Top 10 QBs in college football through Week 8
This week saw one of the best quarterback duels of the season, if not the best, in Oklahoma’s 66-59 win over Texas Tech. The Sooners’ Baker Mayfield gave a little bit of a push to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson for the No. 1 spot on this list, while Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II jumped a few spots after his excellent performance.
Here are the top 10 QBs in college football at the midpoint of the season, with the key PFF stat to know for each:
1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville Cardinals
Stat to know: Jackson has forced 34 missed tackles this season
No quarterback has earned a higher rushing grade this season, and there might not be a more unstoppable offensive force in the entire country. Jackson has been so tough to defend, even when the opponent knows what’s coming – all 16 of his rushing touchdowns have come on designed runs these season, none on scrambles. But his improvement as a passer is a key part of his story as well, and that is most evident at the intermediate level: On throws between 10 and 19 yards downfield, Jackson has been awesome, completing 30-of-50 for 555 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners
Stat to know: Mayfield’s 74.3 percent adjusted completion rate ranks No. 1 in the nation
Mayfield was outstanding versus pressure last season, while ranking as the top returning QB in PFF grades, earning a passer rating against pressure that was better than any QB achieved overall, other than him. He got off to a bit of a slow start during the Sooners’ early stumbles (losses to Houston and Ohio State as part of a 1-2 beginning to the year), but has come on extremely strong, including earning a 99.9 grade in the aforementioned OU shootout win over Texas Tech.
3. Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Stat to know: Mahomes has an adjusted completion rate of 77.2 percent, fourth in the country
Mahomes might not stay above Clemson’s Deshaun Watson or Washington’s Jake Browning on this list for much longer, but his play in his epic QB duel with Mayfield on Saturday warranted moving him up a few spots. Like Lamar Jackson, Mahomes is a very athletic quarterback who has shown huge improvement as a passer this season, as that adjusted completion rate number verifies. Over half of his rushing yards have come off of scrambles, and he makes lots of plays with his arm as well after evading pass-rushers or the initial play breaks down.
4. Deshaun Watson, Clemson Tigers
Stat to know: Watson’s time-to-throw average of 2.34 seconds is second-fastest in the NCAA
Watson is coming off a bye week heading into the Tigers’ tough road trip to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. He hasn’t been nearly as dominant in 2016 as he was for the closing stretches of last season, and one notable difference has been the relative lack of impact he’s made in the running game. He is still capable of high-level play, however, as we saw in Clemson’s win over Louisville, and he has been at his best when facing the opposing defense’s blitz, doing a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly (see the stat above).
5. Jake Browning, Washington Huskies
Stat to know: Browning has a deep adjusted completion rate of 55.0 percent, No. 4 nationally
The Huskies are a legitimate Playoff contender this year, and the true sophomore Browning has played a key role in leading them to that level. He has graded well in all facets of the game, particularly as a deep passer. A whopping 23.1 percent of his attempts travel 20 or more yards downfield (a top-10 rate in the country), yet he still is on target with them at a very high rate. Browning and the Huskies face a tough road challenge in Utah this week.
6. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina Tar Heels
Stat to know: Trubisky’s near-perfect QB rating of 146.8 on play-action dropbacks ranks third in nation
Trubisky has had a breakout season this year, after grading very well on a per-dropback basis a year ago in his reserve role. Outside of a very poor grade in a blowout loss to Virginia Tech that was played in a rainstorm related to Hurricane Matthew, Trubisky has been one of the very best QBs in the country. He has a chance to move up into the top five by season’s end, potentially entering the draft discussion as well. His 77.1 percent adjusted completion rate is good for fifth nationally, and as noted above, he has been particularly effective on the 32.6 percent of his dropbacks that have included play-action fakes.
7. Greg Ward Jr., Houston Cougars
Stat to know: Ward is earning a passer rating of 114.8 when blitzed this year
Ward is setting close to the same pace as a runner as he did last season, but is grading much better as a passer in 2016. He hasn’t been to blame for the Cougars’ recent 1-2 skid after emerging as a playoff contender earlier in the season. His 28 broken tackles are an excellent number, earning his 529 rushing yards on a mix of designed plays and scrambles, and his ability to beat defenses at the intermediate levels and when blitzed (see stat above) have stood out so far this season.
8. Jalen Hurts, Alabama Crimson Tide
Stat to know: Hurts’ QB rating of 117.0 on dropbacks lasting 2.5 seconds or less ranks fifth-best in the Power-5; his QB rating on dropbacks lasting 2.6 seconds or longer is 70.7
Hurts wasn’t perfect in Bama’s win over Texas A&M on Saturday, earning a passer rating of just 79.3, but as usual he more than made up for any struggles in the passing game with his running ability. He ripped off 102 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, forcing six missed tackles along the way. 15 of those carries came on designed runs, a sign of just how essential Hurts’ running ability is to the Bama offense, as he is the highest-graded runner on the team. While he has been good at extending plays with his legs and has the seventh-slowest time-to-throw average in the nation, his best work as a passer has been when getting the ball out within the rhythm of the offense, as the above stat indicates.
9. Austin Allen, Arkansas Razorbacks
Stat to know: Allen has been pressured on 46.4 percent of dropbacks, the highest rate in the nation
Allen has seemingly been under the heat of opponents’ pass rushes all season long, most notably in the Razorbacks’ loss to Alabama, during which he was under pressure on 69 percent of his dropbacks. But he has managed to play remarkably well despite this, and has excelled as a downfield thrower on his way to being one of the highest-graded QBs in the country, with his rate of yards coming in the air (63 percent) being the second-highest in the Power-5.
10. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss Rebels
Stat to know: 65.2 percent of Kelly’s yards have come in the air (as opposed to after the catch), the highest rate among Power-5 QBs
Kelly had poor performances in losses to Florida State and Arkansas this season, but has still had enough high-level games to grade as one of the best quarterbacks in college football this season. His high percentage of air yards is reflective of the high degree of difficult that has come from a lot of his pass attempts this season. He ranks 15th in deep adjusted completion rate so far this year.