Ranking college football quarterbacks in tiers: From All-Americans to new transfers

Earlier this month, I deviated from the normal offseason philosophy of ranking things for #content and tiered college football's coaches into groups. In that way, coaches with similar qualities could be more accurately compared to their counterparts. 

Now, I'm doing the same thing with this season's quarterbacks. From your Heisman Trophy contenders to your second-chance grad transfers, how does this year's landscape look?

One thing I noticed quickly: There's a big gap in star power. This isn't a bad thing, per se. It's an opportunity for a lot of under the radar players to make a name for themselves. It's a chance for someone to come out of nowhere and take the sport by storm. But with no Baker MayfieldJosh Rosen or Sam Darnold, college football is looking for a new face. 

That made tiering this year's quarterback group equal parts exciting and agonizingly tedious so, before going any further, allow me to expand on the methodology ... 

  • I didn't rank every quarterback. There are websites that did -- you can Google them and everything -- and that's fine. But there's a law of diminishing returns when you start sweating over the 15th or 20th best quarterback in every tier. There has to be a cutoff line somewhere. 
  • Not every two-deep is going to be settled post-spring, but as a general rule I omitted quarterbacks involved in heated offseason battles. If the picture is that unclear, it's tough to rank them. There are exceptions, of course, which I'll get to later. I also didn't rank any player who has yet to take at least one snap in a college game. 
  • Players could realistically be slotted in more than one tier. I chose the ones that felt like the best fit. On that note: There's obviously an order to the madness -- you would take a Tier I quarterback over one from Tier VI every time -- but largely, this is about fit. And remember, the order is a snapshot of the moment. It can, has and will change.
  • The stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus from 2017. They're meant to be guidelines more than hard-and-fast formulaic variables. In addition to passing yards, rushing yards, touchdowns and interceptions, I've added the following two metrics:
    • Big Time Throws (BTT): The highest-graded throws by PFF, usually of the more difficult variety downfield
    • Turnover Worthy Throws (TWT): What PFF considers to be dangerous throws into coverage or as a result of inaccuracy; they should be intercepted

    Tier I

    These quarterbacks have All-American and award season aspirations, which include the Heisman Trophy

    Player (School) Pass YdsPass TDs/INTs Rush YdsRush TDsBTTTWT
    1. Trace McSorley (Penn State)

    3,569

    28/10

    598

    11

    19

    9

    2. Will Grier (West Virginia)

    3,536

    34/12

    224

    2

    31

    11

    3. McKenzie Milton (UCF)

    4,070

    38/9

    637

    9

    37

    16

    McSorley feels like the consensus No. 1 quarterback entering the season. If given the choice, I almost always go with the guy who is a legit threat to throw and run. But let's talk more extensively about Grier. I've been bullish on him and somehow it seems like I'm on an island for it. He was No. 6 among my top 25 returning players for 2018. However, his most recent Heisman odds (20/1 from BetOnline) are lower than those for Shea Patterson (who hopes to start as a transfer at Michigan), Jake Fromm (who plays in a run-first offense) and Tua Tagovailoa (who played one good half of football last season ... Granted, it was really good and really important.) And all Grier did was post some of the best downfield passing numbers in college football last season before he got hurt. 

    So, what am I missing? If West Virginia makes a Big 12 Championship Game appearance -- the Mountaineers have a rare, legitimate window to do it despite a difficult November schedule -- it will largely be because of Grier. He has a real chance for a greater spotlight. 

    Tier II

    These players include some all-conference selections and fringe Heisman contenders

    Player (School) Pass Yds Pass TDs/INTs Rush YdsRush TDsBTT TWT
    1. Jalen Hurts (Alabama)

    2,139

    17/1

    961

    8

    12

    6

    2. Drew Lock (Missouri)

    4,005

    44/13

    190

    1

    32

    15

    3. Ryan Finley (NC State)

    3,558

    17/6

    267

    3

    23

    12

    4. Jake Browning (Washington)

    2,776

    19/5

    198

    7

    20

    11

    5. Justice Hansen (Arkansas State

    4,072

    37/16

    611

    7

    17

    20

    6. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)

