College News & Analysis

College Football: The top-10 returning quarterbacks for the 2024 season

2WAD2XX MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Georgia quarterback Carson Beck (15) throws the football on the field as he warms up during the Capital One Orange Bowl college football game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida State Seminoles on December 30, 2023 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Georgia’s Carson Beck: The redshirt junior enters 2024 as the top returning quarterback in college football.

• Oregon’s Dillon Gabriel: The Oklahoma transfer was third in the FBS with a 91.7 PFF grade this past season.

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With the 2023 college football season in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to 2024 by ranking the top returning players at every position. 

First up is the most important position: quarterback. While the 2024 NFL Draft is loaded under center, there’s still a bevy of talented signal-callers returning to college football.

Below is a list of PFF’s top-10 returning quarterbacks in college football in addition to an honorable mention nominee. Please note that NFL projection was not taken into account in these rankings.

1. Carson Beck, Georgia Bulldogs

It’s rare for a program to lose a two-time national champion quarterback and improve under center, but that’s precisely what Georgia did by going from Stetson Bennett to Carson Beck. While the redshirt junior didn’t win a ring in 2023, he finished as the fourth-most valuable quarterback in the nation according to PFF’s wins above average metric. The three above him were all Heisman finalists who are now heading to the NFL (Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. and Jayden Daniels). Beck’s 91.5 overall PFF grade and 90.8 PFF passing grade were also fourth among FBS signal-callers. 

Beck’s a supremely accurate quarterback with precise timing. His 80.6% adjusted completion rate ranked third in the country this past season while his 2.39-second average time to throw was the fifth-fastest. He doesn’t add much on the ground and is just average under pressure, but it’s difficult to find a better pure passer than Beck in the college game right now.

2. Dillon Gabriel, Oregon Ducks

Gabriel is the only player on this list who’ll have a new home in 2024 after transferring to Oregon from Oklahoma in December. This past season, his 91.7 PFF grade trailed only Daniels and Nix among FBS quarterbacks. 

Gabriel is far and away the most experienced signal-caller on this list. The soon-to-be sixth-year senior has 1,855 career dropbacks during his time at UCF and Oklahoma. The next-closest top-10 quarterback, Jaxson Dart, has 1,030 career dropbacks. With that experience comes the wisdom to keep the ball out of harm’s way. Gabriel’s 2% turnover-worthy play rate during his two seasons at Oklahoma stands third among returning FBS quarterbacks. 

Gabriel fares far better when he has time to set his feet and deliver, earning just a 52.4 grade when forced to bail from the pocket. It also remains to be seen how Gabriel looks outside of Jeff Lebby’s offense, who’s now the Mississippi State head coach. The good news for Oregon fans is that Gabriel should fit like a glove in Will Stein’s offense, one that relies heavily on play-action and asked Bo Nix to play the role of a supercharged game-manager, taking what the defense gives him while rarely putting the ball in danger.

3. Jalen Milroe, Alabama Crimson Tide

Milroe is a big play waiting to happen with his elite tools. The redshirt sophomore was second in the nation with a 9.2% big-time throw rate in 2023 while his 35 runs of 10-plus yards were fourth among FBS quarterbacks. Milroe’s 96.9 PFF passing grade on deep throws trailed only Daniels among the country’s signal-callers as well. He also showed his mental toughness after getting benched in Week 3 following Alabama’s loss to Texas. From Week 4 on, Milroe’s 88.0 grade was tied for eighth among all quarterbacks in the country. 

Milroe’s playstyle can tend to still be a bit boom-or-bust at times, although there was far more of the former this past season. For starters, his internal clock needs to improve. Milroe’s 32.4% pressure-to-sack conversion rate was the sixth-highest in the nation as he held onto the ball for an FBS-leading 3.45-second average. He also needs to improve his consistency in the short and intermediate game, as his 68.0 passing grade on throws 0-19 yards stood just 100th in the country. 

