No position in sports is more important than the quarterback position in football. NFL franchises can die a slow death if they miss on a quarterback through the NFL draft. In college, the time is short with quarterbacks, which makes landing a solid quarterback recruit on a regular basis both difficult and crucial. Some programs can do this better than others, of course, but landing a top-rated recruit 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.
Two years Athlon Sports' Braden Gall took the time to rank each of the 12 most recent quarterback classes. A lot has changed since then though, so it was time to take another look at some of the younger classes from that list, see how they have panned out, and then throw in the more recent recruiting classes before we even think about touching the Class of 2016 (maybe in two more years we can revisit that as well as the Class of 2017).
So now, with the benefit of a little more evidence and analysis to rely on, the time has come to rank each of the past 14 quarterback classes in college football against one another.
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
The Class of 2006 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, Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker and Andy Dalton. 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
The Class of 2008 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 a Heisman Trophy (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 Class of 2008 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, 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
The last time this ranking was organized, the Class of 2011 checked in at fifth. Two years later, it was time to reassess where this class stands. This class developed two Heisman Trophy winners in Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. The next tier consists of Teddy Bridgewater, Kevin Hogan, Brett Hundley, Connor Cook, Trevone Boykin, Dak Prescott and more. And in the past two years, the value and respect of some of the other members of this class have increased. Everett Golson led Notre Dame to a BCS Championship Game appearance and Boykin later led TCU to a share of the Big 12 title. This past season, 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.
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 the Class of 2009, 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 the Class of 2007 feature a Heisman Trophy winner, but it also includes a Super Bowl champion with Russell Wilson (Newton has a chance to join him if he wins Super Bowl 50 against the Denver Broncos). This is a quarterback class that produced eight that started at least one game in the NFL in 2015, including three playoff teams. Newton may be the crown jewel of the class, with a Heisman Trophy 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 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 the QB Class of 2010, 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
One Heisman Trophy winner and another who should have won it but won the 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 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 Senior Bowl MVP Drew Stanton.
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 game-ending 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 gave USC 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 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
The Class of 2012 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). 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 in the past year at Missouri.
11. Class of 2014
The Stars: Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer, Kyle Allen
The Best of the Rest: Patrick Mahomes, Will Grier, Mason Rudolph, Brandon Harris, Jerrod Heard
This class is just now hitting its stride, and the top of the heap is a good one. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson just led the Tigers to an undefeated regular season and advanced all the way to the national championship game, where he put on a Vince Young Rose Bowl-esque performance in a losing effort against Alabama. Watson was a Heisman finalist and enters 2016 as one of the favorites. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer has shown some sizzle as well, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya is widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks on a mediocre football team. Otherwise, this might turn out to be a class of what ifs with Kyle Allen wasting little time leaving Texas A&M and Will Grier leaving Florida after a solid start following a suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
12. Class of 2015
The Stars: Josh Rosen, Ricky Town, Blake Barnett, Jarrett Stidham
The Best of the Rest: Kyler Murray, Brandon Wimbush, Lorenzo Nunez, Lamar Jackson, Travis Jonsen
The jury is still largely out on the talent coming through in the Class of 2015, but we already have some stars in the making. UCLA’s Josh Rosen took control of the Bruins' offense from day one and showed some tremendous promise. Across town, the Ricky Town show is just about to get started at USC, and Blake Barnett has the potential to be Nick Saban’s best quarterback recruit at Alabama. Baylor’s Jarrett Stidham was injured in his first season, but not before getting a taste of being a part of the Bears' explosive offense. Brandon Wimbush may have to wait for his time at Notre Dame, and Kyler Murray has already left Texas A&M, so there are some names that may take a little longer to find themselves.
13. Class of 2013
The Stars: J.T. Barrett, 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
The Class of 2013 still has a little bit of time to shine, but it was already worthy of being bumped up in this updated ranking. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett is a big reason why, as he was not even mentioned in the previous ranking two years ago. Barrett arrived ready to go to battle for the Buckeyes, replacing an injured Braxton Miller and helping lead Ohio State into the College Football Playoff. A season-ending injury changed that outlook, but Barrett remains a Heisman hopeful in 2016. The trajectory of Christian Hackenberg took a hit in the past two seasons after a standout freshman campaign, but Pac-12 players Jared Goff and Anu Solomon have left their marks with their programs. This class also presented Malik Zaire, Kenny Hill, Sefo Luifau, John O’Korn and Joshua Dobbs. All are worth paying attention to in 2016.
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.
— 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 writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.