It's not a secret that the Power Five programs receive more attention and that players from these conferences are typically ranked higher than others because of the stiff competition they face week in and week out.
But there is plenty of talent to be found both within the Group of Five conferences and the FCS, with both having produced successful quarterbacks who have gone on to make names for themselves at the next level. That's something that isn't changing, with multiple small school quarterbacks expected to be early-round picks between next year and following seasons in the near future.
Here's a look at the five best G5 quarterbacks and how they stack up with the 2022 season approaching:
1. Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina.
McCall couldn't have done a much better job executing the Chanticleers' triple-option offense than he did last season as just a sophomore. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder completed 73% of his passes for 2,873 yards with 27 touchdowns and just three interceptions on 241 attempts in 2021 -- a stat line that is already impressive but could have been even better if it weren't for him being hampered by injury.
He has a high football IQ and is a quick decision-maker, something that is imperative in an intricate offense like the one he plays in. McCall has shown solid anticipation on even the most difficult of throws, maintaining a high level of accuracy at all levels of the field. He navigates the pocket well and can make throws on the run even if his feet are not set.
In addition to how strong of a passer he is, McCall's "it" factor lies in his gritty mobility and mentality. He projects as a true dual-threat who has everything he needs to make an easy leap to the NFL, despite going up against the stigma of being a small school player (though it's safe to say he could have transferred and performed just as well in a more competitive conference against higher-level competition if he had wanted to go that route).
“I'm a quarterback but I'm also a football player,” McCall told me earlier this offseason. “I don't mind the contact, sticking my nose in there and being tough. I like watching guys like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Their toughness and their grit and the way they extend plays and the way they throw on the run. I don't model my game off of anyone in particular, but I do like watching those guys.”
McCall has been criticized for a "lack of arm strength" but looking at the film, he puts adequate zip on his throws despite not having a howitzer for an arm, so this shouldn't be something worth severely knocking him for in the pre-draft process.
2. Jake Haener, Fresno State.
Haener is far and away the most exciting quarterback prospect in the Mountain West and has the potential to develop into an early-round draft selection this year. He had one of the most solid starts to the 2021 season, throwing for no less than 300 yards in his first six games of the season with a single-game high of 455 yards. He ended the year with a 67.1% completion percentage, 4,096 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
One of his biggest moments was taking down No. 13-ranked UCLA while gritting through a right hip injury, but unfortunately the injury he sustained limited him and affected both his performance and stat line.
“I was battling through some injuries and some things I needed to get over… I had some problems with my lower leg and my hip and stuff like that was kind of lingering and it was really an issue for me,” Haener told me earlier this year. “I had to wear different cleats and do a bunch of things with my cleats and find ways to get out there and play and tough it through things. It was just a matter of responding. Even the best players have bad games, everybody has bad games. You learn from your failures and try to be more successful down the road.”
There's no question Haener checks all of the boxes on the intangibles and he leaves everything he has on the field. He's received some knocks for his size at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, but where the tangibles are concerned, he's showing he is an accurate passer with plenty of pocket presence. Haener's film reflects his ability to make plays out of structure, complete difficult passes and put the right amount of touch and arm strength on different throws, though he can afford to improve his ball placement a bit.
3. Michael Pratt, Tulane.
Pratt may be one of the best-kept secrets in college football, lacking national attention despite being potentially the most underrated quarterback in the sport. He dealt with injury issues last season -- something that began to appear to affect him mechanically -- and he suffered a concussion against SMU. The play from the supporting cast and offensive line also left much to be desired and the effects of that always extend back to the quarterback. Pratt finished the 2021 season with a 57.6% completion rate, 2,381 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions, numbers that could have been a lot better if circumstances were more ideal.
Pratt was heralded early on in his career as one of the best freshman quarterbacks in the nation and made national headlines when he nearly led Tulane to a major upset victory over the No. 2-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the first game of the 2021 season, though some of the attention faded as Tulane struggled as a team on their way to finishing the year with a 2-10 overall record.
