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Notre Dame Football

6 Thoughts on a Thursday

March 4, 2021

It’s extremely difficult to project how good a quarterback will be in college or the NFL. Recent history speaks for itself.

There were 22 blue-chip quarterback prospects from the 2014 cycle. Only four ended up being drafted by NFL teams. Maybe that was just a poor year at the position where analysts over ranked them? If so, it doesn’t explain how there were 26 blue-chippers in 2012 and only three ended up being drafted by NFL teams or that only five of 34 became NFL Draft picks from the 2013 cycle.

That made me think about this recent tweet from ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky and the handful of quarterbacks who are projected to go in the first round this year.

It’s absolutely true that there are only 5-6 great ones in the NFL each year. In college, it’s roughly the same and there are four times as many FBS teams as there are NFL franchises.

The great ones in college last year were Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, and maybe Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall. That’s about how long the list is every year, which means that there are a bunch of 4 and 5-star quarterback recruits who don’t end up being great.

A number of them don’t even get to the “pretty good” level or come close to the success that a former 3-star like Ian Book had in college. This from Orlovksy is referring to the NFL, but could easily be transferred over to college football as well.

It’s not a coincidence that the first three I mentioned are from the three top programs in college football. They have a lot there that’s set up to help them succeed, which is why Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler is a safe bet to be one of the five or six best in college football in 2021. He has the talent and he’s playing for a great offensive mind while being surrounded by great skill on offense.

I know Notre Dame fans have been waiting to have that quarterback who can be considered in that top group. The thought is that having that stud quarterback would help take the Irish to that next level they’ve been scratching and clawing to get to.

Then it must be asked, do they have enough of the other pieces around that player to make that leap? That is a little more uncertain.

Clemson did when Deshaun Watson was that quarterback to take them to the highest level. They were on a run of producing elite skill players like Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, and CJ Spiller and when Watson arrived at Clemson, future top-10 pick Mike Williams had already been there for a year and Artavis Scott came in the same class as Watson. Then they added top-100 talents like Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud stacked on top of that.

Clemson was waiting to explode when they got the right quarterback and they did just that.

We can debate all day long about Book’s strengths and weaknesses, but no one can argue he was set up to succeed this season with less talent around him at wide receiver.

I don’t know if Notre Dame is in quite the same position as Clemson when Watson became their quarterback, but there is talent that could be enhanced with the right quarterback in 2021. Then it moves to whether or not any of the players Notre Dame has recruited is that guy.

Could Jack Coan, Drew Pyne, Brendon Clark, or Tyler Buchner be one of the five best quarterbacks in college football with these players around them? I feel tired of asking the question, but it’s the question that matters the most.

It won’t stop getting asked until someone proves they can be one of the best in the country for Notre Dame and as evidence has shown, it’s really difficult to predict even if the top rated quarterbacks in the country are going to succeed in college. All any program can do is put together great pieces around a quarterback when they have the right guy.

2. I wrote a piece earlier in the week on Notre Dame not using play-action enough compared to other programs and, maybe predictably, the comments after ended up being criticisms of Book rather than a discussion on the play-action passing game.

That’s unfair to Book, but almost expected because his biggest drawback in the eyes of Notre Dame fans was that he was not one of the best in the country. Being good was not good enough.

I think he’ll be missed next season no matter who ends up as the starting quarterback and one of the things I’ll be most interested to see if they can replace is his ability to improvise. That was a huge part of the offense last season and Notre Dame will need to replace those yards and touchdowns.

Maybe it can come from someone else creating outside of the framework of the call on scrambles or maybe it will come from better work within the pocket finding second and third reads better than Book did, but that’s a good amount of production that the Irish will need to find from the quarterback position outside of the standard offense.

3. Here’s an insane stat that I stumbled into after looking at some play-action numbers. D

eShone Kizer’s completion percentage was 12.5% higher and his yards per attempt were 3.5 yards greater on play-action attempts compared to his other passes in 2015. His NFL quarterback rating was 35 points higher as well.

