B/R CFB 150: Top 27 Quarterbacks
Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David Kenyon, Brian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed down that list and sorted by position. Today, Sallee presents the top 27 quarterbacks.
The headliners are players who you know well, including Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville, two-time Heisman finalist and two-time national title game participant Deshaun Watson at Clemson and the electric Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma.
The following rankings are based primarily on each player's skills in college rather than how he would fare in the NFL. Though these players may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, their goals are primarily centered on helping their teams succeed.
Think we're missing someone, or don't agree with how we've ranked them? Give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Players 27-21: Fitzgerald-Webb
27. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
2016 Stats: 196-of-391, 2,423 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 195 carries, 1,375 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns
The post-Dak Prescott era at Mississippi State went just fine, thank you. After a battle lingered into the early stages of the season, Nick Fitzgerald solidified the starting spot by the end of September and posted the third-best rushing season by a quarterback in SEC history. The two players above him? Auburn's Cam Newton (1,473 yards in 2010) and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (1,410 in 2012)—both of whom won the Heisman Trophy in their prolific rushing seasons.
26. Austin Allen, Arkansas
2016 Stats: 245-of-401, 3,430 yards, 25 touchdowns, 15 interceptions
Austin Allen had big shoes to fill while taking over for his brother (recently departed Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen), and he did well. Behind an offensive line that looked like a sieve at times, Allen routinely stood tall in the pocket and delivered the ball on time and on the money to an underrated group of receivers.
25. Brett Rypien, Boise State
2016 Stats: 244-of-394, 3,646 yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions
Brett Rypien followed up a sensational freshman season in which he threw for 3,350 yards with an even better sophomore campaign. The nephew of former NFL star and Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien has the same traits as his uncle—a smart, efficient, downfield threat who makes big-time throws without putting his team at risk.
24. Drew Lock, Missouri
2016 Stats: 237-of-434, 3,399 yards, 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Missouri's offense was a train wreck last year—one in which Drew Lock was forced into action a bit too early. Apparently he learned plenty as a freshman because he emerged as a star as a sophomore for the Tigers. With an unproven receiving corps and an offensive line that was hit or miss, Lock still managed to post a 3,000-yard season under first-year coordinator Josh Heupel. If this was his opening act, his best is likely yet to come.
23. Mike White, Western Kentucky
2016 Stats: 280-of-416, 4,363 yards, 37 touchdowns, seven interceptions
A second-team All-Conference USA selection, White's first season as the starting quarterback for the Hilltoppers was nothing short of spectacular. Operating Jeff Brohm's high-octane, air raid offense, White lit up opposing defenses all year long and led his program to the Boca Raton Bowl.
22. Greg Ward Jr., Houston
2016 Stats: 319-of-469, 3,557 yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; 197 carries, 518 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns
Houston's season didn't go according to its College Football Playoff plan this year, but don't blame Greg Ward Jr. The senior quarterback got banged up early and still managed to fight his way through to post a stellar season and lead the Cougars to the Las Vegas Bowl. A dynamic dual-threat, Ward further proved that he's a perfect fit for former head coach Tom Herman's offense, and he should go down as one of the best quarterbacks in Houston history.
21. Davis Webb, California
2016 Stats: 382-of-620, 4,295 yards, 37 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
Webb's long and winding college career came to a close in Berkeley, California, where he led the Cal Golden Bears as a graduate transfer. A perfect fit for former head coach Sonny Dykes' air raid system, Webb threw for under 300 yards just twice in 13 games and should be playing on Sundays in the future.
Players 20-16: Higgins-Kizer
20. Ryan Higgins, Louisiana Tech
2016 Stats: 329-of-496, 4,617 yards, 41 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 88 carries, 277 rushing yards, four touchdowns
Ryan Higgins was one of the best quarterbacks many people never heard of in 2016. Stepping in for Jeff Driskel, the Bulldog offense didn't miss a beat with Higgins taking the snaps. He finished second in the nation in total passing yards and tied for sixth in yards per attempt (9.3), and he guided Louisiana Tech to a win over Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl.
19. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
2016 Stats: 225-of-357, 2,946 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; 150 carries, 831 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns; one catch, four yards, touchdown
Dobbs didn't cap off his senior season with an SEC East title—like the media predicted he would when casting votes in Hoover, Alabama, in July. But he did lead the SEC in passing touchdowns while helping his team to another 9-4 record, and he capped off his career with MVP honors in a win over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
18. Luke Falk, Washington State
2016 Stats: 443-of-633, 4,468 yards, 38 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Seemingly out of nowhere, Luke Falk led Washington State out of anonymity and into a regular-season finale against rival Washington with a Pac-12 North title on the line. He did it the way every Mike Leach-coached quarterback does: by slinging the ball all over the field.
17. Brad Kaaya, Miami
2016 Stats: 261-of-421, 3,532 yards, 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions
Kaaya capped off his stellar career with his third straight 3,000-yard season and announced after the Russell Athletic Bowl that he will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He finished all three seasons as the starter in Coral Gables averaging at least 8.3 yards per attempt, stabilized an otherwise unstable program that went through a coaching change and cemented his legacy as one of "The U's" all-time best quarterbacks.
16. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
2016 Stats: 212-of-361, 2,925 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions
DeShone Kizer's Notre Dame Fighting Irish didn't live up to expectations this year and finished 4-8. But he was one of the lone bright spots during an otherwise gloomy season in South Bend. In his first full season as the starting quarterback, Kizer proved that he is one of the most pro-ready pocket passers in the country. He should be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in April during the NFL draft.
Players 15-11: Terrell-Rudolph
15. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
2016 Stats: 263-of-377, 3,533 yards, 33 touchdowns, four interceptions
It was a storybook season for Western Michigan as the Broncos finished the regular season undefeated and nearly capped off a perfect season in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin. It was a fitting end to the career of Zach Terrell, who solidified himself as a deep threat, didn't take chances, trusted his receivers and became one of the stars of college football's Cinderella.
14. Quinton Flowers, South Florida
2016 Stats: 207-of-331, 2,812 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions; 198 carries, 1,530 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns
When it comes to dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, nobody outside of Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson posed as much of a threat on the ground and through the air as South Florida's Quinton Flowers. He finished with the second-most rushing yards in the country among quarterbacks, led his team to an 11-win season and should be one of the chic picks to make a Heisman run in 2017.
13. Logan Woodside, Toledo
2016 Stats: 289-of-418, 4,129 yards, 45 touchdowns, nine interceptions
If you missed out on the Logan Woodside experience this year, man, you missed a lot. Woodside led the nation in passing touchdowns, finished second in passer rating (183.3) and capped the season off with two touchdowns in the Camellia Bowl loss to Appalachian State.
12. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
2016 Stats: 304-of-447, 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns, six interceptions
Trubisky slid right into his first full season as the starting quarterback in Chapel Hill and made sure the Tar Heel offense clicked at the same elite level that head coach Larry Fedora expects. Complete with a big arm and laserlike accuracy, Trubisky should be playing a big role on an NFL team near you in the not-too-distant future.
11. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
2016 Stats: 284-of-448, 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns, four interceptions; 83 carries, 61 rushing yards, six touchdowns
Very quietly, Mason Rudolph established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Playing for a team that flew under the radar for the majority of the season following a controversial loss to Central Michigan, Rudolph proved to be an effective triggerman of a Cowboy offense that was one of the nation's most dangerous units. The former 3-star prospect who had only six FBS offers has transformed himself into an elite signal-caller. Not bad for a lightly recruited kid from Rock Hill, South Carolina.
10. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
2016 Stats: 205-of-328, 2,758 yards, 19 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 81 carries, 332 rushing yards, five touchdowns
Chad Kelly's senior season ended prematurely when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in early November and forced Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze to burn the redshirt of freshman Shea Patterson. It was a disappointing end to an up-and-down career for Kelly.
"Chad came here wanting to rewrite his story and I have witnessed him do that to a large extent," Freeze said after Kelly's injury. "It is not the ending we wanted, it's not the last chapter that we wanted to write, but life has a way of doing that. I have watched him, I have been with him daily and he's changed for the better. We all still have challenges in life, we all still have those things that haunt us and the shortcomings we all have, but man I have watched him do things and make impacts on people and the way he played the game here."
