B/R CFB 250: Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 20 Dual-Threat Quarterbacks.
Other CFB 250 Positions
Dual-threat quarterbacks have been around since the earliest days of football, but they have never been more in vogue.
Quarterbacks who can run as well as pass make QBs who can only do the latter look stunted, like a point guard who can't shoot past the elbow. In an age where being versatile is cherished, dual-threat quarterbacks have gone from novel to the norm.
But there's an art to becoming a true dual-threat quarterback. It is not as simple as taking an athletic player from one position and throwing him behind center. If it were, even more teams would do it.
This is still the most complex position in sports.
The best dual-threat quarterbacks are paradoxes: so good with their legs that the defense has to spy them, but so good with their arm that the defense can't afford to spy them. That is a lot to ask of one player, but when it works, and the opponent gets stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, it's a beautiful thing.
Before we start, please take note that these players were graded as college quarterbacks, not on how they project as NFL QBs.
Targeted skills such as arm strength are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college arm strength and professional arm strength. If a quarterback slings it well enough to hit his marks in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't stretch the field against the NFC North. At least not here, it doesn't.
This is all about college performance.
Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.
20-16. Towles, Ellison, Reynolds, Knight, Waters
20. Patrick Towles, Kentucky75/100
Accuracy: 20/25; Arm Strength: 16/20; Pocket Presence: 6/10; Mobility: 6/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 11/15.
Patrick Towles is a 6'5" athletic specimen who proved against Mississippi State that he can compete with the best in the country. He is still learning how to sustain that level of performance, but once he does, Kentucky has a chance to emerge in the SEC East.
19. Kevin Ellison, Georgia Southern76/100
Accuracy: 19/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 8/10; Football IQ: 15/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Kevin Ellison is a mostly unknown commodity, but as a sophomore he led Georgia Southern to an 8-0 Sun Belt record—and he did it in the Eagles' first FBS season. He's built like a quintessential triple-option quarterback (6'0", 183 lbs) but has more juice in his arm than people give him credit for.
18. Keenan Reynolds, Navy76/100
Accuracy: 19/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 8/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Keenan Reynolds is one of the most prolific triple-option quarterbacks ever. He doesn't have a great arm, but he's a tough, shifty runner with a mastery of Navy's offense.
17. Trevor Knight, Oklahoma77/100
Accuracy: 20/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 7/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Trevor Knight is a good athlete with sound mechanics and every other tool one could want in a dual-threat quarterback. His ceiling is high (see: the 2014 Sugar Bowl), but he's a different player every week and struggles with repetitive accuracy.
16. Jake Waters, Kansas State78/100
Accuracy: 21/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 6/10; Mobility: 7/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 13/15.
Jake Waters is a scaled-down version of Collin Klein, but that is not the worst thing to be. He doesn't present the same physical rushing threat as Klein, but he's a slightly better passer and an equally tough competitor.
15-11. Williams, Wallace, Thomas, Cato, Hedrick
15. Marquise Williams, North Carolina78/100
Accuracy: 20/25; Arm Strength: 16/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 8/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 11/15.
Marquise Williams has the tangibles of an All-ACC quarterback, and at times he performs at that level. But he has never sustained good play for long enough to be considered among the best in his conference.
14. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss78/100
Accuracy: 21/25; Arm Strength: 16/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 7/10; Football IQ: 15/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Good Bo Wallace is a 6'4" athlete with above-average accuracy and moxie. Bad Bo Wallace is a 6'4" enigma who invents new, creative ways to commit turnovers each week. Good Bo showed up more often than Bad Bo in 2014, but Bad Bo was present enough to make a difference.
13. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech79/100
Accuracy: 21/25; Arm Strength: 16/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 8/10; Football IQ: 15/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Justin Thomas has had no trouble running the triple-option offense. The former Alabama commit, whom the Tide wanted to use as a defensive back, has caught defenses by surprise with his surprisingly live vertical arm.
12. Rakeem Cato, Marshall79/100
Accuracy: 21/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 6/10; Football IQ: 17/20; Leadership: 13/15.
