Michigan Football Quarterback Tiers

MichaelSpath

Incredibly, throughout its proud history, Michigan has only produced six first-team All-American quarterbacks, and just two - Rick Leach and Jim Harbaugh - since 1975. Denard Robinson was named first team, but as a running back, the Football Writers Association of America cheating the system a bit. 

That doesn't mean Michigan hasn't had outstanding quarterback play, but who are truly the best of the best? I try to divide them into tiers. 

Tier 1
Starting Years
Rec. (Win %)
TDs
INTs

Rick Leach

1975-78

38-8-2 (.813)

48

35

Jim Harbaugh

1984-86

24-6-1 (.790)

31

22

Elvis Grbac

1989-92

30-6-3 (.808)

69

31

Drew Henson 

2000

7-2 (.778)

18

4

Chad Henne

2004-07

34-14 (708)

87

37

Tier 1 quarterbacks represent players that during their starting careers were considered one of the best QBs in college football. With the exception of Henson, these quarterbacks were recognized as All-Big Ten first-team performers, some of them multiple times (Leach three times, Grbac twice). They set Michigan records, largely played at a high level game after game, and elevated the performance of their teammates. 

Henson is a bit of the unicorn in this tier as he started just eight games and was the quarterback on record for nine, but in that brief stint, I would argue he was the best QB in college football, better than the finalists of the Davey O'Brien Award for 2000: Chris Weinke (winner), Drew Brees and Josh Heupel. 

Tier 2
Starting Years
Rec. (Win %)
TDs
INTs

Brian Griese

1995-97

18-5 (.783)

32

17

Tom Brady

1998-99

20-5 (.800)

35

18

John Navarre

2001-03

30-11 (.732)

72

31

Denard Robinson

2010-12

23-11 (.676)

47

35

Jake Rudock 

2015

10-3 (.769)

20

9

This was, arguably, the hardest tier to do, separating these players out from Tier 1, as many will take exception with Griese and Brady. To me, what you have with this group are players that may have had very good careers, borderline great at some point but during their college career you never would have ranked them among the five best quarterbacks in college football. 

Again, there will be some that take umbrage with Griese - he led Michigan to the 1997 national title after all, though did so as a "game manager" without dominant individual efforts - or Robinson, who was simply unlike any athlete U-M has ever had at the position. But in big games, Robinson often struggled; in eight rivalry games as a starter from 2010-12, Robinson had a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio 10:12 and went 4-4 in those contests. 

Tier 2 represents quarterbacks that were consistently good, had flashes of brilliance (Brady in the Orange Bowl or Rudock in the Capital One Bowl) but if Michigan fans are being honest with themselves, these QBs were understandably just a step below the best of the best throughout their careers.  

Tier 3
Starting Years
Rec. (Win%)
TDs
INTs

John Wangler

1979-80

18-6 (.750%)

24

16

Steve Smith

1981-83

26-10 (.722)

42

32

Todd Collins 

1993-94

18-8 (.692)

36

19

Scott Dreisbach

1995-96

11-3 (.786)

15

12

Devin Gardner

2012-14

15-13 (.536)

41

31

Wilton Speight

2016-17

13-3 (.813)

21

9

Shea Patterson

2018-19

18-8 (.692)

45

15

Tier 3 represents quarterbacks that did much more good than bad, and in certain cases, put up really impressive numbers, but if you were starting a Michigan team and you came around to the QB position, these guys would almost certainly be selected only after the players above were off the board. 

Patterson's career at Michigan will be interesting as it ages. Will it be viewed more favorably through a historical context? It's possible, which could allow him to move up into the second tier someday, but his performances in a number of big games (Ohio State, bowls) wasn't good enough to be in Tier 2, for now. 

Tier 4 is everyone else. I originally put "stopgaps until something better came along." Think Demetrius Brown, Steve Threet, Tate Forcier, Shane Morris and John O'Korn. Not much else really needs to be said. 

THANKS FOR READING WOLVERINE DIGEST
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Comments (2)
No. 1-1
allaguess
allaguess

I know DG is a friend and a good guy, but let's get real...if your TD to INT ratio is worse than Steve Smith, you belong in the Shane Morris group.


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