Over the past week or so, there’s a good chance you’ve read something about the number of Elite 11 quarterbacks who have won the Heisman Trophy or been drafted into the NFL. The important thing to know about this annual competition is that it attracts the best high school QBs in the country, and all of them strive to earn an invitation to Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., for The Opening Finals, which wrapped up on Monday. Each of the 12 passers who made the cut this year are members of the class of 2018, meaning they’ll be seniors in the fall.
With the college football news cycle churning at low speed this time of year, The Opening is a convenient occasion to survey the elite crust of the prep quarterback landscape and offer an early glimpse at what to expect from the next wave of up-and-comers at the most important position on the field. Only three of these signal-callers are not verbally committed to programs, which accords with the generally earlier timeframe in which QBs tend to complete their recruitments. What’s more, two of the three holdouts had previously issued pledges, only to back out of them last month.
So, we know where most of these passers are going to play at the next level. We don’t know how good they really are. The dozen QBs on display are not merely a copy-and-pasted list of Nos. 1-12 on some recruiting services’s position rankings. They were selected based on their performance in preceding events. Quarterbacks can definitely raise their stock, and consequently receive rankings bumps, by showing well in such a high-profile setting, but a QB’s absence will quickly fade into the rearview if he blows away older competition to win the starting job at his college of choice as a true freshman.
For quarterbacks, a roster spot at The Opening is more a status symbol than a reflection of ability (or lack thereof). Some of the passers in Beaverton will have a chance to add more data points to the statistical connections with the draft and Heisman mentioned above. Others may transfer a couple of times and never claim the No. 1 spot on the depth chart of a Power 5 program. With that in mind, SI.com is focusing on the QBs taking part in the competition rather than the competition itself. Below is a breakdown of each one, listed in alphabetical order. All rankings are from Scout.com.
Status: Committed to Washington State
Overall national rank: 249
Height/Weight: 6’4’’/195 lbs
High School: Lehi (Utah)
If Washington State was aiming for the second coming of Luke Falk in its 2018 recruiting class, it did just about as well as it could have in nabbing Cooper. Falk and Cooper stand 6’4’’ and both played high school football in Utah. Cooper is more highly regarded as a prospect than Falk, who was assessed a two-star rating by Scout.com and later walked on to the Cougars, but the former’s experience suggests he could develop into the same sort of high-volume triggerman head coach Mike Leach needs to crank his Air Raid offense up to 11. As a junior at Lehi, Cooper attempted close to 500 throws for more than 4,000 yards. Last season Falk led the nation with 633 passing attempts and finished fourth with 4,468 yards. Cooper won’t be able to carve up Pac-12 defenses the moment he steps on campus the way he did Beehive State prep competition. Like all high school passers, he’ll have to get used to targets being guarded more tightly as well as the greater coverage range of defensive backs. At the same time, it’s not hard to envision Cooper putting up Falk-like numbers in Pullman in a few years.
Status: Committed to NC State
Overall national rank: 265
Height/Weight: 6’1.5’’/189 lbs
High School: Timber Creek Regional (N.J.)
One of the trickle-down effects of Justin Fields’s decommitment from Penn State in June could be a decommitment or a flip from Leary. The current NC State pledge has yet to receive a scholarship offer from the Nittany Lions, but one could be on the way soon: They’ve reportedly ramped up their pursuit of him over the last month. You can see why Penn State is intrigued by Leary, even if he would represent a downgrade from Fields in the Nittany Lions’ 2018 haul. In his junior season, Leary set New Jersey records for passing yards (3,688) and touchdowns (48) while leading Timber Creek to a state championship. Leary isn’t just a box score-stuffer feasting on overmatched opponents, either. He stood out while going throw-for-throw with a group of the top QB recruits in the country at the Elite 11 Finals in Los Angeles, earning the top score at the event. If the Wolfpack hold on to him, they could be getting one of the more underrated signal-callers in this class, relative to his ranking. Yet it wouldn’t be surprising if Leary defects. Penn State is just seven months removed from winning the Big Ten, and it routinely dips into the Garden State to pluck prospects it desires.
