It's Feb. 4 and fax machines in university athletic offices everywhere are burning through toner faster than office interns can replace it. Football coaches are wearing tracks in their office carpet as they anxiously wait for their prized recruits to send in their Letter of Intent.
The recruiting season is essentially over and assistant head coaches can finally take a day or two to rest. Unfortunately, for us the work has just begun. With the official LOIs in, it's time to finalize our rankings for incoming freshmen for 2009.
We start with the quarterback spot, the prized jewels of the recruiting season. These are the kids that coaches and recruitniks alike drool over in the offseason. Ironically these are also the same kids that probably won't see the field for another two or three years.
Quarterbacks are the toughest to rank. There are recruits that are on campus early and will get a shot to strut their stuff this spring. And others will arrive in the fall behind a proven starter that we won't see for a few years. We do our best to distinguish the difference in our rankings below.
Immediate Impact in 2009
QB Tate Forcier, Michigan
Tate Forcier has the best chance to make an immediate impact as a true freshman quarterback. He's a lethal runner and a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread option offense. He also enrolled early and will participate in spring drills, valuable experience for a young quarterback. Let's face it…Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan are square pegs in round holes. And by all accounts Justin Feagin doesn't have a collegiate arm. At minimum, you will see Forcier worked into certain packages this fall and we wouldn't be surprised if he wins the starting job outright. Now before you start rocketing Forcier up your fantasy draft boards, he is still a freshman, and he will have his growing pains. Forcier has moxie and he's also a gambler. He has a tendency to turn his back on defenders and reverse field in order to make a big play. That made for some sensational highlight reels against 200 pound high school defensive lineman with 5.2 speed, but he will learn quickly that straight ahead is your best option in college. Standing at only 6 feet tall, you also have to wonder how effective of a passer he will be or how much punishment he can take (see Sam McGuffie). However, now matter how you dice it, Forcier is one to watch in 2009, and he will provide some excitement in Ann Arbor. Prospectus: Immediate fantasy impact.
Names to Keep an Eye on
QB Matt Barkley, USC
USC has a hole to fill at quarterback with the departure of Mark Sanchez. Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain have the inside track on the job. The duo will be joined this spring by one of the top incoming freshman in the country in Matt Barkley. When you look back at the USC quarterbacks under coach Pete Carroll, you think big, strong-armed, accurate and kick ass hair. Barkley certainly fits that bill. Barkley dominated the Under Armor Bowl and skills competition this past January. He was far and away the most accurate quarterback in Tampa. There is no questioning his talent and being on campus early is a huge plus. Even so, Barkley is going to have to be spectacular to beat out Corp and Mustain. As we saw in Sanchez's press conference announcing his intentions to enter the NFL draft, Carroll has a certain timeline for the development of his quarterbacks. He's not going to thrust Barkley into action just because he is a top quarterback recruit in 2009. He will get a shot, but it is likely a long one. Prospectus: Potential for immediate fantasy impact, however his true value rests in keeper leagues. Think long-term, hope for short-term.
QB Russell Shepard, LSU
Incoming freshmen Russell Shepard and Chris Garrett are on the Baton Rouge campus early. The duo will challenge incumbents Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson this spring. Shepard is a gifted runner with a quick first step who ran for over 1500 yards his senior year in high school. Given their quarterback woes from a season ago, LSU fans will be clamoring to see Shepard early. Especially if Lee and Jefferson struggle. However, Shepard has to work on his arm. We wouldn't put it past Miles to mix Shepard into the offense in 2009, but he will need to improve on his throwing accuracy if he is going to be a true dual-threat quarterback. Prospectus: A true wildcard in every sense of the word. Enough talent to see early action, not enough polish to be an every-week threat.
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are on campus early. Noticing a theme yet? The difference between Murray and the trio listed above is there are no quarterbacks ahead of him with starting experience, giving him a good shot at the job this fall. Murray is not going to overpower you with his arm, but he does throw with nice touch and based on the film we saw, he has excellent accuracy. He's also not going to blow you away running the ball, but he’s nimble in the pocket and has the ability to take what is given to him on the ground. Even though he had surgery to repair a broken left ankle in October, he should be ready to go this spring. Prospectus: Excellent all-around quarterback with an outside shot at winning the job as a true freshman. Most likely heading for a redshirt.
QB Richard Brehaut, UCLA
Richard Brehaut has the size to play right away. He's a shotgun passer and one of the rare kids that can throw the deep out route. He also has good mobility for a kid with his size. With the quarterback woes UCLA has had the last two years, Brehaut will be a sight for sore eyes for the Bruin faithful. He's also on campus early, which gives him the opportunity to compete for the starting job right away. Prospectus: As bad the quarterback play has been the last two years, Kevin Craft still has something Brehaut doesn't have: experience. He has a shot, but a redshirt year is more likely.
