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 | 1-20

Some popular names for the NFL Draft land in this bracket of our College Quarterback Power Rankings.

20) Jake Haener | Fresno State

Week 5 ranking: 7 (-13)

Jake Haener is a terrific quarterback — there is no denying that. He has a one-of-a-kind arm with immense talent behind it. While he may not have the strongest arm in the country, he certainly has the most effortless release. Haener simply flicks his wrist, and the ball goes where he wants it to more often than not.

So far this season, Haener has thrown for 3,467 yards while averaging the Mountain West Conference’s second-highest yards per pass attempt at 8.4. He is currently tied with Carson Strong for the conference lead in touchdowns at 28, but he’s also fourth with 9 interceptions. He’s been a bit too inconsistent at times, putting too much trust in his arm, specifically in the Hawaii game. But he has all the tools to be a great NFL quarterback.

19) Gerry Bohanon | Baylor

Week 5 ranking: 43 (+24)

It’s hard to think that we had a quarterback controversy at one point in Waco this year. Gerry Bohanon clearly won the job for a reason, as he’s been terrific and has the Bears sitting just a game outside first place in the Big 12. He also led the team to an upset victory over Oklahoma in Week 11, proving that this Baylor team is indeed for real.

Bohanon is third in the conference with 2,084 passing yards while ranking second with 16 passing touchdowns. He does a great job of finding his receivers open and using the short, swing-screen pass game that Baylor runs to his advantage. They’ll lull defenses to sleep before Bohanon drops a perfect shot to his receivers after the coverage defenders have cheated up.

He’s also a dynamic athlete who has 9 rushing touchdowns to his credit this season. The Baylor offensive line has been great, as has the offensive growth from last season to this year. But the majority of the Bears’ success on offense can be attributed directly to Bohanon.

18) Sam Hartman | Wake Forest

Week 5 ranking: 22 (+4)

Sam Hartman was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for a weekend. The loss to UNC hurts his Heisman chances, but not his status here. Even with the 2-interception performance and a loss to North Carolina, Hartman’s Heisman hopes remain intact as well. Hartman actually has two more marquee games on his schedule to increase his Heisman chances and place on our QB rankings.

With contests at Clemson and Boston College to close out their schedule, Hartman will have to be on his game the rest of the way. He currently is third in the ACC with 3,163 yards and second with 30 touchdown passes. He’s thrown 8 interceptions this season, with 5 of those coming over his last two games. Hartman has set all-new career-highs this season and is doing it in dramatic fashion.

Previous knocks on his game were his inability to find the middle of the field defenders, as he lacked awareness at times. He’s shown that isn’t the case in 2021 and lacks only pure power behind his throws. Hartman more than makes up for that with his rushing ability (328 yards, 9 TDs) and his decision-making at times.

17) Brennan Armstrong | Virginia

Week 5 ranking: 19 (+2)

Brennan Armstrong continues his climb as he continues to lead the ACC in passing yards. He’s leading the conference in yards despite missing Week 11 with an undisclosed injury as well. All things considered, Armstrong has been playing lights-out football, throwing for 3,557 yards and 27 touchdowns. The lefty plays a quick brand of football, excelling in the quick passing game with his short release.

Armstrong has decent arm strength but has an even better understanding of defenses. His control over the UVA offense is uncanny, routinely flipping plays and finding advantageous moments for his receivers based on coverages and schemes. He also has plus-rushing ability, running for 7 touchdowns and 271 yards this season. Armstrong can excel even higher if he were to return and play well against Pittsburgh in Week 12.

16) Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati

Week 5 ranking: 8 (-8)

Desmond Ridder falls in our College QB Rankings thanks in large part to some ball security issues that almost cost Cincinnati the College Football Playoffs. Despite those issues, Ridder has once again reached 2,000 passing yards for the fourth consecutive year. He’s also set a new career-high with 22 passing touchdowns. Ridder has Cincinnati undefeated through 10 games and can potentially play his way into the Playoffs.

There have been some lows, including multiple fumbles in the ground game and some inaccuracy issues over the middle of the field. But still, the focal point remains: Cincinnati is undefeated, and Ridder is winning games for the Bearcats.

15) Malik Cunningham | Louisville

Week 5 ranking: 28 (+13)

A new No. 2 in the ACC, Malik Cunningham has played his best football yet down the stretch of the season. A dynamic dual-threat, Cunningham is on his way to 2,500 passing yards and potentially 1,000 rushing yards as he has a nose for the big play. He’s thrown for 13 touchdowns this season but rushed for another 16 touchdowns.

