Ranking The Nation's Top Quarterbacks
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book ranked in the Top 5 of a recent Sporting News breakdown of the nation’s best quarterbacks for 2020. The Irish signal caller was thrust all the way down to a tier six quarterback according to ESPN.
I decided to jump into the fray, with a ranking that puts Book in between those two analyses. I ranked the 10 best FBS quarterbacks in the nation heading into the 2020 season. It’s based on a combination of past production, talent and finally projection for 2020. This ranking has nothing to do with pro potential.
The stats provided are each quarterbacks overall production in 2019 and their performance against Top 50 defenses according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index (Power 5 opponents only).
Here’s my list:
1. TREVOR LAWRENCE, CLEMSON
2019 Stats: 3,665 pass yards, 65.8%, 36 TD, 8 INT / 563 rush yards, 9 TD
vs. Top 50 (5 games): - 1,226 pass yards, 62.0%, 9 TD, 2 INT / 251 rush yards, 4 TD
Lawrence got off to a slow start last season, throwing eight picks in the first seven games, but he was brilliant down the stretch. Lawrence completed 75.5% of his passes for 1,686 yards and 20 touchdowns (with no picks) in the final six games before the playoff. He put the Clemson offense on his shoulders in the semi-final victory over Ohio State, passing for 259 yards, rushing for another 107 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Going into his third season I view Lawrence as the game’s best quarterback. His supporting cast won’t be as good as it was during his first two seasons, especially up front, but Lawrence is still poised for a monster junior campaign. You will be hard pressed to find a player that has the better combination of size, arm talent, athleticism, running skills and big game production than the Clemson quarterback.
2. JUSTIN FIELDS, OHIO STATE
2019 Stats: 3,273 pass yards, 67.2%, 41 TD, 3 INT / 484 rush yards, 10 TD
vs. Top 50 (8): 1,888 pass yards, 65.6%, 21 TD, 3 INT / 276 rush yards, 3 TD
Fields was more solid than it was spectacular early in 2019, and the Ohio State coaches wisely refrained from putting too much on his shoulders too early. Fields didn’t throw for more than 234 yards in any of his first nine games, but he was efficient, made good decisions and was highly effective in the red zone. In late season wins over Michigan and Wisconsin he started to show more playmaking skills.
The second-year starter won’t have quite as much experience around him in 2020, and the running back position won’t be quite as strong, but the Buckeyes will still be quite talented. If Fields can become more of a consistent playmaker with his arm and legs he’ll solidify himself as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
3. SAM EHLINGER, TEXAS
2019 Stats: 3,663 pass yards, 65.2%, 32 TD, 10 INT / 663 rush yards, 7 TD
vs. Top 50 (6): 1,659 pass yards, 59.8%, 14 TD, 7 INT / 322 rush yards, 2 TD
Ehlinger is one of my favorite quarterbacks to watch. He doesn’t have the elite physical tools that Lawrence and Fields possess, but he’s a gamer and a winner. Over the last two seasons the Longhorns have played against eight opponents that finished ranked in the Top 20, and Ehlinger averaged 329.4 total yards and accounted for 27 touchdowns while being picked off just three times. He averaged 334.4 yards and accounted for 19 touchdowns in the five games against Top 10 opponents.
Ehlinger throws a gorgeous deep ball and he’s a good decision maker, usually. The Texas quarterback has rushed for 1,526 yards and 25 touchdowns during his career, and a case could be made that he’s the best pure runner in this group. If the Texas defense can improve in 2020 the Longhorns could have an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff, assuming it can split its contests against LSU and Oklahoma.
There was little doubt about my top three, but there was much more debate about where to rank the next seven players.
4. SAM HOWELL, NORTH CAROLINA
2019 Stats: 3,641 pass yards, 61.4%, 38 TD, 7 INT / 35 rush yards, 1 TD
vs. Top 50 (6): 1,560 pass yards, 56.5%, 16 TD, 3 INT / -59 rush yards, 0 TD
Howell is an intriguing young quarterback. He isn’t very big, he’s not overly athletic and while his arm is good, it’s far from elite at this point. When I watch him play I don’t get blown away, but he just makes a lot of plays, shows excellent poise and at the end of the day his numbers are impressive. Even more important, Howell makes a lot of money plays, showing a desired combination between gunslinger and game manager.
Howell isn’t much of a runner, but his pocket mobility impresses, and his willingness to keep his eyes downfield while moving throughout the pocket stands out. He’ll have a lot of weapons in 2020, and if he can continue getting stronger, speed up his progressions a bit and improve his decision making he could have a repeat of his monster freshman season.
5. KYLE TRASK, FLORIDA
2019 Stats: 2,941 pass yards, 66.9%, 25 TD, 7 INT / 8 rush yards, 4 TD
vs. Top 50 (8): 2,045 pass yards, 65.6%, 18 TD, 4 INT / -42 rush yards, 1 TD
It is hard for me to put anyone else ahead of Trask heading into the season, but I’ll be a bit surprised if he remains this high when the season is over. Trask is a lot like Ehlinger, but without the running ability. He lacks a top-notch arm, but he’s gritty, he takes a lot of chances (trusts his receivers) and he plays well in big games.