Rakeem Cato has etched his name alongside Marshall greats such as Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington. He lacks ideal size (6'1"), arm strength and competition-played-against, but he reads defenses like a pro, hits his marks and knows how to lead an offense.
11. Grant Hedrick, Boise State79/100
Accuracy: 22/25; Arm Strength: 15/20; Pocket Presence: 7/10; Mobility: 7/10; Football IQ: 16/20; Leadership: 12/15.
Grant Hedrick has been an upgrade since relieving Joe Southwick in 2013. Yes, he's only 6'0", but he's accurate and shifty with the ball in his hands. He also led the country in completion percentage (70.9) during the regular season.
10. Anu Solomon, Arizona
Anu Solomon is accurate in the short and middle part of the field, and he maintains that accuracy when he leaves the pocket. But he overthrows too many receivers on vertical routes, not giving them a chance to make a play when they have a step.
Solomon has good, not great, arm strength. He gets air under deep passes but doesn't put a ton of steam on intermediate throws. Because he can air it out, though, it's fair to expect he might improve as he gets older and sharpens his mechanics.
Arizona has not asked Solomon to work from the pocket as often as it might have an older, more experienced quarterback. He panicked against pressure in the early part of the season, at which point the offense shifted to his strengths by calling more designed rollouts.
Solomon doesn't run as often as his predecessor, B.J. Denker, but that has more to do with his superior throwing ability than a lack of running skill. He has enough speed to turn the corner and gain big yardage, although he doesn't make a ton of people miss.
Solomon does a nice job protecting the football, especially for a young quarterback in an uptempo offense. But he sometimes plays a little too conservatively, which can hamstring a team with great skill players.
Solomon displays good leadership qualities for a freshman. He plays hard every down and commands the respect of his teammates. However, he has also wilted in a few big road games, shying from the spotlight and looking tentative.
Solomon earned the starting job at Arizona after a wild quarterback battle that at one point featured six contenders. He did so despite being a redshirt freshman, but he quickly proved in 2014 that the coaching staff was right to trust him. He finished the season poorly, but part of that can be attributed to injuries, and part might be the proverbial "freshman wall."
9. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Deshaun Watson has an advanced understanding of touch and placement. He drops the ball over defenders but not too far for receivers on deep throws, and he leads targets into space when it's available over the middle.
It's rare to find a dual-threat quarterback with an arm this strong as a true freshman. Watson flicks the ball downfield with an effortless throwing motion and pelts it into small windows. He should only get stronger as he ages.
Watson is sound in the pocket. He swipes the ball through outside pass-rushers, breaks contain against inside pass-rushers and rarely takes his eyes off the play, which allows him to make the correct choice between pass and run.
Watson is a long-limbed runner who makes sprinting look effortless. He doesn't have a great top speed, but he accelerates quickly and has enough gas to turn the corner. And once he gets to that corner, he knows how to finish plays in style.
Here is where Watson needs work. He has played in simple, quarterback-friendly systems since high school, and Chad Morris' offense at Clemson was no exception. It's unclear if he can make sophisticated progressions, and it's known that he cannot play under center.
Watson played well enough to win against Florida State—and he would have, most likely, if not for a botched snap near the goal line. He never for a second let his teammates think they would lose, even though they were playing a true freshman backup QB in a road night game against the defending national champions. What else is there to say?
From the moment Watson took over in the first half of the Florida State game, it was clear Clemson had found something special. Injuries cost him the better part of the season, derailing what had the potential to be a memorable freshman year, but Watson showed enough in limited reps to force his way onto this list.
8. Everett Golson, Notre Dame
Everett Golson makes difficult throws look easy and easy throws look difficult. He'll drop a dime between the cornerback and the safety on one play and then miss a basic throw on the next. His mechanics are taut, so the issue might be mental.
Golson is 6'0", 200 pounds (on a good day) but has an arm that belies his frame. He can power the ball off his back foot and does not lose velocity or distance when he breaks the pocket.
Golson's pocket presence is even more inconsistent than his accuracy. At his best, he is a shifty athlete who can step into small spaces and deliver a clean spiral. But he often tries to do too much and turns what should be incompletions or sacks into turnovers.
