Lamar Jackson leads ranking of 5 best QBs in college football

With two weeks of play in the books, Steve Palazzolo ranks the best talent in the country under center.

| 9 months ago
(Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

(Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Lamar Jackson leads ranking of 5 best QBs in college football

We’re only two weeks into the season, and we’ve already had a number of players emerge from the shadows to step into the national spotlight. The dynamics of the first two weeks of college football often make it difficult to sort out true emerging stars from small-sample mirages, and the varying levels of competition add another layer to the mix. That said, we’ll focus on the play-by-play on-field production of each quarterback while also factoring in competition level here in the early going.

Through two weeks, here are the best quarterbacks in the nation:

[Note: This ranking has nothing to do with the NFL draft or potential — it’s based on the college game and solely this season.]

  1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

The competition heats up this weekend against Florida State, but Jackson has been unstoppable to this point aside from a couple of ill-advised throws into coverage. As a runner, he’s 327 yards, including 233 yards on 24 carries in the designed running game and another 102 yards on six scrambles. Jackson’s 13 touchdowns in two games look like a misprint as he’s become one of the nation’s best run/pass threats.

Key stat: Jackson’s receivers have dropped 14.3 percent of his passes, the highest rate in the nation.

  1. Shane Buechele, Texas

The new Texas offensive system has been a game changer thanks to the true freshman Buechele who has the quick decision making and deep ball to make it work. He’s hit on five of his 11 deep passes for 234 yards and that’s not including a drop that should have gone for another 70 yards or so. He’s lived up to and exceeded his recruiting hype through two games.

Key stat: When using play action, Buechele is 21-for-26 for 342 yards, three touchdowns and an NFL passer rating of 157.2 that leads the nation among quarterbacks with at least 15 play action attempts.

  1. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

Mahomes will always put up gaudy numbers in Texas Tech’s pass-heavy system, but he’s cut back on the turnover-worthy plays through two games and done a fine job of distributing the ball to Texas Tech’s various playmakers. Mahomes did most of his damage against Stephen F. Austin in Week 1 and he did suffer from some inaccuracy in Week 2, so that week to week consistency is important.

Key stat: 60.7 percent of Mahomes’ yardage has come after the catch, right in line with his 62.0 percent mark last year that led all power-5 quarterbacks.

  1. Jake Browning, Washington

Aside from a few missteps in Week 1 that didn’t go down on the stat sheet as interceptions, Browning has done a fine job of throwing the ball down the field, making a number of “wow” throws and showing impressive accuracy when on the move. The true sophomore has quietly gone about his business the last two years, but as Washington’s hype increases, Browning’s will match it.

Key stat: On passes thrown at least 10 yards down field, Browning is 16-for-24 for 390 yards (16.3 yards/attempt) to go with four touchdowns and an interception.

  1. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame


Opening night against Texas was a national statement for Kizer as he showed the ability to throw with velocity, accuracy and touch to all levels of the field. He stands strong in the pocket and this trait works both for and against him as he’s willing to make the tough throws under pressure but he can also take too many sacks and hold the ball a tick longer than he should. His ability to make good decisions and avoid unnecessary sacks are his biggest points for improvement, and if he does, we could be looking at a special quarterback.

Key stat: On passes thrown in the intermediate (10-19 yard) level, Kizer is 8-for-8 for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

On the cusp:

Greg Ward Jr., Houston

If he had played last weekend, Ward may be on the list after his Heisman-like Week 1 effort against Oklahoma. He’s not always accurate, but he threw the ball well in the vertical/back shoulder game against Oklahoma and he’s one of the nation’s top running quarterbacks.

Dakota Prukop, Oregon

The Oregon offensive machine continues to produce with different signal callers as Prukop has stepped in to throw six touchdowns and no interceptions through two games. As his comfort level increases, he has a chance to make a move on the list.

Off to a slow start:

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Our preseason top quarterback, Watson has been inconsistent with his accuracy while making a few more poor decisions with the ball than he has in the past. We expect him to bounce back soon.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Perhaps missing his favorite target Sterling Shepard (2nd round pick, New York Giants), Mayfield was out of rhythm in the opener against Houston before bouncing back with a strong performance against ULM last weekend. He needs to find new playmakers to trust, and he has the arm, accuracy, and mobility to get back on track.

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Rudolph’s accuracy has been scattershot in the early going and he’s not driving the ball down the field as often as he did last season.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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