Position U: Top QB Schools of All Time
Welcome to the most contentious string of debates among college football fans. It's Position U week.
Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller are identifying the college programs that have generated the most productive NFL players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and defensive back since 1970.
In this final edition of a five-part series, the focus is on quarterbacks.
At every position, the discussion has several possible angles. Is your preference total NFL alumni? The number of players drafted from a certain position group? Actual NFL production? All of these measures are reasonable to use as a guide.
Throughout this Position U series, B/R's focus is on the third definition. While the total number of players was considered, on-field NFL production since 1970 shaped the final order.
Cal Golden Bears
Craig Morton, Steve Bartkowski and Vince Ferragamo made Cal a well-represented program in the 1970s and '80s. A few decades later, Aaron Rodgers developed into one of the most skilled quarterbacks in league history. Jared Goff has since followed with a couple of Pro Bowl campaigns and a Super Bowl appearance.
During the 1980s and '90s, Miami sent a handful of quarterbacks to the NFL. Jim Kelly is a Hall of Famer. Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde started a combined 322 regular-season games, while Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson had careers of six-plus years. Beyond them, however, only Ken Dorsey attempted more than 31 passes.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame's QB lineage boasts a Hall of Famer in Joe Montana, league MVP in Joe Theismann and pre-merger star Daryle Lamonica. Steve Beuerlein also managed a Pro Bowl season in 1999. Rick Mirer is the final notable QB to have a semblance of NFL success.
In recent years, Oklahoma is the undisputed king. Since 2010, the program has celebrated three No. 1 overall picks in Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Landry Jones was a backup, and 2020 second-rounder Jalen Hurts will be too. But before them, the only Oklahoma-connected QB was Troy Aikman—who transferred to UCLA after his sophomore year.
Dan Fouts is a Hall of Famer who helped the NFL's transition to a pass-heavy league. Oregon otherwise has several "had one notably good season" players in Bob Berry, Chris Miller, Joey Harrington and Marcus Mariota, plus Kellen Clemens and A.J. Feeley.
Stanford is a strong contender for a higher spot. John Elway is a legendary Hall of Famer, Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls, and John Brodie earned the 1970 MVP award. Most recently, an oft-injured Andrew Luck was a perennial Pro Bowler.
As far as volume goes, USC is unmatched. Even excluding a transfer, 18 former USC players have an NFL start. However, the drop-off from Carson Palmer to Rodney Peete and Matt Cassel is steep, followed by Pat Haden, Vince Evans and Mark Sanchez.
Warren Moon, Mark Brunell and Chris Chandler are a terrific three-man group. They all played 17 seasons each and combined for 14 Pro Bowls—of which Moon earned nine. After that, UW has the scattered careers of Steve Pelluer, Hugh Millen, Damon Huard and Jake Locker.
3. North Carolina State Wolfpack
How do you weigh transfers? In most cases, they should be excluded. Russell Wilson, however, started for several years and earned his degree at NC State; Wisconsin shouldn't get all the credit.
Over the last decade, he's become one of the most efficient throwers and productive runners the NFL has ever seen. Wilson is a Super Bowl champion and a six-time Pro Bowler who helped redefine what a quarterback looks like.
Philip Rivers, meanwhile, redefined a funky motion.
Nevertheless, the unorthodox style has guided Rivers to the sixth-most passing yards and touchdowns in league history. After retiring, he may be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Rivers and Wilson headlined NC State's five active quarterbacks in 2019, with the others being Jacoby Brissett, Mike Glennon and Ryan Finley.
Roman Gabriel reached his peak with an MVP award in 1969, but after the merger, he still made another Pro Bowl. Erik Kramer had a long career and earned a playoff win in 1991—the most recent in Detroit Lions history.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Superior depth is not Michigan's strength. The program does, however, boast the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history.
Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings—an unparalleled feat—with three additional AFC titles and three MVP awards. The 14-time Pro Bowler ranks second all-time in completions, yards and touchdowns.
Brady alone accomplished what the best two quarterbacks from any other program could combine to offer.
Brian Griese and Elvis Grbac—who both held backup roles on Super Bowl-winning teams—each reached a Pro Bowl during their careers. Todd Collins and Chad Henne both cracked the 10-year mark, primarily serving as backups in the NFL.
1. Purdue Boilermakers
The Hall of Fame already has a place for Len Dawson and Bob Griese. Sometime soon, Drew Brees will be in Canton too.
Brees, a Super Bowl champion and two-time AP Offensive Player of the Year, is the league's all-time leader in completions, yards and touchdowns. His resume speaks for itself.
Even as Dawson's career wound down, he reached his seventh and final Pro Bowl. Griese then began his ascent into stardom, earning two Super Bowl rings and two All-Pro honors. Gary Danielson and Mike Phipps also emerged as starters in the '70s and '80s.
Jim Everett twice led the NFL in passing scores, then made a Pro Bowl the next season. Upon retiring in 1997, Everett ranked 19th in career passing touchdowns with 203.
For good measure, Kyle Orton made 82 starts and threw 101 touchdowns in a decade-long career.
Note: Jeff George also played one season at Purdue but transferred to Illinois.