Because so much of the Golson-related discourse concerns his arm, it is possible he's gone underrated as a runner. He has great footwork in and out of the pocket and enough speed to get to the edge and turn the corner.
Golson made smarter decisions as a redshirt freshman in 2012 than he has as an upperclassman. His turnover problems are well documented and cost the Irish multiple games this season. If he turns the ball over once, he has a tendency to compound that turnover by pressing and overcompensating on the next possession.
You can't forget the success Golson had as a freshman, when he led Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and a spot in the national title game. He played well enough to win at Florida State this year too. But there are red flags when you consider his yearlong academic suspension in 2013 and the vacant expression on his face during a five-turnover meltdown at Arizona State.
Golson looked like a Heisman Trophy contender for most of the season, but turnover issues played him out of the conversation. Still, he righted the ship for a Notre Dame offense that was stale with Tommy Rees under center in 2013 and lost its projected No. 1 receiver (DaVaris Daniels) to an academic suspension in fall camp.
7. Blake Sims, Alabama
Blake Sims hits targets in stride so they can run after the catch, albeit on some shorter, easier throws such as bubble screens. His deep placement has been very good—a pleasant surprise—but he struggles locating contested throws against athletic defenses.
Here is where Sims has been the most impressive (relative to expectations). He has a big enough arm to stretch the field vertically, and he can zip it outside the numbers on corner routes. Backup Jake Coker has the bigger arm, but Sims' arm is not so small that the offense had to change the playbook.
Sims is comfortable in the pocket and doesn't get choppy feet. He is only 6'0" but moves his body well and finds small windows through which to deliver the football.
Alabama's offense does not require a running quarterback, but Sims' mobility has added a nice new wrinkle to what the Crimson Tide do. He is a former running back/safety/receiver who can make defenders miss in space.
Sims has not had an issue with turnovers, which is paramount for a Nick Saban-coached quarterback. He has a tendency to lock in on Amari Cooper, but that, to be honest, might be more of a strength than a weakness. He will sometimes hold on to the ball too long, but he improved in the second half of the season.
Sims is a confident leader who did not let the preseason quarterback battle faze him. He won the support of the locker room, even when the media made him out to be the underdog. He struggled at LSU but rallied the troops to lead an impressive game-tying field-goal drive at the end of regulation.
Sims was an afterthought in Alabama's quarterback competition, a placeholder until Coker did the inevitable and won the job. But the redshirt senior competed hard in practice, earned the right to start against West Virginia and never looked back from there, playing as well as any quarterback Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa.
6. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Dak Prescott is one of the most improved throwers in the country. He had accuracy issues as a sophomore but smoothed out his motion during the offseason and has placed the ball well on outside-the-number throws.
Prescott is built like a fullback (6'2", 230 lbs) and uses his thick frame to generate velocity. He is not an air-it-out quarterback, but he throws a strong deep post to big-frame targets such as De'Runnya Wilson. Senior Bowl director Phil Savage mentioned Prescott as one of three quarterbacks whose arm strength impressed him at the Manning Passing Academy this offseason.
It is difficult to bring Prescott down—and he knows it. He stands in the pocket and works through his reads, trusting that he can extend the play once pressure starts to mount. He keeps his eyes downfield when the play breaks down, which has resulted in some signature moments.
Prescott is a powerful downhill runner and a perfect fit in Dan Mullen's offense. The comparisons with Tim Tebow—whom Mullen coached as the offensive coordinator at Florida—are fair in this regard. He has also shown the ability to read blocks and make defenders miss in the hole.
For the most part, Prescott has shown a high football IQ. He knows when to keep and when to hand off the read-option. But he has struggled at times to decipher coverages, which has led to some heedless interceptions.
Mississippi State is not an easy place to win. Historically, it is one of the hardest. But Prescott willed the Bulldogs to a memorable season in 2014, succeeding despite prolonged injuries to his No. 1 receiver, Jameon Lewis. He is precisely who you want leading your team.
Mississippi State went from also-ran to contender in 2014, and Prescott was the man behind the wheel. He refined his passing to complement his running, which has made him a true dual threat. He is one of the most well-rounded players in college football.