One might think that was all about the talent that he played with that season, but play-action numbers were great the next year too. He was +21.2% with his completion percentage, +6.5 YPA, and +69.2 points with his quarterback rating.

When looking at that, the question had to be how much Notre Dame was aware of how much better he was when throwing off of play-action because only 17.6% and 17.4% of his attempts came when he ran a play fake.

That seems like the kind of thing that if they weren’t keeping track of it then, they should have been. It’s almost unbelievable how he went from an okay quarterback on other throws to a lights out one when using play-action.

Over the two seasons he finished at 74.4% completions, 12.5 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and one interception.

4. I have 10 recruits from Texas in the ISD Fab 50. Four of them are already committed. Two to Ohio State and two to Texas.

In the final 2021 Fab 50 I had seven from Texas. Three of them chose Ohio State and Alabama with the other four being spread out to Oklahoma (two), Texas A&M, and Texas.

I think it’s a good thing for everyone in college football if Texas is “back” under Steve Sarkisian. It’s not about a big brand making things better for college football in general. It’s about not allowing Ohio State and Alabama to load up with more elite prospects.

If Sark and the Longhorns are landing a couple more of these top prospects, it means Alabama and Ohio State aren’t. It’s better for every other program if Texas gets closer to the top tier and those other two programs start coming back to everyone else.

5. It seemed to be a consensus that the recruit comps are something people would like to see. With that in mind, here’s quick comps for the prospects currently committed to Notre Dame in 2022.

Tight end Jack Nickel‍ has H-back athleticism, but should grow into an in-line Y. Durham Smythe is my college comp for him.

A pure football player and underrated athlete, Nolan Ziegler‍ is someone I see at Rover before potentially transitioning to inside linebacker. Drue Tranquill is my comp for him.

A 5-technique defensive end who could project to rush from the interior in sub-packages, Khalid Kareem would be my Notre Dame comp for Tyson Ford‍. I think a more appropriate comp for him might be Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

Joey Tanona‍ is a player I can see playing multiple spots on the offensive line for the Irish. He reminds me of Nick Martin with a little bit more shock in his hands.

I made the comparison to Chris Tyree with JD Price‍, though I believe Tyree has that one extra gear with his speed. Aside from that, I think they are similar in style and Price has big play potential like Tyree.

I’ll wait until Ty Chan‍ and Aiden Gobaira‍ have junior seasons before I give them a comp, but when that happens, I’ll be sure to mention it.

6. With no NFL Combine this year, there are going to be less verified 40 times than ever for draft hopefuls. That might not matter as several college teams are using GPS to track how fast a player is on the field and that is going to matter more to NFL teams once that becomes the norm.

Game speed is always going to be more valuable than timed speed. This is explained perfectly by Bill Belichick in this tweet shared by Warren Sharp.

It’s way harder to judge high school players who may not test at any combine or run a 40 at a school camp. Even if they do test, they aren’t spending time practicing to run the best 40 they can like college kids do in preparation for the NFL Draft. Their high schools don’t have the money to have GPS trackers on these kids either.

The fact that track times matter for guys who will never ever run 100m in a football game says all you need to know about how inexact the process of evaluating speed is.

Kevin Austin ran a 4.71 40 at a Nike camp in high school. That’s not ideal, but he always looked plenty fast enough on his high school film. Then I saw him in person at The Opening running by defensive backs who ran two tenths faster than him and it was pretty much confirmed for me that he was more than fast enough.

He followed that up by toasting Julian Love on a post in one on ones as a true freshman so if I wasn’t already sold he could run fast, that would have clinched it.

Speed on the football field matters more than a 40. Evaluating that speed with high school players isn’t easy, though, because the level of competition is different for so many. That may mean it takes a little more digging to find out that true game speed.

Getting that figured out can make the difference when it comes to finding out a guy who is good running in spikes compared to a guy who is can fly running a 9 route.

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