I asked the following question to various coaches at the Elite 11 quarterback competition: "how would [quarterback] do if asked to start as a true freshman?"
The coaches answered, but preferred anonymity. And even then, most would not harshly criticize a player. Keep in mind that the coaches factored in the school to which the player is committed. Included are the thoughts of the coaches, and a bio from the Elite 11 roster.
A chance to succeed
Two names stood out above the rest: Kyle Allen and Deshaun Watson, with David Blough and Jerrod Heard also mentioned frequently.
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M commit: The 6'3, 190-pounder is a consensus four-star quarterback. Allen passed for 3,119 yards and 36 TDs as a junior with only seven interceptions. He had over 20 college offers, including Arizona, Arizona State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and UCLA, before committing to the Texas A&M Aggies.
Several coaches continued to be in awe of how advanced Allen was as a passer -- a sentiment that was present during his regional performance. Allen even ran his team's offense during one practice. Allen makes very few mistakes typical of a high schooler.
With Johnny Manziel potentially leaving for the NFL after the 2013 season, the feeling at the camp was that Allen could step in and hold his own, even in the tough SEC West division.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson: The 6'4, 200-pound Watson is one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the country, carrying a consensus four-star grade. Watson has already committed to Clemson after also being offered by major programs such as Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and Tennessee. As a junior, the Georgia Class AAAAA Player of the Year completed 315 passes out of 435 attempts for 4,311 yards and 50 TDs with only eight interceptions. Watson also ran for 1,444 yards and another 24 scores, giving him 74 touchdowns on the year.
Trent Dilfer felt comfortable answering the question with his name attached, and he chose Deshaun Watson as the most college-ready, over Allen. Dilfer cited his athleticism as the deciding factor, which could definitely help in the Clemson offense. Another coach, who is high on Clemson's second-year QB Chad Kelly, is very excited for the battle and gives Watson a shot to win the job in 2014.
Facing ACC defenses could help, too, with five fielding units outside the nation's 70 best in 2012.
David Blough, Purdue: The 6'1, 180-pound Blough is a consensus three-star recruit who is committed to Purdue. The senior-to-be was All-District 10-4A last season after throwing for 1,777 yards and 17 TDs with only three picks.
One coach said that people pigeonholed Blough because he was 6'1, but that he is a thicker prospect than people realize and can take the punishment that facing college defenses will bring. Purdue doesn't have great talent, but compared to some quarterbacks at the event (see below), the difference between the good and bad teams isn't as stark.
The coach also thinks that height standards in the NFL are wrongly used in college. "It's changing in the NFL, but it's overrated for college. Everyone wants 6'4, but you first want someone who can throw," he said.
Jerrod Heard, Texas: The 6'2, 195-pound Heard is one of the highest-rated dual-threat quarterback recruits in the country, carrying a consensus four-star tag. Heard ran for 2,138 yards with 35 TDs on the ground and added over 2,000 more yards through the air. He was the District 5-4A MVP. A Texas commit, he also had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, LSU, Nebraska and Ohio State.
The sentiment from one coach was that, "if you had asked me before this started, I would have said no way," he said. "But he's much better than I thought, his legs can keep him out of trouble, and he has Texas talent around him. That's the Dallas Cowboys' logo on his film. He's running all over the best competition in the country. "
Could be okay
Will Grier, Florida: The 6'3, 180-pound Grier had a monster year on the field, putting up huge numbers: 5,785 yards passing with 69 TDs and another 813 yards rushing with eight scores on the ground, albeit against very questionable competition. Grier is a consensus four-star recruit. He committed to Florida in February over offers from Florida State, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee, among others.
One coach thought that Grier surprised, he has better athleticism than expected, and that his escapability could help him early on in his career. "On film, his competition was so bad, that I needed to see it out here in person," he said. "And he's at Florida, so the players are around him won't be overwhelmed in SEC play."
But the coach did not think Grier could beat out Jeff Driskel, who will be a senior when Grier arrives.
Jacob Park, Georgia: The 6'4, 200-pound Park is a consensus four-star recruit. As a junior, he passed for 2,239 yards and 24 TDs while rushing for over 700 yards and seven scores. Park had a dozen offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, but committed to Georgia on June 14.
One coach said that Park is brighter than you think, but thinks that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Mark Richt will have to dial it down a bit. Park will need to use his legs more early on in his career to make the defenses respect his running ability and simplify coverage.
One coach is a fan of Bryce Ramsey, but thinks Park could beat him out in 2014. Another coach thinks Park has awesome talent and can play at 230 pounds.
Unlikely to find success as a true freshman
Drew Barker, Kentucky: Barker is a consensus four-star recruit. The 6'4, 210-pound passer is seen as the centerpiece of Kentucky's recruiting class under head coach Mark Stoops. As a junior, he passed for over 2,000 yards with 22 TDs and seven interceptions. He'll play in-state for Kentucky -- his other offers included Cincinnati, Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina, Purdue, South Carolina, Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
"I don't think he is ready," a coach said. "And with Kentrucky's roster, that's going to be very tough in that league. Very tough. But he is coachable; he's made strides since Chicago. He is a great kid, with a great mental makeup, and everyone is drawn to him. But that only goes so far. And the pressure on him is going to be huge with Big Blue Nation."
Luke Rubenzer, Cal: The 5'11.5, 185-pound Rubenzer was dangerous last season with his arm and legs, throwing for 2,834 yards and 36 TDs with just six INTs, while rushing for 1,184 yards and 10 scores. The consensus three-star recruit committed to Cal on June 13.
A coach thought that Rubenzer's sequencing was great, and that his ability to get his arm through quickly made up for a bit of a low and long delivery, which can be fixed. Rubenzer, a former shortstop, also has great balance, which helps him make throws at awkward angles sort of like Manziel does.
In Cal's spread, his 5'11.5 height isn't much of a concern, but the coach doesn't think he can beat out Jared Goff, and perhaps not Zach Kline, either. How much Cal's air raid attack will use Rubenzer's mobility is a question. The coach thought he would absolutely kill it in Rich Rodriguez's spread system at Arizona.
K.J. Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt: At 6'2 and 210 pounds, he displays a decent arm, paired with very good mobility, considering his sturdy build. Samuels is a consensus four-star recruit and is committed to Vanderbilt, where his brother Austyn is the projected starting quarterback next season. His other BCS offer was from Arizona.
One coach thought that Carta-Samuels needs to redshirt, but he is a tough kid and can take punishment. The coach said that he has a lot of moving parts and his delivery can be long.
They like his attitude and think he will eventually find success. But like Barker, coaches would be worried about starting him as a frosh with an inferior roster in the SEC.
David Cornwell, Alabama: At 6'5 and 235 pounds, Cornwell already has the build of a college senior. With a huge arm and good mobility for his size, Cornwell carries a consensus four-star rating. He passed for over 2,700 yards with 27 TDs last season and ran for nearly 800 more with six rushing scores. On June 14, he committed to Alabama over offers from Auburn, Indiana, Kansas, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Tennessee, Tulsa, Virginia Tech and Washington State. Cornwell recently won a battle against the OSSAA for his eligibility in his senior year.
Two coaches had essentially the same thing to say about Cornwell: He's not ready. He has excellent tools, and the Alabama offense doesn't rely on the quarterback to throw it all over the yard, but they believe Cornwell is far away in mechanics and experience. They both think he needs a redshirt, and wonder if he can lead a locker room as a freshman.
One coach explained that like a big man in basketball, or a big receiver, big quarterbacks often take longer to adjust to their bodies and to understand how they move and work. That coach doubts Cornwell could beat out Luke Del Rio in 2014, as Del Rio will be a second-year player in 2014 with an extra spring under his belt via enrolling in the spring of 2013.
Brad Kaaya, Miami: The 6'4, 215-pound Kaaya is a consensus four-star recruit. He passed for 1,875 yards with 12 TDs and only two INTs on the field as a junior and has committed to Miami (Fla.) over an offer from San Diego State.
The coach said that Kaaya has a stiff lower half, but awesome upper half, adding that you can absolutely fix the lower half with drills and stretching. But the top half doesn't need fixing, and it's very good.
More from our coversation: He can sling it from multiple arm angles, and when he is off balance. Kaaya is a bright kid. But Kevin Olsen is a tough competitor, and he'll have a year in the system. The coach is not sure if Kaaya can beat out Olsen.
It was clear from speaking with the coaches that Stephen Collier (Ohio State commitment) and DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame commitment) are developmental prospects with a lot of talent (particularly Kizer), but that they have a long way to go in their development. Kizer has a "lot of baseball" in his motion, and that will likely take more than a year to cure. Both have the potential to be very successful, but even though they have good or very good escapability, they're not ready for success in 2014.
The coaches think Manny Wilkins has a lot more physical growth left in his frame, but I did not get a clear answer on him as a starter in 2014.
I was not able to ask the question on Morgan Mahalak (committed to Oregon), Keller Chryst (Stanford), or Andrew Ford (committed to Virginia Tech).