QB Tom Savage, Rutgers
Tom Savage is a big strong kid that has what Mel Kiper would call a "live arm". He's also semi-mobile for a big fella and well acquainted with throwing on the run. He has a bit of a strange delivery, but has a nice touch on the deep corner routes. He can also zip the slant when needed. Prospectus: With the departure of Mike Teel, he will get a look. But a couple of juniors that have waited their turn stand in his way.
QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Clemson picked up a huge commitment from quarterback Tajh Boyd late in the recruiting season. Boyd is a dual-threat quarterback in every sense of the word. He can throw and run with equal effectiveness. Boyd lit up the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio this past January, throwing for 187 yards and three scores. Boyd may not have the wheels of Shepard, but he has a much more polished arm at this stage of the game, completing 69.3% of his passes his senior year and drawing rave reviews from several quarterback camps this past summer. However there are a few things standing in Boyd's way, most notably knee surgery in January, so he won't be on campus to work with the team until this summer. He'll also have to beat out Willy Korn (a highly-touted recruit in his own right in '07) and Kyle Parker. Prospectus: Arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the class, but the injury will set his development back.
QB Zach Mettenberger, Georgia
As previously mentioned, Zach Mettenberger will join fellow freshman Aaron Murray on campus this spring. At 6-5 he has the physical tools to be a dominant passer. Like most big quarterbacks he can throw with some velocity. His most impressive trait might be his ability to throw the ball with such little effort. Most of his power comes from his arm; once he learns to use his body on his throws more, he could have a cannon. Prospectus: Outside shot at winning the job as a true freshman. Most likely heading for a redshirt.
QB Shavodrick Beaver, Tulsa
Shavodrick Beaver is on campus early. However he will have to play catch-up with Jacob Bower, Clark Harrell and G.J. Kinne. If Beaver had stuck with his initial commitment to Michigan, he probably would have been listed as a co-#1 with Tate Forcier. At Tulsa, odds are he will redshirt. The question then becomes will Todd Grantham be around with his brand of wide-open offense when Beaver is ready? Beaver is more of a direct runner than Forcier, but equally capable of making a big play with his legs. Playing against Conference USA foes gives Beaver tremendous upside. Prospectus: Outside shot of seeing the field early. True value could be felt in 2010 and beyond.
QB Josh Nunes, Stanford
This is shaping up to be one of the top Cardinal classes of all time, and quarterback Josh Nunes headlines the list. Nunes has the tools to be a very good quarterback at the collegiate level. Tavita Pritchard hasn't exactly lit the world on fire, but he's still the returning starter. Prospectus: Even with Pritchard in the way you have to wonder how long before coach Jim Harbaugh gives his prized recruit a shot. If anyone should be able to groom a young quarterback it's Harbaugh.
QB Tyler Russell, Mississippi State
The recipe is there for Tyler Russell to be impact player for Mississippi State. Yes, I said Mississippi State. Russell is a big, strong kid that can hurl it downfield. Not exactly the MO of the quarterbacks that new head coach Mullen has coached in the past (Tim Tebow, Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Josh Harris). However, even though Russell checks in at 6-4 and two bills, he's hardly Drew Bledsoe. If Mullen can coach Chris Leak into a national championship caliber quarterback, he should have no problem molding Russell into a productive field general. Prospectus: Excellent talent that might be a tad underrated. The big question is how high is the ceiling for a Mississippi State quarterback, even with Mullen calling the shots?
QB Cody Green, Nebraska
Cody Green is one of those rare big fellas that can run. His arm needs some polish, but his dual-threat nature could be attractive to a team looking for a new quarterback. It helps that Green is on campus early and will participate in spring drills. Prospectus: Outside shot at winning the job as a true freshman. Most likely heading for a redshirt.
QB Chris Garrett, LSU
Chris Garret is the ying to Russell Shepard's yang. Gilbert is a big, strapping pocket passer, while Shepard is an athletic runner. Gilbert is also on campus early, giving him a head start on his development. Prospectus: Someone to watch this spring.
QB Brock Osweiler, Arizona State
The 6-8 skyscraper is on campus early and the Sun Devils have a hole to fill at quarterback. He has a basketball background and choose playing quarterback for Dennis Erickson instead of playing hoops for Mark Few (Gonzaga). He's not Colin Kaepernick, but he moves pretty good for how tall he his. Prospectus: Someone to watch this spring.
