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Who Really Puts Good Quarterbacks Into the NFL?

Is there anyone who does it consistently?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The topic of which coaches put players in the NFL comes up a lot in college football, but it's especially relevant around draft time.

Naturally, who puts the most quarterbacks in the NFL is a big concern given that the position in question is the most important in football. This year, there's a lot of appreciation for Jimbo Fisher's ability to get guys drafted. Jameis Winston is about to be the third consecutive starter for him at FSU to go in the first round, and six quarterbacks he coached for at least some amount of time at LSU have been drafted as well.

Mixed in with that appreciation is the observation that none of them have turned into stars. The most successful of them is either Christian Ponder, who had a 10-win season before losing his starting gig, or Matt Flynn, who's had seven years and counting in the league. Just how should people be feeling about Fisher in regards to NFL quarterbacks?

I looked at the top quarterbacks in the NFL today to see who has done the best job of putting guys into the league who have at least stuck around and started a lot. Only three college coaches can say they've put two—and the max is two—consistent starting quarterbacks into today's NFL after having been their head coach at least two years.

One is Joe Tiller, the retired Purdue head coach who is one of the fathers of the spread offense. He, along with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (later of Tennessee and Arkansas, now at Pitt), coached Drew Brees and Kyle Orton. Brees has had the better career of the two, but Orton has stuck around the league for nearly a decade. That's no small feat, and Orton was a team's primary starter last year.

Another such coach is Urban Meyer. People don't think of him as a guy who reliably puts quarterbacks into the NFL, but he has done two under the criteria I set forth earlier. Alex Smith is about to hit a decade in the league, and Cam Newton spent two years under Meyer at Florida before spending one each at a JUCO and Auburn. Dan Mullen coached both of them as a Meyer assistant as well.

The final one is... Tom O'Brien. Yes, the Notorious T.O.B. coached Matt Ryan's first two years at Boston College and Russell Wilson's three years at NC State. The noted quarterback guru O'Brien was an offensive line coach by trade while rising up the coaching ranks and probably didn't do much hands-on coaching with either Ryan or Wilson.

If you take away the head coaching requirement, one other name emerges: David Cutcliffe. He of course coached the Manning brothers, Peyton as an offensive coordinator and Eli as a head coach. He should get some credit for grooming them, but there also is the confounding variable of them both being the son of a hall of fame quarterback.

Take away the two-year requirement and only one other name surfaces, that being Mike Sanford. He was Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah, so he had a hand in coaching Smith, and he was the offensive coordinator at Louisville for Teddy Bridgewater's first year.

The point I'm getting to is that there aren't any coaches who are reliably produce top quality NFL quarterbacks. The closest thing to a real core of guys who have done it and who aren't retired is the Meyer/Mullen/Sanford combo, but that probably gives Meyer and Mullen a little too much credit for Newton and Sanford far too much credit for Bridgewater. Meyer will have another crack at it soon with Cardale Jones, as will Mullen with Dak Prescott. We'll see how that goes.

So should people be down on Fisher for putting quarterbacks into the NFL who haven't panned out? I'd say no. What goes on in the NFL is out of a college coach's control. College guys can prep quarterbacks, but if the player ends up going to a dysfunctional organization or one with a bad coaching staff, that can kill the player's career. Besides, you never know how a player will react to getting a contract worth millions. Maybe he'll lose his edge when that happens, and that's not on the college coach either.

Mark Richt has cranked out great college quarterback after great college quarterback dating back to his days as offensive coordinator at Florida State. He's only produced one consistent starter in the NFL though, and many recruiting analysts pegged Matthew Stafford as a top NFL pick before he ever enrolled in Athens. That doesn't make him any less of a coach, and Fisher's lack of great NFL quarterbacks doesn't either.

College coaches should be lauded for getting players into the NFL and especially drafted highly. If a player can't hack it or washes out to injury or something, the higher he got picked, the more money he will have gotten from the experience. That goes for all positions, not just quarterback.

But once a guy is on the pro level, the effect of a college coach diminishes greatly. Trying to credit a college coach for things much beyond a player's rookie NFL year doesn't make much sense.