College Football Quarterbacks Ready to Break Out in 2018

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2018

College Football Quarterbacks Ready to Break Out in 2018

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    The 2017 crop of quarterbacks who declared for the draft has the potential to be special in the pros, with Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, Louisville's Lamar Jackson, Wyoming's Josh Allen, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen leading the way.

    That's a star-studded lineup that posted massive statistics on the collegiate level.

    Even guys like Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Washington State's Luke Falk and Memphis' Riley Ferguson potentially have NFL futures. They did their part while on the collegiate gridiron.

    But there's no shortage of signal-caller talent behind them ready to replenish college football's coffers. Plenty of playmakers will outfit the position in 2018, led by returning stars like Washington's Jake Browning and Missouri's Drew Lock.

    Players on the cusp of becoming household names dot the sport's landscape as well. Some of them you've already heard of; others are going to get a brand-new or extended opportunity to show what they can do. Then there's Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who's ready to prove the most important half of the year wasn't a fluke.

    The list of breakout quarterbacks is so big, it doesn't even include most of the incoming freshmen who could make noise. 

    From coast to coast, Power Five to the AAC, there are marquee prospects. The gulf left by departing stat hogs is great, but numerous players are ready to fill it. Let's take a look at 10 college football quarterbacks ready to jump from obscurity onto the tips of your tongues in 2018.

Charlie Brewer, Baylor Bears

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    What he did in 2017

    Charlie Brewer completed 68.1 percent of his 204 passes for 1,562 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions for coach Matt Rhule during his freshman season after taking over for Zach Smith.


    What's changing

    The 6'1", 190-pound rising sophomore has experience, as he threw for nine touchdowns and three interceptions in the final four games of his freshman season against Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and TCU. This won't be the same Bears team that struggled to a 1-11 record in Rhule's first season, as a young team is a year older.

    Baylor's schedule is still daunting, but this is Brewer's team now. With Smith transferring out of Waco, there's no question which direction the Bears are going, and Brewer should respond with poise and leadership.


    What to expect in 2018

    Back when he was just a 247Sports 3-star prospect who flipped from SMU, nobody would have expected he'd show this kind of potential so early, but Brewer can be special. He's dead-eye accurate, and though he doesn't have top-end arm strength and needs to work on the deep ball, he's ideal for Rhule's system.

    The Bears continue to surround him with playmakers, and the youth movement will blossom before long. Look for Baylor to be much improved, and it will be because of Brewer's maturation. It would not be out of the realm of possibility for him to get BU bowl-eligible.

    Brewer could toss 30 touchdown passes this year and be among the top three or four passers in the league.

K.J. Costello, Stanford Cardinal

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    What he did in 2017

    K.J. Costello completed 58.8 percent of his 211 passes for 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in his sophomore year after beating out Keller Chryst for the starting job.


    What's changing

    Former Stanford quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard will take over as offensive coordinator for Mike Bloomgren, who left to be Rice's head coach. That symmetry will help Costello, as he's used to Pritchard and should respond well to his position coach now calling plays.

    No longer does Costello have to worry about any sort of two-quarterback system, as Chryst is seeking graduate transfer options. Oh, and Bryce Love is returning.

    With Trenton Irwin and JJ Arcega-Whiteside back and Osiris St. Brown expected to be a playmaker, Costello has weapons abound.


    What to expect in 2018

    The Cardinal are going to do what they do and what they've always done: run the football in a power attack that can lean on the big-play ability of their running backs. Love was the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up and could contend for the award this year.

    But all of that benefits Costello, the 6'5", 217-pound rising junior who should improve his accuracy after an offseason working on it. This is Love's team, but he can assume the leadership responsibility necessary to be a dynamic quarterback in the Pac-12.

    If last year's four-touchdown performance against Notre Dame is a glimpse of what is possible with Costello at the helm, Stanford could be in for big things with a balanced offense.

Sam Ehlinger, Texas Longhorns

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    What he did in 2017

    Sam Ehlinger completed 57.5 percent of his 275 passes for 1,915 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions and ran for 385 more yards while splitting time with Shane Buechele during his freshman year in Austin.


