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Paths to Playing Time: Freshman QB’s

Tune in as @Connorschumock highlights some of the incoming freshman quarterbacks as they begin the journey to playing time.

This article marks the first of many in the Paths to Playing Time Freshman Outlooks Series. This series will focus on incoming freshmen. It will provide a brief overview of the player, and then dive into their current and future outlook based on the depth at the position, other incoming recruits, and ability to make an immediate impact. I invite you to please read the individual Devy Profiles we have on many of the players listed. This series aims to help you identify players who have a chance to contribute for you in the near term and potentially emerge as NFL prospects.

I will begin this series by reviewing some of the top quarterback prospects in the nation. It is important to preface that due to the COVID crisis, many of these freshmen will be behind the curve as a lack of spring training/summer workouts will likely set back their development. The pandemic’s impact is especially true for quarterbacks, as they typically have one of the steepest learning curves of all skill position players.

Bryce Young, Alabama

Source: Roll Tide Wire – USA Today

Bruce Young is a consensus 5-star player and #1 Dual Threat QB among both Rivals and 247. He is also listed as the #2 overall player in the nation by 247. While Young does not have the traditional size of a QB, listed at 5’11” and 210 lbs, he is a dynamic playmaker as both a passer and a runner. As a senior, Young threw for over 4,500 yards and 58 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also rushed for ten touchdowns and 357 yards. 

Built-in the mold of Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, Young is undoubtedly undersized and will need to add bulk and strength to his frame. Watch Young play, and you can certainly see how the comparisons to Wilson, Murray, and Johnny Manziel can be made. Young displays excellent composure when the play breaks down and is terrific at making plays on the run. Despite this, Young is also very comfortable standing and throwing in the pocket and is capable of moving through his reads and making any throw. For a more detailed breakdown on Young’s game, check out our Devy Profile on him.

Given the hype surrounding Young, and his caliber as a prospect, many expected him to take over the reins as the starting QB day 1. While this is still possible, I anticipate that senior Mac Jones will start the season for Alabama. Jones played very well when filling in for the injured Tua Tagaviola. He also has experience in the system and knowledge of the playbook. Had it not been for the COVID pandemic, I would have liked Young’s chances of starting much better.

It seems that even if Young does not open the season as the starter, he will be starting sooner than later. While Jones is a talented QB, and underrated, there is no doubt that Young is the future of Alabama football. Further evidence to this point is the recent transfer of Taulia Tagovailoa.

A year mentoring behind Mac Jones, and adding bulk to his frame, would likely serve Bryce well. Young is simply too talented not to see the field sooner than later, and if not in 2020, expect Young to be the starter for Alabama in 2021.

DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson

Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram

Watching the futures of DJ and Bryce Young will be an interesting case study, as DJ is the exact opposite of Young physically. Standing at 6’4” and 245 pounds, DJ has the looks of an NFL linebacker, not an 18-year-old QB. Rated as the consensus #2 QB in the nation, and the #1 Pro-Style QB, DJ already has the size and arm strength of an NFL QB. DJ’s commitment to Clemson ensures that the Tigers can go from one superstar QB to another.

DJ has exceptional size and the talent to match. His arm strength is off the charts and among one of the bests in recent memory. DJ makes 60+ yard throws with ease and displays excellent accuracy in the intermediate and short areas of the field. While not the scrambler that Young is, DJ shows functional mobility in the pocket given his size. After throwing for 48 touchdowns and rushing for another eight as a senior, DJ is more than ready to contribute at the next level. Read more on DJ’s abilities on our Devy Profile.

DJ likely won’t see the field much as a freshman, given that Trevor Lawrence is still at the helm for Clemson. However, once Lawrence moves onto the NFL after this season, it should be the Uiagalelei Show at Clemson. A year of familiarizing himself with the playbook and learning from Lawrence should serve DJ well.

Moving forward, DJ should be viewed as one of the top C2C prospects given his pro potential and opportunity for early playing time and 2+ years of starting for Clemson.

CJ Stroud, Ohio State

After the top 2 QBs of this class, there is a significant tier drop. Both Young and DJ are immensely talented recruits who will have an opportunity to start sooner than later for two of the top NFL producing schools in the nation. While the following QBs are still very talented, their opportunities to contribute in the near term are a bit more cloudy.

