Through the history of NFLHC, many good QB prospects have come through the ranks. But after the QBs taken in the 2016 NFLHC Draft, just one taken in the following drafts has made even a Pro Bowl. Thomas Wheeler, taken #4 in 2015, made his first just this season. So, we thought we would rank the QBs from the 2017 draft up to this year’s class - not based on career results, but just as prospects entering NFLHC. This allows for a comparison between this year’s prospects in a very strong QB draft (though based on the results of this article, perhaps one that’s been a bit overrated) and prior prospects at the position. We’ve broken the listed prospects down into four tiers based on how good of a prospect we thought they were and included some honorable mentions at the end. Over the past 6 classes, here are the top 10 overall prospects.
This is a collaborative piece between myself and @Jumbo - all research, writing, composition, and glory is shared.
10. QB Graham Burnett 6-3 211 R Oklahoma [Pocket] 82 (2020)
Following the graduation of our #5 ranked prospect, Norris Brooksheer, Burnett immediately took over in Norman as starting QB of the Sooners as a true freshman. He definitely did struggle in his first two years especially compared to the first eight on this list; 30 TD to 18 INT in his first two seasons doesn’t exactly scream top prospect.
His peripheral passer rating was better however, and solid completion percentage and YPA showed that he was still a promising prospect. He then proceeded to fully break out in his third and final year as a true junior, nearly winning the Heisman and leading Oklahoma to the playoffs where they lost a very close game to a tough Alabama squad.
Burnett was pretty clearly the 10th best QB on the list overall based on his accomplishments and scouting criteria. Burnett’s best season was not as good as any of the other QBs on this list (besides AJJ, by efficiency standards) and he was the one most in danger of being knocked off in favor of some of the other QBs in consideration. Outside of his grades, his scouting traits were not that great; he’s not athletic and his 25 Wonderlic is tied for the second worst amongst all the QBs who appear on this list. Overall, Burnett was not an amazing prospect and his draft position was likely helped by a weak 2020 QB class. That said, he still would likely have been a top 10 pick with his grades either way.
9. QB Mohammed Foster 6-0 194 R West Virginia [Scrambling] 82 (2021)
Foster was a one-season wonder at West Virginia whose dual-threat ability, and big play potential made him an intriguing quarterback prospect despite an embarrassing 22 on the Wonderlic and questions about his decision-making ability.His gaudy QB rating of over 182 in the magical 2020 WVU run saw him skyrocket on most draft boards after taking home the Big XII Player of the Year, Walter Camp, and Heisman Trophy awards.
Unfortunately, a single absurd season does not equate to a top tier rating and so Foster finds himself just above Graham Burnett due primarily to his single notable season eclipsing that of the gunslinger from Oklahoma. Outside of the 2020 season, though, his achievements are pedestrian at best, with a high passer rating of just 141 in his previous two seasons as a starter, a TD/INT ratio of 36:19, and a completion percentage milestone of a mere 61%. However, it cannot be ignored that much of Foster’s value is derived from his ability to extend plays and make magic happen outside the pocket.
Overall, his inability to carry a team (traits found in others on our list, Jefferson and King specifically) hurt him in the long run and his reliance on a generational talent at WR who accounted for 35% of all completions, 40% of all yards, and a staggering 61% of all touchdowns the quarterback amassed, place him here at #9.
8. QB A.J. Jefferson 6-3 194 R North Carolina [Pocket] 82 (2017)
Touchdown Jesus (or the False Prophet, depending on your perspective) was the first ever generated recruit to be drafted by an NFLHC team. Taken #2 by the Falcons, a team that had quite literally just won the Super Bowl, the expectations on AJJ were immense heading into the NFL. While he hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations, as a prospect he was probably the most intriguing player on this list.
Jefferson was perhaps the most, but certainly first highly-touted recruit at QB CFBHC has seen. And when he came in, he had probably the most exciting true freshman season that the CFBHC world has ever seen as well. He attempted 642(!) passes in 14 appearances, which is over 45 attempts per game. He ended that season with 45 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. Any game that AJJ played in was bound to be an exciting one.
He slumped a bit more in his sophomore season before reaching approximately the same efficiency in his true junior year, after which he declared his eligibility for the NFLHC Draft. Now, while AJJ’s efficiency in total for his career was… not good. His career passer rating is worse than Mohammed Foster’s, who at least offered something as a scrambler. However, that is almost certainly offset by the sheer number of times he threw the ball. There are four 4-year starters on this list, and AJJ had the most career attempts by almost 200. When you played North Carolina from 2014-2016, you knew that you would be going against a QB throwing it 40 times a game basically no matter what.
