College Football QB Power Rankings: Ranking all 130 starting quarterbacks for 2021

PFN’s inaugural College Football QB Power Rankings analyzes every team’s starting quarterback situation. Who is the best for the 2021 season?

College Football QB Power Rankings for 2021 | 41-55

Which QBs fill out this section of our College Football QB Power Rankings? Some Group of Five talent shines bright.

55) Max Johnson | LSU

Week 5 ranking: 61 (+6)

For all intents and purposes, the 2021 season has been a disaster for LSU. Sure, they knocked off Florida, but even Samford gave the Gators trouble this season. Max Johnson has been decent in 2021, but he’s not quite living up to expectations placed on him following spot duty in 2020. He’s played his best football against inferior opponents, throwing 10 of his 22 touchdowns outside of SEC play.

Nonetheless, he’s still had the Tigers in a position to defeat Auburn, Alabama, and Arkansas, but LSU couldn’t quite get it done. There is too much scrutiny around the program and the decisions that have been made this season to project too much. But Johnson may be better suited in a different offense next year if the new coaching regime doesn’t scheme to his strengths as a passer.

54) Drew Plitt | Ball State

Week 5 ranking: 92 (+38)

Amid the chaos of midweek MACtion, Drew Plitt and the Cardinals have split their last four conference games but hold a 3-2 record since our last iteration of these College QB Rankings. A big reason why Ball State has won their games is that Plitt has thrown 15 total touchdowns, but 11 have come since Week 6. He’s finding his talented cast of receivers and is on pace to cross 2,000 passing yards for the third straight season.

Additionally, Plitt’s ball security has taken a step forward in 2021. With just 4 interceptions, he is on pace to lower his season total for interceptions for the fourth consecutive year. Leaning to take something off your passes and find open receivers takes time, and it has come for Plitt in 2021.

53) Gavin Hardison | UTEP

Week 5 ranking: 67 (+14)

The Miners are on a bit of a losing streak as they appear to have run out of gas after they quickly got to 6-1 this season. Gavin Hardison is hardly the reason, however, as he’s still thrown 6 touchdowns during the three-game losing streak. Currently, he ranks fourth in the conference with 2,396 yards, and he’s second with 9.1 yards per attempt.

Hardison is a big-armed thrower of the football with underrated moxie. He doesn’t have much pocket maneuverability outside of structure, but when given time to diagnose defenses and go through his progressions, he can be lights out. His rapport with Jacob Cowing forms one of the Group of Five’s best QB-WR combinations. Hardison will have to improve some of his decision-making as the years go on, but one thing is for sure — as long as he’s behind center, the Miners are in good hands.

52) Jordan Travis | Florida State

Week 5 ranking: 105 (+53)

The Seminoles are back-to-back wins away from reaching bowl eligibility when it felt like all was lost just a few weeks ago. In fact, they’ve won four of their past six games. And even in defeat, lost those two games by just 24 total points. A big reason for that is the emergence and continued health of Jordan Travis. He may not be the ACC’s top passer, but he may be up there with the top athletes in the conference.

While the FSU offensive line continues to struggle, it’s been Travis’ pocket maneuverability and athleticism that has allowed him the freedom to find receivers downfield or in the flats for yards. Travis has thrown for 1,086 yards and 11 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions but that tells only half the story. He’s completing passes at a career-high rate of 64.1%, and he’s only improving in that regard.

Travis has also rushed for 402 yards and 6 touchdowns as he’s one score away from matching his career-high 7 rushing touchdowns in a season. Travis gives the ‘Noles a chance to win, and he has started to take the next step as an elite college quarterback: elevating the talent around him.

51) Anthony Brown | Oregon

Week 5 ranking: 45 (-6)

The Ducks will fly as high as Anthony Brown can take them this season. And right now, that’s looking like it could be into the College Football Playoffs. He’ll have to avoid mistakes and keep the ball away from a stingy Utah defense in Week 12 (and possibly again against the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game) to get there.

For the season, Brown has done a great job of putting forth solid quarterback play. He’s completed 170 of 263 pass attempts for 2,030 yards and 12 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions.

