Prospects seem to be committing earlier than ever before. We have covered this issue in the past, but the quarterbacks in the 2009 class have made their plans known at an alarming rate to this point. Twelve of the top 20 QBs in this class have made their verbal college choice and 10 of them did so before May 2008.
As always, the quarterbacks in each class seem to garner the most attention. With Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) headlining the Class of 2008, it is easy to see why he has garnered so much of the hype and attention.
This class, however, goes far beyond Barkley. In our opinion, this group of top-notch signal-callers can be broken into three separate tiers. The top tier includes one prospect who could be right on Barkley's heels for the top spot in the ESPNU 150.
QB grading criteria
Scouts Inc. grades quarterback recruits in eight categories:
1. Arm Strength: Do they show good rpm's and wrist snap to get good velocity? Do they consistently throw a tight spiral? Do they have enough zip on deep outs?
2. Setup Quicks: Do they have quick feet and is their drop speed at least adequate? Are they balanced when they are set? How is their body positioning?
3. Accuracy: Do they have the ability to throw the deep ball and the touch to throw the short ball? Do they throw a catchable ball? Do they have the ability to fit the ball in where only their receivers can catch it or where their receivers can make a play?
4. Field Vision: Do they see the whole field? Are they quick enough to go through their progressions and locate the second or third receiver?
5. Running Ability: Are they a threat to run out of the pocket? Can they make plays on the run? Can they avoid the rush? Do they have quick feet and can they make people miss?
6. Delivery: Do they have a quick release or is there a windup? Is their release high or low? How are their overall mechanics?
7. Ballhandling:Are their ball fakes good enough to freeze linebackers? Do they have the ability to look off defenders, or do they zone in on one receiver and force it?
8. Leadership: Do they possess the ability to move the team when the chips are down? Do they have poise under pressure? Do their teammates believe in them? And how do they play after an interception? Do they get rattled?
In the top tier, there are about five prospects we feel have a chance to be a cut above the rest. These QBs are physically capable right now and still have enough upside to continue to grow and get even better.
The second tier is a group of prospects with similar talents to the top guys in terms of being good, sound pocket passers. The second-tier signal-callers posses ideal size -- with one exception -- and should grow into good college QBs.
The third group is full of high-upside guys. The third-tier quarterbacks are not as polished as some others, but they have the tools and are still developing. This group is sure to hold some prospects who become excellent college players down the road.
Here is the reality of the quarterback position: nobody is perfect and all players, including Barkley, have weaknesses. Remember when we kept trying to tell anyone who would listen that Jimmy Clausen was going to struggle and he didn't wear an "S" on his chest? The learning curve is so steep; many of the ingredients for quarterback success have to do with being in the right place at the right time -- with good players around you. In fact, circumstance are almost as important as pure talent. Oh yeah, don't forget about the X factor: if a player has the right mind-set to succeed. If a quarterback can't play mentally, it does not matter how good he is physically. This is the toughest aspect of the game for coaches to evaluate with high school quarterbacks.
Let's take a look at the three tiers I spoke of above:
Obviously Barkley is in this group, and as I wrote in the ESPNU 150 introduction piece, he has excelled in a balanced attack -- not winging it on every snap -- and without the luxury of bona fide BCS-caliber talent around him. Barkley chose the perfect school in USC; the scheme is tailor-made for him and he will have a lot of playmakers surrounding him. We have analyzed Barkley extensively during the spring and summer -- fans will get to see him up close on Sept. 3 on ESPN2.
Like Barkley, Georgia verbal Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant Senior) is a winner who makes things happen. He is on the shorter side and he likes to take some chances, but his physical gifts and intangibles overshadow his lack of ideal size. Fans will have a chance to see him and his Plant teammates in one of the marquee Florida high school games of 2008 against Armwood on Sept. 5.
Next in line is Texas commit Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery for a torn labrum and is working to get back to full strength. He is entering his senior campaign (hopefully at full strength) after a monster junior year, during which he threw for more than 4,800 yards and 52 TDs. Gilbert has great blood lines -- his father Gale was a star QB at Cal -- and he has a ton of filling out to do with his tall, lean frame. He is a deceptive athlete who runs much better than one might think. If he gets back to full strength, expect Gilbert to have another stellar season.
This next guy might be a surprise to some, but we have seen him so much that we are convinced he is one of the upper-echelon performers in this class. Richard Brehaut (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Los Osos) burst onto the scene this past spring and summer and proved he is among this classes best prospects when he wowed folks with his release, arm and accuracy at the Elite 11 camp in July. Like Murray, Brehaut is on the shorter side, but the UCLA-bound signal-caller is very similar in terms of talent, moxie and tools. He can run and he is more of a dual-threat than he gets credit for.
Rounding out the top five is a guy who really shot up the ranks in our minds after seeing him several times in the spring -- despite our lukewarm response to his initial tape review in March. A.J. McCarron (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul's Episcopal) might very well be the key to Alabama's future success on offense. He is built very similar to Gilbert and must get in the weight room to add bulk and strength, but comparisons to former Miami QB Ken Dorsey and even Matt Ryan are both an accurate depiction of what McCarron's upside could be. Usually guys that are tall and lanky are not as coordinated just yet, but that's not the case with McCarron. He has excellent arm strength, a quick release and tight mechanics.