And yet by most measures he still managed to find some success. There were some worries that he had been broken and become too much of a gunslinger, and to some extent that has been validated in NFLHC as he has struggled to throw even with Akili Wallace in the backfield. Nonetheless, as a prospect his cannon arm and relative success on a UNC team that did nothing but throw the ball made him seem like he had elite upside at the very least. You could argue for him to be higher based on his scouting traits - he probably has the strongest arm of any QB here - but his questionable statistical success limits his ceiling on the list to here.
7. QB Alex Leshoure 6-1 205 R Boston College [Pocket] 82 (2019)
Alex Leshoure’s CFBHC career is a tale of two Alexes. His redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons were AJJ-like - limited efficiency on lots of throws, and his team had a ceiling of 9 wins. His junior and senior seasons, meanwhile, were two of the best that CFBHC has ever seen. In fact, by passer rating, they’re the two best individual seasons thrown by any player on this list. Unsurprisingly, while his Boston College squad was capped at 9 wins in his first two seasons, they made the semifinals and National Championship in his last two years when he had on average about 200 fewer attempts. Balance works (especially if you have playoff Ben Curry).
If you just looked at those final two seasons, you would think that Leshoure’s placement on this list is pretty low. But there are a few reasons he doesn’t rank higher as a prospect. He was surrounded by talent - as a senior he threw to two 4.5/4.5 WRs with a 3.5/4.5 in the slot along with a 4.5/4.5 tight end. While his Wonderlic of 37 was pretty good and his grades by the scouts were good, there were many who felt that Leshoure’s ceiling was limited. His scouting report noted that he might be more of a game manager, and with the talent around him at Boston College those concerns felt legitimate.
It was very tough to ignore how good Leshoure was in his final two seasons, and that’s why he did eventually end up as a top ten pick. He was also relatively athletic for a pocket quarterback, more easily allowing for him to run schemes like the spread and pistol.
King and Leshoure were very, very close in terms of ranking. Leshoure is just barely edged out for perceived ceiling reasons as well as the concerns that he played with more talent than did King. Leshoure’s final two seasons were obviously great and likely superior to King’s, but his first two were also much worse in comparison to King’s first two. Still, going with either wouldn’t have been bad, and even though they’re in the same tier with a third QB they both are relatively clearly superior to the quarterback ranked #8.
6. QB Joel King 6-1 220 R Houston [Pocket] 82 (2019)
How many seasons has Joel King been a starter? One of the seemingly ageless players of CFBHC, Joel King was an unrelenting workhorse at Houston, dragging them to four straight AAC title games (winning the game and the MVP award to go with it three of the times) and three straight Bowl Games as well as a playoff appearance in his senior season.
Of course, the whispers of competition and imbalance in the AAC continued to hound him throughout his career and culminated in a disrespectful 5th place Heisman finish in 2018 despite posting one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a CFB QB with a passer rating over 181 to go with an outstanding 72.6% completion percentage on 330 yards per game, the second time he’d thrown over 72% in his career.
And the career is what’s important to consider here: King’s prospectus is more about the sum of the parts than any one season (looking at you Foster, Burnett). That consistency (along with stellar Pro Day grades, a non-disqualifying combine performance, and a bonkers 40 on the Wonderlic) made him a prospect that NFL scouts and GMs were tripping over themselves to move into position to select first overall (this one included!).
Overall, King edges out Leshoure here for a couple of reasons. First, Leshoure spent his time at BC surrounded by a plethora of NFL-caliber talent, while King certainly did not at Houston. And despite that, they are quite comparable statistically. Second, I think that the concerns about competition in the AAC during King’s tenure are blown far out of proportion. In 2014 (his freshman season), King led his team to a AAC CCG victory over a powerful #10 Boise St. side, with King taking the game MVP, again as a freshman. There were also the USF and UCF rosters of 2016-2018 which were much stronger than they are now given credit for. And King beat them all, a lot. His Houston owned the conference with so much less talent.
