Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Quinn Ewers and re-ranking the QB class of 2021

Less than a week ago, we learned which underclassmen decided to enter their names in the 2024 NFL Draft, while some of the top quarterbacks from the 2021 recruiting cycle declared for the draft. Some opted to return to school for another year.

This is a good time to look back and re-rank the quarterbacks from the 2021 cycle.

Here is our re-rank of the Class of 2020.

Note: All rankings are from the 247Sports Composite.

Original ranking: No. 2 QB (No. 7 overall)

Why he’s here: In three seasons, Williams accounted for 120 total touchdowns, won a Heisman Trophy and nearly led USC to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2022. He made highlight-worthy plays week in and week out and displayed a rare knack for thriving on off-schedule plays. The team accolades are missing — no conference championships — but Williams was the best college player among the 2021 quarterback class, and he’s the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Original ranking: No. 9 QB (No. 56 overall)

Why he’s here: Maye redshirted in 2021 and burst onto the scene in 2022 when he threw for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and rushed for 698 yards and seven scores while leading North Carolina to the ACC Championship Game. He remained with the Tar Heels in 2023 despite speculation that some high-profile programs were trying to lure him via the transfer market. His numbers declined this past season (3,608 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, nine picks) after losing his top two receivers to the NFL and while working with a new offensive coordinator. But his skill set, athleticism and size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) are what make him a lock to go very, very high in the draft.

Original ranking: No. 5 QB (No. 25 overall)

Why he’s here: He’s the winner among the group. McCarthy went 27-1 as Michigan’s starter and is the only quarterback in the class who won a national championship. The Wolverines’ foundation was built on their run game and defense, though, so McCarthy wasn’t asked to do a ton. His 2023 stat line wasn’t overwhelming: 2,991 passing yards with 22 touchdowns and four interceptions. But he made plays when he needed to against Ohio State and in the College Football Playoff against Alabama and Washington. McCarthy declared for the draft a few weeks ago and will be an intriguing prospect for NFL teams to evaluate.

4. Quinn Ewers, Texas (via Ohio State)

Original ranking: No. 1 QB (No. 1 overall)

Why he’s here: Ewers was originally a part of the 2022 recruiting cycle until he reclassified in August 2021 and enrolled at Ohio State. He transferred to Texas after one semester and posted his best season this past year (3,479 yards and 22 touchdown passes) as he led the Longhorns to their first CFP appearance. While Ewers has shown some positive flashes, he’s missed multiple games in each of the past two seasons because of injuries and has had bouts of inconsistency that have prevented him from living up to his lofty recruiting hype. Ewers opted to return to Texas for one more year and should deliver another solid season.

Original ranking: No. 13 QB (No. 82 overall)

Why he’s here: This is where the rankings get tricky. There are valid arguments to be made for several players to be ranked fifth. Other quarterbacks have better stats or are more polished passers, but Milroe played well on big stages this season — notably against LSU and Georgia (he is the only quarterback in the past two years to beat the Bulldogs). He certainly has room to improve as a pure quarterback — as the Rose Bowl displayed — but he’s a dynamic runner (531 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns in 2023) who has won a lot of games. Now, we get to see what he can do being coached by Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb.

6. Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss (via USC)

Original ranking: No. 10 QB (No. 69 overall)

Why he’s here: Dart took a step forward in 2023 after Lane Kiffin brought in two quarterback transfers to compete with him in the offseason. As a junior, Dart passed for 3,364 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 391 yards and eight scores while leading Ole Miss to its best season this century (11-2 record and a New Year’s Six bowl win). Dart will be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in 2024 and should have Ole Miss in position to make a run at its first College Football Playoff appearance in an expanded 12-team field.

7. Shedeur Sanders, Colorado (via Jackson State)

Original ranking: No. 26 QB (No. 247 overall)

Why he’s here: It was hard to get a read on what to expect from Sanders in 2023 given the transition from the FCS level to Power 5. But he was the biggest bright spot in Colorado’s 4-8 season. The Buffaloes struggled in a lot of areas, but Sanders threw for 3,230 yards and 27 TDs with only three INTs while completing 69.3 percent of his passes. He took a beating in the pocket — Colorado allowed 56 sacks, which was second-most nationally. Part of that was from Sanders holding onto the ball too long, searching for the big play. But if Colorado improves its offensive line play and gives Sanders a semi-decent run game, he should take another step forward in 2024.

Original ranking: No. 15 QB (No. 111 overall)

Why he’s here: Landing Stone was a significant victory for SMU during the 2021 recruiting cycle. He sat behind starter Tanner Mordecai his first two years on campus but enjoyed a breakout season in 2023 with 3,197 yards passing and 28 touchdown passes as he led SMU to the AAC championship (though he missed the title game with a broken leg). Stone and Rhett Lashlee form a promising QB/head coach combo, and that will help SMU tremendously as it transitions to the ACC in 2024.

