Lamar Jackson's illustrious career at Louisville is a big reason why the Class of 2015 has climbed into the top 10
No position in sports is more important than quarterback in football. NFL franchises can die a slow death if they miss on a quarterback through the draft. In college, the time is short with quarterbacks, which makes landing a solid recruit on a regular basis both difficult and crucial. Some programs can do this better than others, of course, but landing a top-rated prospect is just half the battle. The other half is developing that player to be ready to make an impact. Sometimes players will take a year or two (or three or four) before reaching their full potential, but every now and then a program will get lucky and have a player capable of winning right away. This has become truer in recent years as freshmen continue to dazzle, including this past college football season.
This is the beauty in ranking quarterback classes over time. There are some classes that are loaded with talented and accomplished passers at the college level, as well as the NFL. There are other classes that may not have the style points but had players have just as important a role in their respective programs as the next.
It is time to take another look at quarterback classes through the years, see how they have panned out, and then throw in the most recent recruiting class so see how they compare (spoiler alert: things are looking pretty good for the Class of 2017).
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, T.J. Yates, Ricky Stanzi, Thaddeus Lewis, John Skelton, Scott Tolzien, Nathan Enderle
This group remains the top quarterback class since the turn of the century, with a pair of Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford) and three BCS national championships between Tebow (above, right), Bradford and Greg McElroy. The class also turned out some other talented quarterbacks that would go on to start in the NFL, including Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Jake Locker. This class also gave us Case Keenum at Houston, who under Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles went on to rewrite the NCAA record book and just this past NFL season stepped in to lead the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game after replacing an injured Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater.
2. Class of 2011
The Stars: Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz
The Best of the Rest: Everett Golson, Trevone Boykin, Marquise Williams, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler, Jake Rudock, J.W. Walsh, David Ash, Kevin Hogan, Connor Cook, Chuckie Keeton, Rakeem Cato, Brett Smith
This class developed two Heisman Trophy winners in Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. The next tier consists of Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Connor Cook, Trevone Boykin and more. This class' strong finish also helped boost its status, as Everett Golson led Notre Dame to a BCS National Championship Game appearance and Boykin later led TCU to a share of the Big 12 title. In 2015, Marquise Williams took North Carolina to the ACC Championship Game and Cook led his Spartans to the College Football Playoff as a Big Ten champion. Louisville's Bridgewater was a first-round NFL draft pick of Minnesota in 2014 and Prescott had a remarkable rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys in '16.
Though he was not signed by an FBS program, it is worth noting North Dakota State's Carson Wentz was in the Class of 2011 as well. As a starter, Wentz led the Bison to two FCS national titles and earned game MVP honors in each. He went on to be the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and quickly became the starter for the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2017, Wentz had an MVP-caliber season before a season-ending injury kept him out of the postseason as the Eagles played their way into the Super Bowl.
3. 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
This class gave college football two of its best quarterbacks of the 21st century with Baylor’s Robert Griffin III winning a Heisman Trophy and Stanford’s Andrew Luck (right) perhaps being the best college signal-caller to never win the award (he was a runner-up twice). The rest of the class had some good talent as well, including the likes of Blaine Gabbert, EJ Manuel, and Terrelle Pryor. Manuel and Gabbert would go on to be first-round NFL draft picks, while Pryor’s collegiate career ended prematurely amid scandal at Ohio State. But talent-wise, the 2008 class had plenty to offer. The depth of the class sometimes gets overlooked but players like Darron Thomas, Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Nick Florence, Seth Doege, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and more helped in this respect.
4. 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
You will be hard-pressed to find a legend in this class, but there is no doubt this group served up some successful college quarterbacks. AJ McCarron led Alabama to a pair of BCS national championships. Aaron Murray provided some tremendous stability at Georgia at the position for the majority of his time in Athens. Geno Smith was a natural fit in West Virginia’s up-tempo, high-scoring offense, and Tajh Boyd helped Clemson turn a corner on its path to national championship contender. Dual-threat quarterbacks like Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson were highlights waiting to happen with the ability to create plays with their feet, and Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch led the Huskies to a BCS bowl appearance. Matt Barkley was among the best passers in the west during a brief sanction phase for USC.
5. Class of 2007
The Stars: Cam Newton, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Kellen Moore, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Tannehill
The Best of the Rest: Nick Foles, Chandler Harnish, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Lindley, Dan Persa, GJ Kinne
Not only does this group feature a Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton), but it also includes a Super Bowl champion in Russell Wilson. This is a quarterback class that has produced 10 passers that have started at least one game in the NFL, including 2015 MVP Newton. He may be the crown jewel of the class, with a Heisman and a BCS national championship, but there is some good depth here. Kellen Moore was a Boise State legend and the winningest quarterback in college football history. Kirk Cousins fueled a successful run at Michigan State as well, helping the Spartans to be a Big Ten contender and he has gone on to be a tenured starter in the NFL. This class also produced a Pac-12 quarterback who would go on to play in a Super Bowl with Nick Foles helping the Philadelphia Eagles reach Super Bowl LII. Newton and Wilson have combined for three Super Bowl appearances, giving this class a total of four Super Bowl starts at quarterback.
