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Who Are the Best QB Draft Prospects in NFL History? Caleb Williams, Drake Maye Represent 2024 Class

Who are the best QB prospects in NFL Draft history? Andrew Luck is the standard, but Caleb Williams could come to define the modern era.

Who are the best quarterback draft prospects in NFL history?

NFL teams live and die at the QB position, and thus, QBs are some of the most coveted players each year.

These QB prospects were among the most coveted, and many of them lived up to their potential.

Top 12 QB Draft Prospects in NFL History

12) Drake Maye, North Carolina

This ranking will be controversial for some, as Drake Maye was a somewhat polarizing prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft class.

But on my board, Maye was in the same tier as Caleb Williams, and he has an argument to make as one of the best prospects in recent years.

Maye first emerged with a redshirt freshman campaign in 2022 that saw him pass for 4,321 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions at 66.2% completion, while also running for 698 yards and seven TDs. He experienced a slight statistical regression in 2023, but the upside was still very much evident.

At 6’4″, 223 pounds, Maye hits every benchmark of the new-age NFL QB. He has the prototypical build that many evaluators crave, but he’s also an elite athlete with awesome arm talent, off-platform freedom, creative tendencies, and flashes of high-level anticipation.

Maye was selected third overall in the 2024 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, after Williams and Washington Commanders selection Jayden Daniels. He’ll be a case study in the years to come.

11) Steve Young, BYU

The shift from the past to the modern era has been a gradual one for QB prospects, but one of the passers who served as the paradigm for that shift was Steve Young.

A dynamic runner and left-handed passer, Young threw for 3,902 yards, 33 scores, and just 10 picks in his final season at BYU while also running for 444 yards and eight TDs. At the time he made the leap to the professional level, the USFL was a rising conglomerate, and at first, Young chose to sign with the Los Angeles Express.

However, when the Express and the USFL itself soon fell to internal dysfunction, Young bought out his Express contract and joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who’d made him their Supplemental Draft selection at first overall in 1984.

The rest, as they say, is history. After a short stint in Tampa Bay, Young backed up and then succeeded Joe Montana in San Francisco and became an all-time great of his own.

Young’s legacy on the field is undeniable, but his ability as a creator also helped catalyze innovation in QB evaluation.

10) Justin Fields, Ohio State

The book is still out on Justin Fields, but it’s safe to say the general NFL Draft community — and myself — may have been too bullish on his NFL projection in the 2021 NFL Draft cycle. On my board, he was relatively close to Trevor Lawrence, and his tools drove that ranking.

Fields’ upside was tantalizing in the 2021 cycle. In 2019, he’d passed for 41 TDs to just three INTs, and at the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at 6’3″, 228 pounds. He ultimately was the fourth QB in the 2021 draft, but more than a few independent evaluators had him among the top two signal-callers in the class.

Fields never got over the hump in Chicago, but a strong 2022 season highlighted his upside as an elite rushing threat, and his rare arm talent pops time and time again. The hope is that, behind Russell Wilson in Pittsburgh, he’ll get a chance to reset and resurrect his career.

9) Joe Burrow, LSU

As recent as 2018, Joe Burrow was almost a non-factor in the 2019 NFL Draft class. Entering 2019, he was a little-known sleeper who’d transferred from Ohio State and achieved marginal success with the LSU Tigers the previous year.

But then 2019 happened.

The Tigers went 15-0 — winning the SEC title and the National Championship — and Burrow delivered one of the greatest QB campaigns in college football history, dishing up 5,671 yards, 60 TDs, and just six INTs at 76.3% completion.

Burrow was a good athlete with a passable arm, but a select few traits made him a special prospect: Psychic pressure sense and evasion ability, elite accuracy and precision, and the ultimate clutch gene — or the “it-factor,” as some have come to call it.

8) Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Had Andrew Luck not been in the 2012 NFL Draft, Robert Griffin III would have been the first overall selection. That was the only thing standing in the 2011 Heisman winner’s way.

Griffin — who put up 4,293 yards, 37 TDs, and six INTs in 2011 while running for 699 yards and ten scores — was the premier upside play. At 6’2″, 223 pounds, he ran a blazing 4.33-second 40-yard dash. That number emphasized his elite creation capacity, but he also boasted a rocket arm and impressive discretion as a passer.

With his tools, Griffin won Offensive Rookie of the Year for Washington in 2012 and also made the Pro Bowl that year. If not for injuries and mismanagement by Washington, Griffin could have had a much more productive long-term career.

7) C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

On the surface, this may look like recency bias as C.J. Stroud wasn’t even the first QB selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. But Stroud was safely my QB1 in the 2023 cycle over Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young, and a perfect situational blend in Houston led him to become a first-year Pro Bowler and the 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

At 6’3″, 218 pounds, Stroud had all of the cosmetic boons as a prospect. He fit the prototype, moved well inside the pocket, and channeled his arm strength and elasticity through a loose, elastic, and effortless throwing motion.

Beyond the physical spectrum, Stroud’s college tape also displayed plenty of positive qualities as a processor — qualities that helped him hit the ground running in the NFL. He was an active anticipator even dating back to 2021, and his sharp field vision is one of his best traits.

