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Ranking the Quarterback Recruiting Classes Since 2002

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

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.

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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

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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.