His 16 rushing touchdowns are the most in the country among quarterbacks and tied for fourth among all ball carriers, just 1 touchdown off the pace. Cunningham is completing passes at a high rate and taking care of the ball very well. He’s taken some off of his shots this season but still is a friend of the deep ball.

His case for 1,000 rushing yards and 2,500 passing yards has a favorable matchup against Duke before the battle for the Governor’s Cup in the regular-season finale. Cunningham is one of the nation’s top playmakers and is absolutely must-watch TV.

14) Clayton Tune | Houston

Week 5 ranking: 65 (+51)

The hottest team that no one is really talking about, the Cougars are led by potentially the American Athletic Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year. Clayton Tune is carving up defenses during his nine-game win streak, currently ranking fourth in the conference in yards (2,448) and passing touchdowns (21). What separates him from the rest of the AAC QBs is his accuracy and placement of his balls to every level.

Tune is second in the AAC with a 69.8% completion rate, while he has six games with a completion rate above 70%. Since AAC play started, Tune has limited the mistakes as well, throwing just 1 interception against conference opponents. He even had a Heisman moment when he beat then-undefeated SMU in dramatic fashion.

Now, the Heisman ceremony is a ways off, and I’m sure Tune would settle for Conference Player of the Year, as that would mean he’s likely in the AAC Championship Game as well. He’s played that well and certainly looks the part.

13) Payton Thorne | Michigan State

Week 5 ranking: 26 (+13)

The curse of Purdue struck the Spartans like it did the Hawkeyes, but unlike Spencer Petras, Payton Thorne rebounded quite nicely with a 4-touchdown performance following the defeat to the Boilermakers. On the season, Thorne has been a revelation. He’s thrown for 2,460 yards and 21 touchdown passes, including three 4-touchdown performances.

He’s sharp with his reads and thrives when he can find his receivers outside against man coverage. Thorne has fielded a completion rate lower than 58% in only one game this season, and he’s shown a knack for getting the ball to his receivers in space. He’s got a surprisingly strong arm and uses it to his advantage not just on deep shots but also when he has to drive the football.

12) Jaren Hall | BYU

Week 5 ranking: 37 (+25)

The Cougars have embarked on the national-fading, tail end of their schedule with games against Idaho State, Georgia Southern, and USC. However, if you’ve lost sight of what Jaren Hall has done this season for BYU, rewatch his past few performances. Actually, rewind and go back to the beginning of the year when he started 3-0 against Pac-12 opponents and combine that with the rest of his season. I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

Hall can make it a perfect 5-0 against Pac-12 teams with a win against USC to close out the regular season. He’s clearly shown that he has all the tools to accomplish such a task. Hall has thrown for 1,995 yards and 16 touchdowns, taking great care of the football despite pushing it downfield heavily at times. His off-platform throwing mechanics are certainly reminiscent of his baseball days, but his arm is live.

Hall is accurate and long. He is poised and thrives when he’s on the move. He is reminiscent of Zach Wilson in more ways than one. And that last factor should scare BYU’s opponents in 2022.

11) Frank Harris | UTSA

Week 5 ranking: 17 (+6)

The Roadrunners are undefeated and ranked in the AP Top 25 and College Football Playoff rankings for the first time in program history. The city of San Antonio is behind them, and their head coach is a lovable character who preaches toughness and hard work. And no one embodies the nature of the UTSA program quite like their signal-caller.

Frank Harris is among the toughest kids in college football and certainly one of the hardest workers. The left-handed dual-threat has been much more of a downfield passer than rusher this year, leading to a perfect 10-0 record in the process. Harris has increased his completion percentage and yards per pass attempt to career-highs as he’s delivered accurate pass after accurate pass this season.

Making him even more difficult to stop is that aforementioned rushing ability. Harris has run the ball 70 times for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has a great feel for what the defense presents, and an even better feel for how the offense needs to be run.

10) Malik Willis | Liberty

Week 5 ranking: 3 (-7)

Malik Willis has had to be Liberty’s Superman this season. While it’s worked at times, he has struggled when attempting to be the world-beater that the Flames need. Willis has shown growth with his passing ability, routinely wowing with shots downfield. His layering of passes over the top of defenders is excellent, but he’s also shown he can punch footballs into tight coverage.