    What's changing

    The 6'2", 230-pound signal-caller's big second half in a bowl victory over Missouri gives the Longhorns plenty of hope for the future. He looks like an ideal puzzle piece to run coach Tom Herman's system, and the inconsistencies that plagued him should be a thing of the past.

    Maturity and an offseason in the playbook and weight room cannot be understated for any college player. Those flashes of brilliance should become more consistent.


    What to expect in 2018

    The fiery fearlessness that Ehlinger displays was a liability at times as a true freshman as he struggled to harness all that energy. That led to inconsistency and getting pulled in favor of the more experienced Buechele.

    But look for Ehlinger's accuracy to improve in '18 along with his confidence. Sure, he is a guy who seems to always have self-belief, but performing at important moments fuels that. A year in the Herman system will pay big dividends.

    Being the man against Mizzou should help.

    "By the end of the season, however, it seemed that the offense responded better to the freshman Ehlinger,"'s Allen Kenney wrote. "Although Buechele started the Texas Bowl, Ehlinger played the entire second half, ending the game with 11 completions on 15 pass attempts for 112 yards and a touchdown."

Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    What he did in 2017

    Dwayne Haskins completed 70.2 percent of his 57 passes for 565 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in limited action in relief of J.T. Barrett during his redshirt freshman year at Ohio State.


    What's changing

    Barrett is gone from Ohio State, and one of the most decorated players at the storied program took with him a 38-6 record, 9,434 career passing yards and 104 touchdowns. The biggest change for Haskins is this is his team now.

    Yes, the rising redshirt sophomore still must win the job over other talented youngsters, but Haskins has shown flashes of limitless potential in practice settings and looked sharp in mop-up duty, so it would be a stunner if he wasn't the next man up to run Urban Meyer's spread offense in Columbus.


    What to expect in 2018

    You never want to put too much pressure on a player who has limited reps, but Haskins has an exciting future. The 6'3", 214-pound signal-caller from Potomac, Maryland, can take off and run, but it's his throwing strength that is a sight to behold.

    Not only can he fit passes in tight windows, but he also throws one of the best deep balls in the nation. With him leading the way instead of Barrett, the top can come off Kevin Wilson's offense. He is confident, and he also has been in the system for two seasons; that will be a major benefit.

    With 1,000-yard rushers J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber returning to ease some of Haskins' burden and a full stable of receivers—including Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, Jaylen Harris, Ellijah Gardiner—at his disposal, OSU's offense could take a major step forward.

    Haskins is ready to be one of the top signal-callers in the Big Ten.

Emory Jones, Florida Gators

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    Credit: 247Sports

    What he did in 2017

    Emory Jones played for Heard County High School in Franklin, Georgia, where he became the 247Sports Composite's fifth-rated dual-threat quarterback and the No. 85 overall prospect in the nation. He flipped from Ohio State to Florida and signed in December.


    What's changing

    The winds of change are blowing in Gainesville with new head coach Dan Mullen in town, and the signal-callers already on the roster for the Gators don't fit what Mullen has done traditionally with his offense.

    It's possible that Feleipe Franks, Jake Allen or Kyle Trask could wind up winning the job because each is more experienced than Jones, but the 6'2 ½", 195-pound, strong-armed, fast-wheeled newcomer will have a say in that race. He fits the mold of a guy who can beat teams with his arm and feet.

    He'll be raw, but Mullen is a known molder of young quarterbacks.


    What to expect in 2018

    Expect Jones to start. Yes, he has a long way to go to be the type of playmaker his potential suggests he can be, but the Gators aren't going to be lighting up the SEC in Mullen's first year, anyway. You may as well go with the best fit for your offense who also happens to be the future of your team.

    That would be Jones, who was the Gators' biggest 2018 recruiting victory. Tim Tebow wasn't a polished product when he was starring for Florida under Mullen; neither were Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State. But Mullen took those talented players and won with them, despite faults.