Original ranking: No. 47 QB (No. 682 overall)

Why he’s here: Leonard possesses ideal size (6-4, 212 pounds) and is a good athlete — he’s rushed for 1,224 yards and 19 touchdowns in three seasons — but he dealt with ankle and toe injuries last year and has played just one full season in his career. That came in 2022 when he threw for 2,967 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 699 yards and 13 scores. Leonard was one of the more high-profile quarterback transfers of the offseason after spending his first three years at Duke. We’ll see if he can return to his 2022 form while surrounded by more talent at Notre Dame.

Original ranking: No. 78 QB (No. 1,187 overall)

Why he’s here: Henigan has been extremely productive for three seasons at Memphis, with 10,764 yards passing and 79 touchdowns in his career. His best season came in 2023 when he passed for 3,883 yards, 32 touchdowns and nine picks while leading the Tigers to a 10-win season and a Liberty Bowl win. Henigan has decided to stay at Memphis and will be one of the best Group of 5 QBs next fall.

Others considered

It was tough to leave some quarterbacks off the list. Here’s who else was considered:

Kyle McCord, Syracuse via Ohio State (No. 6 QB, No. 28 overall): McCord was one of two five-star signees brought in during the cycle. He earned the starting job this past season and did OK, throwing for 3,170 yards, 24 touchdowns and six interceptions, but he did not play up to the high standard Ohio State has set at QB. McCord entered the portal once the regular season ended, and the Buckeyes looked to upgrade at the position by adding Kansas State transfer Will Howard.

Kaidon Salter, Liberty via Tennessee (No. 17, No. 143 overall): Salter’s career got off to a bumpy start when he was dismissed from Tennessee after he was arrested on misdemeanor drug charges. He landed at Liberty and played an entire season for the first time in 2023. He put up an impressive stat line: 2,876 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and six picks, and 1,089 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He also led the Flames to a C-USA title. Salter briefly entered the transfer portal but decided to remain with Liberty for the 2024 season.

Keep an eye on

These are Class of 2021 quarterbacks who have posted some good numbers recently or may be in line for more playing time this season:

Brock Vandagriff, Kentucky via Georgia (No. 4 QB, No. 17 overall): Vandagriff was one of the more hyped quarterbacks in this class but attempted just 21 passes in three seasons at Georgia while playing behind more experienced quarterbacks. He transferred to Kentucky this offseason so we should get our first extended glimpse of him this year.

Miller Moss, USC (No. 12 QB, No. 76 overall): Moss is one of the increasingly rare quarterbacks who has stayed at his school despite not starting for his first three seasons. He earned his first start in the Holiday Bowl a month ago and thrived, throwing for 372 yards and six touchdowns. With Williams headed to the NFL, Moss is the favorite to earn the starting role for the Trojans.


Miller Moss’ Holiday Bowl breakout: Have the Trojans found their next starting QB?

Garrett Nussmeier, LSU (No. 14 QB, No. 84 overall): Like Moss, Nussmeier has patiently waited for his turn and is seemingly in line to start for the Tigers next season. We got a preview of Nussmeier when he completed 31 of 45 passes for 395 yards and three TDs against Wisconsin in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Taylen Green, Arkansas via Boise State (No. 79 QB, No. 1,223 overall): Green was productive with his arm and legs in his two seasons of playing time at Boise State. He’s raw and still needs to develop as a passer, but his size (6-6, 221 pounds) and athleticism make him an interesting fit at Arkansas.

Kyron Drones, Virginia Tech via Baylor (No. 28 QB, No. 263 overall): Drones had one of the more under-the-radar impressive seasons in 2023. He threw for 2,085 yards and 17 TDs and rushed for 818 yards and five scores, leading Virginia Tech to its first winning season since 2019 and first bowl win since 2016.

What happened to the rest of the top-10 QBs?

Sam Huard, Cal Poly via Washington (No. 3 QB, No. 12 overall): Huard transferred from Washington after throwing 44 passes in two seasons and went the FCS route, where he was reunited with his former high school coach Sheldon Cross, who is the Mustangs offensive coordinator. Huard passed for 2,247 yards with 18 TDs and 10 INTs as Cal Poly went 3-8 in 2023.

Ty Thompson, Tulane via Oregon (No. 7 QB, No. 40 overall): Thompson arrived at Oregon with plenty of hype but couldn’t unseat Anthony Brown in 2021 and was recruited over twice by Dan Lanning, who brought in Bo Nix two years ago and Dillon Gabriel this offseason. Thompson threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns in relief duty this season but should have a bigger role at Tulane.

Jake Garcia, East Carolina via Missouri via Miami (No. 8 QB, No. 48 overall): Garcia began his career at Miami and earned some playing time in 2022 in relief of an injured Tyler Van Dyke. He transferred to Missouri last offseason but didn’t attempt a pass in 2023. He recently transferred to East Carolina, where he’ll be with new offensive coordinator John David Baker, who was part of a USC coaching staff that recruited Garcia in 2019 and 2020.

(Photos: Quinn Ewers: Jerome Miron; Drake Maye: Brett Davis; Caleb Williams: Jessica Alcheh / USA Today)

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