Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly made headlines last week by saying he’s the best quarterback in the nation. I’m sure a few other signal callers around the country would beg to differ.
Nonetheless, Kelly’s remarks got me thinking about who the best quarterbacks in the country are heading into 2016. While assembling this list, I didn’t as much come to a conclusion as to where exactly each of these following ten quarterbacks stand in relation to one another, but I did realize this: This is a damn good crop of quarterbacks. In most years, there are maybe three or four quarterbacks who have a legitimate chance to win the Heisman. This year, however, I think there are upwards of seven quarterbacks who could find themselves standing on the Heisman podium in December. There may even be more: I didn’t include any freshman on this list because they don’t have the pedigree of the ten others on this list, but I wouldn’t rule out a Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston-type performance. I also didn’t include DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire from Notre Dame–two quarterbacks who certainly are worthy of being mentioned alongside the other top quarterbacks in the country–because I’m not even sure which one of them is going to start (just in case you Notre Dame fans were wondering). Anyways, without further ado, here’s my take on the top ten quarterbacks heading into this season.
10 Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
2015 Stats: 59.6% completion, 2,291 yards, 15 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 6.9 adjusted yards/attempt, 127.0 passing efficiency rating, 671 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns
Dobbs enters 2016 as one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. While he did have some shaky games passing the ball, Dobbs would routinely find ways to make an impact with his legs, scoring on the ground in eight of Tennessee’s thirteen games. The one real knock against Dobbs, however, is that his worst performances came when the Volunteers need him most. For instance, he was only 13-31 passing in Tennessee’s early-season showdown against Oklahoma and he passed for just 83 yards in their SEC opener against Florida. The good news, though, is that Tennessee closed the season strong by winning their final six games, providing some much needed momentum for their senior quarterback to start off strong in 2016.
9 Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
2015 Stats: 63.5% completion, 4,653 yards, 36 TD, 15 INT, 8.2 Adjusted passing yards/attempt, 147.2 passing efficiency rating, 456 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD
Mahomes is not the first Texas Tech quarterback to put up monster stats. In fact, he ranked in the top 10 nationally in just about every passing category last season. However, the drawback of playing in such a pass-happy scheme under coach Kliff Kingsbury is that quarterbacks are prone to throwing many interceptions. That’s exactly what happened last year, as Mahomes ranked third in the country in INT’s, many of which came in Texas Tech’s biggest games against the likes of Oklahoma and Baylor. With that said, Mahomes enters 2016 as a good bet to put up gaudy numbers once again, which solidifies his spot as one of the nation’s ten best quarterbacks.
8 Brad Kaaya, Miami
2015 Stats: 61.2% completion, 3,238 yards, 16 TD, 5 INT, 8.6 adjusted yards/attempt, 142.1 passing efficiency rating, -119 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
**note on rushing yards- sacks are included
Kaaya can be found near the top of many early 2017 NFL Mock Draft’s, so he has to be somewhere on this list. But are we sure this guy is that good? His stats over the past two seasons aren’t that great, and he hasn’t delivered any signature wins for the middling Hurricanes. Nonetheless, Kaaya is one of the better pure passers in the country, and he should have Miami contending for an ACC crown this year.
7 Greg Ward Jr, Houston
2015 Stats: 67% completion, 2,827 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 8.2 adjusted yards/attempt, 148.6 passing efficiency rating, 1,114 rushing yards, 21 rushing TD
Greg Ward Jr. and the Houston Cougars snuck up on everyone last year en route to a 13-1 season, which included an upset win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl. While opponents won’t be underestimating Ward Jr and company this season, it may not matter: the Cougars return seven starters on offense, two All-AAC players on defense, and have a Heisman candidate at quarterback. It’s also important to remember that Houston didn’t lose when Ward started last year– their one defeat came when Ward was out with an ankle injury, and even that was just a narrow, three-point loss. So even with the bullseye on their backs, Houston looks primed to play in another New Year’s Six bowl with the help of one of the country’s best dual-threat quarterbacks.
6 Seth Russell, Baylor
2015 Stats: 59.5% completion, 2,104 yards, 29 TD, 6 INT, 12.1 adjusted yards/attempt, 189.7 passing efficiency rating, 402 rushing yards, 6 rushing TD
**note on Russell- he missed nearly half of the season due to injury
Russell is the most intriguing quarterback to watch heading into 2016. He posted outstanding stats before he went down with a season-ending neck injury, yet he still managed to finish first in the country in both adjusted yards/attempt and passing efficiency. In fact, at the rate Russell was going, he would’ve finished with one of the best statistical seasons in college football history.