    3,092

    18/6

    363

    4

    20

    12

    7. Khalil Tate (Arizona)

    1,638

    14/9

    1,487

    12

    14

    10

    8. Kelly Bryant (Clemson)

    2,861

    13/8

    842

    11

    18

    7

    9. Brett Rypien (Boise State)

    2,948

    16/6

    94

    0

    21

    10

    10. Justin Herbert (Oregon)

    2,015

    15/5

    249

    5

    21

    5

    Hurts' name immediately jumps off the page because, well, you know, there's a chance he may not start next season. He's entrenched in the offseason's most fascinating quarterback battle with Tagovailoa. As I noted in the methodology, I'm avoiding players in tight competitions, however, this is no ordinary quarterback battle. Hurts has taken the Crimson Tide to two straight national championship games, is a former SEC Offensive Player of the Year recipient and already ranks among the program's most prolific offensive talents in history. While I tend to think Hurts' game is starting to reach its ceiling, he's still a stud and those accomplishments aren't nothing. 

    Maybe Tagovailoa, who has been slowed by a hand injury this spring, wins the starting job. That's the feeling I get after speaking with people connected to the program this spring. But that hasn't happened yet. Until it does -- if it does at all -- he has one half of meaningful football to his name. Hurts deserves his due. 

    Tier III

    The largest tier includes several established starters, though some are holding off competition from younger players

    Player (School) Pass Yds Pass TDs/INTs Rush YdsRush TDsBTT TWT
    1. Josh Jackson (Virginia Tech)

    3,005

    20/9

    453

    6

    15

    19

    2. Jake Fromm (Georgia)

    2,609

    24/7

    197

    3

    11

    11

    3. Manny Wilkins (Arizona State)

    3,317

    20/8

    513

    7

    22

    8

    4. Brandon Wimbush (Notre Dame)

    1,899

    16/6

    954

    14

    17

    14

    5. Mason Fine (North Texas)

    4,227

    31/15

    289

    1

    32

    19

    6. Brian Lewerke (Michigan State)

    2,851

    20/7

    638

    5

    11

    19

    7. Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) 1,814 15/11 1,017 14 9 14

    8. Caleb Evans (ULM)

    2,895

    17/6

    712

    13

    25

    14

    9. TaQuon Marshall (Georgia Tech)

    927

    10/5

    1,245

    17

    11

    9

    10. Nate Stanley (Iowa)

    2,447

    26/6

    52

    0

    21

    7

    11. Nathan Rourke (Ohio)

    2,229

    17/7

    978

    21

    24

    16

    12. Steven Montez (Colorado)

    3,052

    18/9

    562

    3

    13

    10

    13. Eric Dungey (Syracuse)

    2,639

    14/9

    790

    9

    18

    13

    14. Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt

    2,932

    26/10

    37

    3

    15

    12

    15. James Blackman (Florida State) 2,263
    19/11
    135 0 17 15
    16. Jake Bentley (South Carolina) 2,836 18/12 239 6 15 13
    17. Alex Hornibrook (Wisconsin) 2,691 25/15 2 0 19 14
    18. Ben Hicks (SMU) 3,583 33/12 188 1 21
    22

    19. Brent Stockstill (MTSU)

    1,709

    16/8

    148

    0

    19

    12

    20. Malik Rosier (Miami) 3,181
    26/14
    616 5 18 19

    21. Kyle Kempt (Iowa State)

    1,799

    15/3

    49

    0

    9

    11

    This was the most difficult tier to organize for two reasons. First, this is the natural mean in the bell curve. There are simply more good-to-pretty-good starters than any other group. Second, and as a result, there isn't a ton of variance in the numbers unless you're a Wimbush or Marshall type. 

    A few names that stood out were Fromm, Fitzgerald and Rosier. Fromm was one of college football's most efficient quarterbacks last season, even though he didn't throw a ton, and Wally Pipp'd a former five-star recruit in Jacob Eason. The back shoulder throw to Javon Wims was his bread and butter. The arrival of freshman blue chipper Justin Fields will be interesting to follow, but right now Fromm does exactly what the Bulldogs need by creating the threat of the pass to complement the run. 

