We’re making our way through our summer preview and so far we have listed the best receivers, running backs and tight ends, not to mention the most overrated coaches and the most fun players to watch. Now, it’s time for the quarterbacks…a difficult list, to be sure, and a lot of pretty good players didn’t make the top 10.
1. Jake Locker, Sr., Washington–Locker has just about everything you want in a quarterback–size, strong arm, excellent mobility and speed, leadership and toughness. He hasn’t been a very accurate passer, but his completion percentage trajectory has gone from 47 percent to 53 percent to 58 percent and should top 60 as a senior. He finally was healthy as a junior and the result was Washington going from zero wins to five wins. There probably isn’t a more valuable player to his team in the country and, as we all know, he’s a potential top pick in the draft next spring. If he were in a more wide-open college system rather than the more conservative pro-style one run by the Huskies, he’d have much crazier numbers than he did last year when he passed for 2,800 yards and 21 TDs while rushing for 388 yards and seven scores. Overall, an amazing, rare talent.
2. Case Keenum, Sr., Houston–Back before his junior year began, I pointed out that Keenum was well on his way to being the NCAA’s all-time leading passer. Sure enough, he is just 4,167 yards behind that mark and is set to put his name in the record books this year, barring injury. If there is a grittier quarterback in college football, I’d like to know who! Sure, he plays in a system that gets him numbers, but throwing for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns while completing 70 percent isn’t something that happens all the time even in the wackiest of schemes. No one is better at carving up defenses with precision and skill–while making it look oh-so-easy–than Keenum.
3. Terrelle Pryor, Jr., Ohio State–If he plays every game this season like he did in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, then Pryor will not only be at the top of this list…he’ll run away with the Heisman. No player in the country has as much potential to fulfill as this guy. He can hurt you with his arm or with his legs. He has the size to see over defenses and the strength to break through arm tackles. Like Vince Young, he has gliding, deceptive speed thanks to his long stride. If Jim Tressel lets him do his thing the way Mack Brown let Young do his, he’ll easily top his numbers from last year when he threw for 2,087 yards with 18 touchdowns and rushed for 779 yards and seven scores.
4. Ryan Mallett, Jr., Arkansas–As far as raw passing ability goes, Mallett has no peer. He’s a physical monster at 6-7, 250 and his arm is very strong. In his first year in Bobby Petrino’s system, he threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns. I expect his accuracy and decision making to improve considerably as a junior as he works on the nuances of the quarterback position. He’ll jockey with Locker for draft position, as he is just the type of throwback pocket quarterback the NFL covets. Look for a huge, record-breaking season from Mallett.
5. Andrew Luck, So., Stanford–Luck is on his way to continuing Stanford’s incredible quarterback heritage, as he has the tools to blossom into a star at both the college and professional levels. He’s got prototypical NFL size and arm strength to go with surprising mobility and running instincts. As redshirt freshman quarterback on a team dominated by its power ground game, he threw for 2,575 yards and 13 scores while running for 354 yards and two touchdowns. This year, he takes over the spotlight and I expect his numbers to explode as a result.
6. Jacory Harris, Jr., Miami (Fla.)–The physically sleight Harris wore down a bit as last season progressed, but he still threw for 3,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. I really like his overall accuracy, although it isn’t reflected in his 59.6 completion percentage since Miami seems to throw further downfield more than most teams (122 of his 242 completions were for 15 or more yards). He also threw far too many interceptions (17). But if there is one word to describe Harris, it would be ‘unflappable’. I expect him to shake off these issues and continue to progress in Mark Whipple’s offense. He’ll put together a fine junior season.
7. Jerrod Johnson, Sr., Texas A&M–Johnson is an elite talent with impressive size (6-5, 243) and mobility (506 rushing yards last year). He threw for 3,579 yards and 30 touchdowns as a junior and he should be just as good, if not better, as a senior. Could he be the one to finally lead A&M back to prominence?
8. Kellen Moore, Jr., Boise State–It’s hard to argue against a guy who has gone 26-1 in his first two seasons as a starting quarterback. Or against a guy who had a 39-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a sophomore (one of the more remarkable stats you’ll see). He’s not the biggest guy, nor does he have the best arm out there. But he runs that Boise State offense perfectly.
9. Christian Ponder, Sr., Florida State–Ponder missed the last four games of the 2009 season, but when he was healthy he showed he was one of the more prolific and explosive passers in the game. He torched a North Carolina defense–one that could end up with four or five first rounders–for 395 yards and three touchdowns. His season stats (nine games) totaled 2,718 yards with 14 TDs and he completed an outstanding 69 percent of his passes. He’s the most talented Seminole quarterback since Charlie Ward. If he stays healthy and FSU jumps back into the top 10, he’ll challenge for the Heisman.
10. Andy Dalton, Sr., TCU–Dalton is as underrated as they come, but all he has done is lead the Horned Frogs to back-to-back top 10 finishes. As a junior, he threw for 2,756 yards and 23 touchdowns and added another 512 yards and three scores on the ground. This might be the best TCU team yet and if the Horned Frogs get back to a BCS bowl, it will be because of Dalton.
Just missed the cut: Robert Griffin, Baylor; Josh Nesbitt, Georgia Tech; Zach Collaros, Cincinnati; Blaine Gabbert, Missouri; John Brantley, Florida; Colin Kaepernick, Nevada; Ricky Dobbs, Navy; GJ Kinne, Tulsa; Garrett Gilbert, Texas; BJ Daniels, South Florida