The 2018 Big Ten quarterbacks landscape will feature a lot of familiar faces. Gone are only two of the top eight rated passers, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett and Nebraska's Tanner Lee. So while the national landscape of signal callers will feature a lot of change, as can be expected with 5 1st-round QBs in 2017, there is a substantial track record for several big names in the conference.
Not only is there experience in this group, however. There's some legitimate talent to boot, which should serve as a source of optimism for fans of the conference who hope to see a team (or two, perhaps) represented in the College Football Playoff come the end of the year.
With a full season left to play, plenty can (and will) change for these quarterbacks and their resumes for the next level. Some may not even enter the 2019 NFL Draft prospect pool, as several have more than one remaining year of eligibility. But as things stand entering the season, here are the five best draft eligible quarterback prospects in the Big Ten in 2018.
1. Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
Lewerke was a breath of fresh air in 2017. For much of the season, Lewerke was a key reason why the Spartans experienced a 7 win improvement from the previous season. With a strong sense of timing, touch, accuracy and mobility, there's a lot of exciting boxes checked to Lewereke's game to suggest this is a player who can start and play at a high level in NFL.
With six of his top seven leading receivers back in 2018 and 66 starts (and 4 starters) returning on the offensive line, the Spartans are primed for a huge season. But the team will go as far as Lewerke can carry them. Against top defenses in 2017 (Michigan and Ohio State), he completed just 50% of his passes and had a 1:2 TD to INT ratio. The going got tough for the Spartans in those games, so Lewerke will have to throw his receivers open with more frequency against elite defenders to take the next step.
Biggest area of improvement: Consistency against top competition
2. Nate Stanley, Iowa
Former Iowa QB C.J. Beathard was a 3rd round selection (although a misguided one) for the 49ers in 2017, leaving the door open for Nate Stanley to win the starting job as a sophomore last season. The 6'5, 242 lb signal caller did not disappoint, showing a lot more promise than his predecessor. Stanley was a productive passer, finishing with a 26:6 TD to INT ratio despite some lackluster completion numbers (55.8% completion).
Despite the low figures, Stanley showed some promise in operating within the structure of his offense and making sound decisions with the football. With one of the most potent weapons in college football back for another season in TE Noah Fant (11 touchdowns on 30 receptions and 16.4 yards per reception), Stanley figures to be a player who takes a prominent step forward in 2018. And with just two difficult games on the schedule (home vs. Wisconsin on 9/22 and a trip to Penn State on 10/27), Stanley could have the Hawkeyes back in the Big Ten Championship game come December.
Biggest area of improvement: More easy completions
3. Shea Patterson, Michigan
Patterson is an interesting player. First and foremost, his addition breathes life into a Michigan team that still hasn't found it's big breakthrough under coach Jim Harbaugh. After spending 29 consecutive weeks ranked (including the entire 2016 season in the top 10 before crumbling and losing 3 of their last 4 games) Michigan fell out of the Top 25 with a crushing loss to Penn State. Another late season collapse led to three straight losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and South Carolina, leaving the Wolverines in a bit of an identity crisis.
Enter Patterson, who has strong athletic gifts and the ability to push the ball with impressive zip when needed. But Patterson himself has some questions to answer this season coming off of a PCL injury and missing half the season. A true junior given an exemption with his transfer due to the state of affairs at Ole Miss off the field, Patterson has two years of eligibility remaining but has the most to gain this season by booming alongside Jim Harbaugh and a talented crop of receivers.
Biggest area of improvement: Reading his keys
4. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Haskins slammed the door shut on fellow QB Joe Burrow, who promptly transferred to LSU this spring as a graduate transfer. That has cleared the way for Haskins to take the mantle from Barrett and infuse some fresh life in the Buckeye passing game.
Haskins will be an effective trigger-man for Urban Meyer's offense, given his athletic ability. But the true excitement and upside for Haskins lies in his arm. Barrett was a productive player but often left yards on the field with inaccurate passes during his time as the Buckeyes' starter. There's more physical ability with accuracy and arm strength, which can be the key divider between Barrett's path as an undrafted free agent and Haskins playing himself up draft boards when the time comes for him to enter the draft.
Just a redshirt sophomore, Haskins will have plenty of time to blossom, should he want it. And if he reaches his ceiling somewhere down the road, he can very easily be the best quarterback on this list.
Biggest area of improvement: Experience
5. Trace McSorley, Penn State
There may not be a more misleading player in college football than the Penn State senior QB. McSorley has loaded up the stat sheet with eye popping numbers, passing for over 7100 yards and 57 touchdowns in the last two seasons (27 games) as a starter for the Lions. Add in another 18 rushing touchdowns and McSorley has capitalized on the Lions' wide open passing attack.
But a deeper dive into McSorley's game reveals a number of key concerns, issues that will be difficult to make amends with unless he shows promise and improvement in 2018.
For starters, McSorley has been the primary beneficiary of some of the better contested catch receivers in football for the last two years. In 2016, WR Chris Godwin won jump balls with consistency. In both 2016 and 2017, TE Mike Gesicki high pointed the football better than anyone in the country. Both are gone, as is RB Saquon Barkley and WR DaeSean Hamilton. As a matter of fact, just two of the top six receivers on Penn State's team from 2017 are back in blue this year.
Expect McSorley to start the year strong, but his 6-game stretch of Ohio State, Michigan State, at Indiana, Iowa, at Michigan and Wisconsin will define his pro prospects. We'll need less haphazard throws into 1 on 1 coverage and more timing from McSorley in 2018.
Biggest area of improvement: Timing of release, ball placement