5. Trevone Boykin, TCU
Trevone Boykin can run hot and cold. When he's hot, he leads his targets well, putting them in position to gain yards after the catch. When he's cold—as he was in a near-loss at West Virginia—TCU's offense barely moves. Fortunately, the cold stretches have seldom occurred in 2014.
Boykin has never lacked for arm strength, even before his breakout year. His ability to push the ball downfield keeps defenses honest, and he gets real zip on intermediate throws.
Despite his speed, Boykin does not rely on his legs when he doesn't have to. He trusts his arm and is inclined to beat the blitz the easy way instead of getting antsy and breaking the pocket. The tendency to tuck and run is common for mobile quarterbacks, but Boykin makes shrewd decisions.
Before he was a CFB 250 quarterback, Boykin was actually a pretty capable slot receiver. And you can't excel in the slot without top-end quickness and lateral agility. Boykin has both, and he has not been afraid to flaunt those athletic gifts when TCU has most needed a play.
Boykin has done a good job letting the offense come to him, rarely trying to "do too much." He gets through his reads with haste and improvises when the situation calls for it. One could argue that this is his most improved area.
TCU was rudderless under former quarterback Casey Pachall. Boykin has taken over full-time and given the Horned Frogs a backbone. A great deal of credit goes to Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, but Boykin is the one going out there and making plays. He has lifted this team to new heights.
Boykin looked more natural at receiver than he did at quarterback in 2013. But the introduction of a spread offense prompted him to play like a Heisman contender this season, during which TCU went 11-1. The Horned Frogs are back to being national contenders, and Boykin is the biggest reason why.
4. Nick Marshall, Auburn
Nick Marshall has made striking improvements as a passer. Last season he was timid throwing intermediate and vertical routes, doing most of his damage on screens. This season he has missed fewer open receivers and shown confidence stretching the field. He is still less consistent than the players above him, but he's getting there.
Marshall throws a fireball despite having a smaller, wiry frame (6'1", 210 lbs). He generates power from his upper body, which allows him to rocket the ball down the field from various angles. The ball comes off his arm a lot like it does Michael Vick's, albeit with slightly less steam.
The system Marshall plays in and the offensive line he operates behind do not require that he face a ton of pressure. When he has, he's shown flashes of brilliance mixed with occasional lapses in judgment. Still, he is as slippery as they come eluding pass-rushers.
Marshall is a converted defensive back who probably could have played any skill position on the field. He has staggering lateral agility and makes more defenders miss than any other quarterback in the country. The home run speed is there, but his best trait isn't breaking long runs as much as turning small gains into chunk plays.
Auburn runs a highly effective but not overly complicated offense. Marshall leads the unit well, though, especially with the ball in his hands on the read-option. His decision-making is above average, but he showed some holes in the first half against Mississippi State.
The Tigers know they are never out of a game when Marshall is under center. He has led them to some incredible, dramatic wins the past two years and took them to the national title game on the heels of a 3-9 season. However, he also got dismissed from Georgia for disciplinary reasons in 2012 and had to miss the first half of the season opener against Arkansas because of an offseason marijuana citation.
Marshall went from "athlete who plays quarterback" to "very athletic quarterback" in 2014. The distinction there is subtle but important. If he wanted to, he could lead the SEC in rushing. But his arm improved so much this year that he didn't have to.
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
J.T. Barrett throws an accurate ball with advanced touch. He drops passes into small windows, excelling where most players his age struggle: on passing downs. That he moves the chains against defensive-back-heavy sets is a testament to his ball placement.
He doesn't have the same arm strength as Braxton Miller (who scored a 14/15 in that category on last year's CFB 250), but Barrett stretches the field well enough to function in Urban Meyer's offense. He has shorted a few deep comebacks to the sideline, but for the most part he has hit all his marks.
Barrett has made massive strides in this department since the first two games of the season. His offensive line improved too, but not as much as Barrett improved at feeling the rush and getting the ball out quickly.
