Recruiting is reaching a fever pitch as the college football machine churns toward National Signing Day 2013. The first Wednesday in February is the NCAA’s version of Christmas morning for fans and coaches alike. Great coaching is the key to winning, but so are great players. If your team has better athletes, generally speaking, it will win the game more often than not.
That doesn’t mean that every five-star is an All-American or every two-star is a Sun Belt third stringer.
Athlon Sports continues its analysis of recruiting over the last 10 years by evaluating the most important player on the field. The quarterback position has evolved dramatically over the last decade and it has made scouting the game’s most intricate position that much more difficult.
Every year isn’t created equally and the Athlon Consensus 100 proves this quite obviously. Since its inception in 2008, two quarterbacks have been ranked as the top player in the nation — Terrelle Pryor (2008) and Matt Barkley (2009). In 2010, however, Jake Heaps was considered the nation’s best quarterback, but was ranked No. 42 overall. Jeff Driskel was the top signal caller in 2011 and was No. 17 overall. Some quarterback classes are deeper and more talented than others.
Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the quarterback classes over the last 10 years:
1. Class of 2006
The Super 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, has led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. Additionally, Yates, Stafford and Dalton have all started NFL playoff games while Ponder led the Vikings to an improbable playoff berth this fall. This class has long been considered the best of the modern era and it appears nothing has changed.
2. Class of 2008
The Super Stars: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Collin Klein, Landry Jones, Blaine Gabbert
The Best of the Rest: EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor, Darron Thomas, Mike Glennon, Seth Doege, Tyler Wilson, Colby Cameron, Sean Renfree, Ryan Nassib, Matt Scott, Nick Florence, 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 isn’t as elite. Jones is one of the most prolific passers in history, but his legacy might be more disappointment than Hall of Fame. Klein, Thomas, and Pryor are electric athletes who used their legs but have issues with accuracy. 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 three first-round picks (with a chance at a couple more), one Heisman Trophy, a handful of conference championships and one BCS title game appearance.
3. Class of 2009
The Super Stars: AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tajh Boyd, Taylor Martinez, Denard Robinson, Jordan Lynch
The Best of the Rest: Derek Carr, Logan Thomas, Keith Price, Bryn Renner, Tyler Russell, Brock Osweiler
There is no elite, No. 1 overall type of talent in this class but there are some huge numbers. And athletes. Martinez, Robinson, Lynch and Thomas have combined for 118 career rushing touchdowns and over 10,000 yards rushing. Boyd, Smith, Carr and Barkley have all been elite passers with huge numbers through the air. Aaron Murray has two SEC East titles and could rewrite the SEC passing record books next fall and could potentially make a run at the first round in 2014. And then there are two BCS national championship rings courtesy of McCarron (three if you count his redshirt season). The upside of this group gives it a slight nod over the established stars of the 2007 class as college football should be excited that most of the names in this class decided to return to school instead of going pro (Murray, McCarron, Boyd, Carr, Thomas, Renner).
4. Class of 2007
The Super Stars: Cam Newton, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallett
The Best of the Rest: Ryan Tannehill, 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 while Kellen Moore is the winningest QB in history. 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 2003
The Super 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 get to the first round. 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 JaMarcus 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.
6. Class of 2011
The Super Stars: Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley
The Best of the Rest: Everett Golson, Jeff Driskel, Chuckie Keeton, Gary Nova, Trevone Boykin, David Ash, Max Wittek
In just two short seasons, it is hard to argue the upside of the 2011 group. Manziel has a Heisman Trophy while the top five names in this class will feature prominently in the chase for the 2013 stiff-armed trophy. And all five could have their teams in the BCS National Championship hunt as well. Toss in Golson, Driskel and Keeton as well as a host of other names who have yet to be discovered and this group is already well established. This might be the only class that could make a run at the 2006 class for top billing.
7. Class of 2002
The Super 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 he won the ultimate prize. 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.
8. Class of 2004
The Super 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 will ever 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 Parker Wilson all started for at least three seasons at four of the most historic quarterback programs in the nation (BYU, Michigan, Purdue, Alabama). The depth of this class gives it a slight edge on the 2005 group.
9. Class of 2005
The Super 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 2010
The Super Stars: Taylor Kelly, James Franklin, Tyler Bray
The Best of the Rest: Blake Bell, Tanner Price, Cody Fajardo, Devin Gardner, Stephen Morris, Sean Mannion, David Piland, Connor Shaw, Jake Heaps, Phillip Sims
The top two recruits in this class (Heaps, Sims) have both transferred but have new opportunities to be successful. Kelly, Franklin and Bray are the only established players in this group while some others have high expectations for 2013 (Fajardo, Morris, Bell, Shaw, Gardner). This group has to be ranked last due to the lack of established super stars. However, this class should move up over the next few seasons as more names emerge and the guys above continue to develop.