One of the only questions surrounding Stroud centered on his maximum creation capacity, but his rookie season showed that it was more of a comfort issue than an ability issue in college. Now that Stroud has the requisite comfort, he’s a star in the making.

6) Caleb Williams, USC

Caleb Williams was selected first overall in the 2024 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. And in a class with two other similarly talented passers in Maye and Daniels, there was never much disagreement about Williams being the first pick. That means a lot.

The 6’1″, 215-pound Williams — who passed for 8,170 yards, 72 TDs, and just ten INTs in two seasons with the USC Trojans while also adding 21 scores on the ground — drew comparisons to Patrick Mahomes for one reason and one reason alone: His hyper-elite creation capacity.

Even from his days at Oklahoma, it was clear that Williams had special off-script and off-platform comfort. He’s a danger from start to finish on every single rep, and his elite composite arm talent allows him to layer throws into incredibly tight windows. And it’s all magnified by his zealous competitive mentality.

There’s still much football to be played, but as an NFL Draft QB prospect, Williams was one of the best of all-time — one of the most deserving of confidence. And landing with the weapons he has in Chicago, fireworks should be expected.

5) Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Few NFL Draft QB prospects can say they were as heavily anticipated as Trevor Lawrence was across his entire career at Clemson. As a true freshman, Lawrence passed for 3,280 yards, 30 TDs, and four INTs — and from that point on, he was the future first overall pick in 2021.

At 6’6″, 220 pounds, Lawrence had a little bit of everything.

As an athlete, Lawrence was nimble, quick, and light on his feet, but he often won from within the pocket with his elastic, effortless arm, his poise and navigation ability, and his willingness to test tight windows.

Lawrence had to weather a rough rookie year under one-and-done head coach Urban Meyer, but he’s now developed into one of the better QBs in the league. And now that the Jaguars have Brian Thomas Jr., there’s a sense that Lawrence’s best football is ahead of him.

4) Aaron Rodgers, California

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the first quarterback taken in his own class — that honor went to Alex Smith, who was taken No. 1 overall by the San Francisco 49ers — but Rodgers was in the conversation before concerns surrounding his personality dropped him to the Packers.

It didn’t take long for that slide to look bad in hindsight.

Smith managed to build a respectable career for himself, but from the moment he hit the field for Green Bay, Rodgers looked like a star, and he’s since won four MVP awards and a Super Bowl ring.

Rodgers will be a Hall of Famer soon after he retires. Not only did he change the game of football, but he also changed the parameters through which QBs are scouted.

Modern stars like Mahomes, Josh Allen, and even Rodgers’ own successor Jordan Love could arguably qualify as permutations of the elite off-platform profile that Rodgers popularized and made so successful.

3) Peyton Manning, Tennessee

The great debate in the 1998 NFL Draft was between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Manning went first overall to the Indianapolis Colts — who were starved for good QB play — and he became one of the greatest QBs in NFL history under their banner.

At around 6’5″, 230 pounds, with a strong arm and stronger resolve, Manning was the ultimate prototype. At the tail end of the old era, he passed for almost 4,000 yards and 36 TDs as a senior at Tennessee, and his ability to pummel defenses with volume set him apart.

The only knock on Manning as a prospect and an NFL player was his lack of running ability. But Manning was so smart, so in control, and so cerebral as a passer that he made those concerns null and became an NFL great in spite of them.

2) John Elway, Stanford

John Elway was one of the most renowned QB prospects of his time, so much so that he caused a supply-and-demand war at the top of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Elway didn’t want to play for the Baltimore Colts, who owned the No. 1 overall pick, so a host of bidders offered to trade for the signal-caller. The Denver Broncos ultimately won out.

The 6’3″, 215-pound Elway — who was also a baseball standout ahead of his NFL career — was known for his rocket arm and gunslinger mentality, and those traits eventually led him to stardom at the NFL level. He won NFL MVP in 1987 and capped off his final two years with two Super Bowl rings.

1) Andrew Luck, Stanford

As an NFL Draft prospect, Andrew Luck was the standard. It’s as simple as that.

You want production? Luck was a two-time Heisman runner-up who accumulated almost 7,000 yards and 74 total TDs in his final two years.

You want traits? Luck was a 6’4″, 240-pound prototype with 4.59 speed, a 36″ vertical, a 6.80 three-cone, and a live arm.

But what about on-field execution and leadership? Luck was lauded beyond compare in those areas as well. His unnaturally complete profile led him to be taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, and he was well on his way to a storied career before injuries caused him to retire in 2019.

There have been countless quality QB prospects over the years, but Luck is the standard of excellence to which all prospects are compared.

Honorable Mentions

  • Cam Newton, Auburn
  • Matthew Stafford, Georgia
  • Anthony Richardson, Florida
  • Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
  • Matt Ryan, Boston College
  • Carson Palmer, USC
  • Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
  • Tim Couch, Kentucky
  • Roman Gabriel, NC State
  • Troy Aikman, UCLA