Ranking the best QB recruits in Elite 11 history, from Justin Fields to Caleb Williams

NCAAF

Founded in 1999, the Elite 11 is the premier quarterback event for the nation’s top college football recruits. Winners from 10 regional camps throughout each spring come together in July to receive advanced, one-on-one quarterback instruction in a highly competitive setting.

The regional camps include testing and position-specific instruction by some of the top quarterback coaches in the nation. Those who show the highest level of skill, acumen and competitive drive will earn a coveted invitation to compete at the Elite 11 finals.

The finals begin with 20 quarterbacks competing in the classroom and on the field, since playing quarterback is more than just physical development. The on-field segments teach the game from the ground up, starting with footwork, delivery mechanics, timing and accuracy.

The event moves from individual instruction to a scripted throwing session, or pro day, on which quarterbacks are graded. The three-day event concludes with a team-oriented 7-on-7 tourney, which emphasizes tempo, leadership qualities and the ability to read defensive coverage. At the end of the finals, an Elite 11 MVP is named, a prestigious honor given the stage and history of blue-chip performers.

How notable is the all-time roster? The top performers over the past 23 years have been a “Who’s Who” of Heisman Trophy winners and future NFL first-round draft picks. Thirteen of the past 14 Heisman-winning quarterbacks attended the Elite 11 finals or an Elite 11 regional. Twenty-six out of 32 NFL starters also claim space in this celebrated fraternity.

Below we rank the top 20 all-time performances and recap each quarterback’s post-event career.

Editor’s note: ESPN began ranking college football recruits in 2006 and expanded the ESPN 150 to the ESPN 300 starting with the Class of 2013.

20. Sean White
NSU University School (Florida)
Auburn
Class of 2014 ESPN 300 ranking: 41

White was not anything flashy physically (6-foot-1, 199 pounds), but was surgical as a passer and picked apart defenses all the way to the opening 7-on-7 title and Elite 11 MVP honors in 2013. He was also extremely competitive and showed an intangible it factor. The former Under Armour All-America Game MVP, White arrived at Auburn with tremendous confidence. He made his first start his redshirt freshman season and led Auburn to a top-10 ranking and Sugar Bowl appearance as a sophomore. In 2017 he lost the starting job to transfer Jarrett Stidham and later was dismissed from the team after he was arrested for public intoxication.

19. Spencer Rattler
Pinnacle High School (Arizona)
Oklahoma and South Carolina
Class of 2019 ESPN 300 ranking: 29

Rattler was up-and-down in 7-on-7 play at the finals but caught fire on the final day in one of the more dynamic performances in Elite 11 history, leading his team to the 7-on-7 championship at the opening and earning Elite 11 MVP honors in 2018. After becoming the most prolific passer is Arizona high school football history, Rattler enrolled at Oklahoma with high expectations. He was named the starter in his redshirt freshman season and led the Sooners to another Big 12 championship, while still not playing to his full potential. Entering his second season as starter, he was considered a Heisman favorite, but after poor play he lost the starting job to freshman Caleb Williams and ultimately transferred to South Carolina.

18. Caleb Williams
Gonzaga College High School (Washington, D.C.)
Oklahoma and USC
Class of 2021 ESPN 300 ranking: 16

In an altered finals format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams was still able to flash top-notch physical gifts and leadership qualities on his way to Elite 11 MVP honors in 2020. His accuracy on the rollouts and zip on intermediate balls separated him from the pack. He went to Oklahoma as the projected backup to Rattler. Thrust into the spotlight in the Red River rivalry, Williams threw for 212 yards, ran for 88 and totaled three touchdowns en route to a memorable comeback. He finished the year by throwing for 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 442 yards and six touchdowns. After the season, he elected to transfer to USC, following coach Lincoln Riley, and is slated to start for the Trojans.

17. Blake Barnett
Santiago High School (California)
Alabama, Arizona State and South Florida
Class of 2015 ESPN 300 ranking: 14

Barnett, a 6-5 pocket passer with good mobility, made the most of his opportunities at the 2014 finals. He emerged from a group of finalists that included three future first-round draft picks (Josh Rosen, Kyler Murray and Sam Darnold) to earn MVP honors, largely based on a connection in 7-on-7 play with future Alabama teammate Calvin Ridley. Barnett arrived in Tuscaloosa with national championship hopes but was ultimately beaten out for the starting job by Jalen Hurts. Barnett transferred to Arizona State, where he twice failed to win the starting job, then transferred again to USF, where he threw for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in two seasons.

16. Davis Mills
Greater Atlanta Christian School (Georgia)
Stanford
Class of 2017 ESPN 300 ranking: 61

If not for Tua Tagavailoa‘s meteoric rise at the 2016 finals, Mills would have claimed MVP honors, checking all the boxes as a prototypical pocket passer with confidence and a calm, cool demeanor. Unlike recent top quarterback recruits, Mills had to wait his turn at Stanford. He was given the opportunity in his third year, when he finished with 1,960 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was poised to start the 2020 season, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic his season was cut to just five games, and he threw for 1,508 yards and seven touchdowns. The Houston Texans drafted him in the third round in 2021 and he threw for 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games as a rookie.

