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 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 many 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 more recent recruiting classes so see how they compare. The youngest classes in this ranking are already seeing some nice results and have started to reshape the way this list has been compiled.
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, Bradford and Greg McElroy. The class also turned out some other talented quarterbacks that would go on to start in the NFL, namely 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.
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
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 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.
3. Class of 2011
The Stars: Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Kevin Hogan, Connor Cook, Chuckie Keeton, Rakeem Cato, Brett Smith
The Best of the Rest: Everett Golson, Trevone Boykin, Marquise Williams, Jeff Driskel, Cody Kessler, Jake Rudock, J.W. Walsh, David Ash
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.
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: Chandler Harnish, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Lindley, Dan Persa, GJ Kinne
Not only does this group feature a Heisman Trophy winner, but it also includes a Super Bowl champion in Russell Wilson. This is a quarterback class that has produced 10 that have started at least one game in the NFL, including 2015 MVP Cam 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.
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 will be playing on Super Sunday this year, are your top passers out of the recruiting class of 2003 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. 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. 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 passers. 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 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.
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
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 early stars of #MACTION’s earlier days as well as one of the reasons Brian Kelly and Butch Jones are where they are today.
10. Class of 2014
The Stars: Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer
The Best of the Rest: Patrick Mahomes, Will Grier, Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph, Brandon Harris, Jerrod Heard, Quinton Flowers, Trace McSorley
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson helps push his class into the top 10 this year after putting together a 28-2 run over the past two years to lead the Tigers to a national championship. Many feel he should have won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, but there is no mistaking the impact he left during his college career. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Miami's Brad Kaaya will join Watson in taking their game to the NFL in 2017 after fine careers as well.
A couple of noteworthy quarterbacks look for a fresh start after transfers with Will Grier (Florida to West Virginia) and Kyle Allen (Texas A&M to Houston) expected to perform well in their new spots. This class also brought Wilton Speight to Michigan, Quinton Flowers to USF and Trace McSorley to Penn State. Speight was reliable for a Michigan team that was a Big Ten contender up until the end and lost a close Oragen Bowl to Florida State, while McSorley exploded in the second half of the season on Penn State's Big Ten championship run. Flowers has been the star of USF's success as well.
11. Class of 2015
The Stars: Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Jake Browning, Sam Darnold
The Best of the Rest: Kyler Murray, Brandon Wimbush, Lorenzo Nunez, Travis Jonsen, Ricky Town, Blake Barnett, Jarrett Stidham, Deondre Francois, Alex Hornibrook
This crop already has a Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson), a Pac-12 champion (Jake Browning) and perhaps the top rising star of 2017 (Sam Darnold). A year ago we said the jury was still out on this class of quarterbacks, and a lot has happened since then to warrant bumping this class up a few spots. Josh Rosen remains one of the top players at UCLA and the 2017 season will be the year Brandon Wimbush gets a chance to see what he can do at Notre Dame. We will have to keep an eye on former Alabama commit Blake Barnett, who will now have to sit out a year after transferring to Arizona State, and former Texas A&M player Kyler Muray (who has moved on to Oklahoma and has to sit behind Baker Mayfield). Ricky Town, a former USC commit who has since transferred to Arkansas and is now in the JUCO ranks, so keep an eye on him in 2018. Jarrett Stidham is ready to take over at Auburn and Deondre Francois should benefit from his experience as a redshirt freshman on a Florida State team that finished its seaosn by beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl. This is a class that could easily be on the rise once again when we revisit this ranking a year from now.
12. 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
Thic 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.
13. Class of 2013
The Stars: J.T. Barrett, Baker Mayfield, Christian Hackenberg, Davis Webb, Jared Goff, Anu Solomon
The Best of the Rest: Malik Zaire, Kenny Hill, Joshua Dobbs, Anthony Jennings, Sefo Liufau, John O’Korn
This class remains a fascinating one. Cal's Jared Goff was the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. J.T. Barrett has helped Ohio State get to two College Football Playoff games and remains one of the top players in the Big Ten entering the 2017 season. Baker Mayfield could be a potential Heisman Trophy favorite this fall at Oklahoma, although his college career started at Texas Tech in 2013. Sefo Liufau was key to a turnaround season at Colorado in 2016 and John O'Korn could be ready to compete for a starting job at Michigan after transferring from Houston. Christian Hackenberg looked like a stud in his freshman season but struggled in a new offensive system at Penn State and now fills a backup role with the New York Jets.
14. 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, 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.
15. Class of 2016
The Stars: Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson, Shane Buechele
The Best of the Rest: Feleipe Franks, Malik Henry, Jake Zembiec, KJ Costello, Zerrick Cooper
The most recent class to be included in this list is off to a pretty good start thanks to the play of Alabama's Jalen Hurts and Georgia's Jacob Eason. Hurts helped guide Alabama to an undefeated regular season and national championship game appearance, and Eason provided a glimmer of optimism for the Bulldogs in Athens. Ole Miss intended to redshirt Shea Patterson, but injury forced him into action late in the 2016 season and provided a potential glimpse of what's to come from the talentend dual threat. Expect a big year out of Shane Buechele in 2017 with Tom Herman taking over at Texas, and watch to see if Zerrick Cooper steps in to replace the NFL-bound Deshaun Watson at Clemson. Meanwhile, other notable names in the class will have to wait for their time and perhaps fend off competition from incoming recruits or upper classmen.
— 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.