You can probably count on one hand the number of major programs that have started a true freshmen quarterback over the last two years. Offensive coordinators, believing their systems are on the intellectual level of a biophysics course at Harvard, are reluctant to hand the keys of their Ferrari to some hotshot quarterback, despite the promises made to get them on campus months earlier. This is usualy for good reason, as most incoming freshman quarterbacks are simply not ready. The changing landscape of college football may see that philosophy slowly coming to an end as every program in the nation seems to be installing some type of spread offense. Well, at least we're seeing a shift in the type of quarterback recruits as the high school game is catching up with it's college counterpart. Teams are now looking more for kids who can make plays rather than always make the right read. If a freakishly athletic quarterback is confused by the linebackers dropping deep into coverage, he just improvises and gains 20 yards with his happy feet. Making way for an unusual amount of "dual-threat" quarterbacks in this year's class. It should come as no surprise then that our top three incoming impact quarterback recruits are all mobile. While the absolute certainty of freshman signal callers carrying clipboards and wearing a baseball cap may be coming to an end, it’s still not time to put your fantasy hopes and dreams into those newcomers taking English 101. In cases of equal talent, experience will likely win out. However, the quarterback is the heart and soul of a football team and your fantasy squad. With this in mind we take an in-depth look at the top incoming quarterback recruits.
Top Quarterbacks that Could Make an Impact in 2008
QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State - Very few have taken the bold step in rating E.J. the top quarterback recruit in the 2008 class over Terrelle Pryor and we agree. At 6’4” Manual is a big kid with a strong arm and the athleticism to scramble if the pocket breaks down. The difference between Manuel and the highly-touted Terrelle Pryor is Manuel has a throw-first mentality, racking up nearly 7400 and 68 passing touchdowns as a prep star. He’ll stand and deliver rather than take off and run. Given his ability as a passer, Manuel is probably better suited than Pryor to play right away. The Seminoles return senior quarterback Drew Weatherford, but quarterback play has been less than stellar over the last few years. Manuel will also have to duel sophomore Chris Ponder to become heir apparent in the Seminole offense. Manuel, however, has the skill set as both a passer and a runner to be a special college quarterback, be it this year or next.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Undecided - In the past month the hype surrounding Pryor has reached mammoth proportions. No surer sign of this is Pryor’s signing day press conference to announce that he wasn’t going to announce. The truly sad part is people showed up, despite the fact that everyone was aware of the outcome. The reason they stopped by the presser is the 6’6” quarterback is a rare talent, a big mobile quarterback that looked like a man playing against boys while deftly weaving his way through high school defenders. He is a bigger stronger version of Pat White. With the mobile quarterback being all the college football rage right now, he’s attracted the attention of all the top schools including Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon, Penn State and LSU. Which of these schools he is leaning toward and eliminated make for daily and ever-changing drama. It also makes it impossible to predict the impact he will have in 2008 until he does make up his mind. In my opinion, Pryor would be best served at a school where he could learn the ropes and develop as a passer (not his strong suit). A luxury that may not come to him if he chooses Michigan or Oregon.
QB MarQueis Gray, Minnesota - Ron Zook is not the only mega-recruiter in the Big Ten. Tim Brewster pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat by landing Gray and a number of other highly-rated recruits despite finishing just 1-11 last year. A new stadium, Brewster’s recruiting savvy and the fact that the Minnesota staff was willing to take some chances on kids that other schools wouldn’t were all factors. Brewster considers Gray, a 6’4” dual-threat quarterback from Indianapolis, to be further along as a passer coming out of high school than former Texas star Vince Young. Brewster should know as he is the one that brought Young to Austin. Adam Weber had a solid 2007 campaign as a redshirt freshman. Whether or not Brewster will make a switch will remain to be seen, but keep in mind this is Brewster’s “guy”.
QB Dayne Crist, Notre Dame - Jimmy Clausen didn’t exactly light it up his freshman year. Despite the typical freshman mistakes, Clausen seemed to lack the overall arm strength of a top-flight quarterback. In all fairness it is kind of hard to throw the ball when you’re lying on your back for half the game and Jimmy did suffer through some injuries to his throwing arm. Unlike Clausen, Crist is a strong-armed pocket passer that looks effortless when he throws the football. He reminds me of former N.C State and current San Diego Charger quarterback Philip Rivers. Crist appears content on biding his time behind Clausen as the freshman becomes acclimated to South Bend. But if the offensive woes continue for the Irish in 2008, we could see young Dayne thrown into a fire that can’t possibly be as hot as the 2007 furnace.