CJ Stroud falls in this category. A bit of a late riser in the recruiting process, Stroud emerged as one of the top QBs in this class. Ranked as the #2 and #3 pro-style QB on 247 and Rivals respectively, Stroud will hopefully be the next-in-line of highly productive QBs at OSU. 

Standing at 6’2” and 195, Stroud will likely take a year to bulk up and learn the playbook. Like DJ listed above him, he will have to take a backseat to one of the most talented QBs in the nation in Justin Fields. This should serve Stroud well, as he has only been a starting QB since his junior season of high school. Among the most naturally gifted players in his class, Stroud will need time to continue to refine his game and grow as a QB. The tools are certainly there, though, as Stroud threw for 47 touchdowns as a senior. At 6’2”, Stroud can pack on strength to his frame, which will only help one of the strongest arms in the class.

Here you can see Stroud’s pocket presence, mobility, and arm strength shine as he escapes from pressure and makes a solid throw across his body. 

The concern for Stroud will be his opportunity to play. A redshirt is likely in year one, given the presence of Fields and senior Gunnar Hoak last year’s backup. However, next year, even with the departure of Fields and Hoak, Stroud will face stiff competition. Fellow 2020 four-star QB Jack Miller was also an early enrollee this spring for OSU. Miller was a highly regarded prospect but suffered some injury setbacks in high school, slowing his recruiting momentum. Also, OSU has secured the commitment of 5-star 2021 QB Kyle McCord. I would expect a fierce QB competition next spring between these three.

As a late riser, Stroud still has plenty of untapped potential. I believe his talent is elite, and having a year of experience under his belt will help him fend off McCord. However, the concern is there, given the overall talent of the QB room at OSU. I would anticipate one, if not both, of the losers of the QB battle next spring to potentially transfer to a school with more immediate playing time. While the winner of the QB battle will likely be one of the top C2C assets, Stroud is talented enough to have value even if he should end up somewhere else.

Hudson Card/Ja’Quinden Jackson, Texas

Source: Austin American Statesman

The Texas coaching staff has to be thrilled with the QB haul they got in 2020. Hudson Card is a 6’2 180 pound QB rated as the #4 overall and #2 dual-threat QB by 247. Ja’Quinden Jackson is an equally touted prospect standing at 6’2 and 220 pounds ranked as the #5 overall and #3 dual-threat QB. While this creates one of the most promising QB rooms in the nation, it is quite frustrating for devy and C2C players.

With Sam Ehlinger set to graduate after this season, there is an excellent opportunity for playing time early for either Jackson and Card. Therein lies the problem. Card had the opportunity to participate in spring practice, which would have given him a leg up in the competition vs. Jackson, if not for COVID ending spring training after 15 workouts.

Card, a receiver in HS until his junior year, is a terrific athlete and continues to develop as a quarterback. He will have to add muscle to his slight frame, especially if he is to use his rushing ability. He had earned rave reviews in spring camp from the coaching staff before it was canceled, and the fact he was/is on campus early should still provide some benefits.

Card excels at making plays with his feet and shows tremendous accuracy throwing on the run, one of his biggest strengths. The video below highlights these strengths.

While Card’s most significant focus will be on developing physically, Jackson is already built like a future pro. Jackson will need to continue to grow as a QB after only attempting 163 passes as a senior in HS. The biggest question is if Jackson will stay at QB, as he was also recruited as a linebacker and safety, and displayed terrific instincts there. Jackson is the classic case of a bigger, stronger, and faster player than almost anyone else at the high school level, and such played at nearly every position. While this speaks volumes to his ability and football instincts, it cast some uncertainty on his positional future.

As it stands right now, it would seem that Card has the leg up in the competition to be the next starting QB for the Longhorns. However, Jackson has enough talent and instincts, and a superior build, to put up significant competition should he stay at QB. This will be an important battle to keep an eye on this summer and fall as practices resume.

Luke Doty, South Carolina

Luke Doty is next up on the list, and he will be one of the more interesting players to follow in the coming years. Immensely talented, Doty was ranked as the #2 dual-threat QB by Rivals the #6 overall QB in the nation by 247. Not only is he a capable passer, but Doty is one of the more athletic QBs in this year’s class. Standing at 6’1 and 193 pounds, Doty has the frame to add more bulk and strength. In two years as a starter, Doty threw 61 touchdowns and ran for another 11. He also led his team to a state championship in his junior year.

