College Football QBs Who Made The Game Look Like Child’s Play

Football | 5/11/21

Before their professional careers begin, future NFL stars need to go to college. Top QB prospects get scrutinized by NFL scouts from their first throw to their last. The question is, who slung the rock the best before entering the draft? From number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence to Florida legend Tim Tebow, these are the greatest college quarterbacks of all-time. Did your favorite make the list?

Vince Young Threw For Over 6,000 Yards

vince young usc
Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Robert Seale/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Vince Young’s NFL career might not have lasted for very long, but his time spent at Texas is the stuff of legends. In three years, Young threw for over 6,000 yards, ran for 3,127 yards, and combined for 81 touchdowns.

Most memorably, Young battled Matt Leinart and USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl, a game many college analysts consider the best college football game ever played. Young would go on to be taken with the third overall pick in the draft by the Tennessee Titans, where he would make the Pro Bowl twice.

Steve Young Was A Dual Threat Before It Was Trendy

steve young in 1984
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Steve Young was one of the earliest QBs to combine running skills with throwing skills as a Hall of Famer for the 49ers. He first showed off his flashy skillset at BYU, where he took over after Jim McMahon entered the league.

In two years at Brigham Young University (yes, he has ties to the school’s founders), Young passed for over 7,000 yards and ran for over 800. He scored 69 total touchdowns, even catching a pass for the game-winning score in his final match!

Michael Vick Was A Generational Talent

Michael Vick at NFL Draft 2001
Gabe Palacio/Getty Images
Gabe Palacio/Getty Images

It came as no surprise when the Atlanta Falcons took Michael Vick with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. While he wasn’t the first QB to combine throwing with running, his ability to do both while at Virginia Tech felt generational.

As a freshman, Vick led the country in passing efficiency, leading his school to an 11-0 record and finishing third in Heisman voting. Overall, Vick led Virginia Tech to a 22-2 record and appeared in one National Championship Game against Florida State.

Tim Tebow Scored 145 Touchdowns

tim tebow florida
Kelly Kline/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Kelly Kline/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Tim Tebow, in many NCAA circles, is considered the greatest college QB of all-time. He finished his Florida run with over 9,200 yards passing, 2,900 yards rushing, and 145 total touchdowns while leading the Gators to one National Championship title.

Unfortunately, Tebow’s skillset didn’t translate to the NFL. He had a few big moments, including a game-winning deep pass in the playoffs to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was also wildly inaccurate at the next level. Of course, his college career defines him, as well as an entire era of college football, easily earning him his spot here.

Roger Staubach Is The Last Navy Player To Win The Heisman

roger staubach under center for Navy
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

As a college QB, Roger Staubach’s stats don’t shout “greatest of all-time,” but his impact on his alma mater is undeniable. The future Cowboys’ signal caller set a school record with 4,253 total yards.

Staubach also threw 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in his college career. Despite that number, he would go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1963, the last player from Navy to ever win the award. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

Steve Spurrier Lost The Sugar Bowl But Won The MVP

Steve Spurrier Setting the Passing Record at The Sugar Bowl
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In college football history, QB Steve Spurrier is the only player to be a member of the losing team during the Sugar Bowl to be named the game’s MVP. Spurrier’s Florida Gators lost to the Missouri Tigers 20-18.

Spurrier left his mark in the 4th quarter. Trailing 20-0, he threw two touchdown passes and ran for another (two point attempts failed after each score). Spurrier finished his college career with over 4,000 yards passing and would go on to be one of the greatest head coaches of his generation, too.

Trevor Lawrence Turned Himself Into A Can’t-Miss Prospect

trevor lawrence at clemson
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The top-ranked high school recruit before starting his college career at Clemson, by the time all was said and done, he was one of the greatest college QBs of all time and considered a “can’t-miss” prospect.

Lawrence, the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, left Clemson with 10,098 passing yards, 90 touchdowns, and only 17 touchdowns. He added another 18 scores on the ground. And he put up those stellar numbers in just three seasons starting!

Philip Rivers Set Several ACC Records

philip rivers at NC state
Cy Cyr/WireImage
Cy Cyr/WireImage

During his four-year college career with the NC State Wolfpack, Philip Rivers set several ACC records. He started 51 consecutive games, threw for over 13,000 yards, and tossed 95 touchdowns before becoming a top pick in the NFL Draft. NC State retired his number 17 before his last home collegiate game, cementing his NCAA legacy.

Unsurprisingly, Rivers’ skillset translated beautifully to the NFL, where he made eight Pro Bowls, led the league in completion percentage once, and was named Pro Football Focus’ Most Valuable Player in 2009.

Cam Newton Only Needed One Season To Prove Himself

cam newton at auburn
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2015 NFL MVP only needed one season of college football at Auburn to prove that he was one of the greatest ever. After nearly getting expelled from the University of Florida, Newton spent one season at community college before making a comeback like no others at Auburn.

In his single season at Auburn, Newton completed 66 percent of his passes, threw for 2,854 yards, ran for another 1,473 yards, and scored 50 total touchdowns. The Carolina Panthers couldn’t get the card to the NFL Commissioner fast enough when they drafted him first overall.

Kellen Moore Only Lost Three Games At Boise State

kellen moore at boise state
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A four-year starter at Boise State, Kellen Moore went 50-3, throwing for over 14,000 yards with a 69.8 career completion percentage. He topped his college career off with 142 touchdown passes and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2010.