5. QB Norris Brooksheer 6-3 207 R Oklahoma [Pocket] 82 (2017)
Norris Brooksheer rounds out the Tier 2 list. Besides Shea, the only QB on this list to go #1 overall - although Matt Jones looks likely to join those ranks - actually ended up right below a player who went #5 overall in the same draft. That’s because, of course, not every front office would make the same decision when given the #1 pick (see: this GM’s actions with the #1 pick in the 2016 draft). That doesn’t mean that taking Brooksheer was inherently the wrong decision - his main concern was how much of his production came from Tai Miller, although that’s looked more prescient once he began play in NFLHC.
In college, Brooksheer did improve his play every year, although he really only started for two full seasons. His two full seasons starting were great, throwing 65 TDs to just 12 interceptions and upping his play from a 170 passer rating to a 180 from sophomore to junior. He won the National Championship as a sophomore and then managed to take home the Heisman as a junior.
Although his only two seasons as a starter were as good or better than Jarius Jones’ seasons, there were a couple of concerns that knocked him down just below. First was the aforementioned Tai Miller conundrum. Miller caught almost 50% of Brooksheer’s passing yards as a sophomore although that improved to around 40% as a junior. Secondly, while his scouting grades look pretty good on the surface - a 40 Wonderlic is among the highest of any of these QBs and he looked to be a good manager with good accuracy, though with a questionable arm - he has similar concerns to a QB appearing later on this list in that he appeared to be mostly a game manager, though perhaps as elite a game manager as you will get. Nothing about him made him look like he would ever fully win games on his own in NFLHC.
Still, Brooksheer was good enough to justify going #1 if he was to hit his ceiling as an elite game manager who would basically never lose you games on his own. While that clearly hasn’t happened - the Bears recently drafted another QB who appears on this list - a QB with an extremely high floor could seem favorable to an expansion team when compared to someone who was slightly lower floor higher ceiling like Jarius Jones. Ultimately, none of the top three from that draft particularly worked out anyway so it’s mostly moot, but Brooksheer is slightly less of a preferable prospect in a vacuum.
4. QB Jarius Jones 6-1 205 R Iowa [Pocket] 83 (2017)
Jarius Jones is a peculiar QB prospect. On the one hand, he entered the NFL with the elusive 83 designation, and found ways to lead Iowa to increasing amounts of success each season as a starter alongside flashes of personal greatness. On the other hand, his career statistical progression reads like that of a misappropriated talent who didn’t find his gameplan fit until his final season in Iowa City, and was labeled by many with the dreaded ‘game manager’ tag.
In many ways, he finds himself outside of the top tier solely due to a horrific 2015 showing where, despite a 10-4 finish capped off by a Citrus Bowl win and MVP honors, he finished the year completing just 64% of his passes (7th worst among all seasons of every QB on our list) and a passer rating just north of 130 (3rd worst among the same). It became clear that despite a breakout 2014 season (151 rating, 40 touchdowns on 549 attempts), Jones didn’t work in a volume passing offense. Had Jarius performed somewhere between his 2014 and stellar 2016 seasons, it’d be a more rosy lookback for him, statistically speaking.
That said, it’s mostly good in regards to his outlook as a prospect. Many saw Jones as a statue in the pocket, immobile and unathletic. These myths were dispelled by an above-average showing at the 2017 Combine, where he edged fellow signal caller Norris Brooksheer in the 40, vertical, broad jump, and 3-cone, only being bested in the Wonderlic (34 to Brooksheer’s 40). In his private workouts, GMs learned of his stellar game management ability and comparable arm strength to the other top prospect (being beaten in perceived accuracy). This revelation fell in-line with what scouts saw in his final season at Iowa, where he threw just 333 times (compared to 672 in 2015), and posted some impressive numbers - 71.2% completion, 177.3 rating, and 10.3 ypa, which is good for 3rd best among all seasons evaluated here.
Overall, Jones finds himself just above Brooksheer for the following reasons: Brooksheer had the incredible Tai Miller to lean on at Oklahoma, while Jones had no such weapon in the passing game at Iowa in his final year and ended with a comparable stat line. The pedigree of 83 is also something that cannot be overlooked, all argument about the value overall aside. At the time of the 2017 draft, most considered this an enormous indicator of professional success, and it plays into our comparative ranking of Jones and Brooksheer here.
3. QB Tanner Bowman 6-2 203 R Penn State [Pocket] 82 (2021)
One of the most decorated and successful quarterbacks in CFB history, Tanner Bowman stepped into the starting QB spot on a stacked Penn State roster in 2019 and managed to exceed expectations, winning two B1G titles, two national championships, two B1G Player of the Year awards, and two 1st Team All American honors in, you guessed it, two seasons. And although he never won the big one, taking third in 2019 and second in 2020 Heisman Voting, he cleaned up the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas awards in 2020.
It feels bad to keep him out of the top tier simply because he had the good fortune of playing in State College on an absolutely stacked roster, but to us he is a shade behind the two tier one prospects on our list, but 2019 is a pretty good exemplification of our reasoning. Bowman was good, real good, but he wasn’t great, and it can be postulated that he didn’t have to do much other than not throw the ball away for his team to finish 16-0 and take home the National Championship. This knocks him out of the top tier, but strictly above guys like Jarius Jones and Norris Brooksheer because of what he did in 2020.
Bowman’s 2020 season was absolutely gross, gaudy, insane, whatever word you want to use to describe 44 touchdowns against 6 interceptions, 71% completion percentage, and a 181 passer rating. In any other season, he would have added the Heisman to his collection, but Mohammed Foster happened and stymied his prospects to etch his name into history.
Overall, Tanner Bowman is a name that will be forever enshrined in CFB, B1G, and Penn State lore as a stupidly efficient passer who was able to meet and even exceed the lofty expectations hoisted on him as a starting quarterback for the 2019 and 2020 Nittany Lions, some of the most impressive and talented rosters in CFB history. His career record of 31-1 overall (that’s a winning percentage of 97%, for those keeping score at home), and 18-0 in the B1G will be difficult to replicate as recruiting fertility moves south and power shifts and balances out in the bigger conferences.
2. QB Matt Jones 6-3 208 R Purdue [Pocket] 83 (2022)
You like that?! It was honestly very, very close between Shea and Jones - the two are basically in a tier of their own. Purdue’s acclaimed starting QB has won 10 games in each of his four seasons as a starter and as of publishing time for this article might go on to win a national championship this year. He had a passer rating of 162 as a freshman and has only improved on that since, with each of his successive seasons looking better and better. Two seasons with a 71%+ completion percentage is incredible. Surprisingly, however, Jones’ first career individual accolade came this season when he won the B1G Offensive Player of the Year award, though more may be to come.
Jones’ consistency and winning pedigree are unmatched by any QB prospect ever in the history of CFBHC. Tanner Bowman might be better in this regard, but he only started in two seasons compared to four for Jones. The team will have finished in the top 13 in all four of his seasons and top 10 in three when his career is over, and his 46 wins that might top out at 48 are the most of any of the QBs appearing on this list, and perhaps the most of any QB in history. His only real serious loss was to Penn State in last year’s B1G conference championship game, a forgivable offense considering that team only lost one game in two years.
With Tucker Dowden taking some of his shine in what could easily have been a QB award sweep for him otherwise, Jones’ final season could possibly not match the shine of Shea’s, unless he takes the Heisman or wins it all, both of which are distinct possibilities. But combine that unknown with his unknown scouted abilities, and he falls just short of the number one placement. Honestly, though, if he does win the Heisman or national championship this year… I would move him to #1, even without knowing his scouting ratings. He’s just flat out been that good. His past two seasons are very comparable to Shea’s final two and his freshman and sophomore campaigns are significantly better than Shea’s only other playing time.
1. QB Aaron Shea 6-2 204 R Missouri [Pocket] 83 (2018)
The hype leading up to the first pick of the 2018 NFLHC Draft was simultaneously the most palpable I’ve ever experienced as a member of the site (in part because the Eagles picked #2 that season) as well as the most predictable. Shea #1 was a forgone conclusion long before draft night, and for good reason. He had everything you want in a quarterback, and he had it in spades.
Statistical progression? Check.
Heisman Trophy? Check.
Combine? Check. Double check.
I could continue here, but you get the point, so let’s start with the numbers. Shea got better every season, taking a huge leap from 2015 to 2016, and again in 2017 (smaller leap), when he posted his crowning jewel of a season completing 72% of his passes, throwing 35 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions, and recording a passer rating just shy of 180 before dragging his team to another SEC CCG and a CFB Playoff appearance on his way to a Heisman Trophy, 1st Team All-American, as well as Johnny Unitas and Davey O’Brien awards.
