11 Best QBs Who Will Be Returning to College Football in 2019
Bowl season is upon us, meaning that many schools, coaching staffs and fans are dreaming about next year. Seniors will graduate to the next phase of their lives, and a few underclassmen will jump to the NFL to pursue their dreams. The yearly changeover will allow new stars to emerge from the shadows of former stalwarts.
The quarterback position will look drastically different in 2019. This year's class of accomplished departures will include Will Grier, Gardner Minshew II, Ryan Finley, Brett Rypien, Drew Lock, Jake Browning and Trace McSorley.
Underclassmen who could declare for the draft include Heisman Trophy finalist Dwayne Haskins and possible first-round pick Justin Herbert. Even Heisman winner Kyler Murray will face a new endeavor, whether it be professional baseball or football.
Until we find out their futures, we'll include Haskins and Herbert as we look at the returning quarterbacks who make up the nation's best. Each of these 11 played the majority of the 2018 season, so we won't project too much based on recruiting rankings and new starters.
Instead, we'll consider their overall talent, collegiate accomplishments and unique skills that separate from their peers. Their potential NFL future won't give them a boost, though some on this list have bright outlooks if they continue to play well.
11. Cole McDonald, Hawaii
A former 2-star prospect who had no other FBS offers besides Hawaii, Cole McDonald is coming off a monstrous first season as a starter. The Rainbow Warriors finished 8-5 as they revamped their offense under head coach Nick Rolovich and McDonald to create new wrinkles in the run-and-shoot. The adjustments and new signal-caller led to five 40-point performances and two additional 30-point outings in 2018.
McDonald's contributions were significant. The 6'4", 205-pounder can sling the ball all over the field, and he averaged an impressive 8.2 yards per throw on a whopping 464 pass attempts. Rolovich put a heavy burden on the underdog quarterback, and McDonald responded by leading one of the country's better deep passing games.
He not only compiled 3,790 yards and 35 touchdowns through the air, but he also added 370 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Development isn't always linear, but McDonald will be a top quarterback regardless of whether he repeats this season's performance or improves. If his intermediate accuracy and underneath consistency can take a small jump, don't be surprised if he tallies well over 4,000 yards and a 60 percent completion rate.
10. Ian Book, Notre Dame
Numerous quarterbacks on this list quickly took advantage of their opportunity to play after being a backup. One of the best examples of that was Notre Dame's Ian Book. The junior quarterback never gave Brandon Wimbush a reason to think he'd remain the starter after a stellar performance against Wake Forest, and now the Fighting Irish are in the four-team playoff.
Though the 6'0", 203-pound Book doesn't have the strongest arm, fastest wheels or biggest build, he's been exactly what the Irish needed to keep them undefeated and go 12-0. He earned team MVP honors, and most notably, he carried the Irish to a tough win against USC even though he still felt the effects of a rib injury.
His impact goes beyond toughness, though. He throws with anticipation and high accuracy, which were major factors in why he had no fewer than 264 passing yards and two touchdowns in each full game he participated in. Book's also a running threat, having compiled 250 yards.
Unlike some of his peers, Book stands to lose several of his reliable targets. Dexter Williams, Miles Boykin, Alize Mack and Chris Finke are all graduating. His numbers may not get much better, but Book is one of the most talented quarterbacks nonetheless.
9. Jake Fromm, Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs have established themselves as a title contender in Kirby Smart's three-year tenure. They're well-rounded, and having a young quarterback capable of making clutch throws with a great arm separates them from the group of pretenders. Jake Fromm will enter a crucial junior season in 2019, though.
The Bulldogs haven't often asked Fromm to be great, even though the team has an offense that averages 39.2 points per game. Some of that is because of his efficiency when he does attempt a pass. He finished third in the nation in quarterback rating thanks to a 68.4 completion percentage and excellent 27-to-five touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Fromm's a smooth passer who looks the part. His first-half play against Alabama and three-touchdown performance against Florida this year were examples of the ceiling that Smart and his staff want to unlock in critical games. If he plays as well as he can in prime-time matchups next year, Georgia may win it all.
