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Who is the Top Quarterback Recruit in America?

A group of promising passers is challenging Arch Manning for the throne

Sports Illustrated's John Garcia Jr. selects one question posed to him through social media (@JohnGarcia_Jr and @SIAllAmerican) each week to delve into the college football recruiting topics fans want to know most about.

It's no secret quarterbacks move the needle. 

It's true at every level of America's favorite sport, and it trickles down to the high school ranks nowadays thanks to a college football recruiting cycle that lasts 12 months a year.

In the upcoming class of 2023, where current high school juniors are preparing for their senior seasons in the fall, there is an industry-wide consensus that the best of the bunch is Arch Manning. There's no debating who the most talked about or famous passer is in the group, but is he the best as far as we can see?

The 2023 class has big-time passers within it, so debatable at the very top that it's giving many in the business feelings similar to the class of 2018, when Trevor Lawrence was the consensus No. 1 QB before Justin Fields' rise as a junior and into his senior season when his run at the Elite 11 briefly vaulted him to the top. 

Ahead of the 2022 Elite 11 (set to begin June 28 in Los Angeles) where Manning will likely not compete because his camp limits his exposure—many college football fans have hit social media wondering just how good Manning is and who realistically has a shot at his digital throne. 

Before digging into Manning, there are clear contenders for the top spot. This group offers diverse and unique skill sets both similar and quite different than that of the NFL legacy recruit. Nico Iamaleava, Dante Moore, Malachi Nelson and Jaden Rashada appear to be best positioned to challenge for that top spot as far as Sports Illustrated is tracking (SI99 preseason rankings drop in August). We'll look at strengths of each and wrap up by stacking them up to Manning. 

Iamaleava, committed to Tennessee, is no doubt the hottest of the bunch at the moment. Just last weekend he lit up the Overtime OT7 7-on-7 tournament with his can't-miss frame and electric right arm. Standing a listed 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, the Long Beach (Calif.) Poly star has all the modern passing tools scouts look for, led by an extremely live arm, a quick release, enough power to push the ball deep down the field and legitimate mobility inside the pocket and out. Iamaleava can spin it as well as any QB on any given throw, but he doesn't have the body of work of Manning, Nelson and Moore, each three-year starters at the prep level heading into year No. 4. Iamaleava's production in 2021 is nothing to sneeze at, however, breaking out at Downey (Calif.) Warren to the tune of 2,244 yards and 33 touchdowns against just one interception. 

Moore, who has yet to commit, has had as much experience as any passer in the class but also has a state championship on his resume at Detroit (Mich.) Martin Luther King High. The poise and consistency he plays with in the pocket is something many, including former NFL MVP Cam Newton as his coach over the weekend in Las Vegas, have marveled at time and time again. The release is quick and the arm itself is powerful and especially potent in the intermediate game–where most QB evaluators spend most of their time breaking down tape relevant to actually projecting a passer to the next level. Moore also has a mature, physical build with some of the best processing in the class to boot, evidenced by his 40:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2021. 

Nelson, according to the On3 Consensus (which utilizes rankings from four different outlets), is tangibly the closest to Manning's heels heading into the depth of summer. The Los Alamitos (Calif.) star put up a 39:8 TD-INT ratio with one of the smoothest mechanics in the class. The USC commit makes things look relatively effortless on a deep ball just as he does playing accurate underneath. Another quarterback with a quick release and enough velocity behind it to hit targets in tight windows, Nelson also has functional athleticism to avoid pass rushers inside the pocket and out, with some gunslinger in his arsenal similar to the QB he could be replacing in L.A. one day—Caleb Williams. 

Rashada, who commits on Saturday with buzz surrounding Florida and Texas A&M most, has a skill set and tall and slim build similar to that of Nelson. We saw the two compete against one another last weekend and each had their moments, though Rashada seemed to push the ball down the field with a bit more ease. A smooth motion and confident demeanor allow the Pittsburg (Calif.) star to take good chances to second- and third-level targets. Comfortable on the run or in the pocket, the ball has juice on it when it leaves Rashada's hands. Similar to Iamaleava, the offseason circuit has been a good one for the stock of the Californian, who has out-performed some of the country's best on multiple occasions along the way. Doing it in L.A. could be the icing on the cake for his rise following an efficient run in the fall complete with another strong ratio (27:5).

Manning, taking an official visit to Texas this weekend after stops at Alabama and Georgia over the last two, projects as the total package. It's assumed he can process and play with an even-keel given his last name and experience, yet it's true. His frame has filled out to an Andrew Luck-like 6-foot-4, 225 pounds in the last year, and he has maintained an athleticism that likens him more to his grandfather Archie than his Super Bowl-winning uncles. The arm is plenty strong and the accuracy, similar to Moore where it counts most in the intermediate level, is consistent. Manning can push the football out with a condensed release and manipulate the angle, though his motion isn't as smooth as others on the list. As a junior at New Orleans (La.) Isidore Newman, Manning threw for 1,947 yards and 26 touchdowns against four interceptions.

There are a lot of ways to compare and contrast these five passers, and there is probably another group of talented leaders worthy of inclusion down the line (Eli Holstein, Christopher Vizzina, Dylan Lonergan, Jackson Arnold, etc.), so we'll look at the junior year leaders we can project based on some of the most critical elements of quarterbacking, with some organic and others imported from a current college coach SI recently sourced.

Ranking the 2023 Quarterbacks

Frame goes to Manning over Moore, who looks ready to take snaps in college right now. Footwork goes to Iamaleava over Moore. Arm power goes to Iamaleava over Rashada. Accuracy goes to Moore over Manning. Decision-making goes to Manning over Iamaleava. Mobility goes to Iamaleava over Nelson. Creativity goes to Iamaleava over Nelson. Pocket presence goes to Manning over Rashada. Ceiling to grow goes to Iamaleava over Rashada. Floor goes to Manning over Moore. 

Care to continue? These hairs will be split between the five and many more over the coming seven months and the comparisons of course will probably take place as long as this group spins the football competitively.

Heading into the Elite 11 Finals, the traits, trends and overall potential of this elite group helps us rank the QBs like this:

  1. Nico Iamaleava
  2. Arch Manning
  3. Dante Moore
  4. