QB remains toughest position to predict -- just look back to '05
Looking back, most top prospects from the 2005 QB class didn't pan out
It's an extreme case, but it affirms how hard it is to evaluate young QBs
One top QB who made it: Mark Sanchez; One hidden gem: Colt McCoy
In the winter of 2005, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg, working for another service at the time, debated with one of his colleagues which quarterback deserved the class' No. 1 ranking: Mark Sanchez or Ryan Perrilloux.
"Looking back at all the quarterback recruits since 2000, Ryan Perrilloux had as much talent as anyone," Newberg said. "He had it all."
Ultimately, they went with Sanchez because they considered him the "safer pick." They were right. Sanchez went on to star at USC last season, earning Rose Bowl MVP honors before entering the NFL draft, where he is a projected top-15 pick. Perrilloux signed with LSU, where he showed off his considerable talents in one start -- the 2007 SEC championship game -- but was suspended multiple times and eventually dismissed. He now plays for I-AA Jacksonville State.
Remarkably, Sanchez wound up as one of the few quarterbacks from the '05 class who became a noteworthy college player. An overwhelming majority of the QBs who fell right behind him in that year's rankings -- Perrilloux, Jonathan Crompton, Harrison Beck, Jake Christensen and Derek Shaw, to name a few -- have been disappointments, whether due to injury, off-the-field issues, coaching changes or hasty transfers. Many did not pan out.
Of the 58 quarterbacks to whom Rivals.com assigned a position ranking that year -- either on its "pro-style" or "dual-threat" list -- just 17 have started a full season in Division I-A. Only nine have finished a season among the nation's top 40 passers. (Many of the dual-threat QBs moved to other positions).
"It was just a bad year for quarterbacks, and for whatever reason only a handful made it," said Newberg. "Looking back four years later, there's a lot of misses, and certain kids had certain situations that weren't conducive for success."
While the '05 class seems like a particularly extreme example, it shows quarterback is by far the hardest position for recruiters to evaluate. Physical ability is just one variable that goes into success at the position, but the others -- learning an offense, reading defenses, showing poise and leadership ability -- are largely immeasurable in a 17-year-old kid.
Texas offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Greg Davis says most talent evaluators put too much emphasis on a quarterback's arm strength. Several years ago, while coaching in the East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco, Davis got to sit with 49ers legend Bill Walsh at a dinner. He asked Walsh the most important qualities he had identified in the many successful QBs he drafted.
"He didn't hesitate," said Davis. "No. 1, he said: 'Accuracy.' Then he talked about athletic ability, intelligence. Way, way down on the list was arm strength."
Davis knows well the importance of digging beyond the recruiting rankings. During his and head coach Mack Brown's 11-year tenure in Austin, the Longhorns have signed two QBs who were No. 1 in their class -- Chris Simms (1999) and Vince Young (2002) -- and originally received a commitment from Perrilloux.
However, they found their current star quarterback -- three-year starter and 2008 Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy -- tucked away at a small school in rural Tuscola, Texas. In the '05 class, McCoy -- then listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds -- was ranked just 15th among pro-style QBs, behind Pittsburgh's Bill Stull, Notre Dame's Evan Sharpley and Wisconsin's Dustin Sherer, among others.
Several of the most accomplished QBs from that class -- McCoy, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson and Penn State's Daryll Clark, among others -- were also less-touted at the time.
Davis, who watched McCoy at Texas' summer camps after his sophomore and junior seasons, said he was intrigued by the QB's athleticism (he also played basketball in high school), the praise he received from his school principal and counselor and his keenness for film study.
The moment that sold Davis, however, was watching a spring practice during McCoy's junior year of high school where "he threw for 20-to-25 minutes, and the only balls that hit the [turf] were dropped.
"[Defensive line coach] Mike Tolleson was with me and I told him, 'OK, I think he's good,'" said Davis. "He said, 'Can you tell me why? Because he weighs 178 pounds.'"
Obviously, one impressive spring workout in high school did not guarantee McCoy success in college. Since arriving in Austin, he's put on 30 pounds, been a model teammate and benefited from some good timing (Young turned pro a year early and Perrilloux signed with LSU). Many of his peers have not been so fortunate.
A look back at how the careers have turned out for the '05 class' purported quarterback stars shows just how unpredictable it is to forecast a high-school QB's future.