Status: Committed to UCLA
Overall national rank: 46
Height/Weight: 6’1.5’’/194 lbs
High School: Bishop Gorman (Nev.)
Josh Rosen is the closest thing college football has to the pro-style quarterback ideal NFL general managers crave. His potential successor is a stylistic opposite. Whereas Rosen is prized for his ability to stand in the pocket and rifle throws all over the field, Thompson-Robinson is a nimble, run-pass dynamo who’s bound to draw comparisons to former Bruin Brett Hundley. Thompson-Robinson’s lofty recruiting stature is based almost entirely on what people think he can do, rather than what he’s already proven he’s capable of. Having attempted only 48 passes while sitting behind class of 2017 five-star Ohio State signee Tate Martell at Bishop Gorman, Thompson-Robinson (who also played some wide receiver) will get a chance to extinguish any concerns about his lack of experience while navigating a national schedule this fall. We should have a better sense of how steep Thompson-Robinson’s learning curve will be in the Pac-12 after his senior season with the Gaels, but it’s plain UCLA coaches are betting on Thompson-Robinson’s upside overriding his meager track record. With Rosen eligible to enter the draft next spring, there’s a chance Thompson-Robinson makes his first college start only a year after his first high school one.
Status: Committed to Utah
Overall national rank: 51
Height/Weight: 6’4’’/196 lbs
High School: Mission Hills (Calif.)
Tuttle’s decision to commit to Utah last December was a huge win for a program whose success has owed more to its defense than its offense since it joined the Pac-12 six years ago. Here was a passer hailing from that conference’s chief recruiting battleground state with the size and the arm to help Utah mitigate the talent disadvantage it faces every year against divisional foes USC and UCLA. The problem for the Utes is they couldn’t officially add Tuttle to their roster for a long time. As of this writing, Tuttle is still tracking toward a future in Salt Lake City, but the excitement over his pledge has given way to questions about whether another program will swoop in to flip him before he signs his National Letter of Intent. Tuttle’s work on the camp circuit in recent months validated what Utah saw in him when it pushed for his verbal last year, and other movement in the class of 2018 quarterback market has provided more urgency for prospective poachers. Alabama, which does not have a QB in its 2018 class as yet, offered Tuttle in March, and USC followed up after losing a commitment from five-star Matt Corral in June.
Status: Committed to Kentucky
Overall national rank: N/A
Height/Weight: 6’2’’/201 lbs
High School: Central Gwinnett (Ga.)
For a few weeks this spring, Alabama seemed on the verge of swiping a Kentucky quarterback commit for the second cycle in a row. After flipping three-star Mac Jones from the Wildcats a little more than a year ago, the Crimson Tide offered Williams in April and then watched him decommit from Kentucky less than two weeks later. Yet rather than follow Jones to Tuscaloosa, Williams chose to re-up with the Wildcats in May and, when asked about his decision in a radio interview, said he was “shutting it down. This is it now.” Those remarks should put Kentucky at ease for now. Williams is not even one of the top three 2018 signal-callers from the state of Georgia (he’s looking up at Trevor Lawrence, Fields and Emory Jones). Nor is he the most highly touted quarterback the Wildcats have reeled in since head coach Mark Stoops was hired in November 2012; they signed Drew Barker, rated the No. 10 QB in the country, as part of their 2014 class. But Williams could be the one behind whom Kentucky makes a run at its first SEC East title or notches more than eight wins for the first time in more than three decades.
Overall national rank: 5
Height/Weight: 6’3’’/221 lbs
High School: Harrison (Ga.)