    There will be plenty of lumps along the way, but this should be Jones' team. And while prospects like Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Georgia's Justin Fields, USC's JT Daniels and Oklahoma State's Spencer Sanders have the potential to shine right away, too, Jones is the perfect system fit. That's why he's on the list.

D'Eriq King, Houston Cougars

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    What he did in 2017

    The dynamic athlete was inserted to play quarterback in late October and wound up being an electrifying playmaker, completing 64.7 percent of his 139 passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 379 yards and eight scores.


    What's changing

    The 5'11", 190-pound dual-threat athlete is far from a prototypical quarterback, but he doesn't have to be in the AAC. He can scramble around and make plays for the Cougars, much like Greg Ward did for Houston under Tom Herman.

    Now this is Major Applewhite's team, and in his second year, he made a brilliant hire, plucking Kendal Briles away from Florida Atlantic (and Lane Kiffin) to be his offensive coordinator. Nobody should be happier about that than King, who will enter his sophomore year poised for big things.


    What to expect in 2018

    You can bet on a lot of freelancing if the starter is King, who could be a miniature version of Khalil Tate. He shouldn't have too much trouble beating out Bryson Smith for the job. 

    With Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller gone from Memphis, the AAC is up for grabs, and Houston has the talent on both sides of the ball to contend with Central Florida for the league title. Applewhite's move to bring in Briles was a major coup, and it will pay dividends with King.

    With his athleticism, King can take over games. He won't always light it up passing the ball, but he can move around enough and shift the pocket all over the place to get clear views at receivers. If he can remain healthy and play the whole year, it's possible he could total 35 touchdowns or more.

    He'll run that old Baylor offense well.

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma Sooners

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    What he did in 2017

    Kyler Murray completed 85.7 percent of his 21 passes for 359 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Baker Mayfield during his sophomore season after transferring from Texas A&M. He also rushed for 142 yards on 14 carries.

    As a freshman with the Aggies, he accounted for 1,021 total yards and six scores.


    What's changing

    A lot is changing in Norman simply because life without Mayfield must begin. How do you fill the cleats of a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was the heart and soul of so many gritty victories over the past three seasons? It isn't going to be easy, but the Sooners are excited about who's next.

    This is Murray's team now, and the former high school megastar from Texas follows a similar path as his predecessor, transferring from a Lone Star State university after a standout prep career in the state known for producing top high school talent.

    Don't look for Murray to be Mayfield, but he has his own skill set that could translate well.


    What to expect in 2018

    Murray represents an exciting toy for second-year head coach Lincoln Riley, who took over for Bob Stoops and promptly led Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff in his first season. 

    At 5'10", 192 pounds, Murray isn't the typical college quarterback, but, then again, neither was Mayfield. Per the school's site, the now-former OU quarterback said recently that he has no concerns about Murray's ability.

    "If Kyler Murray wins the quarterback job, you’re going to have the most talented guy, athletically, in the country playing quarterback. You’re not going to find a better run/pass combo guy than Kyler. You’ve got the athletes. All the running backs are back and you have more talent coming in. You’ve got the receivers. You’ve got a lot of experienced offensive linemen in the program, which is important.

    "The big thing will be leadership—how they play together and leadership."

    Does Murray have those intangibles? The bet here is that he does. He's a dynamic two-sport athlete who recently hit his first career home run for the OU baseball team, and he doesn't lack confidence.

    Plus, he has weapons all around him, such as receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb and running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon. 

    The Sooners will contend for the Big 12 title and the playoff yet again.

Malcolm Perry, Navy Midshipmen

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    What he did in 2017

    Malcolm Perry attempted just two passes in 2017, but he rushed for 1,182 yards on 138 carries (8.6 average) for 11 touchdowns in the Midshipmen's triple-option attack in his sophomore season.


    What's changing

    The 5'9", 185-pound option quarterback from Clarksville, Tennessee, began his career as a slot back, but he was just too talented not to have the ball in his hands on every play. Though he's small for the college game, he's a dynamic speedster who runs Ken Niumatalolo's scheme to perfection.