8. Mason Fine, North Texas
A diminutive player who almost headed to Oklahoma State, the 5'11", 185-pound Mason Fine is doing great with North Texas. The gunslinger brought big-time passing talent to head coach Seth Littrell and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell's spread offense. He's already at 9,358 passing yards and 64 touchdowns with a completion rate of 63 percent through his first 36 games.
Set to be a senior with the Mean Green in 2019, Fine may be set for his best year. His accuracy, yards per attempt and efficiency all increased in 2018. He cut his interceptions to five as well, honing his craft before the snap and understanding how a defender's leverage affects passing windows.
He's really shined in his play under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Fine had an adjusted completion percentage of 79.9, threw for 898 yards under pressure and only had three turnover-worthy plays in such situations. Mix his dynamic downfield throwing with his composure, and he'll be a can't-miss watch.
7. Justin Herbert, Oregon
Considered a top quarterback prospect, Oregon's Justin Herbert has an interesting NFL decision this offseason. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller noted Herbert could return for his senior year since his brother, Patrick, is committed to join the program in 2019 as a tight end, and he has the personality type that drives him to improve. If he stays in college, he's a top-11 quarterback.
Herbert's 2018 season proved him to be one of the nation's best clean-pocket throwers. He make any attempt with great placement when he's comfortable and in rhythm. Though he's not as effective when he's forced to move off his mark and struggled as defenses clogged passing lanes, he took care of the ball and found enough big plays to keep 8-4 Oregon competitive against a tough schedule.
The junior has room for more consistency and improvisation if he returns, which he should do. Oregon can compete for the Pac-12 title next season, as the roster gets more experienced at nearly every key position. Should he stay, he's a candidate to see a large jump in yards (2,985 in 2018) and touchdowns (28).
6. Jordan Love, Utah State
The Utah State Aggies broke out in 2018. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love hit one of the biggest on-field development spurts of any quarterback in recent years. The 6'4", 225-pounder raised his accuracy by more than 10 percentage points (54.9 to 65.8), improved his yards per attempt to 8.6 and threw 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Aggies offensive coordinator David Yost recognized the QB's mental improvement and grasp of the game before the season, noting his maturation was key. He was spot-on as Love became more than just a strong-armed body who could move well for his size. Love evolved into a highly efficient passer who maximized yards-after-the-catch opportunities with his timing and good accuracy.
There's still room for growth, and Love can hit a new level again. His precision in tight windows and downfield passing is his next area for improvement, and he can stand to improvise outside the scheme more. These are trials of a young signal-caller, but there's no question he's one of the better quarterbacks entering 2019.
5. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
One of the most physically dominant players in college football over the last two seasons has resided in Buffalo. Tyree Jackson, who's a 6'7", 245-pound quarterback, is much more than a pocket-passer despite his enormous frame, but there's also no doubt he can sling the ball with ease. Jackson completed his redshirt junior season having accounted for 34 total touchdowns and over 3,000 total yards with the Bulls.
Some will look at his low completion rate (55 percent) and scoff, but Jackson commands a vertical passing attack that often targets isolation routes downfield. He's a good downfield passer, but inherently, the offense will be reliant on bigger plays. His accuracy on shorter throws is consistently good, and an expanded offense with more creativity would boost his numbers.
But his talent is fantastic. Graduating this month, Jackson could bolt to the NFL in a weak draft class or transfer to a bigger program. Should he stay in college, he's a playmaker capable of breaking off a big run or delivering an accurate pass 70 yards downfield. He's another must-watch star.