His numbers were stunted by the fact he didn’t take over until the fourth game. If you project his starting numbers out over 13 games he would have finished with 3,608 yards and 33 passing touchdowns. He was especially good down the stretch, averaging 323.3 passing yards per game (with nine touchdowns) during Florida’s 4-0 finish to the season.
6. TANNER MORGAN, MINNESOTA
2019 Stats: 3,253 pass yards, 66.0%, 30 TD, 7 INT / -57 rush yards, 1 TD
vs. Top 50 (6): 1,620 pass yards, 66.4%, 13 TD, 3 INT / -47 rush yards, 0 TD
Morgan sputtered a bit out of the gate, which played a role in Minnesota struggling to beat South Dakota State (28-21) and Fresno State (38-35) in the first two games of the season. He was a bit better in the win over Georgia Southern (35-32), but Morgan put together a truly brilliant performance in the win over Purdue, completing 21 of 22 throws for 396 yards and four scores.
Previously undefeated Penn State traveled to Minnesota as the 4th ranked team in the country, but Morgan absolutely shredded the Nittany Lions, completing 18 of 20 throws for for 339 yards and three touchdowns. He passed for 278 yards and two scores in the bowl victory over Auburn, and Morgan averaged 320.3 yards and threw for eight touchdowns in four games against Top 15 opponents.
7. BROCK PURDY, IOWA STATE
2019 Stats: 3,982 pass yards, 65.7%, 27 TD, 9 INT / 249 rush yards, 8 TD
vs. Top 50 (5): 1,272 pass yards, 62.6%, 6 TD, 1 INT / 120 rush yards, 2 TD
I’m sure this is the ranking that will rankle the feathers of Notre Dame fans the most, and the argument will likely be “look at the bowl game.” Yes, Book outplayed Purdy in the bowl game, but Book didn’t have to face the Irish defense and Purdy didn’t have Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet to throw to.
Purdy was excellent last season, and he was often at his best in the biggest moments. A true sophomore, Purdy averaged 295.2 passing yards per game and had 11 touchdowns in five games against ranked opponents. That included 282 yards and five scores in a near upset of Oklahoma (42-41) and 354 yards and a pair of scores while out-dueling Ehlinger in a 23-21 upset over the Longhorns.
8. IAN BOOK, NOTRE DAME
2019 Stats: 3,034 pass yards, 60.2%, 34 TD, 6 INT / 546 rush yards, 4 TD
vs. Top 50 (5): 1,112 pass yards, 56.2%, 10 TD, 6 INT / 250 rush yards, 1 TD
Book’s ceiling is that of a quarterback that could be as good as any quarterback in the country whose name isn’t Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. Book is one of the best athlete’s in this list, he’s shown the ability to make plays with his legs and arm, and his numbers should be outstanding this season. There is no reason Book can’t climb up this list, and Notre Dame will need him to do so.
The reason he’s not higher on this list is because he simply doesn’t play well in the big moments and against the best teams. I dove into the statistics of over 20 quarterbacks while compiling this list, and only one of those quarterbacks (Kellen Mond, Texas A&M) had a lower quarterback rating against Top 50 defenses, and all six of his interceptions came against those defenses. Book tied Mond for the most interceptions against Top 50 defenses, and the Irish quarterback played against two fewer of those defenses.
If Book can play better against the best defenses, and against the better opponents on the schedule, he’ll skyrocket up this list.
9. JAYDEN DANIELS, ARIZONA STATE
2019 Stats: 2,943 pass yards, 60.7%, 17 TD, 2 INT / 355 rush yards, 3 TD
vs. Top 50 (5): 942 pass yards, 52.3%, 3 TD, 1 INT / 175 rush yards, 0 TD
Having Daniels in the Top 10 is the biggest projection ranking that I made in this analysis. Daniels doesn’t have the numbers that stack up against other quarterbacks in this list, especially when it comes to touchdowns. Daniels had just 20 total touchdowns in 2019, but he showed off impressive arm talent last season.
Daniels showed a lot of grit in the road victory over Michigan State and he threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns in November upset over Oregon (31-28). If he can be more consistent, avoid the “bad games” like we saw against Utah and Florida State, he’ll quickly emerge as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.
10. SHANE BUECHELE, SMU
2019 Stats: 3,929 pass yards, 62.7%, 34 TD, 10 INT / 105 rush yards, 2 TD
vs. Top 50 (5): 1,579 pass yards, 58.9%, 13 TD, 3 INT / 33 rush yards, 1 TD
Buechele’s numbers against Top 50 defenses is different than others in that non-Power 5 defenses are included, and since he plays for a non-Power 5 program. The former Texas quarterback threw for 3,929 yards and 34 touchdowns in his first season with the Mustangs. Buechele was a dangerous deep ball thrower in 2019, completing 40 passes that traveled at least 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, and 13 of those throws went for touchdowns.
Buechele went 23-34 for 288 yards and a pair of scores in a road victory over TCU, and he threw for 456 yards and three scores in a road battle at Memphis against Tigers quarterback Brady White. His most impressive game came against Temple, when he shredded a strong Owl defense to the tune of 457 yards and six touchdowns. Only one other team the entire season (Memphis) topped the 300-yard mark against the Owls last season.
WILD CARDS: Micale Cunningham, Louisville; Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
QB Stat Comparison - Overall
QB Stat Comparison vs. Top 50 Defenses
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