QB Denard Robinson, Michigan
A late grab for Rich Rodriquez and the Wolverines, Denard Robinson is a gifted runner that fits this spread option system. He is not as polished of a passer (or runner) as Tate Forcier, and he lacks the size to step right in and play. Prospectus: It is difficult to imagine Robinson leapfrogging Forcier in the pecking order. But for the same reason we listed Justin Feagin in our freshmen preview last year, he is in the right system and Michigan is in need of a quarterback, so anything is possible.
QB Terrance Cain, Utah
Terrance Cain doesn't have the best wheels or strongest arm, but the JUCO transfer is stepping into a perfect situation. Cain is enrolled early and with Brian Johnson graduating, he will get a look. Prospectus: Someone to watch this spring.
QB Adam Froman, Louisville
We've been unable to locate any video on Froman. But based on the lack of depth at the quarterback position for the Cards, the JUCO should be given the opportunity to compete right away. He's on campus already and has two years or eligibility remaining. Prospectus: Someone to watch this spring.
Keeper League Prospects
QB Raymond Cotton, Ole Miss
Raymond Cotton is a huge get for Ole Miss. In my humble opinion he is the most underrated quarterback in the class of 2009. He has incredible size at 6-5, 220 pounds and he moves well. He's not Tate Forcier or Shavodrick Beaver, but he is more than capable of getting chunk yardage with his legs. Because of his size, he's also tough to bring down. He has a good arm and with some polish, he could turn into a great passer as well. Prospectus: I have no doubt he will be an impact player for the Rebels down the road, but we'll have to wait a year or two to see him. Cotton is this year's E.J. Manuel. If he would have selected Kansas State, he would have been in our top five.
QB Garrett Gilbert, Texas
There is virtually no shot of Gilbert seeing playing time this fall. Even if Colt McCoy goes down, Josh Chiles will take over at quarterback before Texas burns his redshirt. Like Blaine Gabbert last year however, Gilbert is one to draft and stash in deep keeper leagues. While Chiles will have the inside track at the backup job this fall, there are always questions surrounding what position he will play and the big rifle-armed gunslinger could challenge for the job as early as 2010. Prospectus: Draft and stash in keeper leagues.
QB Eugene Smith, West Virginia
6-2 and a 180 pound dual-threat quarterback…sound familiar? While he has all the makings of the next Pat White, it's Jarrett Brown's show in 2009. Prospectus: Solid 2010 prospect.
QB Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Bryn Renner probably has the best footwork of any of the quarterbacks in this class. His ball is not always as tight as some of the pure passers in the group, but he is accurate. He's an athletic kid that has the ability to make something happen with his feet if the pocket collapses. Prospectus: Cameron Sexton is out of the picture, but it is hard to imagine Renner beating out T.J. Yates. He should be a gem for Butch Davis down the road though.
QB Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State
Elite 11 QB that you won't see until 2012. By that time he should be about 20 pounds heavier and ready for starting duty. Prospectus: Good talent, but it is going to be a while before you see him on the field.
QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama
The departure of longtime starter John Parker Wilson has left a huge void in the Tide backfield. Wilson started 39 games for the Tide over the last four years, and only Greg McElroy returns with game experience. However, McCarron's stiffest competition may come from redshirt freshman Star Jackson. McCarron has a quick release and smooth delivery. At 6-4 and 180 pounds, he'll need to pack on some pounds and improve his arm strength. Prospectus: McCarron has long-term potential, but a year spent at the training table is likely in store.
QB Allan Bridgford, California
If there is one honor that always catches our eye it’s being invited to the Elite 11 Quarterback camp as a senior. The camp has churned out countless top collegiate quarterbacks over the years. One member of the 2009 camp was Cal verbal commit Allan Bridgford. Bridgford is an accurate passer, but he will likely have to wait his turn behind Kevin Riley and Co. Prospectus: Check back in 2011
QB Jacob Karam, Texas Tech
Texas Tech freshman quarterbacks have been stash and stow candidates for the last decade. Will coach Mike Leach be around Lubbock long enough for his potential to be realized? Prospectus: Texas Tech quarterback…nuff said.
QB Tyrik Rollison, Auburn
Tyrik Rollison is a dual-threat quarterback that is comfortable throwing the football in the pocket. A little bit of a long delivery, but he's accurate and can shorten his stroke if need be. Prospectus: Good long-term upside, but needs to pack on some pounds and improve on his arm strength.
Best of the Rest
Coming soon...confirming commitments
Next Up: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends (Friday), Running Backs (Monday)