A left-handed QB who measured just around six feet tall, draft scouts didn’t believe Moore would be successful in the NFL, leading him to be undrafted. He only ended up playing in three NFL games before moving into coaching, and we can’t help but wonder what could have been if he was given more of an opportunity.

Kordell Stewart Ran The Option Offense To Perfection

kordell stewart of the pittsburgh steelers
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Kordell Stewart was the starter for the Colorado Buffaloes from 1992 until 1994, and showed off a game-breaking running and throwing skillset that had scouts salivating at his NFL potential. Stewart went 25-6-2 as a starter, winning 11 games in his final season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took Stewart in the second round of the 1995 NFL Draft and he played mostly wide receiver until 1997, when he started 16 games and led the team an 11-5 record.

Steve McNair Played Bigger Than His Competition

STEVE MCNAIR playing for the Titans
Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

It’s extremely difficult for division I-AA college athletes to be drafted in the early rounds of the NFL Draft, let alone in the top ten. That drawback didn’t stop Steve McNair from being taken with the third overall pick by the Titans in 1995.

A four-year college starter, McNair threw for over 5,000 yards in his final season and found himself regularly featured on the Sportscenter highlight reel. His career proved the impossible was… possible, paving the way for future FCS stars Carson Wentz and Trey Lance.

Joe Namath Was One Of The First Passing QBs

joe namath in 1964
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

When Joe Namath played QB for the Alabama Tide, the game of football relied heavily on run plays. In his final season at Alabama, the future star of the New York Jets only threw 100 passes, completing 64. So how did he make this list?

Just like his Hall of Fame NFL career, the stats don’t tell the whole story. Despite underwhelming college numbers, Namath was taken with the 12th overall pick in the draft by New York. His college head coach, the legendary Bear Bryant, said Namath was the best athlete he ever coached.

Jim McMahon Started His College Career As A Punter

Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Playing for the BYU Cougars for years, Jim McMahon started his college career in 1977 as the team’s punter. In 1980, he was entrenched as the team’s starting QB and threw for more than 4,500 yards to go along with 47 touchdown passes.

College QB seasons don’t get much better than that. When he entered the draft after the 1981 college season, McMahon owned 70 BYU records. He would go to win a Super Bowl as the starting QB for the Chicago Bears.

Colt McCoy Completed 70 Percent Of His Passes

colt mccoy of the texas longhorns
John Rivera /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
John Rivera /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Colt McCoy had one of the most prolific college careers of all-time with the Texas Longhorns. Not only did he complete 70 percent of his passes, but he also threw for over 13,000 yards and tossed a cool 112 touchdowns.

When he left college, McCoy owned several Longhorns’ record including victories as a freshman, passing yards in a season, career touchdown passes, consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and highest percentage of completes in a game with a minimum of 20 attempts.

Baker Mayfield “Cooked” For More Than 14,000 Yards

baker mayfield with the sooners
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Baker Mayfield spent every step of his college career proving he belonged. He started his journey as a freshman at Texas Tech, where he started five games before he transferred to Oklahoma.

Mayfield started for three years with the Sooners, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2017 and cementing his status as an elite college QB. He entered the NFL with 14,607 college passing yards and 131 touchdowns. As the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns, he continues to prove his doubters wrong.

Marcus Mariota Got Better Every Season

marcus mariota of the oregon ducks
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

The starting QB for the Oregon Ducks from 2012 to 2014, Marcus Mariota got better every season. In his first year, he finished the season with 2,677 passing yards. The next year he threw for 3,665 yards. His final year he went over 4,400 yards. Do you see the pattern?

Mariota also ran for 2,237 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on the ground. The Titans didn’t have to think very hard when they took him with the second overall pick in 2015.

Johnny Manziel Was The First Freshman Heisman Trophy Winner

johnny manziel texas
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Johnny Manziel became so embroiled in controversy during and after his college football career, it’s easy to forget just how good he was. He played two seasons at Texas A&M after redshirting his first year.

In what is considered his freshman season, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and ran for more than 1,400 yards. He became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. The Cleveland Browns took him in the first round of the draft in 2014, but his NFL career didn’t last very long after personal problems became too great for him to overcome.

Peyton Manning Nearly Did It All At Tennessee

peyton manning
Doug Devoe/Sporting News via Getty Images
Doug Devoe/Sporting News via Getty Images

Not many college prospects come with the “can’t-miss” label. Peyton Manning, the son of Archie Manning, is one of the few. Playing for Tennessee, he left college with over 11,000 passing yards and a 39-6 record.

Oddly enough, the same knock on Manning led the narrative during his prestigious NFL career started in college. He could never win the big game. Of course, with the Colts and Broncos, he would mostly silence the critics with two Super Bowl titles.

Andrew Luck Resuscitated The Stanford Cardinal

andrew luck stanford
Robin Alam/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images
Robin Alam/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Before Andrew Luck enrolled at Stanford, the football program was considered dead in the water. Alongside head coach Jim Harbaugh, he crafted one of the greatest program rebirths in college football history. In a pro-style offense, Luck thrived, completing 67 percent of his passed for 9,430 yards.

When he entered the draft, the Colts took him with the first overall pick, their second “can’t-miss” QB prospect after taking Peyton Manning over a decade before.