Brown was the culprit of the Stanford loss, however, with some poor reads and ill-advised decisions. Despite Oregon ranking inside the top four teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings, they opened as underdogs to Utah in Week 12. That is as much of an indication of Vegas’ doubt in Brown’s ability to win big games as I’ve ever seen.

Brown is a great college quarterback when he’s on his game. He’ll have to be in top form from here on out to continue to impress the Playoff Committee and lead Oregon to become the first team to represent the Pac-12 in the Playoffs.

50) KJ Jefferson | Arkansas

Week 5 ranking: 56 (+6)

After a three-game losing streak following our last installment of these rankings, KJ Jefferson has righted the ship and corrected his errors. He isn’t quite lighting up the scoreboard, but he hasn’t had to, as the Razorbacks’ defense continues to impress. Jefferson ranks just 10th in passing yards in the SEC this season, but his 17 touchdowns are tied with Matt Corral for seventh-most in the conference. Furthermore, his 3 interceptions are the second-fewest among full-time SEC starting quarterbacks.

Jefferson has the added dimension of the ground game, rushing for 474 yards and 5 touchdowns. Yet, he hasn’t used his mobility to escape from the pocket as much during Arkansas’ three-game winning streak. He takes care of the ball well, and he’ll need to do that and more against Alabama in Week 12.

49) Kedon Slovis, Jaxson Dart | USC

Week 5 ranking: 50 (+1)

With a lot of uncertainty around the USC program this season, the future may be here following Jaxson Dart’s entrance into the lineup. Kedon Slovis was bailed out at times by Drake London, while Dart may give the Trojans the better pure passer. There will be growing pains if this is officially Dart’s team following Slovis’ leg injury, but Dart has the potential to be something special.

Dart will make his first collegiate start against UCLA in The Battle for the Victory Bell in Week 12. Rewinding the clocks back to his most meaningful snaps in Week 3, Dart single-handedly defeated Washington State in USC’s first game after firing former head coach Clay Helton. He completed 30 of 46 passes with 4 touchdowns after shaking off 2 early interceptions.

There is still much to learn about Dart as a passer, especially after the Trojans’ Week 11 game against Cal was canceled due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, he’s a tremendous athlete, and his story is waiting to be written.

48) Haaziq Daniels | Air Force

Week 5 ranking: 51 (+3)

When talking about the option quarterbacks this season, Haaziq Daniels takes center stage. He’s run for 646 yards and 9 touchdowns, carrying out well-executed mesh points at will. Making matters even more difficult for opposing defenses, Daniels has presented his valiant arm strength on multiple occasions this year.

In fact, Daniels is on pace to throw for over 1,000 yards, as he sits at 909 with 5 passing touchdowns to his credit. The loss to Army will continue to sting on personal levels, but the Falcons have more than shown they’re capable of knocking off any Mountain West team this season, or at least giving them a run for their money, literally. Daniels should be poised to finish the season strong, garner a bowl game, and enter 2022 as the top option quarterback in the nation.

47) Chris Reynolds | Charlotte

Week 5 ranking: 46 (-1)

Another year, another ho-hum 2,000-yard, 20-touchdown season for Chris Reynolds, as the 49ers quarterback has eclipsed 7,300 career passing yards. Reynolds has terrific vision and arm strength for a quarterback on the smaller side. He hasn’t quite put forth the rushing success we saw in 2019, but he’s still efficient and has 4 rushing scores on the season.

Reynolds has some of the best throws to outside receivers in the entire C-USA, as he routinely drops balls in the bucket. He can find receivers downfield inside and outside of structure, as he has taken the next step in his development as a passer and has learned to keep his eyes downfield on scrambles. There isn’t much Reynolds can’t do, and not much that Reynolds doesn’t do incredibly well.

46) Seth Henigan | Memphis

Week 5 ranking: 60 (+14)

Returning to action over Memphis’ last two games, Seth Henigan has returned to form as well. The Tigers are a win away from bowl eligibility in his first season as a college football player, though they do have to travel to Houston in Week 12. Henigan is a big-armed passer with terrific touch, and he has shown linear growth in his true freshman season.