Things will be more difficult for Russell this year, though. As many people are aware, Baylor was embroiled in major controversy involving numerous unreported sexual assault cases that led to the firing of coach Art Briles. From a football standpoint, this was bad news for the Bears because it led to many high-profile recruits de-committing. Combine that with the loss of players like receiver Corey Coleman to the pros and Russell certainly has his work cut out for him in 2016.
5 Josh Rosen, UCLA
2015 Stats: 60% completion, 3,669 yards, 23 TD, 11 INT, 7.5 adjusted yards/attempt, 134.3 passing efficiency rating, 15 rushing yards, 2 rushing TD
In contrast to most of the upperclassmen you’ll find on this list, Rosen is only a sophomore, which explains why some pundits think he is a Heisman candidate after a solid freshman season. The hype is legitimate: While Rosen was erratic in his first six starts, his numbers increased across the board later in the year. With Oregon’s days as the best team in the Pac-12 likely over, Rosen could have UCLA ready to play in the College Football Playoff.
4 Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
2015 Stats: 65.1% completion, 4,042 yards, 31 TD, 13 INT, 8.9 adjusted yards/attempt, 155.9 passing efficiency rating, 509 rushing yards, 10 rushing TD
Whether or not you think Kelly is cocky for saying he’s the best quarterback in the nation, remember that it does mean something to be the best quarterback in the SEC. And that’s what Kelly projects to be, although there are a couple things that should concern Ole Miss fans. Kelly had trouble protecting the football last year, as evidenced by how he threw an interception in six consecutive weeks while Ole Miss struggled in upset losses to Florida and Memphis. Moreover, he no longer has the luxury of playing alongside NFL talents like receiver LaQuan Treadwell and left tackle Laremy “quick, take a video of me ripping a bong with this gas mask” Tunsil. Simply put, Kelly has a lot to prove in 2016, and it probably doesn’t help that he is already attracting unnecessary attention.
3 J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
2015 Stats: 63.3% completion, 992 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 6.7 adjusted yards/attempt, 139.2 passing efficiency rating, 682 rushing yards, 11 rushing TD
Barrett must be glad to be Ohio State’s starter once again after he spent all of last season jostling with Cardale Jones for the position. Keep in mind that Barrett is only a year removed from posting 45 total touchdowns as a true freshman, meaning it’s realistic to think that he can win the Heisman as long as he doesn’t get injured. However, after losing integral players like Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa, the Buckeyes aren’t quite as loaded as they have been. Does this mean that Barrett won’t replicate his freshman production? Perhaps, but Ohio State’s stranglehold on the Big Ten isn’t loosening, meaning Barrett should have the Buckeyes in contention for a national title once again.
2 Deshaun Watson, Clemson
2015 Stats: 67.8% completion, 4,109 yards, 35 TD, 13 INT, 8.6 adjusted yards/attempt, 156.3 passing efficiency rating, 1,105 rushing yards, 12 rushing TD
If there’s one thing Watson proved to Clemson doubters over the course of last season, and particularly in the national championship, it’s that there is no weakness in his game. Unlike many of the other quarterbacks on this list who are known more for their running abilities, Watson is an even better passer than he is a runner. Hence why he is both the current favorite to win this year’s Heisman and be the top pick in next year’s NFL draft.
1 Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
2015 Stats: 68.1% completion, 3,700 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT, 10.4 adjusted yards/attempt, 173.3 passing efficiency rating, 405 rushing yards, 7 rushing TD
With all due respect to Watson, who many believe is the top quarterback heading into 2016, that honor belongs to Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Sure, Watson’s team got the better of Mayfield’s in last year’s Orange Bowl, but if we look at the larger sample size, Mayfield had the best year of any quarterback in 2015. His TD/INT ratio was better than any other quarterback’s on this list; same essentially goes for his adjusted yards/attempt and passing efficiency marks, where he ranked higher than everyone with the exception of Baylor’s Seth Russell, who missed half the season. Mayfield also had the Sooners ranked extremely highly in both points per game (4th in the nation at 43.5 per game) and yards per play (13th).
For those reasons, I think he’s the best of a batch of college quarterbacks as good as any group in recent memory.
Mahomes photo courtesy of Fox Sports; Dobbs photo courtesy of Wade Payne/Associated Press; Kaaya photo courtesy of Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images; Russell photo courtesy of Jerome Pinron/Fox Sports; Ward photo courtesy of Timothy Easly/Houston Chronicle; Rosen photo courtesy of Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports; Kelly photo courtesy of Kevin Cox/Getty Images; Barrett photo courtesy of Fox Sports; Watson photo courtesy of Joshua Kelly/USA Today Sports; Mayfield photo courtesy of Fox Sports