While it’s clear, Doty is one of the best QBs in this class, his path to early playing time is not so clear. The biggest obstacle is Ryan Hilinski, a 2019 4 star QB who started 11 games last year as a true freshman. The 6’3” Hilinski played well, considering he was thrust into the starting role unexpectedly.

While Hilinski is expected to be the starter, he’s not entitled to anything should he struggle as the starter. This is an instance where a lack of spring and summer practices will likely hurt Doty’s chances of competing for the starting gig. Doty’s short term outlook is not bright, given the QB situation at South Carolina. However, should Hilinski struggle, Doty could get a shot. It will likely be a couple of years before Doty can contribute at the college level. On the bright side, the talent is undoubtedly there once Doty gets his shot.

Harrison Bailey, Tennessee 

Harrison Bailey already has Volunteer fans clamoring, toting him as the next Peyton Manning. While those are certainly lofty, and unfair expectations to put on a young man, Bailey looks the part. Listed at 6’4” and 220 pounds, Bailey has a terrific physical profile, with a frame well suited to add even more muscle. Ranked as the #2 pro-style QB by Rivals, Bailey has the skills to match, displaying good arm strength and poise in the pocket. He was a highly productive player in high school, starting all four years and finishing with over 11,000 yards and 114 touchdowns. Improving mobility in and out of the pocket will go a long way toward achieving long-term success.

Here are a couple examples of the arm talent Bailey possesses. 

While Bailey certainly looks the part physically, a path to early playing time is no guarantee. Last year’s starter, Jarrett Guarantano struggled at times but is back for his senior season. Tennessee also landed Maryland grad transfer Kasim Hill, who likely committed to Tennessee with the belief he could see playing time. Tennessee also has two sophomores, both of whom saw action last year in Brian Maurer and JT Shrout.

The excitement around Bailey is electric, and I would not be surprised if he saw some action as a freshman, especially if Guarantano struggles. However, there is a lot of experienced competition ahead of him, and while talent usually wins out, the cancelation of spring and summer workouts is doing Bailey no favors. The good news is that the future is still very bright for both Tennessee and Bailey. Tennessee had the 10th ranked recruiting nationally in 2020 and is currently ranked 3rd for 2021.

Bailey has the size, pedigree, and skills to be an elite QB at the next level. Tennessee has also done an incredible job of recruiting talented players these past few seasons. The pieces are there for Harrison Bailey to start and thrive, as early as 2021.

Ethan Garbers, Washington

Source: Orange County Register

Ethan Garbers, a 4-star ranked as the #4 pro-style QB by both Rivals and 247, is sure to be one of the more polarizing players on this list. While immensely talented, Garbers is amongst a very talented, very young, QB room for UW. The younger brother of Cal QB Chase Garbers, Ethan, is a very gifted, well-built player at 6’3 200. Ethan has elite arm strength and shows excellent touch on his deep balls, as evidenced in the video below. 

While Garbers has the size and ability to contribute immediately, he will face some stiff competition. With Jacob Eason headed to the NFL, it is now a three-man race for the starting gig. Jacob Sirmon is a 6’5’ 235 former 4-star recruit from 2018. Dylan Morris is a 6’0” 195 pound 4-star from the 2019 class. Sirmon, a redshirt sophomore, would seem to have the leg up given his size and experience. Morris redshirted last season and will be a redshirt freshman heading into 2020. While the COVID pandemic certainly has not done Garbers any favors in the competition, Washington is ushering in a new head coach and offensive coordinator, leveling the playing field. It is also a good sign that the offensive coordinator has gushed about Ethan and remarked on his opportunity to earn the starting gig.

Even if Ethan secures the starting spot for 2020, the competition will only get fiercer in 2021. Sam Huard is a 2021 5-star QB and Huskies commit. The son of former Huskie, Damon Huard, and nephew of Brock Huard, also a Huskie, has the size, pedigree, and talent of an elite QB. There is no doubting Ethans talent; however, the competition he will face to earn a starting will be tough.

Haynes King, Texas A&M

Haynes King, a 4-star recruit and one of the top-rated dual-threat QBs in the nation, is next up on the list. One of the most athletically gifted players at his position, King was not only one of the best HS QBs in Texas, but also a track star. Running a verified 4.5 40-yard dash and 36 inch vertical, King jumps off the charts athletically. While skinny at 190 pounds, his 6’3 frame is well suited to add size and strength. 