4. D'Eriq King, Houston
The Houston Cougars faced a small downturn after Greg Ward Jr. graduated and Tom Herman left for Texas after the 2016 season, but it didn't take long for a new star to emerge. Quarterback D'Eriq King destroyed defenses his first full season despite limited experience in 2016 and 2017. His blend of speed as a runner and deep throwing made him perfect for offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
King amassed 36 passing touchdowns and 14 rushing TDs to finish second in the nation in total scores despite missing 1.5 games. He ripped off three 400-yard contests through the air and three 100-yard rushing performances. He's the early favorite to post the most ridiculous quarterback stat line next year.
What could hurt King is a potential Briles departure. He's been linked to Power Five offensive coordinator jobs, most notably Florida State. If he departs, the Cougars must attempt to maintain continuity for King's sake.
Briles' offense creates favorable pre-snap looks and asks the quarterback to make decisions based on simple criteria. King has mastered this offense and is arguably the most dangerous playmaker at the position across the country.
3. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Similar to Tua Tagovailoa's situation at Alabama, Trevor Lawrence elevated the ceiling of a stacked Clemson team. For the Tigers, it's similar to 2016 when they had Deshaun Watson. Lawrence has the potential to be a transcendent talent as soon as 2019.
Lawrence's greatest gift is his ability to hit any throw without straining. Almost immediately after being named the starter in September, Lawrence opened up the Tigers attack. Star playmakers Tee Higgins and Travis Etienne suddenly had better opportunities because opponents couldn't hedge as much as they could against Kelly Bryant.
With his 2,606 yards, 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions as a true freshman, it's hard to say how high Lawrence's ceiling is. All eyes will be on him during the College Football Playoffs and next fall to see if he can continue to fulfill his immense potential. With most of his playmakers back in the fold, Lawrence should have a great 2019.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
The 2018 Heisman Trophy runner-up has the inside track on being the nation's best quarterback next season. Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa had a great Heisman case, but an untimely ankle injury against Georgia may have been the determining factor in a tight race with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray. Nevertheless, Tagovailoa is a supremely talented passer who has unlocked a dynamic aerial attack for Tide coach Nick Saban.
After leading the nation's second-best scoring offense, Tagovailoa can again maximize a talented supporting cast. His touch on deeper passes allows him to hit tight windows that few of his peers can find consistently. Though he doesn't have the strongest arm, Tagovailoa has placement and timing that show a mastery of technique and the playbook.
He'll continue to have a devastating group of playmakers, too. Receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle headline a terrific, deep corps. With Tagovailoa back, and so many other returning starters in the fold, the Crimson Tide will again be title favorites in 2019.
1. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Ohio State quarterback and Heisman finalist Dwayne Haskins has yet to make his intentions known. According to Dan Hope of Eleven Warriors, Haskins won't announce his decision until after the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl. Thus, he makes our list of top 2019 quarterbacks.
Haskins had an astonishing first season as a starter. His pure passing talent is among the best we've seen in the last several years thanks to excellent precision and decision-making. His 47-to-eight touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't bloated by a simple system; Haskins has the uncanny talent to read defenses and deliver quality throws.
Why put Haskins over Tagovailoa? His growth from the start of 2018 through the end of the season was significant as he shredded both Michigan's and Northwestern's defense. Tagovailoa may have better touch on his throws, but Haskins has the ability to hit every throw asked of him due to his physical advantages.
After he led the country in passing yards and touchdowns, it's possible Haskins can't match these numbers if he does return to college in 2019. While he could stand to dominate more in big in-conference games, he showed growth as the 2018 season progressed and did what he could to drag a solid but unspectacular Buckeyes team to 12-1.
Ryan Day's promotion to head coach could help Haskins continue to elevate his level of play if he returns next season. Day's spread attack highlights Haskins' pre-snap field vision and patience in the pocket more than Urban Meyer's dated smashmouth spread. Haskins could delay a possible top-10 NFL draft slot for the chance to win the Heisman and play for a title in 2019.
Recruit rankings provided by 247Sports.