Comments from Fields suggest he’s not much, if at all, closer to choosing his college destination than he was when he decommitted from Penn State last month. Fields told reporters recently that he does not know where he wants to go and no program has distinguished itself as his leader. The lack of clarity won’t dampen the rampant speculation surrounding Field’s decision, and for good reason. He has a rare blend of foot speed, passing ability, creativity and size that makes the frequent Cam Newton comparisons at least somewhat reasonable. Fields almost definitely will not reprise what Newton did during his sublime one-year stint at Auburn, but it’s not ridiculous to posit that Fields could change the short- and long-term trajectories of the program he picks. Failing that, his pledge would amount to a massive recruiting triumph. This appears to be boiling down to a derby among Southeast heavyweights (Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Georgia), but it’s too soon to tell where Fields is leaning, and upcoming visits could change his opinion of certain programs. Fields is attracting more attention than any other 2018 quarterback right now, and the longer his recruitment drags on, the brighter the spotlight will shine.
Status: Committed to TCU
Overall national rank: 104
Height/Weight: 6’3.5’’/198 lbs
High School: Parkway (La.)
TCU is set to roll out a transfer, Kenny Hill, as its starting quarterback for the second consecutive season in 2017. He may well improve on an uneven 2016 campaign that saw the Horned Frogs finish sixth in the Big 12 in yards per play, but irrespective of what happens in the fall, TCU can go into the following season with a rosy outlook under center. Rogers follows 2017 QB Shawn Robinson as four-star prospects TCU has added at the position the last two cycles. Robinson already has claimed the second spot on the Horned Frogs’ two-deep behind Hill, and Rogers should compete to back Robinson up once he arrives on campus. Like Robinson, Rogers has the wheels and the passing prowess to operate offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie’s spread system at its peak capacity. His college choice is important because of what he can do on the field and what he means for TCU’s quarterback depth post-Hill, but it’s also a big deal due to the challenge the Horned Frogs faced in getting Rogers in the fold: They plucked the No. 1 QB prospect from a state in which LSU can cherry pick the high school ranks for players it covets.
Overall national rank: 10
Height/Weight: 6’2’’/196 lbs
High School: Long Beach Poly (Calif.)
While Fields may remain uncommitted well into the fall, it looks like Corral is ready to get his college reveal over with in short order. He told USA Today last week that he’s still considering Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Miami and USC. Interestingly, the Crimson Tide, Bulldogs and Gators also are involved with Fields to varying degrees. At least two members of that trio are certain to miss out on him, but the upside is that, with Corral out of the picture, they’ll be able to shift their focus to Fields the rest of the summer and into the upcoming season. Although every prominent scouting service views Fields more favorably than Corral, the former Trojans pledge projects as a top-end starter in a Power 5 league on account of his big-time arm, toughness and pocket presence. It might seem odd that a five-star quarterback from Southern California has a list of schools that, with the exception of USC, are located in SEC country, but for context, here is a pair of passers who signed with two of the programs still in the mix for Corral over the last two years: Tua Tagovailoa, from Saint Louis School in Honolulu, Hawaii (Alabama, 2017); and Jacob Eason, from Lake Stevens High in Lake Stevens, Wash. (Georgia, 2016).
Quincy Patterson II
Status: Committed to Virginia Tech
Overall national rank: N/A
Height/Weight: 6’3’’/236 lbs
High School: Solorio Academy (Ill.)
Patterson is the lowest-ranked QB invited to The Opening Finals. Bet against him having the worst college career of any prospect in the group. Few head coaches are more deserving of the “quarterback whisperer” label Justin Fuente has earned for his work developing productive signal-callers. Patterson could be Fuente’s next success story. He’s a dangerous runner who can keep plays alive by scrambling outside the pocket and he offers favorable size for the position, but Patterson will need to improve as a passer to follow in the footsteps of past Fuente projects like Andy Dalton (TCU), Paxton Lynch (Memphis) and Jerod Evans, who left Blacksburg and declared for the draft this off-season. The broad outlines of a potent dual-threat skill set are there for Patterson; he just has to work on some of the details. It’s probably best for Patterson to spend a year or two on the sidelines, and Virginia Tech is well equipped to accommodate a lengthier developmental timeline. One of the quarterbacks competing for the Hokies’ starting job this fall is a true freshman (Hendon Hooker) and another is a redshirt freshman (Josh Jackson). Unless neither of them pan out, Virginia Tech probably won’t need Patterson to run the show for a while.
