900 passing yards the last two seasons. By stopping on the windup, though, it took a lot of velocity off the ball and made the deep throw less effective for him.
Williams' 61.4 percent completion rate fell on the lower end of the spectrum for the nation's top passers, and he had a tendency to get wild with his throws in the red zone. Four of his nine interceptions came inside the opposition's 20-yard line.
If Williams isn't able to catch on as a quarterback in the NFL, he might have a shot to play running back. At 6'2" and 225 pounds, he's solidly built, which made him hard to bring down more because of his power than his elusiveness.
A three-interception game in the season-opening loss to South Carolina dropped Williams out of the limelight early on, though as the year moved on, his play at quarterback was integral to North Carolina's reaching the ACC title game.
The Tar Heels' career leader in total offense, Williams didn't get much attention earlier in his career because the team wasn't that good. He finally earned his due this season, though he's still relatively underrated compared to other dual-threat passers.
9. Vernon Adams Jr., Oregon
"Early in the year, I could not believe the hype. But since he's come back from that broken finger, he looks really good. His decision-making since the injury has improved by a few clicks. I wish we could see him one more year."
A broken finger on his throwing hand proved such an issue for Vernon Adams early in the 2015 season he had to be shut down for several weeks. He couldn't get anything on the ball until it healed, but once he was no longer hampered, he regularly zipped throws like the one against Oregon State in which his leg was being pulled on by a defender.
While the arm strength came back right away, Adams needed a little longer to show the efficiency he'd exhibited at FCS Eastern Washington. Over his final three regular-season games, though, Adams was 58-of-75 (77.3 percent).
Because Oregon's backfield had no shortage of capable ball-carriers, Adams didn't run very much for yardage. Instead, he used his shiftiness and lateral quickness to extend plays, giving receivers more time to get open.
Adams didn't arrive at Oregon until August, forced to learn a very complicated offense on the fly. His experience and instincts kept him afloat before he caught on down the stretch, though overall he proved to be a team leader despite the limited time with the Ducks.
Adams arrived at the FBS level with a lot of hype, and after early struggles, he ended up as the top-rated passer in the country entering the bowl season. His success has paved the way for other lower-division quarterbacks to attempt a jump to the big leagues.
8. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
"For what they wanted to do, he runs it perfectly. To put up the kind of numbers that he has, it's remarkable. I'm not sure I've seen someone orchestrate it better."
Keenan Reynolds was a master of Navy's triple-option run attack, but that dominance did not carry over to the passing game. At 5'11" and 205 pounds, he doesn't have the strength to get behind deep throws, and the touch was missing on many passes.
Reynolds attempted just 98 passes during the regular season, completing only 53.1 percent. He was actually more precise in the second half, when most of Navy's passing was the result of playing from behind, but not to a level where he could be counted on.
With three 1,000-yard seasons and an FBS-record 88 career rushing touchdowns, there's no denying that Reynolds was perfect for the option. Making the right read was essential, but Reynolds possessed some of the best open-field moves of any quarterback in recent memory.
An option quarterback has to know when to go with the dive, pitch to the out man or keep it himself. Reynolds called his own number most of the time, and that resulted in a rushing offense that averaged more than 300 yards per game each of the past three seasons.
What Reynolds does, he does it better than anyone else. His skills wouldn't translate successfully to most other teams, but there's no question he's why Navy has been so successful of late.
7. Greg Ward Jr., Houston
"You'd be hard-pressed to find five guys who mean more to their team than him. We saw what happened when he didn't play. A guy who can punish you."
Though he was recruited to Houston as a quarterback, Greg Ward Jr.'s arm isn't on the level of most top passers, and that led to his brief move to wide receiver. First-year coach Tom Herman put together a game plan that minimized the need for arm strength.
A 68.1 percent completion rate in 2015 was due as much to Ward's running ability as his own precision. Many of his passes were to wide-open targets who were given plenty of space by defenders keeping one eye on the backfield.
Ward's 1,041 rushing yards during the regular season trailed only Navy's Keenan Reynolds among quarterbacks. He scored 19 times on the ground and averaged nearly six yards per carry, but he still was sacked 25 times.