Willis is a dynamic athlete with the football in his hands as well. He’s scored 10 TDs on the ground to give him double-digit rushing scores in back-to-back seasons. He’s 245 yards away from 1,000 yards rushing, while he’s set to surpass his previous career-high in passing yards as well. All things told, even though he’s had to be Superman for Liberty, it’s looking like a role that Willis may have been born to play.

9) Grayson McCall | Coastal Carolina

Week 5 ranking: 10 (+1)

Grayson McCall is a ridiculously-talented quarterback with perhaps the best quarterback in terms of control of his team’s offense in the country. His impact is so large that the Chants have looked like a completely different team over the past two games without him in the lineup. His place in our College QB Rankings is secured even if he were to miss the remainder of the regular season after the body of work he put out this year. We’re still hopeful he can return for the team’s final two games and a potential bowl game.

He has completed 73.4% of his passes — first in the Sun Belt — while averaging a whopping 13.1 yards per attempt. With 17 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions, he owns the conference’s top TD-INT ratio among starters. McCall has chipped in with another 3 rushing scores on the ground, giving him 10 career rushing scores and 44 career passing touchdowns. He’s the epitome of “the offense runs through him” kind of player, and the Chanticleers certainly miss him when he’s not able to be on the field.

8) Will Rogers | Mississippi State

Week 5 ranking: 58 (+50)

Talk about a meteoric rise for Rogers and the Bulldogs. Will Rogers is not only leading the country in completion rate at 75.7% but he’s also thrown (538) and completed (407) more passes than any other quarterback in the country. The sophomore ranks second with 3,722 passing yards as he’s all set to eclipse the 4,000-yard plateau with ease this year.

Like all Air Raid offenses, Mississippi State’s quarterbacks will have friendly confines from which to throw. And sure, Rogers has Charles Cross protecting his backside. Still, Rogers has done more damage with his arm than what we could have even imagined possible after the 2020 season. Since Week 3, he’s thrown for at least 300 yards in every game while topping 400 yards in four contests.

He’s playing his best football as of late as well, throwing 15 touchdowns over his past four games. The Bulldogs are winning games, completing passes, and scoring points, but most importantly, Rogers is shutting up the anti-Air-Raid-in-the-SEC crowd.

7) Tanner Mordecai | SMU

Week 5 ranking: 4 (-3)

Tanner Mordecai has done everything in his power to push the Mustangs in 2021. They’ve dropped only a pair of games by a combined margin of just 10 points, and Mordecai is the biggest reason for success this season. Currently, Mordecai is second in the country with 37 passing touchdowns and seventh in passing yards at 3,264.

As good as his passing has been (and it’s been stellar), Mordecai’s ability to find throwing lanes and maneuver the pocket has been uncanny. He reminds viewers and fans of a lite version of Baker Mayfield — not because he lack’s Mayfield’s success, but because he doesn’t have Mayfield’s pure arm strength.

He can fit passes into windows with ease and has a great sense for the sideline and his receivers’ abilities to find the football along the boundary. Mordecai has added 189 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground to round out his game this season.

6) C.J. Stroud | Ohio State

Week 5 ranking: 15 (+9)

At the beginning of his young career, C.J. Stroud was an inaccurate mess. He left his receivers out to dry and missed high more often than not. But then, there was an awakening. And no, it wasn’t the Oregon loss. It was Ohio State’s close contest against Tulsa.

Stroud has been lights out since a Week 3 victory over the Golden Hurricanes, throwing for 22 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions since Week 5. The Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in all but two games since that Week 3 contest. Stroud’s inaccuracy issues have started to iron themselves out, and he’s finding his talented receiving corps in space while also throwing them open at times.

It took him all of three games for Stroud to find his rhythm, but now that he’s found it, he is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten and potentially some year-end hardware. He’ll have some marquee matchups to solidify his Heisman candidacy, with Michigan State and Michigan left on the schedule as well as a likely berth in the Big Ten Championship Game.

5) Carson Strong | Nevada

Week 5 ranking: 6 (+1)

The offense that Carson Strong plays in does him little to no favors. He’s a big-armed gunslinger of a quarterback who thrives when throwing the ball down the field. Yet, at times, the Wolf Pack’s offensive game plan is to throw short underneath crossing patterns and let the receivers do the work.

Strong has the best arm in college football and surely the most arm talent in the 2022 NFL Draft class. His run-of-the-mill deep shots are typically placed perfectly in stride for his receivers streaking down the field. Strong is incredibly talented with the football to all levels of the field, but he shines when attempting passes 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage.