While Nick Saban is gone, Alabama fans should be very excited to see what new head coach Kalen DeBoer can do to assist Milroe in taking the next step in his game. DeBoer helped turn Penix into an efficient assassin during their two years together at Washington. If he can do the same with Milroe, the sky is the limit for the redshirt junior.

4. Shedeur Sanders, Colorado Buffaloes

While Colorado may have received more hype than it deserved last year, Sanders did not. He made the leap from the FCS to the Power Five level look like a mere step. The junior’s 89.2 PFF passing grade was seventh among FBS quarterbacks this past season. Sanders kept the ball out of harm’s way at an elite rate, as his 1.6% turnover-worthy play rate in 2023 was fourth among all quarterbacks in the nation. He wasn’t an ultra-conservative quarterback either, as his 23 big-time throws were a top-20 mark in the country as well.

Like Milroe, Sanders can stand to speed up his internal clock as he took the most sacks in the Power Five this past season (49). While much of that can be attributed to the sheer volume of dropbacks Sanders took in addition to Colorado’s porous offensive line, he still had the 17th-highest average time to throw in the Power Five (2.89 seconds). Within a clean pocket though, Sanders is the best returning passer in the country. However, it remains to be seen whether head coach Deion Sanders made the necessary improvements in the trenches to allow his son to showcase that talent to its fullest extent. 

5. Quinn Ewers, Texas Longhorns

Texas was finally back in 2023 due to the improvement made by its redshirt sophomore quarterback. Ewers led the Longhorns to a Big 12 title and College Football Playoff berth this past season after losing the mullet and the gunslinger mentality that anchored him in 2022. He cut his turnover-worthy play rate by more than half (1.7% in 2023 compared to 3.6% in 2022) and upgraded his PFF passing grade to an 85.6 mark after earning just a 70.9 PFF passing grade as a redshirt freshman. 

Ewers led the Power Five in play-action dropbacks this year (240) and wasn’t nearly as effective without it. His 72.2 PFF grade on non-play action dropbacks was just 83rd in the nation. He’ll also need to shoulder more of the weight of the offense next year as Texas lost its top weapons to the NFL draft: wide receivers Xavier Worthy, Adonai Mitchell, Jordan Whittington, running back Jonathon Brooks and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. If Ewers can keep improving like he did this past season though, the Longhorns are serious national championship contenders. 

6. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss Rebels

Dart took a major leap from his sophomore to junior year, improving his PFF passing grade by more than 13 points (75.2 in 2022 to 88.7 in 2023). A major reason for that jump was the significant stride he made when forced outside of the pocket. In 2022, he posted just a 42.8 PFF passing grade outside the pocket, which was 111th among FBS quarterbacks. Dart improved that mark to a 74.6 PFF passing grade this past season, which was 15th in the nation. Overall, his 91.2 PFF grade was tied for sixth among all signal-callers in the country.

Lane Kiffin’s system does provide one of the most quarterback-friendly offenses in college football, which at times makes it difficult to separate Dart’s performance from the scheme. On plays without an RPO or play-action, the junior had six big-time throws and six turnover-worthy plays. While that muddies his NFL projection, Dart still has a mastery over Kiffin’s system and is the driving force behind Ole Miss’ College Football Playoff aspirations next season.

7. Garrett Greene, West Virginia Mountaineers

Greene is the most underrated quarterback in college football entering next year. The junior led the FBS this past season with a 10.2% big-time throw rate. He’s also a dangerous runner, tying for first among all signal-callers in the nation with 13 rushing touchdowns in 2023 while placing sixth among Power Five ones with 773 rushing yards. He also was the best in the country at avoiding sacks this past season, with a pressure-to-sack conversion rate of just 4.8%. Greene’s 91.0 PFF overall grade was eighth among all quarterbacks in America in 2023. 

Greene is very similar to the aforementioned Milroe in that both are dangerous rushing threats who are looking for the deep ball on nearly every dropback as a passer. Greene’s average depth of target was 13.5 yards downfield, which was the highest among all Power Five quarterbacks. While those big swings often led to home runs, they also tended to cause some strikeouts. His 62.8% adjusted completion rate was the third-worst mark among Power Five passers this season. 

