RCS rewind: Check out AFC's starting QBs as HS prospects
Half of the starting NFL quarterbacks attended Rivals Camp Series events during their time in high school. This week we break down each starting QB and what we remember about them before they hit the big time.
We start with the AFC, where 10 of the 16 season-opening starting QBs are Rivals Camp Series alums.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
Rivals Camp: Miami 2014
Overview: In a 2015 dual-threat quarterback class that would be dramatically revamped if hindsight was 20/20, Jackson was impressive at the Rivals Camp in the summer before his senior season but didn’t necessarily stand out in that setting.
He had a great arm and a terrific senior season but there was limited recruiting interest other than Louisville, although Florida did try to flip him late. The Boynton Beach, Fla., four-star was ranked No. 17 at dual-threat quarterback and outside the Rivals250.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen
Overview: Allen never attended a Rivals camp and might not have even been invited as he tried to get an offer from Fresno State unsuccessfully and then was offered a walk-on spot at San Diego State. Allen opted for junior college and was ranked as a two-star quarterback before transferring to Wyoming.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow
Rivals Camps: Cincinnati 2013, Columbus 2014
Overview: A winner in high school, Burrow didn’t necessarily blow us away or show that he was going to be one of the best college quarterbacks of his time, the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick and be considered among the best in the league right now. He didn’t throw the most crisp passes or the nicest deep ball or have the physical tools of someone elite but over time – not necessarily at Ohio State but definitely at LSU – Burrow developed and became elite. A mid-level three-star prospect, Burrow was ranked as the No. 24 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class.
Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson
Rivals Camps: Atlanta 2013, Five-Star Challenge 2013
Overview: Rated as the best dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 class and a five-star prospect, Watson came to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge and did really well. He was always very friendly and affable at Rivals events, performed well and looked destined for greatness. We had no misgivings about his five-star ranking even though he was toward the back end of that list and the only person ranked higher in the Georgia state rankings was Raekwon McMillan.
Watson made an early commitment to Clemson over Florida. Auburn got him on a secret visit later but couldn't flip him. The five-star ended up as the No. 12 overall pick in the 2017 draft as Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes were the only QBs taken earlier.
Denver Broncos: Russell Wilson
Overview: Despite posting huge numbers in the air and on the ground at Richmond (Va.) Collegiate School, Wilson wasn't heavily recruited. He picked NC State over Duke, his only other offer, and he was ranked as a two-star prospect. There was a lot of discussion about baseball in his future and that could have influenced his ranking, along with the lack of recruiting interest.
He starred at NC State and then Wisconsin before being a third-round NFL Draft pick.
Houston Texans: CJ Stroud
Rivals Camp: Los Angeles 2019
Overview: In a class – and in a city – that was dominated by the debate whether Bryce Young or DJ Uiagalelei was the best quarterback in the class and in Southern California, Stroud was out in the Inland Empire at Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., having a great season and being somewhat overlooked. We saw him in person at camp and he was definitely impressive. He had great size and a great arm and the same was true in games.
Even though Ohio State didn’t offer until late, Stroud chose the Buckeyes on signing day over Georgia, Michigan, Oregon and USC. He had a tremendous career in Columbus and was the second overall pick (after Young) in the 2023 draft.
Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson
Rivals Camp: Orlando 2018
Overview: The Gainesville (Fla.) Eastside four-star committed to Florida before de-committing and then picking the Gators again over mainly Penn State in the spring before his senior season. He was ranked as the sixth-best dual-threat QB in a class that was led by Bryce Young. At No. 200 overall, the same questions about Richardson existed in high school as they do now: Yes, he’s a superior athlete and he’s a playmaker, but can he be accurate throwing the route tree, especially the deep ball? He completed just 54.7% of his passes for the Gators but was the fourth overall pick.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
Rivals Camps: Atlanta QB Challenge 2015, Rivals Underclassmen Challenge 2016, Atlanta 2017, Rivals Five-Star Challenge 2017
Overview: Lawrence was a regular for years at Rivals events – and was impressive every time. It was honestly not a very long debate to make him No. 1 overall and keep him there, although Justin Fields did make it more challenging as time went on and he impressed greatly as well.