Combine his deep shots with the fact that he makes all the prototypical “NFL throws,” and you’ve got yourself one terrific quarterback.

4) Matt Corral | Ole Miss

Week 3 ranking: 5 (+1)

There isn’t much not to like about the Ole Miss signal-caller. Matt Corral is calm and composed in demeanor while he’s tough as nails on the field. The system he’s in does aid his production, but he’s more than held his own and played outside of the friendly confines of Lane Kiffin’s offense. Corral has thrown 17 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions, showcasing his ability to process his reads, find his open receiver, and deliver shots accurately.

His arm is terrific from any angle, and he can drive the ball into even the smallest of windows. Corral is currently third in the SEC with 2,774 passing yards, but his 17-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio ranks first among full-time starting quarterbacks in the conference.

Taking matters into his own hands at times, Corral is an incredible athlete with the football in his hands. He’s rushed 126 times for 523 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cutting down the interceptions while increasing the production on the ground is a recipe for success, and it’s likely going to lead Corral to a high draft position.

3) Bailey Zappe | Western Kentucky

Week 5 ranking: 13 (+10)

It’s hard to miss what Bailey Zappe and the Hilltoppers are doing this season. WKU hit the transfer portal jackpot this year with the former Houston Baptist quarterback and his leading man in WR Jerreth Sterns. Zappe leads all FBS quarterbacks by a comfortable margin with 4,170 passing yards and 42 touchdowns.

The Air Raid principles are always going to be friendly to quarterbacks. As such, Zappe is completing 70.8% of his throws and has 342 completions, second in the country. Still, Zappe has transcended the Air Raid offense and made himself a viable 2022 NFL Draft prospect in the process.

He’s got terrific accuracy with even better pop on his passes. Zappe can — indulge me — zap balls into tight windows and plays with great timing and poise. There really isn’t anything else that Zappe needs to prove in 2021, and that makes him dangerous down the stretch. He’s thrown for at least 3 touchdowns in all 10 games this year and has eclipsed 300 yards passing in all but one outing.

With the Conference USA Championship Game a very likely possibility, and a subsequent bowl game on the horizon, Zapper could break the all-time C-USA record for passing yards in a single season. He’d top Brandon Doughty’s school record of 5,055 yards set back in 2015 if he does so.

2) Bryce Young | Alabama

Week 5 ranking: 2 (no change)

Bryce Young is looking more like a bona fide star than he is a product of the Alabama system. Routinely dropping dimes, Young has stood tall and delivered shot after shot this year. He’s separated himself from the rest of the SEC QBs with his ability to withstand pressure and keep his eyes downfield. His accurate delivery on passes with pressure either coming at him or draped on him is second to none in college football this season.

The sky is the limit for the young signal-caller, and he’s first in the SEC with 33 touchdown passes this season. He’s thrown just 3 interceptions in 2021 and is averaging a whopping 9.3 yards per attempt while completing 70.9% of his throws. No matter which way you slice it, Young is the SEC’s worst nightmare.

1) Kenny Pickett | Pittsburgh

Week 5 ranking: 1 (no change)

I’m calling it now, we’re changing Kenny Pickett‘s nickname to Kenny ‘The Mailman’ Pickett because he delivers in any weather. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays Pickett from the swift completion of his accurately-placed passes. The Mailman is fifth in the country with 3,517 passing yards and fourth with 32 touchdowns through the air. Pickett is the only quarterback with at least 330 pass attempts and 4 or fewer interceptions to his credit this season.

Pickett has demonstrated all the requisite on-field skills to rise on NFL draft boards, and he maintains his top spot on these QB rankings. The fifth-year senior has become Pitt’s all-time leader in passing yards (11,501), passing touchdowns (71), completions (971), and he has his sights set on even more Pitt records.

Rewriting the record books at a university is one thing, breaking records held by players like Dan Marino and Alex Van Belt is another. He’ll break the Pitt record for most yards in a season (3,679) likely in the first half of their Week 12 game against Virginia.

Like the expression stated, The Mailman simply delivers, no matter the situation. His rain-soaked performance against UNC in Week 11 is just another case of Pickett elevating his game to elite standards this season. With two heavily-favored games left on their regular season, Pickett will likely have the ACC Championship Game and a bowl game appearance to increase his records. Then, it’s off to the NFL for The Mailman.

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

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