Though the numbers themselves don't reflect it, Pratt has shown a high ceiling as a passer and is much more accurate than his completion rate would imply. He looks to be mentally more mature than several other quarterbacks with the same amount of experience and should continue to speed up his already strong mental processing. From a mobility perspective, Pratt has shown the ability to evade pressure, make plays on the run and beat defenses with his legs. And he brings a true element of speed, with head coach Willie Fritz describing him to me earlier this year as a legitimate 4.6-second 40-yard dash player. All of these things fit the modern era of the NFL, which is headed out of the era of the hyper-athletic quarterback to one that first and foremost demands a quarterback be successful passing from the pocket with some degree of mobility, putting a preference on real dual-threats.
Just as important as all of this is though is who a quarterback is as a leader and the ability to keep the team behind him even when things get rough, which is much easier said than done. Even through the down points, Pratt has consistently played with a lot of energy and has the full backing and respect of those around him.
"He's one of the best practice guys I've ever had, you know, particularly at that position,” Fritz said. “The quality I think he's best at is - he's just an incredible leader. He's into it all the time. He's friends with all the guys on the team - offense, defense, specialists. Always offering an encouraging word. He's a servant leader. He's always trying to do whatever he can to help other people.”
With an offensive coaching staff that looks a bit different and a promising overall group on offense that should be majorly upgraded in comparison to last year, Fritz's team is in a position to take a significant step in 2022. That bodes well for Pratt, who could be in for a breakout year and a return to the national spotlight.
4. Clayton Tune, Houston.
Tune flashed a lot in 2021, recording a season of personal bests as he completed 68.2% of his passes for 3,546 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He ranked second in the conference in QBR (158.1), third in YPA (8.4) and first in completion percentage.
He presents adequate arm strength and has shown the ability to sufficiently evade pressure with enough mobility to get the first down for his team in short-yardage situations. That being said, this isn't an incredibly athletic quarterback who is going to be a consistent threat with his legs, though. Tune takes care of business as a passer within the Cougars' offense that features a lot of Air Raid elements under head coach Dan Holgorsen -- who comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree -- and he's already drawn comparisons to players who have had NFL success like Ben Roethlisberger. (Though this is a player who can move around a bit more than Roethlisberger).
Systems like that rely a lot on a quarterback who can throw the football well and maintain consistently high levels of accuracy at all areas of the field, something that Tune has shown. With wide receiver Tank Dell and running back Alton McCaskill in the fold, Houston's offense should run like a well-oiled machine in 2022 and both the Cougars and Tune could be in for something special.
One of the biggest improvements Tune has made between last season and this season lies within the intangibles and leadership ability, with multiple teammates noting that he had become a more vocal leader.
“He's been better like being a leader vocally,” Houston wide receiver Nathaniel Dell said at AAC media day. “He's been walking around talking to the defense. Usually like two years ago, last year, he was just talking to offensive players, receivers, stuff like that.
“Now he's talking to like (cornerback) Jayce (Rogers), linebackers, defensive lineman, everybody. He's getting comfortable with everybody. That's a good thing with a quarterback.”
5. Tanner Mordecai, SMU.
Mordecai is another quarterback who operates within a pass-happy offense. That's part of the reason why he had the 12th-highest passing yards total in the nation, but as anyone who has extensively studied explosive passing offenses as this one knows, it takes a reliable passer who gets the ball out quickly and has a high level of mental processing to have a stat line like that even if they do have several opportunities to throw the ball.
Mordecai brings another element to his game with his mobility, and while he's asked to throw the ball more often than not, he's not a pure dropback passer and could be successful in multiple different offenses using his legs. Passing-wise, Mordecai is consistently accurate, sees the field well and releases the ball fast. He does, though, need to improve downfield ball placement and putting the right amount of touch on certain throws -- both areas he could grow in this season.
Mordecai completed 67.8% of his passes for 3,628 yards with 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2021. Expect him to only build upon that in 2022 as Mordecai continues to project as a quarterback who can thrive in both a scheme like the one he's in and a bit more complicated pro-style system at the next level.