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
Joe Flacco, a Super Bowl champion, and Matt Ryan, who took the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, are your top passers out of the 2003 class when you take their entire careers into account. However, when it came to their collegiate careers, others shined more than both Ryan and Flacco. JaMarcus Russell out of LSU was a big guy who could do some damage with his arm on Saturdays, although he clearly did not pan out at the next level despite being a top pick. Chris Leak helped Florida win a national championship while players like Brady Quinn and Dennis Dixon helped make Notre Dame and Oregon national title contenders. At Houston, Kevin Kolb flourished under Art Briles.
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
Blake Bortles turned out to be the top star in this class after leading UCF to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Bryce Petty and Big 12 champion Baylor. Bortles went on to become the No. 3 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars and took them to the AFC Championship Game in the 2017 NFL season. At Missouri, James Franklin helped lead the Tigers to some successful runs in the SEC East, including a pair of trips to the SEC Championship Game. Shaw’s legacy at South Carolina is unrivaled among peers. Petty was explosive at Baylor, as was Sean Mannion at Oregon State. In a similar fashion, Connor Halliday racked up big yardage numbers at Washington State under Mike Leach.
8. Class of 2014
The Stars: Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Mason Rudolph, Will Grier, Patrick Mahomes II, Trace McSorley
The Best of the Rest: Brad Kaaya, Kyle Allen, Brandon Harris, Jerrod Heard, Quinton Flowers, Keller Chryst, Drew Barker, Clayton Thorson
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (right) leads the Class of 2014, which continues to rise as time goes by, following a 28-2 run that included a national championship and back-to-back title game appearances and epic performances. Many feel he should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, but there is no mistaking the impact he left during his college career. Watson and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes each went on to become top-10 draft picks, and DeShone Kizer went early in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Trace McSorley continues to elevate his profile after leading Penn State to a Big Ten championship in 2016 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in '17. In 2018, he will be the Big Ten's top passer returning. Mason Rudolph leaves behind a record-setting career at Oklahoma State and Will Grier may be ready to lead West Virginia to a Big 12 title run in 2018. This is a class that continues to age very well early on despite having no Heisman Trophy winner in the bunch.
9. Class of 2015
The Stars: Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Jake Browning, Sam Darnold
The Best of the Rest: Kelly Bryant, Kyler Murray, Brandon Wimbush, Lorenzo Nunez, Travis Jonsen, Ricky Town, Blake Barnett, Jarrett Stidham, Deondre Francois, Alex Hornibrook, Drew Lock, Brian Lewerke, Khalil Tate
This crop has a Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson), a pair of Pac-12 champions (Jake Browning and Sam Darnold) and three quarterbacks that could be first-round draft picks in 2018 (Jackson, Darnold, and Josh Rosen). This class continues to impress with the benefit of hindsight. Jackson was a Heisman finalist the year after winning the Heisman Trophy and the trio of Pac-12 quarterbacks continue to show some upside potential.
Jarrett Stidham moved from Baylor to Auburn and led the Tigers to victories over both Alabama and Georgia to push the Tigers into the SEC Championship Game in 2017, and Alex Hornibrook helped Wisconsin go 12-0 in the regular season and win the Orange Bowl against Miami in 2017. At Missouri, Drew Lock was the SEC's leading passer in 2017 as he continues to grow. At Clemson, Kelly Bryant was impressive in his first year replacing Deshaun Watson. This class could have stock on the rise over the next year or two. Arizona's Khalil Tate has quickly become a human highlight reel as well.
10. Class of 2013
The Stars: J.T. Barrett, Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, Jared Goff
The Best of the Rest: Malik Zaire, Kenny Hill, Joshua Dobbs, Anthony Jennings, Sefo Liufau, John O’Korn, Christian Hackenberg, Anu Solomon
The Class of 2013 turned out to be pretty darn good. Baker Mayfield gave the class a Heisman Trophy winner in 2017 and J.T. Barrett ended his storied career at Ohio State by setting school and Big Ten records. Both Mayfield and Barrett led their teams into College Football Playoff appearances but ultimately netted zero playoff wins between them. This class also served up a No. 1 draft pick in Jared Goff, who led the Los Angeles Rams to an NFC West title in his second year in the league.
The supporting cast had some good college moments as well, with Sefo Liufau helping Colorado to play for a Pac-12 title and Christian Hackenberg thriving under Bill O'Brien at Penn State before some struggles under James Franklin. John O'Korn had a breakout season at Houston but has since transferred to Michigan. Anu Solomon moved from Arizona to Baylor as well.