    Zach Abey may have a say in the quarterback race, but after the end of the season in '17, it'll be nearly impossible to keep Perry off the field.


    What to expect in 2018

    A whole lot of rushing yards.

    That's what you're going to get when you watch Navy's offense, and Perry is going to be a star running it. Teams don't have an answer for him. The former starting slot back had three 100-yard games at the position before being moved to quarterback in time for the SMU game last year.

    In his first ever start there, Perry rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-40 win that ended a three-game losing streak. He added 250 yards on the ground in a 14-13 loss to Army and had 114 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-7 bowl win over Virginia.

    It's not out of the question for him to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in '18. He won't be the first Tennessee product to shine as a signal-caller for Navy. Does Keenan Reynolds ring a bell? Perry can have that sort of impact.

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Panthers

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    What he did in 2017

    Kenny Pickett completed 59.1 percent of his 66 passes for 509 yards, one touchdown and one interception as a true freshman in limited action in 2017. He threw for for 435 yards in his final two games vs. Miami and Virginia Tech. 


    What's changing

    Pickett was the star with his arm and feet of a late-season upset of Miami, and though the Panthers couldn't duplicate the feat in a narrow loss to Virginia Tech, Pickett responded in that game, too. This looks like his team, as the 6'2", 215-pound rising sophomore could break out.

    Max Browne and Ben DiNucci are gone, so there's no competition from quarterbacks who played in 2017. 

    He must beat out Ricky Town, who transferred from USC to Arkansas to junior college to Pitt. But he's going to go into the spring as the starter, and it would be surprising if he lost the job. With young talent all around him, Pickett could be the maestro for a rebound year in Pittsburgh.


    What to expect in 2018

    Out of the 24 players who started against the Hurricanes, just five are gone. Though Pitt didn't have the type of season it wanted, falling short of a bowl in '17, it's positioned to bounce back.

    Pickett was great against Miami and Virginia Tech, making crisp passes and also getting yards on the ground at important times. He's not going to be mistaken for Johnny Manziel out there, but he can grind out yards when the pocket breaks down.

    There will be some growing pains in his first full year as the starter, and he probably won't post Nathan Peterman-like numbers from '16 (27 TDs, seven INTs), but he could still have a solid season.

    The most important attribute for Pickett is his leadership skills, which were on display in his preview work a year ago. Look for that to translate into a year where he tosses 25 or more scoring strikes and leads the Panthers to a bowl.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama Crimson Tide

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    What he did in 2017

    Tua Tagovailoa completed 63.6 percent of his 77 passes for 636 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions and also rushed for 133 yards and two more scores in relief of Jalen Hurts last year as a true freshman.

    Oh, and maybe you heard of that second-half performance in the national championship game victory over Georgia that culminated with a game-winning overtime touchdown pass that turned him into an instant legend.


    What's changing

    Alabama is no longer Hurts' team, as a full-fledged quarterback battle will transpire in Tuscaloosa, beginning this spring and likely going all the way up to the beginning of the season. If you're Nick Saban, why would you quickly name a starter and risk losing Tagovailoa or Hurts to a transfer?

    The bottom line is it's going to be too hard for the Tide to keep Tagovailoa off the field, especially with Hurts' ongoing issues throwing downfield. The 2017 5-star recruit is a generational talent who can keep UA at a national championship level with all that talent around him.

    He's special.


    What to expect in 2018

    Would you bet against another Alabama national championship?

    It's abnormal to see anybody but the Crimson Tide hoisting the trophy at the end of the year. 

    Saban is going to play whoever gives his team the best chance to win games, and that's going to be Tagovailoa, who is a dynamic dual-threat talent with uncanny arm strength and maturity beyond his years.

    He'll beat out Hurts, and though he won't put up eye-popping statistics because of Alabama's stable of star running backs and a defense that gives it short fields constantly, Tagovailoa will be one of the top playmakers in the SEC.

    He's good enough to be an all-conference player this year and an All-American in the future. If he's the full-time starter in '18, he'll account for 35-plus touchdowns, and the Tide will win it all again.