Ranking the Top 10 best USC QBs in the NFL ft. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and more

Rice v USC
Rice v USC: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 03: An USC Trojans fan waits for the start of the game against the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The USC Trojans are one of the heavyweights in the college football world. Over the years, they have won 11 national titles and numerous other accolades. And they have given the world of football some amazing talent since the beginning of the program.

A quarterback is the spine of any offense and anyone worth their salt invests heavily in that position. USC didn't rise to the top without producing some top-notch QBs and has supplied the NFL with some big names. But who are the best Trojan quarterbacks and how did they do once their college careers ended?

Here is a list of top 10 USC QBs

#10: Rob Johnson

When Rob Johnson left the USC Trojans, he had broken almost all the school passing records. He played under center on a team that was stacked to the core with Keyshawn Johnson, Willie McGinnist, and Tony Boselli. And he used them to the end.

Johnson won the Cotton Bowl with the Trojans in 1995 and was a big shout for the Heisman Trophy that season. He went to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 NFL draft but shifted through the teams quickly.

Johnson won a Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but his NFL career ended in 2008 after a couple of years of struggling to find a team. But his performances with the Trojans put him on this list.

#9 Todd Marinovich

Todd Marinovich is another name that pops up when listing the best USC QBs. He only played two seasons for the Trojans in 1989 and 1990 but put up some amazing stats in the process.

He threw for 4,649 yards and threw 28 passing touchdowns in his two years. He was a big high school prospect coming into the program and showed what he could do with the pig skin. And that earned him a spot with the Raiders. But his slide had already started.

Marinovich achieved a good deal of success with the Trojans but had a difficult relationship with his head coach, Larry Smith, mostly due to off-field problems.

But he entered the NFL after being picked ahead of the likes of Brett Favre so expectations were high. But his substance abuse problem ultimately brought him down.

#8 Matt Leinart

Matt Leinart turned out to be one of the best quarterbacks in USC history. He led the Trojans to two national championship titles during his time in Southern California. And in doing so, he won the Heisman Trophy in 2004.

Before shooting into prominence himself, he played as a backup to another Heisman winner, Carson Palmer.

Leinart threw for a whopping 10,693 passing yards in his three seasons as a starter for USC, scoring 99 touchdowns. Those are elite stats by any stretch of imagination.

He went to the Arizona Cardinals in 2006 as a tenth overall pick but couldn't do much due to injuries and ultimately retired in 2013.

#7 Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez had limited time to play with the Trojans initially but once he did, he took it with both hands. He became a regular starter in his junior year in 2008 and threw 3,207 passing yards that season with 34 touchdown passes.

In the previous two years, he had to wait for his chance and now he was making the most of it.

After a successful year, Sanchez declared for the NFL draft and went to the New York Jets. In just his rookie season, he led his team to the AFC championship game and showed his elite credentials on a not-so-elite team.

And he continued to be the starter for the Jets for the next four years before the infamous 'butt fumble' ruined it for him. He then jumped from one team to another, never really being what he once was.

#6 Vince Evans

Vince Evans didn't boast great stats during his time in USC. He played for the Trojans for three seasons and threw for just 1893 passing yards. But that was back in the 1970s, the era dominated by the run game.

He won the Rose Bowl with the team in 1977 and was the MVP of the game. It was his NFL career that put him on this list.

Evans started his NFL career in 1977 with the Chicago Bears. During his time there, he became the only Bears QB to date to have a perfect QB rating, doing so in 1980 against the Green Bay Packers. That record stands to date. He then had a stint in the USFL before returning as a Raider in 1987 and playing for them until 1995.

#5 Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold didn't play for the Trojans in his freshman year but established himself as a school legend in the next two seasons. He threw for 7,229 passing yards and scored 57 passing touchdowns in the two seasons.

He led the team to their first Bowl appearance in eight years in 2017 and the Trojans won that game on the back of a great performance from the QB. It shot up his NFL draft stock and he went to the Jets as the third overall pick that year.

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers: SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 08: Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on October 08, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers: SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 08: Sam Darnold #14 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium on October 08, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Since coming into the NFL, Darnold has struggled to perform as he jumped between teams. He currently plays for the San Francisco 49ers as a backup to second-year star Brock Purdy.

#4 Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald was invincible during his time with the Cardinal and Gold. He played for USC for two seasons as a starter and lost just once during that whole period.

That stat is enough to put him on this list. He won two Rose Bowl titles with the team and a National Championship title in 1978. The Trojans didn't become national champions after that until 2004.

McDonald went to the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 NFL draft and played for them till 1985, constantly swinging between being a backup and starter. He left the Browns to go to the Seattle Seahawks but was released before the start of the 1986 season as the team went with just two QBs.

He then went to the Dallas Cowboys but didn't play a down for the team before retiring in 1988.

#3 Pat Haden

Pat Haden was a part of two national-champion USC sides during his time with the Trojans. While he played his part throughout the seasons, Haden especially shined in big games and never disappointed the Trojan faithful. In a big rivalry game against Notre Dame in 1974, he led one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. The team was down 24-6 at halftime and went on to win 55-24. Haden also led the Trojans to three Rose Bowl titles.

Haden went to the Los Angeles Rams in the 1975 NFL draft and played for them till 1981. He returned to USC as the Athletic Director in 2010 and served the program till 2016.

#2 John David Booty

When John David Booty came into the Trojans program in 2003, expectations were high. The hype around him was like Todd Marinovich but he lived up to it after some initial hiccups.

Booty was a backup to Matt Leinart during his initial time, only getting a go after the Heisman winner graduated. But it was like he was just waiting for his chance.

Booty played a total of 23 games for the Trojans. But his numbers might fool anybody. He threw for 5,708 passing yards and scored 52 touchdowns. He lost just three games with the team and lifted two Rose Bowl titles.

Booty went to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2008 NFL draft but his career never took off. Injuries plagued him a lot and he called it quits after being waived by the Houston Texans in 2010.

#1 Carson Palmer

With 11,818 passing yards in his collegiate career, Carson Palmer was a beast for the Trojans. That by the way, is a school record. He won the Heisman trophy and the Orange Bowl title in his final season with the Trojans under Pete Carroll. And with all that, Palmer established himself as one of the best, if not the best, QB in USC history.

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals:GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01: Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals gestures during the first half of the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals:GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01: Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals gestures during the first half of the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

He spent the next 15 seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Arizona Cardinals after becoming the first overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft. And he is in the Cardinals Ring of Honor for time there.

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