Recruiting Analysis: What was the Best QB Class Since 2002?

Athlon Sports looks back at the last 13 recruiting classes of signal-callers.

Not every recruiting class is created equal.

 

Depending on the state, region or position, each recruiting cycle offers different areas of strengths or weaknesses. A quick examination of the most important position on the field during the modern era of football recruiting (2002) makes this painfully obvious.

 

Every team needs a quality signal-caller to compete for championships but not every year can provide an answer under center. Here are the last 13 quarterback classes and how they stack up against one another:

 

1. Class of 2006

 

The Stars: Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick,

 

Best of the Rest: Case Keenum, Jake Locker, Greg McElroy, Todd Reesing, Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder, Nate Davis, Juice Williams, Thaddeus Lewis, T.J. Yates, Ricky Stanzi

 

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 and 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 early in his career.

 

2. Class of 2011

 

The Stars: Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Trevone Boykin, Braxton Miller

 

Best of the Rest: Cody Kessler, Connor Cook, Chuckie Keeton, Rakeem Cato, Cardale Jones, Marquise Williams, Everett Golson, Kevin Hogan

 

Manziel and Mariota have Heisman Trophies, numerous records and a trip to the national title game. Bridgewater, Hundley, Prescott and Boykin have taken their programs to unprecedented heights (with more to come potentially for Prescott and/or Boykin). Miller is a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and still has one more year of eligibility, while his teammate Jones has a conference and national championship victory under his belt. Hogan and Cook also are conference champs and Rose Bowl participants. Cato broke numerous NCAA records. And Kessler might be the most underrated player in the country in 2015. With another huge year, this group could jump the ’06 class.

 

3. Class of 2008

 

The Stars: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Collin Klein, EJ Manuel, Terrelle Pryor

 

Best of the Rest: Landry Jones, Darron Thomas, Blaine Gabbert, Mike Glennon, Seth Doege, Tyler Wilson, Ryan Nassib, Zac Dysert

 

When all is said and done, Luck will be the best player in any class since John Elway signed with Stanford while Griffin claims a Heisman and is Baylor’s career MVP. Jones was one of the most prolific passers in Big 12 history while Klein, Thomas, and Pryor were electric athletes who used their legs. Manuel and Gabbert were both first-round NFL Draft picks as well. In all, this group claims four first-round picks, one Heisman Trophy, a bunch of conference championships, and numerous BCS bowl games but doesn't have the overall depth to match '06 or '11.

 

4. Class of 2009

 

The Stars: AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Matt Barkley, Tajh Boyd

 

Best of the Rest: Geno Smith, Derek Carr, Denard Robinson, Jordan Lynch, Logan Thomas, Taylor Martinez, Bryn Renner, Keith Price, Zach Mettenberger, Brock Osweiler, Kolton Browning

 

There is no elite, No. 1 overall type of talent in this class but there are some huge numbers. And athletes. Boyd, Barkley and Murray left school as the most prolific passes in ACC, Pac-12 and SEC history respectively while Smith owns numerous passing records and Carr’s numbers would have broken Mountain West records had Fresno State been in the league longer. And then there are two BCS national championship rings courtesy of McCarron. Robinson and Lynch are the top two rushing quarterbacks in NCAA history with a combined 8,838 yards and 90 TDs.

 

5. Class of 2007

 

The Stars: Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Brandon Weeden, Kellen Moore

 

Best of the Rest: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Mallett, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Lindley, Josh Nesbitt, Jimmy Clausen

 

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 broke all kinds of NCAA records and Wilson has already led his team to two Super Bowls, with one win and a chance at a repeat Sunday. Moore is the winningest QB in history and is second only to Keenum in terms of career passing stats. 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.

 

6. Class of 2003

 

The Stars: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chris Leak, Paul Smith, Dennis Dixon

 

Best of the Rest: Brady Quinn, Andre Woodson, Matt Flynn, Kevin Kolb, John Beck, John David Booty, JaMarcus Russell, Drew Tate

 

Ryan and Flacco are elite NFL passers but both were mid-level recruits and Flacco had to transfer to a FCS school (Delaware) before eventually getting taken in the first round of the 2008 draft. But both are Pro Bowl-caliber talents and Flacco has already claimed a Super Bowl MVP award. 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.