As a runner, Barrett falls somewhere between Miller and Kenny Guiton (Ohio State's backup in 2013). He plays from the pocket more often than Miller but proved against Michigan State and Minnesota that he can make defenders miss and has enough speed to break long runs.
Barrett has shown a quick learning curve in 2014, grasping what he did wrong in the first two games and fixing those errors. He has in many ways been an upgrade from Miller in terms of reading defenses and anticipating throws.
At first it looked like Barrett might have to be carried through the season. By October, he was the one doing the carrying. He played his best game of the season in Ohio State's most important matchup, leading the Buckeyes to six consecutive touchdown drives at Michigan State. He was an easy figure for his teammates to rally behind.
Barrett was pressed into starting duty after Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, injured his shoulder in fall camp. The early returns were predictable for an ill-prepared freshman QB, but Barrett made quick improvements and guided Ohio State back to national contention. He will miss the national semifinal against Alabama with an ankle injury, but that doesn't discount the work he did in willing OSU that far.
2. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Brett Hundley throws a catchable ball with a tight spiral and smart placement. Deep accuracy used to be a problem area, but he has since turned it into a strength. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes in the regular season, averaging more than eight yards per attempt.
Hundley has the strongest arm of any dual-threat quarterback and is right on par with Jameis Winston and Christian Hackenberg. He drives the ball into tight windows on slants and can push it down the length of the field.
The biggest knock on Hundley is how he fares against pressure. Some of that is warranted—he has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long and take unnecessary sacks—but he has not been as bad as some have made him out. Despite a leaky offensive line, UCLA is one of the most efficient offenses in college football.
Hundley is a dangerous runner who can handle a 15- to 20-carry workload without looking any worse for it. He spent the early part of the season trying to "prove" he could be a pocket passer for NFL scouts, but he got back to his strengths during Pac-12 play.
Jim L. Mora is a former NFL head coach with a sophisticated college offense. Hundley picked it up well enough to start as a redshirt freshman (and rewrite much of the FBS freshman record book) and has steadily improved the past two years.
UCLA was not the playoff contender some expected this season, but there is no shame in going 9-3. When an injury forced him to leave the Texas game, Hundley was active and engaged on the sideline, leading the team despite not being able to play. He came back for the Bruins' next game and had his best performance of the season in a 62-27 win at Arizona State.
Hundley is a divisive quarterback. He has led UCLA to one of the best three-year runs in program history, but it still feels like he's underachieved. It only feels that way, however, because the number of tools he brings to the table are so rare to find in one player. We want him to be better than he is because he can be. And that is not true of very many players.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota is an accurate passer at all levels of the field. He hits receivers in stride on timing routes and drags, allowing them to gain yards after the catch. When he has a man open deep, he puts the ball on a string and drops it right into the basket.
Mariota doesn't have a huge arm, but he does have a pretty big one. He relies on accuracy and touch more than velocity, but he can push the ball downfield when one of his receivers gets over the top. His arm strength is particularly impressive once he gets outside the pocket.
Injuries along the offensive line forced Mariota to dance around the pocket and escape some impossible pressures this season. For the most part, he passed those tests with ease. His ability to keep plays alive saved the Ducks in some of their biggest moments.
Mariota is 6'4", 219 pounds and runs like a wide receiver. He is a long strider with great acceleration who can see when a hole is developing and burst through it. Oregon doesn't call as many designed runs for Mariota as it did some of its previous quarterbacks, but when it does, he makes them count.
Oregon's offense is dangerous because it beats you without beating itself. Mariota's historically low interception rate (seven INTs in his past 945 attempts) is the most meaningful illustration of that concept. He mitigates the risk on otherwise risky play calls, allowing Oregon to stay aggressive and turn small leads into big leads, and big leads into huge ones.
Mariota is not a fiery, scream-in-your-face type of leader, but that is not the only way to lead a team. Instead he leads with a cool composure, a charm that says "we got this" in the biggest moments. He is an intense competitor who stood on his head to hold the Ducks together when their season was jeopardized by injuries.
Mariota is the quintessential Oregon quarterback and a prospect NFL scouts have been drooling over since 2012. Big, fast, skilled, smart—he checks every box.