I’ve gone back and forth over the last month. Debating whether rookie quarterback’s Zach Wilson or Trey Lance will find success in the NFL. One of the main points that is very important when considering potential success, is factoring in the difficulty of the teams a quarterback played in college. In this case, Zach Wilson played at BYU and Trey Lance played at North Dakota State. Neither of which are Power Five schools.
The Power Five conferences include the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC. These conferences typically have higher skilled players and overall more talented football teams. So theoretically, playing at a non-Power Five school would be a disadvantage in the draft process.
This led to me thinking, “Why not look at how QB’s from non-Power Five schools have done historically in the NFL, in order to make a more educated decision on Wilson and Lance?” And so I did. I reviewed all the notable QB’s from non-Power Five schools in the last 10 years. I then compiled them into categories. Franchise Quarterback, Mid-Level Quarterback, and Bust. Keep in mind, the players put into these categories were being thought of in their prime. With that said, let’s jump into it.
#1 – The Franchise Quarterbacks
Josh Allen, Derek Carr, Joe Flacco, and Tony Romo
All three of these players have shown in their careers to clearly be above average quarterbacks for their team. When taking a non-Power Five QB with a high pick (like Wilson and Lance), this is the type of player you want them to end up being.
Josh Allen was the most recent to make that jump, after being named to his first Pro Bowl this year. After two inconsistent seasons, Allen broke out in 2020 and led the Bills to the conference championship. Playing at Wyoming in the Mountain West clearly has not impacted his development in the NFL.
Derek Carr is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. He clearly is still the guy for the Raiders and has shown it, as he’s thrown for over 4,000 yards and no more than 10 interceptions the past three seasons. He started off a little slow in his first season, but has improved from there and shown in his case, that playing non-Power Five is not an issue.
Joe Flacco used to be a star quarterback for the Ravens in the early 2010’s, and many people forget that as he’s declined to become a backup for the Eagles presently. Flacco has been to one Pro Bowl and also won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. He hasn’t necessarily been a top tier guy like Allen is right now, but he’s always shown to be an above average player despite coming from a small football school such as Delaware.
Tony Romo gets his own tier for a quarterback because he’s quite unique. He actually put up quite a few good seasons in Dallas. I, like many, always thought of him as an average QB. But after looking back, I’d say he was a franchise quarterback. Romo was a four time Pro Bowler and recorded four 4000+ yard seasons. He was the perfect example of consistent performance and longevity in the league.
Carson Wentz, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Garopollo, Blake Bortles, Colin Kaepernick,
All of these players have never been above average players, but they’ve stuck around the league for at least a few years. When taking a non-Power Five QB with a high pick (like Wilson and Lance), this is the type of player you do NOT want them to end up being, but not the worst case scenario.
Carson Wentz hasn’t really have an average season. It’s either been very good or very bad. His rookie season was a struggle, his second year season was spectacular as he would’ve won MVP before being injured, and the last three seasons have been below average due to injuries and other issues. After being the #2 pick, he has definitely been a disappointment. These average out to a Mid-Level QB in my mind.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the absolute journey man in the NFL. He’s played for eight teams in his NFL career. What an amazing stat. Fitzpatrick has always been an average starter for teams but he’s never been an elite guy. He’s the perfect example of a Mid-Level QB.
Jimmy Garopollo is also a perfect example of a mid-level QB. Never a top tier guy, but he can manage the offense well when the opportunity is given to him. This is evidenced by his Super Bowl appearance.
Blake Bortles is again a good example of a mid-level QB. He had one Pro Bowl season with the Jaguars and several other acceptable seasons. But ever since he joined the Rams, he has been unable to start.
Colin Kaepernick never really had a superstar season. He was definitely good in 2013 and 2014, but never an above average QB. Like Bortles, NFL career was short lived.
The only player I can confidently say was a bust. Paxton Lynch. As a Bronco fan, I feel pain when I am reminded of Lynch. A former first round pick out of Memphis, Lynch never found his footing in the NFL. He never threw for over 500 yards in a season and never confidently held a starting job. It may have been the existing system, it may have been his work ethic. Either way, it didn’t work out. I do believe that in his case, playing at a non-Power Five school hurt his development.
After reviewing these players, most of them have some some amount of success in the league. Whether it was a few short years or a long consistent career, most of them were decent.
Overall, I don’t think that playing at a non-Power Five school is an immediate negative. Yes, it is a red flag, but if put into the right system, success can be achieved.
Young quarterback success involves a lot of things, and it’s just a matter of finding the right situation. It will be very interesting to see what happens with Zach Wilson and Trey Lance in their careers. I personally don’t think they will be successful at an elite level, but time will tell.