QB Curt Phillips, Wisconsin - If you are looking for a sleeper freshman quarterback that could come in and start it’s Mr. Phillips. Phillips is physically mature, has a laser for an arm, and he moves very well. He is former Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton without all the wear and tear. Tyler Donovan graduates, leaving Kansas State transfer Alan Evridge most likely to take over at quarterback. However, my uncanny instinct (the same ones that told me to draft Anthony Morelli...not once, but twice)is telling me Phillips will be the first freshman quarterback to win a starting job this fall. QB Jacory Harris / Taylor Cook / Cannon Smith, Miami - There is a reason why Miami brings in three quarterbacks this year. Kyle Wright graduated (I can hear the collective cheers from Miami) and Kirby Freeman has transferred to Baylor. We’re still penciling in redshirt freshman Robert Marve as the starter, but as much as we love his talent he has yet to take a snap in a live game. This combination of factors gives the trio of newcomers the opportunity to win the job.
Top Talent to Shelve
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - It’s an understatement to say Chase Daniel has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers that last two years (Brad who?). With Daniel a senior, and a wealth of receiver talent likely to be around after he leaves, who takes over as Daniel’s predecessor is a spot that we need to start looking at now. Possessing the size to play right away, Gabbert is one of 2008’s top pocket passers. Operating from a shotgun-spread offense in high school will also assist in Gabbart’s development. He is also fairly mobile for a 6’4” 225+lb dude, and this puts him in good position for 2009.
QB Seth Doege, Texas Tech - I bet I have the attention of those in keeper leagues. While it will likely be several years before Seth could see any meaningful playing time in Lubbock, anyone that participates in college fantasy football knows to look to the Red Raiders for quarterbacks, even if it means sitting on them for two or three years. Doege moves well in the pocket and he’s not afraid to tuck it and run. He appears to have that same bulldog mentality of our all-time favorite Texas Tech quarterback, B.J Symons.
QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma - Landry must not have taken a very close look at the depth chart before he signed with the Sooners. If he did he would have noticed all-freshman quarterback Sam Bradford. While it is true this will be Bradford's third year with the Sooners, making him eligible for the 2009 NFL draft, that scenario seems highly unlikely. Even if he does there is still last year’s incoming quarterback recruit Keith Nichol waiting in the wings, and Nichol gave Bradford a run for the starting job last spring and fall. As with running backs flocking to USC last year, this one puzzles me. However, Jones is one of the top quarterbacks in this class and Oklahoma is a top-flight program that will attract talent, regardless of who’s already there.
QB Matt Scott, Arizona - Scott will bide his time behind senior quarterback Willie Tuitama this year. Mike Stoops is hoping he’ll be around to unleash his prized recruit.
QB Kyle Parker, Clemson - Parker will have to wait at least a year behind Cullen Harper. Parker can run and throw, which is a deadly combo in a spread offense.
QB Tommy Dorman, Texas A&M - Size, arm strength, good mobility…you know the drill. With the Aggies switching to a pass-friendly west coast offense, A&M quarterbacks are worthy of a look. Like Parker, he will sit for a year, in this case behind Stephen McGee.
QB Sean Renfree, Duke - The quarterback coaching messiah David Cutcliffe has come to town, so it is hard to ignore the Duke recruit. It will be tough to unseat Thaddeus Lewis, who has two years of eligibility remaining, but keep an eye on Renfree’s development under Cutcliffe’s tutelage.
QB Jordan Jefferson, LSU - Tiger fans and coaches have been waiting to see what Ryan Perrilloux can do as full-time starter for the last few years. Don’t expect Jefferson to upset those plans anytime soon, but he is a talent to watch.
Keep an Eye On
QB Justin Feagin, Michigan - Feagin, who was being recruited mainly as a cornerback/wide receiver, jumped at the chance to play quarterback for the University of Michigan when Rich Rodriguez came knocking. Feagin is no stranger to playing field general as the dual-threat quarterback led Delray Beach (FL) American Heritage High School to a Class 1A state championship in 2007. The fact that the six-footer was being recruited as an athlete by most schools is cause for concern. The chances of a true freshman being able to digest the offense before Utah comes to town on August 30th are also slim. But let’s be honest, Rich Rodriguez is less than conventional and Michigan has no…and I mean no…mobile quarterbacks on the current roster. I also have a hard time swallowing that Rodriguez is going to retool his offense around Steven Threet (a top drop back prospect last year and transfer from Georgia Tech) until he can bring in someone that can run the spread option. I honestly have no idea what Michigan is going to do at quarterback in 2008. Anyone that claims that they do, including Rodriguez himself, is either blowing smoke or quite delusional. For that reason and that reason alone, everyone from running back Carlos Brown to Steven Threet to the athlete from Delray Beach is in play.
