Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and our experts at PFF agreed with the decision, listing him No. 1 on our list of candidates for the award.
But he actually doesn’t lead off our ranking of the best quarterbacks this season. Here is our list of the top 10 QBs in college football entering bowl season:
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sooners (93.7 PFF grade, on a scale of 0-100)
OK, so how is it that our No. 1 QB wasn’t our Heisman pick? For starters, Mayfield was our choice for the runner-up for the award, and he finished the season with the top overall grade among all quarterbacks at 93.7. For the second consecutive season, he led the nation in passer rating under pressure, and his 62.1 percent adjusted completion rate was tops in the country.
Baker Mayfield is our top-graded quarterback in college football this year pic.twitter.com/9XfQgZfEwa
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 10, 2016
Nobody played the quarterback position better than Mayfield this season, and had he not struggled in the Sooners’ only two losses – to Houston and Ohio State in the first month of the season – he might very well have been at the top of our Heisman list.
2. Lamar Jackson, Louisville Cardinals (93.2)
Jackson came in just behind Mayfield in terms of PFF grade, but he was simply outstanding this season. He made great strides as a passer from a year ago, and he earned the best QB rating from a clean pocket at 119.1. But what made him the nation’s most unstoppable force on offense – and our choice for the Heisman – was his ability as a runner. He broke 48 total tackles, the most among Power-5 quarterbacks, en route to 1,793 yards (on 197 carries) and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
Why Heisman-winning QB Lamar Jackson was PFF's pick for the award, too pic.twitter.com/bG8y17IniY
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 11, 2016
3. Deshaun Watson, Clemson Tigers (92.0)
The 2016 season started slowly for Watson – at least relative to the enormous expectations placed upon him entering the year – but he is playing his best football of the season leading into the Tigers’ semifinal matchup against Ohio State in the college football playoff. The Heisman runner-up ranks third in PFF grade among quarterbacks and sixth in adjusted completion rate – both overall, and on deep throws. He hasn’t been quite as effective as a runner this year as he was a year ago, but we could see more of that against the Buckeyes.
4. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State Cowboys (89.4)
Like Watson, Rudolph had a slow start to 2016 after an excellent 2015 campaign. But he came on strong in the second half of the season, and ended the regular season as the No. 1 Power-5 quarterback in passer rating on deep passes at 124.7. He isn’t the same type of dynamic athlete that many of the other QBs on this list are, but as a pure passer, he’s right up there with the best in the country. He’ll face a talented Colorado secondary in the Cowboys’ bowl game.
5. Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech (89.1)
Mahomes’ overall grade was boosted a bit by putting up huge numbers in some games against softer competition, but he also earned excellent grades in games against conference opponents Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. One of the most elusive quarterbacks in the country – both at evading pass-rushers in the pocket and when running in the open field – he was also one of its most accurate, with an adjusted completion rate of 75.1 percent that ranked ninth in the Power-5.
6. Greg Ward Jr., Houston Cougars (87.6)
Another quarterback with excellent running ability, Ward made significant strides as a passer in his senior season, and finished the year with one of the best PFF grades in the nation. Ward broke 33 tackles this year, and earned over half of his 690 rushing yards after contact, picking up nine touchdowns on the ground. He also was one of the nation’s most accurate passers when throwing from a clean pocket – ranking 13th with an adjusted completion rate of 76.8 percent.
7. Mitch Trubisky, UNC Tar Heels (83.8)
You never want to use weather as too much of an excuse for a quarterback – football is played outdoors, after all – but if you removed Trubisky’s very poor grade in the Tar Heels’ loss to Virginia Tech, which was played in rainstorms related to Hurricane Matthew, he was one of the very best quarterbacks in the country. He didn’t have a single other below-average performance, and finished the season ranked No. 1 in adjusted completion rate under pressure at 68.6 percent.
8. Jake Browning, Washington Huskies (78.8)
Browning’s grade took a hit based off of poor performances in the Huskies’ one loss, to USC, and in their Pac-12 championship win over Colorado. But his performance for the season as a whole has been excellent. Nearly 20 percent of his pass attempts were of the deep variety (20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage), and he was on target with 50 percent of them – fourth-best rate in the Power-5. He’s facing a huge challenge in the College Football Playoff matchup with Alabama’s ferocious pass rush, but his passer rating of 95.4 when under ranks fourth in the Power-5, so he is better equipped to handle the heat than most quarterbacks.
9. Quinton Flowers, USF Bulls (87.3)
The closest challenger to Jackson for the title of best running quarterback in college football, Flowers forced 49 missed tackles and rushed for 1,475 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. The majority of that came on designed runs, as his ability in the ground game was a major part of the Bulls’ offense. But he still performed at an average level as a passer, making him one of the highest-graded QBs in the nation overall.
10. Sam Darnold, USC Trojans (77.5)
After starting 1-2, the Trojans lost their first game with Darnold as the team’s starting quarterback (versus Utah) – and then won eight straight after that. They head into the Rose Bowl matchup with Penn State as one of the hottest teams in the country, and Darnold is a big reason why. He is tied for fifth among Power-5 QBs (with fellow first-year starter Jalen Hurts of Alabama) in adjusted completion rate at 76.5 percent.