Greene’s a big-game hunter who’ll likely become much more of a household name next season. 

8. Drew Allar, Penn State Nittany Lions

Allar’s placement on this list will no doubt be a controversial one, as many were disappointed by the sophomore’s numbers this season. What the box score won’t tell you though is how hamstrung he was by his supporting cast. Penn State’s receivers had the fifth-highest drop rate in the Power Five this past season (10.8%). Allar was also under pressure within 2.5 seconds on 21.3% of his dropbacks this year. The only other quarterback on this list who had a higher rate was Shedeur Sanders (22.1%), and his offensive line’s woes have been well-documented. Despite having one of the strongest arms in the nation, Allar had the second-lowest deep pass attempt rate in all of college football (10.3%). His offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, was fired in November. 

Despite so much working against him, Allar’s 86.3 PFF grade was still a top-20 mark among all quarterbacks in the nation. He took care of the football at an elite rate, his 1.1% turnover-worthy play rate trailed only Bo Nix among FBS signal-callers. Allar should be a much better fit in new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s offense. At Kansas this past season, Kotelnicki’s offense was third in the Power Five in average depth of target (12.3 yards) while the Jayhawks tied for second in the FBS for receiving grade (89.0). 

If Penn State’s supporting cast is elevated by Kotelnicki’s arrival, Allar has the requisite talent to climb this list and be one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2025 NFL Draft.

9. Noah Fifita, Arizona Wildcats

While Allar and Fifita share the distinction of being the only third-year players on this list, the two couldn’t look less alike. While Allar has a Josh Allen-esque build at 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, Fifita’s will remind many of Bryce Young at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. Like Young, what Fifita lacks in stature he makes up for in toughness. The redshirt freshman posted a 73.3 PFF passing grade under pressure this past season, fifth among all FBS quarterbacks. Fifita routinely hung in the pocket and took some big hits but still delivered the ball accurately to his receivers down the field. He was also one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the nation. Fifita’s 90.9 PFF passing grade on third/fourth down was third in the country. 

Fifita isn’t a particularly effective runner at the position, rushing for just 80 yards this past season on 2.3 yards per attempt. He also rarely put special throws on tape, finishing with a 2.6% big-time throw rate that was just 132nd in the nation.

While Arizona was dealt a major blow this offseason when head coach Jedd Fisch left for Washington, the deadly combination of Fifta and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan should have Wildcat fans very excited for what’s to come in 2024.

10. Brady Cook, Missouri Tigers

Cook took a massive leap as a passer this past season, improving his PFF passing grade to an 80.0 in 2023 after earning just a 66.7 mark the year before. After finishing with 17 big-time throws and 18 turnover-worthy plays in 2022, the junior had 23 big-time throws and 10 turnover-worthy this season. He’s also a dangerous threat on the ground, placing 10th among Power Five quarterbacks with 1,157 rushing yards since 2022. 

The biggest question is whether this is who Cook is as a passer now or if he’ll regress to his sophomore form. With Missouri returning wide receivers Luther Burden III, Theo Wease Jr. and offensive coordinator Kirby Moore, it’s a safe bet that Cook will have a similarly successful senior season.

Honorable Mention: Preston Stone, SMU Mustangs

Like Garrett Greene, Stone is also one of the most underrated signal-callers in college football. He earned a 91.0 PFF passing grade this past season that trailed only Nix and Daniels among FBS quarterbacks. Also like Greene, Stone digs the long ball. The redshirt sophomore’s 13.6-yard average depth of target was the second-highest in the nation this past year while his 30 big-time throws were the fourth-most in college football. 

The biggest question for Stone as he heads into his second year as a starter is how he’ll handle the jump from the American Athletic Conference to the Power Five level in the ACC. Based on what he showed in Year 1 though, Mustang fans should be very confident in their man under center.

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