11. 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
This class will best be remembered for one Heisman Trophy winner and another who should have won it but did carry his team to a national championship with a performance for the ages. Vince Young at Texas led the Longhorns to a wild national title victory over USC, ending his career on a high note. At Ohio State, Troy Smith did win a Heisman Trophy and led the Buckeyes to a BCS National Championship Game, but lost. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan put up video game numbers in leading the Warriors to their lone BCS bowl appearance. This class also gave you Mike Vick’s younger brother Marcus, which was not quite as good as the original Vick experience, and Drew Stanton, who has played and started for both the Lions and Cardinals in the NFL.
12. Class of 2016
The Stars: Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson, Shane Buechele
The Best of the Rest: K.J. Costello, Justin Herbert, Nate Stanley, Feleipe Franks, Malik Henry, Jake Zembiec, Zerrick Cooper
The Class of 2016 has already had a major impact on college football in a short period of time. Jalen Hurts led Alabama to two straight national championship game appearances, one of which resulted in a win. The top two quarterbacks in the class, Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason, have already transferred to new schools (Patterson from Ole Miss to Michigan and Eason from Georgia to Washington) and each figure to be landing in a good spot with their new schools moving forward. Shane Buechele hit some stumbles at Texas but could still be a factor. This class also features players to watch like Oregon's Justin Herbert and Nate Stanley at Iowa.
13. 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
Colt McCoy’s career at Texas will likely go down as one of the most successful without the props and recognition to go along with it. McCoy never won a Heisman Trophy and his one trip to the BCS National Championship Game ended before it ever really got started with an early injury against Alabama. None of that takes away from the success McCoy did have at Texas, and the Longhorns have not been the same since his departure. This class also produced Mark Sanchez, who experienced brief success with the Trojans before leading the New York Jets to two AFC title game appearances. Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour was one of the stars of #MACTION’s earlier days as well as one of the reasons Brian Kelly and Butch Jones are where they are today.
14. Class of 2012
The Stars: Jameis Winston, Maty Mauk, Taysom Hill, Trevor Knight
The Best of the Rest: Tommy Armstrong, Travis Wilson, Wes Lunt, Chad Voytik, Nate Sudfeld
This class wasted little time in having an impact on the field. Jameis Winston was a star from his first game and led Florida State to an ACC and BCS national championship in his first year as a starter, which also led to a Heisman Trophy. Taysom Hill at BYU became one of the top quarterbacks to pay attention to from the non-power conferences, while Trevor Knight led Oklahoma to a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama and became the twinkle in Katy Perry’s eye (for one year at least). He has since moved on to Texas A&M. Tommy Armstrong provided some memorable moments for Nebraska and Nate Sudfeld was a reliable option at Indiana, while Maty Mauk saw a promising start turn sour at Missouri.
15. Class of 2017
The Stars: Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Sam Ehlinger, Tate Martell
The Best of the Rest: James Blackman, Myles Brennan, Jack Sears, Sean Clifford, Kasim Hill
The most recent recruiting class usually doesn't get to start above a previous class, but this year is worthy of being an exception considering the season we just witnessed. The national championship game was a story of freshmen quarterbacks with Jake Fromm guiding Georgia to an SEC title and the national title game (ousting Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield along the way in the Rose Bowl), and Alabama having Tua Tagovailoa (right) take over the offense in the second half to lead the Tide to a national title. If that's a preview of what is to come from this class, look out.
Sam Ehlinger was the leading passer for Texas this past season and is likely to be the starter in 2018. We haven't even seen Tate Martell at Ohio State yet, nor have we seen other talented quarterbacks in the class like Sean Clifford at Penn State or Jack Sears at USC. We already have one national champion in this class, and two championship game appearances. What more will this class have to offer in 2018 and beyond?
16. Class of 2004
The Stars: Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, Pat White, Brian Johnson, Graham Harrell, Daryll Clark
The Best of the Rest: Max Hall, Curtis Painter, Stephen McGee, Brian Hoyer, John Parker Wilson, Erik Ainge, C.J. Bacher, Mike Teel, Rudy Carpenter
Daryll Clark led Penn State to a Big Ten championship and its second Rose Bowl trip since joining the Big Ten. Brian Brohm was a product of the Bobby Petrino offensive system at his hometown Louisville and Pat White helped lead the revival of West Virginia football as he tore up the Big East. Graham Harrell was one of many Texas Tech QBs to rack up big numbers during his college career. The impact this quarterback class had on the game was not much more significant than that, although players like Chad Henne, Brian Hoyer and Max Hall would have fine careers at Michigan, Michigan State and BYU, respectively.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.