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Athlon Sports looks back at the last 12 recruiting classes of signal-callers.
Not every recruiting class is created equal. Nor every NFL Draft class for that matter.
Depending on the state, region or position, each recruiting cycle offers different areas of strengths or weaknesses. As research about geography indicates, Louisiana, for example, has an elite collection of talent in the 2014 class.
There are many uncertainties in recruiting for obvious reasons. It cycles up and down, back and forth. Some classes may be loaded with elite linebackers. Some years all of the best talent comes from the West Coast. On and on and on.
One thing is certain, however. Every team needs at least a good quarterback to win a championship. This much is true on every level of football. But not every recruiting cycle is created equal. An in-depth examination of the modern era of football recruiting — since 2002, when Internet rankings became so prevalent — makes this painfully obvious.
While there are excellent players entering college every year, some are better than others. For example, the 2004 class of signal-callers is headlined by Brian Brohm and Pat White while the '08 class is headlined by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. All four were outstanding college quarterbacks but its safe to say Luck and Griffin are a different tier of overall talent.
So I’ve ranked each of the last 12 quarterback classes against each other and this is what I came up with…
1. Class of 2006
The Stars: Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker, Case Keenum
The Best of the Rest: Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, Greg McElroy, Todd Reesing, Nate Davis, Juice Williams, TJ Yates, Ricky Stanzi, Thaddeus Lewis, John Skelton, Scott Tolzien, Nathan Enderle
This group features six first-round picks, including two No. 1 overall selections, and two second-rounders. It registered two Heisman Trophies, three BCS national championships and featured the most prolific passer in NCAA history. And Colin Kaepernick, who was a statistical juggernaut at Nevada, led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII and nearly got SanFran back to another one in 2013. Additionally, Yates, Stafford and Dalton have all started NFL playoff games while Ponder led the Vikings to an improbable playoff berth last season. This class has long been considered the best of the modern era and it appears nothing has changed.
2. Class of 2008
The Stars: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Collin Klein, Landry Jones, Darron Thomas, Blaine Gabbert, Nick Florence, EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor
The Best of the Rest:, Mike Glennon, Seth Doege, Tyler Wilson, Colby Cameron, Sean Renfree, Ryan Nassib, Matt Scott, Zac Dysert, Alex Carder, Jacory Harris
When all is said and done, Luck and Griffin III might be better than anyone in the 2006 class, but the depth at the top may not be as elite. Jones is one of the most prolific passers in history while Klein, Thomas, and Pryor are electric athletes who used their legs. Manuel and Gabbert were both first-round NFL Draft picks as well. What makes this class great is its depth in the middle as names like Nick Florence, Matt Scott, Ryan Nassib and Seth Doege are underrated nationally in terms of production. In all, this group claims four first-round picks, one Heisman Trophy, multiple Heisman finalists, a bunch of conference championships, numerous BCS bowl games and one BCS title game appearance.
3. Class of 2009
The Stars: AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tajh Boyd, Derek Carr, Taylor Martinez, Denard Robinson, Jordan Lynch, Bryn Renner
The Best of the Rest: Logan Thomas, Keith Price, Zach Mettenberger, Brock Osweiler, C.J. Brown, Kolton Browning
There is no elite, No. 1 overall type of talent in this class but there are some huge numbers. And athletes. Robinson and Lynch are the top two rushing quarterbacks in NCAA history with a combined 8,838 yards and 90 rushing TDs. Add to it Martinez' near 3,000 yards and 31 rushing TDs and you have three of the most dynamic running quarterbacks of all time. Boyd, Barkley and Murray are the most prolific passes in ACC, Pac-12 and SEC history respectively while Smith owns numerous passing records. And then there are two BCS national championship rings courtesy of McCarron (three if you count his redshirt season). The complete production, success and overall talent of this group gives it a slight nod over the established stars of the 2007 class.
4. Class of 2007
The Stars: Cam Newton, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Tannehill
The Best of the Rest:, Chandler Harnish, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Lindley, Dan Persa, GJ Kinne
One guy gives this class a Heisman Trophy, a BCS national title and a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. But the rest of the group is underrated as well. Wilson and Weeden are NFL starters who broke all kinds of NCAA records and Wilson has already led his team to a Super Bowl. Moore is the winningest QB in history and is second only to Keenum in terms of career passing stats. Cousins is an extremely underrated leader and is the best QB in Michigan State history while Mallett, Lindley and Tannehill are all NFL players. Taylor and Nesbitt give this group plenty of athleticism as well.
5. Class of 2011
The Stars: Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan, Chuckie Keeton, Connor Cook, Rakeem Cato, Brett Smith
The Best of the Rest: Everett Golson, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler, Dak Prescott, Jake Rudock, Marquise Williams, J.W. Walsh, Trevone Boykin, David Ash
In just three seasons, it is hard to argue the upside of the 2011 group. Manziel has a Heisman Trophy while Bridgewater could be the No. 1 overall pick in the May NFL Draft. Miller, Mariota and Hundley all have eyes on joining Manziel as a Heisman Trophy winner while Hogan and Cook are already defending conference champs and Rose Bowl participants. All five could have their teams in the national championship hunt as well in 2014. Toss in Golson, who's already played in a BCS title game, and three mid-major superstars in Cato, Keeton and Smith, and the '11 group is as dynamic and successful as any in the modern era. And it still has another big year ahead of it.
