Projecting NFL Draft first-round QBs through 2026, from C.J. Stroud to Arch Manning

Where have all the QBs gone? 

That will be an out-loud question at the 2022 NFL Draft, which runs from April 28-30 in Las Vegas. Unless Liberty's Malik Willis makes a late surge, there likely won't be a quarterback taken in the top 5 for the first time since 2013. 

In SN's latest seven-round mock draft, Pitt's Kenny Pickett and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder also are projected to be first round picks. Ole Miss' Matt Corral, Nevada's Carson Strong and North Carolina's Sam Howell are expected Day 2 picks. 

It's a "meh" quarterback class and might prompt speculation that this might become a trend in future seasons. 

Don't worry. It won't. The next four NFL Draft classes appear to have an escalation in talent that could build up to one of the most-anticipated QB draft classes in 2026. 

MORE: Quarterbacks-only mock draft for 2022

Can you really look that far ahead? Of course we will. 

2023

Next year's QB class starts with a head-to-head debate at the top involving two power-house programs that could spill all the way into the College Football Playoff championship game. 

It's early, but Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud easily could be the top two picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Which one do you take?

Young (6-0, 194), who won the Heisman Trophy last season, passed for 4,872 yards, 47 TDs and seven interceptions in his first season as a starter. There will be questions about his size and rushing ability, but he's a proven playmaker who will add to that resume. 

Stroud (6-3, 215) is the early favorite to win the Heisman this season. He passed for 4,435 yards, 44 TDs and six interceptions last season. He's going to pile up numbers in what could be a point-per-minute-offense at Ohio State. He's the better bet to go No. 1 at this point. 

MORE: QB's have best odds for 2022 Heisman

Young will join Tua Tagovailoa (2020) and Mac Jones (2021) as first-round picks. Stroud will join the late Dwayne Haskins (2019) and Justin Fields (2021). That's the expectation at Ohio State and Alabama now. 

They won't be the only first-round quarterbacks. Clemson's D.J. Uiagalelei (6-4, 249) is a bounce-back candidate who could cash in on a huge year with the Tigers. Spencer Rattler (6-1, 200) transferred from Oklahoma to South Carolina and could re-emerge on mock draft boards. Boston College's Phil Jurkovec (6-5, 226) has the dimensions, and Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall (6-3, 210) has a chance to be a Group of 5 riser. 

MORE: Rattler ready to start over at South Carolina

We'll say at least four, maybe five, quarterbacks are taken in the first round. 

2024

It's all about Caleb Williams (6-1, 218). Williams flashed that skillset, and even drew a few comparisons to Patrick Mahomes II, after taking the starting job at Oklahoma. 

Williams is off to USC with coach Lincoln Riley, who has coached two No. 1 picks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and another first-rounder in Jalen Hurts. Williams has more upside at the next level than all three of those guys, and he'll get the chance to show it in the Pac-12 with the Trojans next season. 

MORE: Williams will jumpstart USC rebuild

We haven't seen Quinn Ewers (6-3, 195) throw a pass yet, but we're guessing the five-star quarterback who reclassified then transferred from Ohio State to Texas, cashes in on more than just NIL opportunities. Ewers must prove he's more than just an elite arm talent. 

The other two potential first-rounders might get to play it out in the Big Ten's biggest rivalry. Michigan's J.J. McCarthy (6-3, 197) split time with Cade McNamara last season. Will that be the case again in 2022? McCarthy has a big-time arm and some wiggle in the running game. The Wolverines haven't had a QB taken in the first round since Jim Harbaugh in 1987. You read that right. McCarthy has the talent to break that stretch. 

Don't forget about Ohio State's Kyle McCord (6-3, 210) either. He chose to stay at Ohio State while Ewers and Jack Miller transferred, and he'll be in position to be the starter when Stroud leaves. McCord and receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. won three state championships together in high school. McCord played well in his only start against Akron in 2021. 

That could potentially be the best quarterback matchup between Ohio State and Michigan since Troy Smith and Chad Henne in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in 2006. 

We'll put it on the board. At least three of those four quarterbacks will be taken in the first round. 

2025

According to 247Sports.com, there were four five-star quarterbacks in the 2022 recruiting class. Which ones could push up the board in three years? 

Cade Klubnik (6-2, 186) could push Uiagalelei for playing time at Clemson this season. We've seen Clemson coach Dabo Swinney ease Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence in as the starter, perhaps even this season. 

Drew Allar (6-4, 225) will be in a similar situation at Penn State that McCarthy was with Michigan last season. Sean Clifford is a sixth-year starter. Penn State QBs do get overhyped – Anthony Morelli (2004) and Christian Hackenberg (2013) are the school's previous five-star QBs in the 21st century. 

Ty Simpson (6-2, 200) is battling Jalen Milroe for backup duties at Alabama now, and Conner Weigman (6-2, 208) will have a year to learn behind Texas A&M's Haynes King and LSU transfer Max Johnson. 

Of the next four classes, this is the one we're most unsure about. 

2026

This class starts at the top with Arch Manning (6-4, 215) who followed the footsteps of uncles Peyton and Eli to Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans. 

The hype around Manning's arrival to the college game will be off the charts, and we're going with the bloodline here. Peyton and Eli were No. 1 picks. The recruiting battle among Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Texas has been intense. Is there room for a surprise school? 

It probably won't be Tennessee. Nicholas Iamaleava (6-5, 195) is committed to the Volunteers. He is making the cross-country jump from Long Beach Poly High School in California to the SEC. 

Malachi Nelson (6-3, 180) de-committed from Oklahoma and followed Riley to USC. The bonus for Nelson is he stays closer to his home of Los Alamitos, Calif. Nelson will have a year to learn behind Williams before his star takes off with the Trojans. 

Jaden Rashada (6-4, 185) is yet another West Coast five-star prospect from Pittsburg, Calif. Dante Moore (6-2, 195) is ranked ahead of Iamaleava at this point. Moore plays for Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. 

This class is stacked, and given the dominoes that could fall in the next four years, the buildup could be to one of those truly special quarterback draft classes in four years. 

See? There's no reason to worry. 

More franchise QBs are on the way.

Author(s)
Bill Bender is a national college football writer at Sporting news. He started at Sporting News in 2007.