Friday Five: Picking college football's breakout quarterbacks for the 2018 season

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Back in April, I went over the college football quarterbacks that would be the talk of NFL scouts heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. As you read the list (and as I wrote it) there was something you definitely should have taken away from it besides the evaluation of the prospects.

The 2019 NFL Draft QB class doesn’t look deep at the moment. Now, as always in a case like this, things are fluid, but I don’t think you’d get much of an argument from anyone if you told them there aren’t a lot of known commodities at the QB position entering the 2018 season. I mean, look at our recent CBS Sports Preseason All-America Team. Our first team QB is West Virginia’s Will Grier, and the second-team QB is Penn State’s Trace McSorley. Both of them are good players, but there’s a reason neither are featured in the header image (Houston’s Ed Oliver and Stanford’s Bryce Love are) for the story: they lack star power.

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But the quarterback is the glamour position in football, and just because there isn’t an obvious choice for The Man right now, that doesn’t mean he won’t emerge during the season.

So, as a companion piece to my Friday Five on next year’s NFL prospect QBs, for this week’s Friday Five I’m ranking five quarterbacks who might not be household names yet but have the ability to become one this season. Think of them as this year’s candidates to be Khalil Tate. A year ago at this time, most people had never heard of the Arizona quarterback, and then he took the world by storm.

Also, before I get yelled at for it, I’m telling you now that I’m not including either Michigan’s Shea Patterson or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa on this list. Patterson has started 10 games over the last two seasons and is well-known already. Tagovailoa is Alabama’s quarterback and has been the subject of one this offseason’s most prominent storylines with the competition in Tuscaloosa. Oh, and he threw the game-winning TD in last year’s title game. Neither Patterson nor Tagovailoa are “coming out of nowhere” this season, so I’m opting to leave them out.

Let’s get to it.

5. Kenny Pickett, Pitt: Pickett has become one of the favorites of my colleagues Chip Patterson and Barton Simmons, and I understand why. Pickett appeared in a couple of games during October of his freshman season before taking over as the starter for Pitt’s final two games of the season against Virginia Tech and Miami. In his first start — on the road in Blacksburg, mind you — Pickett completed 65 percent of his passes for 242 yards and averaged 10.5 yards per attempt. The next week against a tough Miami defense, he completed 62 percent for 193 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 60 yards and two more touchdowns to lead the Panthers to a huge upset win over the Hurricanes. His presence ignited the Pitt offense, and he’s a reason for optimism with the Panthers in 2018.

4. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska: This is a situation where I’m banking on the coach and the system just as much as I am the player. I don’t think Scott Frost is going to step in and turn Nebraska into an immediate Big Ten contender, but I do believe he’s going to have a good offense. We all know Frost took over an 0-12 UCF team and immediately improved it to 6-7. A big reason for that improvement was that after the UCF offense averaged a measly 13.9 points per game in 2015, it jumped to 28.8 points per game in Frost’s first year, more than doubling its point production. Now, Nebraska won’t go from 25.8 points per game to 50, but it will improve. The biggest beneficiary of that will be Martinez. The four-star quarterback out of California was Frost’s first priority after leaving UCF for Nebraska, convincing Martinez to reconsider his commitment at Tennessee to join him in Lincoln instead. Martinez is a perfect fit for what Frost does on offense, and he should put up some promising numbers as a freshman if he’s able to win the job coming out of training camp.

3. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma: The kid who was making more money this year than his coach (for a little while, anyway) is poised to become a star in 2018. It won’t be easy replacing Baker Mayfield, and Murray has a much different skill set, but that should be half the fun. The first-round pick of the Oakland Athletics convinced his new bosses to let him stay in school for another year to fulfill his dream of playing quarterback, and he’s going to bring a new dynamic to the Sooners’ offense. While Baker Mayfield could run, he was never looking to run. He was a passer first. Murray is faster than Mayfield, and he’s not afraid to take off at a moment’s notice. It will be fun to see the ways Lincoln Riley devises to use Murray’s skills to Oklahoma’s advantage this season. Murray has “Video Game QB” written all over him.

2. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson: I don’t know if Trevor Lawrence will open the season as Clemson’s starter against Furman, but I can’t help but believe it’s only a matter of time before it’s his job. Kelly Bryant is a reliable option for Clemson, but kind of like the situation at Alabama with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, Lawrence presents a much higher ceiling than Bryant does with his skill set. He was the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class for a reason, and he seems destined to be a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2021. Deshaun Watson is without a doubt the best quarterback in Clemson history, but Lawrence has the potential to rival his career accomplishments by the time he’s ready to leave. He’s still a freshman, so I’d expect bumps in the road this year, but they’ll be exciting bumps.

1. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: Listen, there were Ohio State fans who wanted Haskins playing over J.T. Barrett last season, and while I certainly understood why Ohio State chose to stick with their veteran leader, I could also relate to Buckeyes fans eyeing the backup quarterback option. Haskins is very talented. While Barrett was the veteran leader Ohio State’s coaches could depend on to run the ship and keep things in order, Haskins should prove to be a better QB in the traditional sense. He’s a much better passer and showed it in limited action as a redshirt freshman last season. While he spent most of the season appearing in mop-up duty after Ohio State had already crushed its opponent, he was thrown to the wolves in the final game of the regular season against Michigan. Haskins replaced an injured Barrett and all he did was complete six of his seven passes for 94 yards while rushing for another 24, helping to make sure the Buckeyes held on to beat their hated rival. He finished the season having completed 70 percent of his passes for 565 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. There are a lot of questions surrounding the Ohio State football program at the moment, but Haskins isn’t one of them.

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Banks, Tulane; Charlie Brewer, Baylor; Tyree Jackson, Buffalo; D’Eriq King, Houston; Jawon Pass, Louisville

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