He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in all but one game since FBS competition kicked off, and he has 21 scores on the year against just 6 interceptions. Henigan is second in the AAC with 2,778 passing yards, and that’s even with missing the Week 8 game against UCF. He leads the American in yards per pass attempt (9.1), and he has truly emerged as one of the next great AAC QBs.

45) Dorian Thompson-Robinson | UCLA

Week 5 ranking: 31 (-14)

A terrific start for the Bruins came crashing down to reality once Pac-12 play started, as UCLA sits at 6-4 and firmly out of the Pac-12 South race. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been good, not great, for the Bruins in 2021. He’s excelled when his offensive line has allowed him time but really struggles with passing outside of structure. DTR is a dynamic athlete with the ball in his hands, but he can’t beat defenses by himself.

One area of improvement this year for Thompson-Robinson has been his ball security. He’s honed in on taking care of the football to the tune of just 4 interceptions after coming into the year with 20 career picks. As his supporting cast has dipped in overall talent this season, DTR has found himself creating more with his legs and has set a new career-high with 7 rushing touchdowns. There’s immense talent in his arm, though he may have reached his ceiling as a collegiate passer.

44) Daniel Richardson | Central Michigan

Week 5 ranking: 63 (+19)

Currently owning one of the MAC’s best TD-INT ratios among starters, Richardson has tossed 19 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. He’s thrown for 2,011 yards and is completing 60.5% of his throws while averaging the MAC’s second-highest yards per pass attempt.

Richardson doesn’t add much with his legs like the other top MAC QBs, but he hasn’t needed to as he has CMU currently in second of the MAC West. A separation game against Ball State looms large for Richardson and the Chips.

43) Cade McNamara | Michigan

Week 5 ranking: 34 (-9)

Not asked to do as much as some of the other conference quarterbacks, McNamara has had great success this season. He falters from his Week 5 ranking as he’s thrown a couple interceptions and lost a game since, but he’s still playing outside of expectations this season. McNamara ranks seventh in passing yards in the Big Ten but has thrown the fewest interceptions among full-time starters.

Surprisingly, we may only be scratching the surface of McNamara as a passer. Arguably, his best game came against Michigan State when he was forced to throw the ball up and beat the Spartans through the air. Sure, they didn’t quite get it done and his interception in that game was on a must-have heave at the end of the game, but he still impressed as a passer against their arch-rivals.

If he increases his accuracy and velocity on the football, he’ll be ready to continually impress when called upon. Until then, their date with Ohio State looms incredibly large in 2021.

42) Aidan O’Connell | Purdue

Week 5 ranking: 63 (+21)

It’s impossible to overlook O’Connell’s big-game performances at this point. He took the starting job for Purdue back in Week 5 and has had complete control ever since. With incredible upset victories over Iowa and Michigan State, O’Connell most recently threw for 390 yards and 4 touchdowns against Ohio State in Columbus. He should’ve had another touchdown and potentially made it an even closer game had it not been for a drop in the end zone from David Bell.

Still, the big kid from Illinois is slinging it ever since taking over for the Boilermakers. He has four games without at least 300 yards and threw for 536 yards against Michigan State in Week 10. This season has seen him double his career numbers in passing yards and touchdowns, and he’s not done yet. Purdue has beatable defenses in Northwestern and Indiana left on their schedule so 3,000 passing yards isn’t out of the question.

41) Garrett Shrader | Syracuse

Week 5 ranking: 79 (+38)

Since our last starting QB rankings, Tommy DeVito has entered the transfer portal and Garrett Shrader has run all over people. Literally. Shrader has rushed for 713 yards and 13 touchdowns this season while tossing another 7 touchdowns through the air. He’s limited a bit as a passer, forcing too many throws and losing touch on certain passes, but his prowess in the ground game has paid off to the tune of a 5-5 record this season.

Shrader’s rushing ability has opened up Sean Tucker for bigger gains and more room to run as he currently leads the conference in rushing yards. On that note, Shrader actually ranks seventh in the ACC in total rushing yards this season while he’s currently tied for second in rushing touchdowns. They’ve become a one-trick show with Shrader at the helm but it’s been enough to win some games and at the very least, be incredibly entertaining to watch on offense.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. He is also the co-host of Between the Hashes, a college football and NFL draft podcast. You can find his writing here. Follow him on Twitter @CamMellor