15. Bryce Young
Mater Dei High School (California)
Alabama
Class of 2020 ESPN 300 ranking: 5

Young was a close MVP runner-up to C.J. Stroud at the 2019 finals, as the two had the misfortune of being on the same 7-on-7 team, otherwise the result could have easily been flipped in Young’s favor. He had a strong showing in the pro day competition and was consistently impressive throughout drills. A five-star recruit in the 2020 class, Young flipped from USC to the Alabama, where he backed up Mac Jones as a freshman and then threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns while winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.

14. Jeff Driskel
Paul J. Hagerty High School (Florida)
Florida and Louisiana Tech
Class of 2011 ESPN 150 ranking: 10

Driskel had rare physical gifts at 6-3 with 4.6 40-yard dash speed and a strong arm, attributes that helped elevate him above the rest of the competition, including runner-up and fellow Sunshine Stater Teddy Bridgewater at the 2010 finals. As the reigning Gatorade football Player of the Year in Florida, Driskel decided to stay home and attend the University of Florida. He went 11-2 in his first season as a starter and showed promise, but a leg injury spoiled his career in Gainesville. He rebounded after transferring to Louisiana Tech in 2015, throwing for 4,026 yards and 27 touchdowns. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round in 2016, Driskel has bounced around the league, more recently converting to a tight end with the Houston Texans.

13. Trevor Lawrence
Cartersville High School (Georgia)
Clemson
Class of 2019 ESPN 300 ranking: 2

Lawrence was not perfect in 7-on-7 play but displayed all the physical and mental attributes of a future star at the finals, most notably an even-keeled demeanor, coachability and the desire to compete. Following his stellar high school career, the much-heralded Lawrence brought his talents to Death Valley and took college football by storm. He led the Tigers to a national championship as a freshman and went 38-2 with 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns over his three seasons. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to bounce back after a tumultuous season.

12. Kyle Allen
Desert Mountain High School (Arizona)
Texas A&M and Houston
Class of 2014 ESPN 300 ranking: 35

Allen might have been robbed of MVP honors in 2013, as the staff tilted slightly more toward White’s finish in 7-on-7. Allen’s very strong body of work and consistent high-level production as a pocket passer are still regarded as one of the best showings at the Elite 11. The No. 1 quarterback in the class, he signed with Texas A&M and became the full-time starter in 2015, leading the Aggies to a 5-0 start until a bad performance and an injury derailed his season. He transferred to the University of Houston, where he started only three games and threw for four touchdowns and four interceptions. After going undrafted in 2018, Allen has played in 21 games over the past four years with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Commanders.

11. Cade Klubnik
Westlake High School (Texas)
Clemson
Class of 2022 ESPN 300 ranking: 29

Klubnik wasn’t the biggest name coming into the 2021 finals, but he dominated the competition from start to finish to emerge as a clear-cut MVP thanks to consistency and a rare competitive drive. Klubnik led Westlake High School to three consecutive state championships, being named Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas. He signed with Clemson, enrolled early and could be the next great signal-caller to bring the Tigers back to the national championship.

10. Ben Olson
Hillcrest Christian School (California)
BYU and UCLA
Class of 2002

Olson was a power-armed southpaw with 6-4 size and agility who emerged through the Elite 11 finals as a big-time talent to rival Vince Young and Trent Edwards. He developed into a top signal-caller in the Class of 2002. Olson was regarded as not only the top quarterback recruit, but also as a consensus top-five recruit in the nation. He began his career at BYU, redshirting his freshman year, then went on a two-year mission to Canada. When he returned, he transferred to UCLA and was named the starter in 2006, but injuries derailed his career.

9. Aaron Murray
Plant High School (Florida)
Georgia
Class of 2009 ESPN 150 ranking: 13

Murray may have lacked prototypical size as a recruit (6-1, 198), but had everything else in spades at the 2008 finals, running away with MVP honors as the most consistent and competitive performer. He won with flair, charisma and a big smile on his face exciting his teammates and the crowd. After redshirting his freshman year, Murray would never let go of the starting job again. In his four college seasons under center, Murray threw for 13,166 yards and 121 touchdowns with a career QB rating of 158.6. He became the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for 3,000-plus yards four consecutive years and is the SEC’s career touchdown record holder. Murray, however, did not have the same success in the NFL. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round in 2014 but was released just two years later.

8. Kyle Wright
Monte Vista High School (California)
Miami
Class of 2003

The 2002 MVP not only had perhaps the best natural ability in the 2003 class but was also well-schooled under longtime Northern California QB coach Roger Theder. As the best pro-style quarterback in the 2003 recruiting class, expectations were high for Wright at Miami. In 2005, he got his chance to become the full-time starter, but never played with consistency in Coral Gables, throwing for 5,835 yards and 38 touchdowns in 33 games. Wright went undrafted in 2008 before being signed and waived by both the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.