Houston was a different team when Ward was injured and missed most of two games in November. The Cougars rallied in his absence in the first game, but they were a completely different team in their lone loss to Connecticut.
Herman managed to turn Ward into a less polished version of J.T. Barrett, focusing more on the running than the passing. With better technique throwing the ball, he can be the complete package in 2016.
6. Seth Russell, Baylor
"His rapport with Corey Coleman was unbelievable. He certainly exceeded my expectations. Saying that's the sole reason, that [Baylor quarterbacks] are just products of the coach and system, is a knock."
Seth Russell showed off a surprisingly strong arm in his seven games before sustaining a season-ending neck injury. He was best with the deep ball, but on shorter routes he wasn't able to let up on the power, and that resulted in some overthrows.
It's scary to think how much more explosive Baylor's offense would have been had Russell been able to throw more precisely. He completed just 59.5 percent of his passes, with six interceptions in 200 attempts, though the Bears' quick-strike ability made it possible for him to take risks.
While freshman Jarrett Stidham was known more for his running ability, it was Russell who managed to achieve plenty with his legs in 2015. He's not super quick, but on those rare occasions when Baylor couldn't get a receiver open, he was able to pick up big chunks on the ground.
Two seasons of mopping up (and occasionally filling in) for Bryce Petty paid off for Russell, who was on pace to destroy Petty's 2013 and 2014 numbers had he not gotten hurt. Nearly one-quarter of his 119 completions this year went for touchdowns.
Russell's neck injury began the Bears' injury-fueled downfall. We can only hope he's able to return at full strength, though Stidham's play in his place might make winning his job back difficult.
5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
"He's a really good college quarterback at this point. I haven't really seen the accuracy, though. He took a pretty big step back this year. I was really disappointed by his play."
J.T. Barrett has a good arm, but it looked average at times compared to those of teammates Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller (before injuring his shoulder). This is a sensitive area for the sophomore, causing him to go on a rant about his arm strength in October, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com.
The early victim of Ohio State's odd quarterback situation, Barrett only attempted 10 or more passes in six of the Buckeyes' 12 regular-season games. He finished with at least a 60 percent completion rate in three of those, but those came in his first starts and when the Buckeyes made a concerted attempt to tap into his skills as an accurate passer.
You wouldn't be able to tell that Barrett suffered a broken ankle last November since he was again able to scramble for yards whenever he needed to. Once OSU gave him more touches in mid-October, he responded with 11 rushing touchdowns in 86 attempts.
Once OSU made him the featured passer, its offense clicked much better than under Jones. That was due to Barrett's command of the offense and impressive maturity for a young player, and had he had the gig all along, the 2015 season might have gone differently.
Barrett's sophomore season saw him mostly maintain the levels he established the year before instead of make improvement. Not all of that was because of how he was used, though it did play a major role in his development.
4. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
"On the intermediate and short routes, he has always been good, but he's become very adept at hitting his receivers in stride down the field. It's not a case of the system working in his favor; he's just developed into a really good quarterback."
Dak Prescott began his career at Mississippi State as a mobile passer who preferred to run instead of make the difficult throws, but over time his arm became just as much of a weapon. He was powerful enough to get zip on the ball even when he was about to get hit or while he was off balance.
The rise in completion rate from 58.4 percent during his sophomore year to 66.9 percent this season—on a career-high 36.3 attempts per game—was a product of Prescott's unflappable work ethic. Mississippi State didn't have a run game to lean on in 2015, and he responded by throwing only four interceptions in 435 attempts.
Prescott ran far less this season than in the previous two years, trying to focus more on his passing, and this resulted in a career-high 32 sacks taken. He still managed to score 10 times on the ground, though, and at 6'2" and 230 pounds, he was almost a lock to pick up the first down on short-yardage plays.
Since becoming the full-time starter late in his sophomore year, Prescott has been the unquestioned leader of Mississippi State's team. Every other player followed his example, and over time, the team took on his personality of constantly fighting and never giving up. For a team without a rushing attack, he kept the Bulldogs from being one-dimensional.
With more than 10,000 yards of total offense and more than 100 total touchdowns, Prescott is arguably the greatest player in program history. There's no doubt he was a huge part of the Bulldogs' strong two-year run that included a 9-0 start and No. 1 national ranking in 2014.