    Fitzgerald is a name that could really move up the tiers by this time next year if first-year coach Joe Moorhead develops his passing game. Per PFF, Fitzgerald has some worst numbers in this group for Big Time Throws and Turnover Worthy Throws, but the skill is clearly there.

    And, goodness gracious, is Rosier enigmatic. You wouldn't normally complain about a 3,000-yard passing season with 26 touchdowns and another five on the ground, but he had more TWTs than BTTs. He was also benched ever-so-briefly last season. He's still the No. 1 guy, but it feels like he's one mistake away from losing the job altogether. 

    Tier IV

    You may knows some names in this tier, and others you may not, but you should keep an eye on all of them as they're primed for breakout seasons 

    Player (School)Pass YdsPass TDs/INTsRush YdsRush TDsBTTTWT
    1. Tyree Jackson (Buffalo)

    2,123

    12/3

    272

    4

    19

    10

    2. Jordan Ta'amu (Ole Miss) 1,694
    11/4
    293 4 11
    12
    3. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) 567 4/1 103
    0 3 2

    4. Malcolm Perry (Navy)

    5

    1/1

    1,182

    11

    N/A

    N/A

    5. K.J. Costello (Stanford)

    1,604

    14/4

    129

    3

    16

    8

    6. Ross Bowers (Cal)

    3,072

    18/12

    88

    3

    21

    16

    7. Kyler Murray (Oklahoma)

    359

    3/0

    140

    0

    2

    0

    8. Charlie Brewer (Baylor) 1,667 11/4
    272 0 4 6
    9. Marcus McMaryion (Fresno St.) 2,753 14/5
    334 4 26
    4
    9. Jonathan Banks (Tulane) 1,876 12/5 760 7 12 9
    10. Armani Rogers (UNLV) 1,479 6/5
    930 8 6 4
    11. A.J. Erdely (UAB) 2,417 16/4 506 13 20
    8

    12. Jawon Pass (Louisville)

    229

    2/0

    82

    1

    1

    2

    13. Shawn Robinson (TCU)

    184

    3/0

    177

    0

    2

    2

    14. Frank Nutile (Temple) 1,600 12/7 98 2 13 9
    15. Kenny Pickett (Pitt) 501 1/1 99 2 2 3

    There's a distinct flavor with this group. It's a combination of Power Five quarterbacks ready to take over full-time (Ta'amu, Haskins, Murray) and Group of Five players to watch. Of the two types, Jackson and Brewer are especially interesting. Jackson is already getting a little pub for next year's draft. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds with a big arm, he certainly has the size that NFL clubs look at when it comes to franchise quarterbacks. He could garner the Josh Allen hype if the Bulls get to a bowl game in 2018. 

    Brewer could also get Baylor back to a bowl. The Bears were a disaster in coach Matt Rhule's first season. There was no depth and little experience, but the skill brought in from the Art Briles era was still on display. Brewer looks like the real deal, and while this remains a massive rebuilding project, it wouldn't be surprising if Baylor flirted with bowl eligibility in November. 

    Tier V

    The transfer quarterbacks in this tier are looking to make the most of their second opportunity

    Player (School)Pass YdsPass TDs/INTsRush YdsRush TDsBTTTWT
    1. Shea Patterson (Michigan)

    2,267

    17/9

    136

    1

    15

    8

    2. Dru Brown (Oklahoma State) 2,896 18/8
    195 2 18 16

    3. Brandon Dawkins (Indiana)

    728

    5/4

    596

    8

    5

    8

    4. Keller Chryst (Tennessee) 1,024
    8/4
    47 1 7 12

    5. Wilton Speight (UCLA)

    583

    3/2

    13

    0

    4

    4

    6. Joe Burrow (LSU)

    61

    0/0

    3

    0

    0

    1

    You'll notice that pretty much all of these players are still in offseason competitions. Normally, that'd keep them off of the list. But few grad transfer quarterbacks are as sure as Russell Wilson. Most of the time, they're just looking for a fresh start and another chance to compete. Patterson, for example, would have had a tough go with Ta'amu, but he's probably the best immediate option the Wolverines have for Week 1.

    CBS Sports Writer

    Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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