King had a phenomenal junior year in HS but regressed his senior year, cooling off the recruiting momentum he had gained. He amassed over 8,800 yards of total offense and over 100 touchdowns in three years as a starter. King would benefit tremendously in adding additional strength and weight to his wiry frame. This would especially help improve his arm strength, one of the biggest knocks on his game.

Based on Texas A&M’s QB room, Haynes will get the chance to improve physically and learn the system. Returning starter Kellen Mond is back for his senior year. While he struggled with some inconsistency, he is firmly entrenched as the starter once again. Redshirt freshman Zach Calzada presents another hurdle for King. Only a 3-star recruit, Calzada, was a late bloomer to the recruiting world. However, he picked up tremendous steam, ending with offers from many power five schools, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Oklahoma State, among others. Calzada saw limited action as a freshman while earring the job as #2 QB on the roster, and was still able to retain his redshirt while gaining valuable experience.

King will have a tough task in winning the #2 spot, let alone seeing playing time. A redshirt season would serve him well. Calzada was a similar build out of high school (6’3 195), and is now listed at 6’3 215. A similar improvement for King would go a long way. King is the more athletically gifted player, while Calzada has an advantage in pure arm strength. If King can improve his frame and strength, I would not be surprised if his overall talent won him the starting job in 2021.

Jay Butterfield, Oregon

Jay Butterfield is rated as the #5 pro-style QB by both 247 and Rivals. The California native is listed at 6’6” and 205 pounds. Jay’s father, Mark, was a college and NFL QB. This is evidenced by Jay’s high football IQ and terrific instincts. Jay has a live arm and does an excellent job of making the right throws on target. His 6’6” frame can easily support more weight, something that should be a focus for Jay. Lack of mobility is the biggest knock for the young QB, as he does not pose any threat as a runner. Considering Oregon’s offense, and their history of mobile QBs, this will be an area that Jay will need to improve on.

Butterfield should have plenty of time to improve his game. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough appears to be locked in as the starter heading into 2020. Shough has earned high praise from the coaching staff and played well in mop-up duty behind Justin Herbert. A former 4-star recruit, Shough appears to have every opportunity as a starter for the foreseeable future. Oregon also landed Boston College grad transfer Anthony Brown, who will likely serve as the backup to Shough. 

Immediate playing time does not appear likely for Butterfield, given the players ahead of him. Oregon also secured the commitment of fellow four-star dual-threat QB Robby Ashford, a talented player in his own right and one to keep an eye on. If Shough should struggle in 2020 and beyond, Butterfield should be in a much better place to compete for playing time heading into 2021 with a year under his belt.

Shane Illingworth, Oklahoma State

Shane Illingworth was a man amongst boys in high school. The 4-star QB is listed at 6’6” and 235 pounds and sure looks it on tape. The #6 pro-style QB, Illingworth has a terrific arm and makes most throws look effortless. As a senior, Illingworth threw 40 touchdowns and only two interceptions, further illustrating his decision making and ability to make throws on target. While no one would mistake him as a true dual-threat quarterback, Shane displays decent mobility in the pocket and the ability to make plays on designed runs.

As you can see in the video below, Shane can get moving at full stride. Also showcased in the video is a beautiful deep ball, and two pinpoint throws across the field placed perfectly on his receivers’ back shoulder. Improving his mobility will be one of the keys to his development.

Illingworth is one of my personal favorites among the freshman class. Not only is he capable of making just about any throw, but he has a relatively clear path to playing time in a highly productive offense, once Spencer Sanders moves on. Sanders, a redshirt freshman last season, started all but two games, which he missed due to injury. Sanders was impressive as a starter and is a valuable C2C asset himself. He is also gaining momentum as an NFL hopeful. Only a redshirt sophomore, Spencer technically has three more seasons of eligibility left, but could also go early should he continue to improve.

Outside of Sanders, the competition for Illingworth is sparse. He will be competing with redshirt freshman Brendan Costello, a 3-star recruit out of HS. Oklahoma State also added JUCO QB Ethan Bullock, but I am confident that Illingworth’s talent will win out. Shane should have the opportunity to compete for the QB2 spot this season. Ideally, he would be able to gain some game time experience while retaining his redshirt and have a chance to start as early as 2022. Should Sanders go pro early, get injured, or have his play regress, Shane could see significant playing time even sooner.

*All stats courtesy of 247 unless otherwise noted.

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