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
"He is, if not the most exciting player in college football, one of the most. I have Johnny Manziel flashbacks when watching him scramble in the open field. A great passer and certainly elusive in the pocket. He's a walking highlight, that guy."
If you lined up Baker Mayfield against other dual-threat passers, he's not going to pass the eye test, nor will he outshine most with his arm. However, put him on the run and ask him to hit a spot, and he'll wow you, like in a record-setting performance against Tulsa in September.
For as much as he moves around in the pocket or likes to throw while scrambling, Mayfield is incredibly accurate. He completed 68.9 percent of his throws during the regular season with only five interceptions in 354 attempts.
Mayfield's rushing numbers aren't as impressive as other dual-threat passers, but that's because most of his running happens behind the line of scrimmage. His legs kept plenty of plays alive, though sometimes he'd wiggle too much and not get rid of the ball, resulting in 39 sacks.
He walked on at Oklahoma after leaving Texas Tech, sitting out a year and losing eligibility in the process, and when he got his chance, he played like someone who was forced to bide his time. His fun and fancy-free style of play is infectious, and it rubbed off on the rest of the Sooners.
There were few players who were more enjoyable to watch in 2015 than Mayfield, who treated every game like he was out on a patch of grass at the park instead of surrounded by five- and six-digit crowds. Oklahoma's return to greatness this year probably wouldn't have happened without him at quarterback.
2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
"He's the best young quarterback in the game. What's most impressive, however, is how he's grown into a threat on the ground. Oh, and he also happens to throw one of the best deep balls out there. He is the complete package."
A broken hand suffered midway through Watson's freshman season isn't noticeable in the power he gets behind his throws. At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he puts his entire body into the pass, and this enables him to connect from anywhere on the field.
Though he had a surprising 11 interceptions during the regular season, most of those were the result of mental mistakes instead of poor throws. He leads targets as well as any passer in the country, able to alternate easily between a touch throw and one that requires all of his strength.
Watson tore his ACL last November. The injury required surgery and kept him out of action until the summer. Clemson was careful to keep him from moving around too much early on in 2015, but down the stretch it took the handcuffs off, and he became the deadliest running quarterback in FBS. Four of his last five regular-season games saw him run for 100-plus yards.
With everything he's been through already, in terms of injury, Watson doesn't show any fear of getting hurt again. This could be construed as carelessness, but Clemson looks at it as confidence that is needed to lead the team. Many of the Tigers' biggest drives this year have developed because Watson put the team on his back and made some plays.
A year after he couldn't stay healthy, Watson finished third in the Heisman voting and led Clemson to a perfect regular season and the No. 1 playoff ranking. His 69.5 percent completion rate and 41 total touchdowns in 2015 probably won't be the high point of his career.
1. Trevone Boykin, TCU
"He's just electric. For a college quarterback, he can do it all. His open-field vision is just so good. He's kind of got that side-armed, half-cocked [throwing] motion, but it's worked for him."
Trevone Boykin has improved in this category throughout his career, translating into a senior season when he was able to hit the deep targets more effectively and also fire it into tight windows. His throwing style isn't out of a textbook, but it works for him.
From a 57 percent passer as a freshman in 2012 to nearly 65 percent this year during the regular season, Boykin has made a concerted effort to work on his accuracy. He took fewer chances this fall, and it also helped he had Josh Doctson out there to catch anything that came his way.
Boykin spent time during his career playing wide receiver and running back, showing off his athleticism but also his elusiveness. He was sacked just 12 times during the regular season while averaging nearly five yards per carry with nine touchdown runs.
Mobile quarterbacks sometimes try to do too much and end up making a lot of costly mistakes, something Boykin was known for earlier in his career. That didn't pop up as much this season, enabling TCU to have an explosive offense that was always in rhythm.
It's hard to imagine how TCU would have fared these past two seasons without Boykin, whose leadership and intense drive pushed the Horned Frogs to so many of their victories. A player who seemed lost two years ago became a superstar, and his teammates followed that lead.
Note: All slides written by Bleacher Report featured columnist Brian Pedersen. Stats provided by CFBStats.com and are through the end of the regular season, unless otherwise noted. Follow the author on Twitter at @realBJP.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!