Some will say that Shea shouldn’t be #1 on the list (and it’s close) because he never won a bowl game, conference championship, or playoff game. To those I say this - Missouri had no place in the SEC CG in 2016 or 2017, and they had no place in the playoff in 2017. They made those games because of their generational QB talent who dragged them there kicking and screaming. And they lost those two SEC Championship games by a combined 6 points to a loaded Alabama team that eclipsed them in talent in every conceivable way. One man can only do so much.
Shea beats Matt Jones in my mind because Jones is still an unknown from a Combine/Pro Day standpoint, and because of the hype he generated as a surefire franchise QB from the time he took his first snap in 2016 to his last Combine event. It is yet to be seen if Jones will garner the same amount of attention throughout the scouting and pre-draft process as Shea and for that reason, and again it’s very close, Shea tops our list.
JUST MISSED [Unordered]
QB Christian Barkley 6-3 211 R Texas Tech [Pocket] 81 (2019)
Barkley had a great 2018 season, but before that he was relatively mediocre. Most scouts at the time weren’t looking at him as a first round prospect - he eventually was picked at the top of the second round, and there were some that were even surprised at that. Soluna did pick him though, so that was followed by a bunch of people pretending they thought he was elite all along. Nonetheless, the major reason for Barkley missing this list is that nothing about him screamed elite as a prospect, while everyone who made the list at least seemed to have the potential to make it into that echelon.
QB Donald Culver 6-1 192 R Utah [Pocket] 81 (2022)
Culver suffers from Graham Burnett syndrome and that his only good season was this past one. The problem with that is his prios stats were even worse - sure, he was not actively coached, but a 120 passer rating last season is extremely worrying. His season this year leading Utah to the playoffs was a great one, but his supporting cast might be a bit underrated and without any scouting information it’s tough to justify putting a guy with one real elite season onto this list, especially when he’s not an 82 or 83 like the rest.
QB Brett Fisher 6-2 211 R Miami [Scrambling] 82 (2020)
Fisher was really, really good up until his senior season. Most of the good players on his Miami team left, and his production cratered as a result. While some would disregard that information, the fact that his production fell off a cliff worried many scouts and he nearly fell out of the first round entirely as a result. Everything else was solid - all his other seasons and his scouting grades looked good. But that terrible senior season, along with production that was really good but not quite reaching the heights of any of the players who made this list was enough to keep Fisher away from it.
QB Ryan Harris 6-4 213 R Fresno State [Pocket] 82 (2022)
While Harris has seen some success in college and is looked at as a promising QB prospect for the upcoming draft by some, there are a few things holding him back. His performance as a senior has not been inspiring, as his Fresno team failed to make a bowl even in the Mountain West. That should be concerning for someone looking for a QB to lead an NFLHC franchise. Besides that, we aren’t sure of his scouting ratings quite yet and without an elite WR like Sam Hiller-Weeden his stats have barely looked up to par. He seems like he should have a high ceiling, but might need to go to a good situation to find success. That doesn’t cut it for a top QB prospect.
QB Tommy Jones 6-3 198 R Michigan [Pocket] 82 (2018)
He was an 82 overall so he was considered for about a second. That said, he was picked in the fourth round and wasn’t particularly a good prospect outside of his overall à la Jamal Brunell, so he was basically the first prospect discarded from consideration.
QB Matty Swift 5-11 198 R Texas A&M [Pocket] 82 (2019)
QBs under 6 foot are worrisome. But outside of that, there were some serious concerns when it came to Swift, which is why despite being projected to be #1 at some point he fell all the way through half of the second round. His Pro Day showed accuracy and mechanics concerns, two of the most important aspects of playing QB in NFLHC, and there were also serious worries about how much of his production came from throwing to Adrian Jankowski. Ultimately that was enough to keep him off the list, although he would probably end up #11 if we had continued that far.
QB R.J. Stanford 5-11 203 R Arkansas [Pocket] 80 (2018)
Although a hybrid now, Stanford was a prolific pocket passer coming out. An amazing Pro Day that basically showed him as an elite QB in most facets shot him up draft boards, with many thinking he would go in the first round, though he eventually went in the second to the Giants. Despite his amazing Pro Day, Stanford was just an 80 overall. And although he threw the ball on par with the amount of times AJJ did, his production wasn’t as good - as a senior his passer rating was just 120 (Although on about 650 attempts). That was enough to keep him off.