7. Jameis Winston
Hueytown High School (Alabama)
Florida State
Class of 2012 ESPN 150 ranking: 14

Winston split MVP honors with future BYU QB Tanner Mangum and future SMU QB Neal Burcham in 2011, but the talented football/baseball dual-sport prospect was clearly the top performer. He displayed elite arm talent and anticipation on the field while being a charismatic leader off it. In his first season at the helm for Florida State, Winston led the Seminoles to a perfect 14-0 record and a BCS national championship at age 19. He also became the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy as well as the AP Player of the Year. He finished his career at Florida State going 26-1 as a starter and throwing for 7,964 yards and 65 touchdowns. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ No. 1 pick threw for 4,042 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Injuries and inconsistent play forced him out of Tampa Bay to the New Orleans Saints.

6. Mark Sanchez
Agape Academy (California)
USC
Class of 2005

Sanchez had some advantages playing under then-Elite 11 head counselor Bob Johnson at Mission Viejo High School, but the son of a firefighter also had a work ethic and desire to be great at that stage. His quick release, coverage reads and accuracy were unmatched as he cruised to MVP honors in 2004. After being considered one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, Sanchez had to wait his turn at USC before taking college football by storm. During the 2008 season, Sanchez led USC to a 12-1 record and a Rose Bowl win over Penn State. That one year was enough for him to be drafted by the New York Jets with the fifth pick in 2009. After back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances, he bounced around the league until ultimately retiring in 2018.

5. Blaine Gabbert
Parkway West High School (Missouri)
Missouri
Class of 2008 ESPN 150 ranking: 38

At 6-4, 200 pounds with 4.65 speed in the 40 and as big an arm as any quarterback in his class, Gabbert had physical tools that few Elite 11 QBs have matched over the years. He also had the matching confidence to perform on the biggest stage and take home 2007 Elite 11 MVP honors. Considered the top pro-style quarterback recruit in his class, Gabbert got his shot as a sophomore, amassing 3,593 yards and 24 touchdowns en route to All-Big 12 honors. After college, Gabbert was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 10th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. He has been a journeyman in the NFL but has most recently won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021, serving as Tom Brady‘s backup.

4. Tua Tagovailoa
Saint Louis School (Hawai’i)
Alabama
Class of 2017 ESPN 300 ranking: 57

Tagovailoa came from an initial Elite 11 ranking of the low teens all the way to 2016 MVP with dominant showings in the pro day and then the opening 7-on-7 portion. He led his squad of future Alabama teammates featuring Jerry Jeudy and Najee Harris to a team title with elite tempo, poise and accuracy. He also mastered the playbook. The mystery kid from Hawai’i quickly rose to stardom after his late-game heroics in the 2018 national title game, throwing the winning touchdown after taking over for starter Jalen Hurts. He then went on to lead Alabama to a 22-2 record as the starter over the next two seasons, finishing with 7,442 yards, 87 touchdowns and a 69.3 career completion percentage. Tagovailoa is entering his third pro season after being drafted fifth overall in 2020 by the Miami Dolphins.

3. Matthew Stafford
Highland Park High School (Texas)
Georgia
Class of 2006 ESPN 150 ranking: 5

The early years of finals lacked the 7-on-7 play of recent times, but in terms of pure arm talent, Stafford still might be the best to ever wear the Elite 11 logo. He matched immense physical tools with a desire to be coached and reach his full potential. The reigning Super Bowl champion brought the Georgia Bulldogs to new heights during his time in Athens. In 39 career games, he went 30-9, throwing for 7,731 yards and 51 touchdowns with three straight bowl wins. Stafford has thrown for 49,995 yards and 323 touchdowns since being the Detroit Lions‘ No. 1 pick in 2009, most recently leading the Los Angeles Rams to their first Super Bowl win since 2000 this February.

2. C.J. Stroud
Rancho Cucamonga High School (California)
Ohio State
Class of 2020 ESPN 300 ranking: 104

Stroud was one of the last QBs invited to the finals in 2019 but proceeded to catch fire with a record-setting pro day score that carried over to 7-on-7 play. He rose from a still relatively unknown recruit on the national level to earn Elite 11 MVP honors. His remarkable blend of arm velocity, accuracy and mobility had longtime Elite 11 coaches in awe. In his lone season as Ohio State’s starter, Stroud threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns to just six interceptions, being named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Heisman finalist. He enters his second year already a Heisman favorite poised to have an even better season.

1. Justin Fields
Harrison High School (Georgia)
Georgia and Ohio State
Class of 2018 ESPN 300 ranking: 1

Fields, who clocked a 4.5 40 at 220 pounds during the testing component, had as dominant of a showing in the opening 7-on-7 component of the Elite 11 as anyone on record. He didn’t throw a single interception, zipping the ball into tight spaces while leading his team to the title and besting favorite and consensus No. 1 overall prospect Trevor Lawrence for MVP honors. After transferring from Georgia, Fields went on to lead Ohio State to a 20-2 record with back-to-back Big Ten championships and College Football Playoff appearances. Fields was selected by the Chicago Bears with the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL draft and is about to begin his second season, looking to turn around the Bears franchise.

Elite 11 Director Brian Stumpf contributed to this story.

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