Like Richard Brehaut, QB Josh Nunes (Upland, Calif.) of Southern California's inland empire began gaining serious steam on the recruiting trail for his arm strength, polish as a pocket passer and ability to work through progressions. Like many prospects in this second tier, Nunes is more of a pure-pocket passer. He can play in a wide-open attack, but Nunes would be very good in the West Coast or pro-style attack. He has experience in various components of all three schemes. This is a big pick-up for Tennessee in the 2009 group.
Of all the top QBs in this class, Zach Mettenberger (Watkinsville, Ga./Oconee County) clearly possesses the best arm. But he might also be the most one-dimensional; he needs to be in a pro-style scheme to be at his finest. He is a big pocket guy that has the ability to put the ball anywhere he wants to on the field and can really drive the ball vertically. The Georgia commit will be battling with Aaron Murray to take the reigns of the Bulldog offense in years to come. How does Georgia do it? Two top QBs in the same class? We'll have to see if it stays that way come February.
Tom Savage (Philadelphia/Cardinal O'Hara) could end up being the best prospect that Rutgers has ever signed. This is the first time, a top QB prospect has chosen Rutgers as a result of its recent surge into one of college footballs top programs. This is a program clearly on the rise and no longer just a flash in the pan. Usually when a top QB like Savage joins up, top receiving threats will too. He fits the Scarlet Knights' scheme perfectly and, like Mettenberger, Savage is more of a drop-back guy who can sit in the pocket and make all the throws. Cardinal O'Hara will be showcased on ESPNU later this fall.
Blaine Dalton (Blue Springs, Mo.) is the prospect I mentioned above that is on the shorter side in this group. He committed to Missouri as a junior and hasn't wavered even with the late addition of Blaine Gabbert in the 2008 class. He might remind people of a more polished Todd Reesing at Kansas. Dalton has a live arm, great feet and is a good athlete. He is a guy who has flown under the radar a bit nationally and needs to be in the shotgun to thrive in our opinion, but is a feisty guy and a nice fit for Missouri's scheme. Dalton and Blue Springs can also be seen on ESPNU at the end of this month.
This next guy might be the rawest prospect of the group, but could also be the Ben Roethlisberger -- in terms of being a guy who has the size, arm strength and athleticism to blossom into a fine prospect at the next level. Moses Alipate (Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) is a load of an athlete, but the rough edges need to be polished off and a consistent playmaker needs to break through. He does not play on a great team, but his best days are definitely waiting for him at the college level. He has been a longtime Minnesota commit mostly due to offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar's system.
If Tajh Boyd (Hampton, Va./Phoebus) were two inches taller, he would be a national recruit receiving a ton of the spotlight. He committed to West Virginia early and is a perfect fit for what the Mountaineers are trying to accomplish offensively. In our opinion, Boyd is the best passing dual-threat QB in this class and does not even play in a high school system that truly accentuates his skills proving that he can play in a run-oriented, more conservative system and thrive, but also hasn't even broken out yet as a spread guy. Keep an eye on Boyd.
And finally for this group, Bryn Renner (Lorton, Va./West Springfield) is a guy no one even heard of back in March as he had only been a starter at QB for one season in 2007 and before that was an all-state wide receiver when current Virginia QB Peter Lalich was at the helm, but he performed well at camps and combines and his junior film speaks for itself. The North Carolina commit picked the right school where there is a need at QB and his athleticism, accuracy and arm strength down the road could make for a dangerous signal-caller at the helm for the Tar Heels. Renner is one of the better "sleepers" in this class.
We are going to bounce around here and hit on some of the highlights of this group of guys who might be a bit raw and untapped, but they have nice upside and physical tools to work with. Eugene Smith (Miramar, Fla.) has the look of a dual-threat QB, but he is every bit the passer if not more than he is a runner. He possesses a live arm, a lean tall frame to add bulk, strength too and he can certainly make all the throws. He must become more consistent in terms of overall accuracy, but Smith is an exciting guy.
Jon Budmayr (Woodstock, Ill./Marion Central Catholic) is the Blaine Dalton of Illinois in relation to build and tools. Budmayr stands at just 6 feet, but he can wing it and he is an accurate guy out of the shotgun. Wisconsin is getting a guy unlike what any it has had before because Budmayr can run too and he has a gunslinger's mentality.
Andrew Maxwell (Midland, Mich.) is smooth in his overall mechanics and has surprised on the combine circuit. He is tall and well-built, but with lean mass and has a good arm. His release is his greatest asset and he is fundamentally sound as a passer.
Jacob Karam (Friendswood, Texas) is a fun guy to watch. He is short, squatty and the definition of a riverboat gambler. He has a quick arm and nice rpm's. He can be erratic and spray the ball around some with his risk-taking mentality, but he's a gritty playmaker.
Other notable 2009 prospects
• Tate Forcier (San Diego, Calif./Scripps Ranch): The ultimate hype machine better live up to his Web site.
• Morgan Newton (Carmel, Ind.): We have had mixed feelings on Newton all along, but will see him live on ESPN in the coming weeks for a closer look. He's tall with a big arm and good athleticism.
• Tyrik Rollison (Sulpher Springs, Texas): We think he might be another Michael Bishop-type.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. Luginbill is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.