Despite missing a month, Kelly was one of the nation's most electric players in 2016. He nearly topped the 3,000-yard passing mark with a patchwork offensive line, no help from the running game and a wide receiving corps loaded with youth. Had it not been for his season-ending injury, he likely would have led Ole Miss to a bowl game and would have been the top-ranked SEC player featured here.
9. Trace McSorley, Penn State
2016 Stats: 224-of-387, 3,614 yards, 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 146 carries, 365 rushing yards, seven touchdowns
Trace McSorley came up short in a Rose Bowl for the ages on Jan. 2, but don't let that distract you from one of the best seasons a quarterback put up in 2016. The first-year starter for Penn State dropped dimes against USC in the finale and against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game while adding the extra dimension of a Johnny Manziel-like escapability to the Nittany Lions offense:
Penn State reminds me so much of Texas A&M 2012. Start slow, get smoking hot late after huge upset win. Trace McSorley is Johnny Manziel.— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) January 3, 2017
The best is yet to come for McSorley.
"He's steady-Eddy," head coach James Franklin told reporters after the Rose Bowl. "He never gets too high, he never gets low, controls his emotions. Always has tremendous belief in himself."
Expect Franklin to incorporate more designed runs into the offense next season as teams are now forced to respect what McSorley can do through the air. If that happens, he should be in the mix for the Heisman Trophy.
His potential landed him in the top 10. If that offense expands, he could fly by Hurts and the rest of the field into the top five in a hurry next season.
8. Jalen Hurts, Alabama
2016 Stats: 240-of-382, 2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 191 carries, 954 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns
Jalen Hurts went from serving as the Deshaun Watson clone on the Alabama scout team as an early enrollee a year ago in preparation for the national title game to playing against Watson in the national title game as a true freshman.
In the process, the Channelview, Texas, native revolutionized Alabama's offense into a multidimensional force, won the SEC title (the third straight for the program) and nearly joined Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway as the only other true freshman starting quarterback to win a national title.
"He's not a freshman anymore," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told reporters last week. "He's got a ton of experience. He's been there, done that. He's played. He's handled adversities. He's made big plays in big moments on the road, at home, you name it. I think he's an excellent young player that's just going to continue to mature."
That staff at Alabama did a tremendous job giving Hurts bits and pieces of the playbook that they felt he could execute well without throwing too much at him. He should progress as a passer under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and have a tremendous career in Tuscaloosa.
7. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
2016 Stats: 233-of-379, 2,555 yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions; 205 carries, 845 rushing yards, nine touchdowns
J.T. Barrett will return to Ohio State for his senior season, and the Buckeyes are lucky to have him. The Texas native is a perfect quarterback to run head coach Urban Meyer's offense, which thrives with a mobile quarterback, power rusher (Mike Weber) and ultraversatile H-back (Curtis Samuel).
Winning matters. While it wasn't always pretty with Barrett in 2016, his leadership and ability to move the chains, find the end zone and get wins made him one of the best.
Barrett didn't progress enough to land him in the Heisman mix in 2016, but with another year of eligibility left, he'll have one more chance to hone his skills, polish his passing game and lead Ohio State back to the peak of the college football world.
Barrett's inability to stretch the field deep prevented the Buckeyes from beating Penn State and putting up much of a fight against Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl national semifinal. Had he flashed a more well-rounded skill set, he'd be ranked higher here.
6. Jake Browning, Washington
2016 Stats: 243-of-391, 3,430 yards, 43 touchdowns, nine interceptions
Jake Browning's sophomore campaign came to an end at the hands of the fearsome Alabama defense at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. But don't let that take away from what he accomplished this year.
The sophomore solidified himself as one of the best and most reliable quarterbacks in the sport and led his team back into the national spotlight and into the College Football Playoff.
"We continue to put more and more on his plate, changing plays or options at the line of scrimmage to do that," offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith said prior to the Peach Bowl. "He can handle that, probably more than we've given him. I think his decision-making from the get-go has been outstanding. I look at his improvement in the red zone, accuracy and decisions down there because we give him both a bunch of ways to do things down there and he's been great with it."
Coupled with receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis, Browning led one of the sport's most balanced and prolific offenses in 2016.
5. Sam Darnold, USC
2016 Stats: 246-of-366, 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 62 carries, 250 rushing yards, two touchdowns
Sam Darnold didn't start the season as USC's starting quarterback, but he finished it off—with a bang.