Even with an average performance at the All-American Bowl we were pretty certain Lawrence was a can’t-miss prospect and we wouldn’t change a thing looking back. After starring at Clemson he was the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Rivals Camp: Dallas 2013
Overview: No one who saw Mahomes at the Dallas Rivals Camp or even earlier in his high school career could have predicted that Mahomes would become arguably the best player in the NFL because he wasn’t that physically impressive and threw an OK ball but nothing spectacular.
He picked Texas Tech over Houston and Rice, so he also wasn’t heavily recruited and planned to play baseball and football for the Red Raiders. In Lubbock, he physically developed and became one of the best quarterbacks in the game, going No. 10 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. But he was the second QB taken in that draft after Mitch Trubisky.
Las Vegas Raiders: Jimmy Garoppolo
Overview: A two-star recruit out of Rolling Meadows, Ill., and was also a star baseball player, Garoppolo chose Eastern Illinois over Illinois State and Montana State, his only other offers. For the Panthers, Garoppolo threw for 13,156 yards with 118 touchdowns and 51 picks before getting selected in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert
Overview: Herbert was invited to numerous Rivals camps, but he was sidelined with an injury through his junior year and his recruitment didn’t take off until late. The Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon mid-level three-star was known to have a big-time arm but only Montana State, Portland State and Northern Arizona had offered until Oregon got involved late. He starred in Eugene and then was the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa
Rivals Camp: Los Angeles 2016, Rivals QB Challenge Los Angeles 2016
Overview: Rated as the third-best dual-threat QB in 2017 behind Kellen Mond and Tate Martell, Tagovailoa was not all that impressively physically in high school and didn’t really fill out until at least his senior year or more toward his time at Alabama. He threw a beautiful ball and was always accurate but we had a bigger aversion to lefties at that time that hurt his ranking.
Tagovailoa took over for Jalen Hurts at Alabama and then went on to be the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft. Mond was a third-rounder and Martell busted out.
New England Patriots: Mac Jones
Rivals Camps: Orlando and Atlanta 2016, Rivals QB Challenge 2015, 2016, Rivals Five-Star Challenge 2016
Overview: Jones was not shy about attending Rivals Camps. In fact, the four-star who finished ninth at pro-style quarterback in his recruiting class would even jump on our podcasts. He had a very outgoing and competitive personality. He didn’t stand out physically but threw really catchable balls. He also wasn’t afraid to get after it as he chose Alabama after originally being committed to Kentucky. That served him well, and after biding his time he followed Tua Tagovailoa and became a mid-first round NFL Draft pick.
New York Jets: Aaron Rodgers
Overview: Rodgers predated the Rivals Camp Series, and to be honest he garnered such little attention in high school that a camp invite would’ve probably been unlikely. He considered ending his football career but decided to attend Oroville (Calif.) Butte C.C., where he shined and then transferred to Cal where his career completely took off.
After getting no offers in high school, Rodgers was the No. 24 overall pick in the 2005 draft, and Alex Smith was the only quarterback taken ahead of him.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett
Rivals Camps: New Jersey 2015, Rivals QB Challenge Cincinnati 2015
Overview: Pickett was one of the top underclassmen at the QB Challenge in Cincinnati, and while his arm strength still wasn’t there the three-star did show the ability to throw on the run and had great accuracy. He wasn’t a top-rated quarterback, though, and after an early commitment to Temple, Pickett chose Pitt over Boston College and others. He had a breakout season at Pitt in 2021, when he threw for 4,319 yards and 42 TDs. He was the No. 20 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill
Overview: A 2007 low three-star prospect from Big Spring, Texas, Tannehill played before the Rivals Camp Series started. He chose Texas A&M over TCU in the summer before his senior season and didn’t really break out there until his final season, when he threw for 3,744 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 picks.