6. Class of 2003
The Stars: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chris Leak, Paul Smith, Kevin Kolb, Dennis Dixon, Brady Quinn, Andre Woodson
The Best of the Rest: John Beck, John David Booty, Kevin O'Connell, Tom Brandstater, Matt Flynn, JaMarcus Russell, Drew Tate
Ryan and Flacco are elite NFL passers but both were mid-level recruits and Flacco had to transfer to a FCS school (Delaware) before eventually getting taken in the first round of the 2008 draft. But both are Pro Bowl-caliber talents and Flacco has already claimed a Super Bowl MVP award. In all, there are four first-round picks, two BCS national championships and a host of players who would be among their school's greatest of all-time — Woodson, Smith, Kolb and Dixon won a lot of games with big numbers. If Russell wasn't arguably the biggest bust (literally and figuratively) in NFL Draft history, this class could make a case for being higher on the list.
7. Class of 2010
The Stars: Bryce Petty, Blake Bortles, Taylor Kelly, James Franklin, Connor Shaw,
The Best of the Rest: Tanner Price, Cody Fajardo, Devin Gardner, Stephen Morris, Tyler Bray, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, Chase Rettig, David Piland, Blake Bell, Shane Carden, Brandon Connette, Jake Heaps, Hutson Mason
Shaw is the arguably the most underrated SEC QB of all-time and is South Carolina's best signal-caller... ever. The same can be said for Bortles for UCF. Kelly and Petty return to teams eying conference championships in 2014 and could both find themselves in New York as Heisman finalists as well. Franklin rebounded from injury to prove he was an elite player for Mizzou. The '10 class has a host of big names that could still prove to be historic players for their schools should things pan out well in '14: Gardner, Mannion, Halliday, Bell, Mason. And, in case you missed it, Brandon Connette has scored more touchdowns than any player in Duke history.
8. Class of 2002
The Stars: Vince Young, Troy Smith, Colt Brennan
The Best of the Rest: Drew Stanton, Omar Jacobs, Phil Horvath, Trent Edwards, John Stocco, Marcus Vick, Jordan Palmer, Drew Olson, Tyler Palko
At the top, this class had an elite trio. Young is the most unstoppable player I’ve ever seen on a college gridiron and carried his Texas team to a national title. Smith also led his team to the national title game and claimed Ohio State’s seventh Heisman Trophy. Brennan posted huge numbers at Hawaii in getting the Warriors to their one and only BCS bowl game. Stanton and Stocco were excellent Big Ten players but the depth of the class, or lack thereof, is what keeps it from being ranked higher.
9. Class of 2005
The Stars: Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez, Zac Robinson, Dan LeFevour
The Best of the Rest: Riley Skinner, Tony Pike, Joe Webb, Sean Canfield, Mike Kafka, Levi Brown, Matt Grothe, Tim Hiller, Jarrett Brown
The top five were great players for their schools but that is about all this class has to offer. Yes, Canfield, Kafka, Webb and Pike were NFL Draft picks but all are bench players. McCoy is the real star, finishing his career with more wins than anyone in history (until Kellen Moore) and leading Texas into the championship game. Sanchez had a great team at USC and was a top pick but has very little experience. Robinson and Daniel were, at the time of graduation, likely the top quarterbacks in program history. LeFevour is a big reason why Brian Kelly and Butch Jones are coaching at Notre Dame and Tennessee respectively.
10. Class of 2012
The Stars: Jameis Winston, Maty Mauk, Taysom Hill, Trevor Knight
The Best of the Rest: Tommy Armstrong, Travis Wilson, Jalen Whitlow, Nate Sudfeld
In just two short seasons, this group already claims a Heisman winner and a BCS national title as well as three emerging stars at Mizzou, BYU and Oklahoma. Additionally, expectation levels are high for a handful of other big-time talents like Cyler Miles at Washington, Will Gardner at Louisville, Chad Voytik at Pitt, Wes Lunt at Illinois and Tyler Cameron at Wake Forest. This group could rise or fall depending on how some of the unknowns work out over the next two seasons.
11. Class of 2004
The Stars: Brian Brohm, Pat White, Brian Johnson, Graham Harrell, Daryll Clark
The Best of the Rest: Max Hall, Chad Henne, Curtis Painter, Stephen McGee, Brian Hoyer, John Parker Wilson, Erik Ainge, CJ Bacher, Mike Teel, Rudy Carpenter
None of these names ever turned out to be NFL stars but there are some elite college players in this class. Clark, Brohm, White and Johnson all led their teams to historic seasons, conference crowns and BCS bowl wins. Harrell posted elite passing statistics while Hall, Henne, Painter and Wilson all started for at least three seasons at four of the most historic quarterback programs in the nation (BYU, Michigan, Purdue, Alabama).
12. Class of 2013
The Stars: Christian Hackenberg, Davis Webb, Jared Goff, John O'Korn
The Best of the Rest: Josh Dobbs, Anthony Jennings, Sefo Luifau
Nothing is really known about this class as of yet. However, names like Hackenberg, Webb, Goff and O'Korn have already set a solid benchmark with big-time production in their first seasons. Names that could easily find their way into the "Stars" or "Best of the Rest" category in 2014 include Jeremy Johnson at Auburn, Johnny McCary at Vanderbilt, Kevin Olsen at Miami, Mitch Trubisky at North Carolina, Anu Solomon from Arizona and Danny Etling at Purdue among others. As far as true freshmen go, however, this group has already established itself as very capable.