 

7. Class of 2002

 

The Stars: Vince Young, Troy Smith, Colt Brennan

 

Best of the Rest: Drew Stanton, Omar Jacobs, Trent Edwards, John Stocco, Marcus Vick, Jordan Palmer, Drew Olson

 

At the top, this class had an elite trio. Young is the most unstoppable player I’ve ever seen on a college gridiron and carried Texas to a national title. 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. Stanton and Stocco were excellent Big Ten players but the depth of the class, or lack thereof, is what keeps it from being ranked higher.

 

8. Class of 2004

 

The Stars: Brian Brohm, Pat White, Brian Johnson, Graham Harrell

 

Best of the Rest: Chad Henne, Curtis Painter, Brian Hoyer, Max Hall, Stephen McGee, John Parker Wilson, Erik Ainge, Rudy Carpenter

 

None of these names ever turned out to be NFL stars but there are some elite college players in this class. 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 Wilson all started for at least three seasons at four of the most historic quarterback programs in the nation (BYU, Michigan, Purdue, Alabama).

 

9. Class of 2010

 

The Stars: Bryce Petty, Blake Bortles, Taylor Kelly, Connor Shaw

 

Best of the Rest: Sean Mannion, Brandon Doughty, James Franklin, Connor Halliday, Cody Fajardo, Shane Carden, Tyler Bray

 

Shaw is the arguably the most underrated SEC QB of all-time and is South Carolina's best signal-caller... ever. The same can be said for Bortles for UCF. Kelly and Petty just finished two historically productive seasons for their programs. Franklin rebounded from injury to prove he was an elite player for Mizzou. Halliday, Mannion and Doughty are three of the most prolific passes in NCAA history while Carden and Fajardo meant a lot to their programs.

 

10. Class of 2005

 

The Stars: Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez, Dan LeFevour

 

Best of the Rest: Daryll Clark, Zac Robinson, Tony Pike, Mike Kafka, Matt Grothe, Riley Skinner, Joe Webb, Sean Canfield

 

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 to 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 currently coaching at Notre Dame and Tennessee respectively.

 

11. Class of 2012

 

The Stars: Jameis Winston, Maty Mauk, Taysom Hill, Justin Thomas

 

Best of the Rest: Gunner Kiel, Patrick Towles, Chad Voytik, Nate Sudfeld, Cyler Miles, Tommy Armstrong, Trevor Knight, Travis Wilson

 

This group already claims a Heisman winner and a BCS national title as well as three emerging stars at Mizzou, BYU and Georgia Tech. Additionally, expectation levels are high for a handful of other big-time talents like Kiel at Cincinnati, Miles at Washington, Voytik at Pitt, Towles at Kentucky and Sudfeld at Indiana.

 

12. Class of 2013

 

The Stars: Christian Hackenberg, J.T. Barrett, Anu Solomon, Josh Dobbs, Jared Goff

 

Best of the Rest: Sefo Liufau, Jeremy Johnson, Davis Webb, Malik Zaire, John O'Korn,

 

Nothing is really known about this class as of yet. However, names like Hackenberg, Goff, Barrett, Solomon and Dobbs have already set a solid benchmark with big-time production in their first few seasons. Names that could easily find their way into the "Stars" or "Best of the Rest" category in 2014 include Jeremy Johnson at Auburn and Malik Zaire at Notre Dame.

 

13. Class of 2014

 

The Stars: Brad Kaaya, Deshaun Watson, Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph

 

Best of the Rest: ???

 

It's way too early and too much is unknown about this class to rank it any higher than last. But after just one year, this group is off to a good start with Kaaya, Watson, Allen and Rudolph looking the part of long-term starters for Miami, Clemson, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State respectively. Others like Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and John Wolford (Wake Forest) made a quick impact as well.

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