A deeper look into why quarterbacks make early verbal commitments
As the recruiting cycle hits the all-important summer camp evaluation period, there’s usually an observation that quarterbacks tend to give verbal commitments earlier than prospects from other positions. Is that really the case? And if it is, why is that the case?
Well, yes. Perception is reality as quarterbacks tend to work on an earlier recruiting cycle than other positions. Using the 247Sports composite rankings for quarterbacks in the class of 2017 it appears that 41 of the top 50 have already made verbal commitments. This compares to just 26 verbal commits from the top 50 wide receivers and only 22 of the top 50 running backs.
Of those commitments, Alabama and LSU have received verbals from two quarterbacks apiece, and Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Vanderbilt also have verbals from a quarterback.
But why do quarterbacks seem to go through a different recruiting cycle? How do they benefit from this and how do the programs benefit from their early decisions?
There are a few reasons:
Spots are limited
A top program might take two, three or even four running backs or wide receivers in a class, but quarterback scholarships are treated like a rare commodity.
Most programs bring in one arm in a class. Some will bring in two if the roster determines it, but the rule of thumb is you don’t want more than four quarterbacks on scholarship at a time. If you have four, at least one is redshirting and one is a senior or a junior who is expected to declare at the end of the season.
Most programs try to take one arm a year to keep a constant cycle of development because many quarterbacks are going to be on a five-year plan from redshirt year to end of eligibility.
Therefore, many of the top quarterbacks tend to commit between the summer of their junior season and the end of the junior season.
Some give verbals earlier like Auburn QB commitment Joey Gatewood, who committed as a sophomore and some might go as far as the following summer, but that’s generally for a highly-desired prospect that a program is willing to wait on.
QB targets are identified earlier
Already the top programs have reached out to class of 2019 quarterback prospects and are doing early scouting on 2020 prospects during the summer camp evaluation season.
Because the cycle of recruiting for quarterbacks tends to be a year earlier than other positions, it has to be treated as such by the programs.
So coaches are trying to get their top 2018 QB target on campus over the summer in hopes of a commitment and they want to see as many of the 2019 and 2020 QB prospects this summer to evaluate and set up the recruiting board for that position.
Now while this is going on, what’s that 2017 QB commitment doing this summer?
Quarterbacks are additional recruiters
When I’m going to a top camp like the Alabama camp or the Georgia camp, I like to arrive the evening before the first day. A lot of the first-day campers have already showed up and are out playing some form of pick-up football.
But over on the side field, there’s the 2017 QB commit throwing the rock with some of the top wide receiver targets.
— Blake Alderman (@MistaAlderman) June 11, 2016
They are running routes and performing in a side session under the watchful eye of an offensive assistant. For the most part it’s independent workouts, but the quarterback commit is working out the receivers and trying to build a relationship to help with the recruitment.
The quarterback is usually the face of the recruiting class and coaches expect the quarterback be their voice on the ground. He’s trying to sway the top wide receivers, running backs and offensive linemen to join him at the program.
And believe that the coaches and quarterback have talked about this before.
The coaches have shared their top targets with the quarterback and he’s offered feedback. Maybe he’s done one of the offseason showcase camps with a top target and communicate often on Twitter. Maybe there’s a sleeper prospect not on the board that the quarterback would like the coaches to evaluate.
Learning the program from within
Many quarterbacks commit with the idea in mind that they will be January enrollees in their new program so they can jump right in the mix with player-led workouts, 7-on-7 sessions and eventually spring camp.
Jacob Eason (pictured), Shea Patterson, Jalen Hurts and Brandon McIlwain are prime Class of 2016 examples.
All four enrolled early. Eason and McIlwain are strong candidates to start this fall, and Hurts is an intriguing possibility for Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Although most freshman quarterbacks will redshirt, it’s still nice to have a full spring and summer training camp in pocket along with the additional time with the coaches and their new teammates.
But before that January enrollment the quarterback prospect spent a good part of his summer on campus learning as much as he’s allowed to about the playbook and the film room and trying to digest as much as possible.
The difference between playing quarterback in high school and college is like night and day so earlier commits can sometimes gain more access when they make unofficial visits. Maybe they sit in on film sessions or get to watch a full practice or a walkthrough leading up to a big game.
Because if it fits, wear it
Not every great quarterback is a fit for every great offense. The adage used to be that you fit the scheme around the players, but in today’s football a high school quarterback has probably been running a system for 3-4 years or longer pre-college and are too embedded in that style to switch in college.
And frankly the programs are too in love with their style to change.
Alabama typically looks for “pro-style” quarterbacks, though Hurts is an exception. They are a 50-50 balanced team, they want a player that execute high-percentage and handle the football without making mistakes. The more recent Alabama QB commit, Mac Jones, comes from a Jacksonville Bolles program that is heavy on execution and light on making “flash” plays. Just from his skill set alone, I’d say Jones is a good fit for the Alabama program.
I remember getting into more than a few battles on Twitter when I took the stance that Sean White (below) was a horrible fit for Auburn’s offense as it was currently constructed. The previous Auburn quarterbacks that had success in the program under Gus Malzahn were Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.
Two very athletic players who liked to throw the ball downfield. I didn’t think White was mobile enough to escape an SEC pass rush (I still have my doubts) and I don’t believe his arm is strong enough to get the big passing plays downfield.
The fact that Auburn signed two “dual-threat” QB prospects in John Franklin, a junior college player, and Woody Barrett, a four-star prospect who has yet to enroll reinforces the belief that quarterbacks pick systems.
Maybe the best example of a quarterback fit was Will Grier at Florida last year.
Grier did exactly what Jim McElwain needed out of his young quarterback. He recognized the high-percentage passes at the line and he got the ball out of his hand quick.
Grier’s game against Ole Miss was the perfect example of a quarterback and the offense in perfect sync. When Grier was suspended, McElwain didn’t have another quarterback who could do what Grier did.
Treon Harris took a ton of heat for the Gators second half of the season, but he wasn’t a fit for the offense and McElwain didn’t want to switch offenses because he wanted future recruits to know exactly what he ran and what type of quarterback was going to have success under his tutelage.
McElwain’s signed two “pro-style” prospects in 2016, Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks and has a verbal from another, Jake Allen, in the 2017 class. If these quarterbacks work out it will be worth losing a couple of games under Harris in 2015.
If you want to follow quarterback recruiting you have to jump on it quickly. In the past three days Florida and Alabama have both offered difference quarterbacks in the class of 2020!
These kids haven’t even started high school. Currently there’s only 27 quarterbacks in the Class of 2018 database for 247sports.com’s composite rankings, but seven have verbally committed, including Gatewood to Auburn and three-star prospect Zadock Dinkelmann to LSU.
The top-rated player in the class currently is quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Cartersville, Ga. He has Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Clemson in his top group of schools and will likely make a verbal commitment early too, before the end of the summer.
That’s what quarterbacks do.