Overall national rank: 29
Height/Weight: 6’6’’/219 lbs
High School: Centennial (Calif.)
McKee is the third and final uncommitted recruit on this list. While Fields and Corral could be fighting for playing time and possibly starting jobs next fall, McKee won’t be available until 2020, after serving a two-year LDS mission. Programs are chasing him anyway because of his prototypical pocket-passing build, arm strength and accuracy, traits that helped him throw for 3,522 yards with 36 touchdowns against eight interceptions at Centennial last season. Though McKee has been linked to big boys across the country, including Washington, Texas and Alabama, handicapping his recruitment at this stage would require a fair bit of guesswork. He has said in interviews that he plans to announce his decision after his senior campaign, but he could take multiple visits before then. The delay in McKee’s enrollment figures to produce a strange dissonance whereby his program of choice will celebrate the addition of a bluechip prospect at a key position while bemoaning the fact that he won’t be around to help right away. That may make him less valuable for a program searching for an instant quarterback upgrade, but generally speaking, adding a top-flight QB to your roster is a good thing at any time, even if he’s only a depth piece early on.
Status: Committed to Clemson
Overall national rank: 1
Height/Weight: 6’6’’/209 lbs
High School: Cartersville (Ga.)
There is no feasible way for Clemson to replace Deshaun Watson with someone as good as he was. Its best course of action in the wake of his departure to the NFL this off-season is to hoard as many promising prospects at his position as possible. The Tigers scored on National Signing Day in February with Hunter Johnson, the No. 5 passer in the class of 2017 and a legit threat to earn first-team reps this fall (Although junior Kelly Bryant is the No. 1 option right now). And they’re set to hit an even bigger jackpot in their 2018 haul with Lawrence, a small forward-sized field general with a powerful arm, deft touch and enough mobility to transcend the statuesque, pro-style archetype. Scouts identified Lawrence’s sky-high potential long before he committed to Clemson last December, and the Tigers have since only become a more attractive landing spot for the elite of the elite by beating two other programs that regularly bring in prospects of that caliber: A 31-0 smackdown of Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals followed by a gripping, four-point win over Alabama in the title game. Lawrence should have the necessary skill guys on the perimeter, big guys up front and defensive help to guide the Tigers to a CFP berth or two.
Status: Committed to North Carolina
Overall national rank: 183
Height/Weight: 6’4.5’’/187 lbs
High School: Hamilton (Ariz.)
LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris is stopgap filler for the hole left by junior Mitchell Trubisky’s jump to the pros this spring. Shough, by contrast, is a product of North Carolina’s efforts to build a deep quarterback rotation capable of holding up in the ACC over the long run. Getting Shough to say yes was no small thing; Alabama, Florida State and Michigan are among the programs that offered him a scholarship. Shough may not be the next Trubisky, but the Tar Heels did well to snatch a signal-caller of his repute amid overtures from several national powers. They have landed only one QB since Trubisky with a position rating higher than Shough’s, class of 2014 four-star Caleb Henderson, and he’s since transferred to Maryland. Harris will be gone at the end of this season, so it may not be long before Shough gets the keys to the offense on gameday. That’s assuming he can hold off the three-star who pledged to the Tar Heels four days after Shough did, Norton Community (Kans.) High’s Jace Ruder. Both will help North Carolina restock its quarterback cupboard, but Shough is a better bet to leapfrog the Tar Heels’ older options for the top spot on the depth chart.