QB Darron Thomas, Oregon - 6-4 and 190 lbs…sound familiar? The similarities continue when you watch Thomas play. The lean frame, throwing motion and running style (long strides and the ball floating all over the place) mimic those of former quarterback Dennis Dixon. With Dixon and Brady Leaf both gone there is a hole in the Duck’s offense. Sophomore Justin Roper had a fine showing in the Duck’s last two outings and should be guy next year.
QB Robert Griffin, Baylor - As much as we loved Blake Szymanski last year as a spot starter (man did he make us look good for a couple of weeks) there is a new coach in Waco and we all know what that means…no job, from quarterback to equipment manager, is safe. Especially when that new coach brings in a top ten quarterback. That’s right Baylor landed one of the top quarterback recruits of 2008. A recruit that verbaled to new head coach Art Briles when he was at Houston. Griffen and his coach clearly have a connection. Griffin doesn’t posses the arm strength of Manuel or the wheels of Pryor, but he is a playmaker and will get an early look from the new coaching staff. In fact he is also already on campus and competing with Szymanski and Miami transfer Kirby Freeman.
QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas - It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what has been missing in the Razorbacks’ offense the last two years. The lack of consistent quarterback play has been the Achilles heel for the Razorbacks. One positive of this is we were privileged to witness Darren McFadden take snaps under center. While a blessing for college football fans, this was not an ideal situation for the Razorback offense. Casey Dick is the incumbent, but I think it is safe to say the job is open under new head coach Bobby Petrino. Q
B Mike Glennon, N.C. State - Glennon is a solid drop back passer. N.C. State has a number of quarterbacks returning in 2008, including injured starter Harrison Beck and Daniel Evans. Still, the Wolfpack has yet to fill the void left by Philip Rivers in 2003, making this top recruit one to watch.
QB Jaybo Shaw, Georgia Tech - A new head coach and a new offense. With Taylor Bennett transferring, we are penciling the mobile Josh Nesbitt in as the Yellow Jackets’ 2008 starter. But we can’t help but notice Jaybo Shaw on the Georgia Tech’s commit list. Jaybo appears to be undersized and could use some time to develop. But he is a mobile quarterback that will Paul Johnson's system.
QB Andrew Luck, Stanford - If there is one thing we learned last year it’s to never underestimate head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh was able to land one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Andrew Luck. With T.C Ostrander and Tavita Pritchard rotating at quarterback last year (mainly due to injuries) the quarterback spot is less than settled.
QB Star Jackson, Alabama - Senior John Parker Wilson is not likely to conceed his starting role to a true freshman. Jackson, however, is potentialy the future signal caller for a star studded recruiting class.
QB Nick Crissman, UCLA - A bit on the lean side, Crissman could use a year to redshirt. Seeing as how both Ben Olson and Patrick Cowan couldn’t stay healthy last year, and UCLA had to resort to using a converted wide receiver under center in the 2nd half of the season, anything is possibility, and this includes seeing Crissman being thrown to the wolves.
QB Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh - I had to look up who Pitt’s quarterback was last year. The fact that I had to do that tells me Sunseri could be an option without digging much further.
QB Randal Mackey / Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss - Texas transfer Javon Snead is the the likey starter for Ole Miss in 2008. Snead was a highly touted recruit from the class of 2006, making it unlikely that either of these freshmen will win the open starting job.
QB John Wienke, Iowa - Weinke flipped from Michigan to Iowa once Rich Rodriguez was named the Wolverines’ head coach. The former Michigan staff had a good track record of evaluating young pocket passers. For that reason we have him on our watch list.
QB Ryan Katz, Oregon State - Interceptions, and lots of them, are the first things that come to my mind when I think of Oregon State and quarterbacks. The Beavers struggled at quarterback again last year, making Katz one we’ll watch once he hits campus.
QB Jerome Tiller, Iowa State - Sorry I just can’t excited about Iowa State’s offense. If Meyer and Blythe couldn’t make it happen, I’m not sure who can. But in the fairness of being complete, Iowa State is on the lookout for a quarterback in 2008, and we are Chizik fans.
QB Jack Elway, Arizona State - His dad’s name is John…do I really need to go any further? Elway may be not be highly rated, but he has a strong tutor in Dennis Erickson (remember he was at the U when Miami actually had great quarterbacking play) to help him develop. Had enough yet? Good. Rest assured that despite this lengthy list, they’ll be more incoming freshman looking to make an impact as spring turns into summer and high school graduation parties become freshmen orientation. We’ll be here to analyze how it will impact your draft and upcoming season(s). For now chomp on this tasty list for a spell, and prepare for our upcoming wide receiver breakdown.