The redshirt freshman threw for 453 yards in the Trojans' 52-49 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl and dropped this dime to tie it up with under two minutes to play:
His first start came at Utah in a game in which he threw for 253 yards. He played well in a tough spot in that loss and hasn't lost since. Nine straight wins in a pinch have elevated Darnold from a knee-jerk replacement for Max Browne for a team in turmoil into one of the front-runners for the 2017 Heisman Trophy.
Is it strange that Darnold—who started for roughly two months—ranked higher than three of the four starting quarterbacks in the College Football Playoff? It shouldn't be. For Darnold to accomplish what he did in a pinch is mind-blowing, and he deserves recognition for being an integral part of USC's midseason turnaround.
4. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
2016 Stats: 388-of-591, 5,052 yards, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 131 carries, 285 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns
Texas Tech is known for producing quarterbacks with PlayStation statistics. Don't be fooled by the program's track record in the case of Patrick Mahomes, though. He's one of the sport's most talented quarterbacks and just so happens to play in an ultrafriendly quarterback system:
First clip shows Patrick Mahomes making plays in a muddied pocket. Second play ends the drive on a TD. pic.twitter.com/obs86RbFgg— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 4, 2017
Mahomes flew under the radar for the majority of his career due to Texas Tech's lack of success on the national scale. But his success within the system, combined with his raw skills as a passer, makes him one of the most intriguing players in next year's draft.
It's not his fault that his team disappointed this year. Mahomes put the Red Raiders on his shoulders and did all he could to keep them competitive. Had it not been for his performance, the season would have been totally lost in Lubbock.
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
2016 Stats: 254-of-358, 3,965 yards, 40 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 78 carries, 177 rushing yards, six touchdowns
Baker Mayfield fell one spot short of a trip to New York in 2015 as a Heisman Trophy finalist, but he received that elusive invitation in 2016, for good reason.
The junior signal-caller for the Oklahoma Sooners was sensational this year through the air and on the ground. His deep passes to Dede Westbrook were almost always on target, even when he was on the move. His touch also seemed to improve compared to a year ago, while his ability to scramble while keeping his eyes downfield are Johnny Manziel-ish.
The chip on Mayfield's shoulder is as apparent as a boulder. The two-time walk-on who randomly showed up on the doorstep of the Oklahoma program is used to fighting to be noticed, and he has succeeded thanks to an uncanny ability to make big plays and sustain a level that's nearly unmatched in the sport.
2. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
2016 Stats: 230-of-409, 3,543 yards, 30 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 260 carries, 1,571 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns
In his first full season as the starting quarterback at Louisville, Lamar Jackson made history and became the first Heisman Trophy winner in program history.
He did it with style and substance.
His hurdle into the end zone at Syracuse in Week 2 was the first of many Heisman moments. His touchdown pass in the closing seconds to beat Virginia proved how effective he can be through the air in the clutch. His season will go down as one of the best by a quarterback in the sport's history:
Lamar Jackson jumped over a hapless Syracuse defender and into the Heisman conversation with a five-TD performance against the Orange. pic.twitter.com/kaTPANMESc— Nación ESPN2 (@NacionESPN2) September 29, 2016
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
2016 Stats: 388-of-579, 4,593 yards, 41 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; 629 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns
Deshaun Watson didn't have the stats that Louisville's Lamar Jackson had, but the Clemson quarterback has the most important aspect of the game covered: Winning.
For the second straight season, Watson led the Tigers to a national championship game berth, but unlike last year, he came out on top this time. He has only lost three games a starter in three years with the program.
"What makes him special in all of those games, not just these playoff type games, is his preparation," head coach Dabo Swinney told reporters last week. "The guy is an unbelievable winner, and he is incredibly attentive to details and a great, great student of the game. I mean, he just loves to grind to get ready, and then when it comes game time, he just goes and plays. He knows that he's prepared. He's put the work in."
Watson earned the top spot over Jackson because of his personal success and what he did for his team. Jackson's four turnovers against Kentucky played a huge role in that loss; unlike Watson, he didn't consistently stand tall in the pocket when his protection let him down; and he lost his last three games.
Watson a proven leader, a proven winner, an ultratalented passer and runner, and he's the best quarterback in college football.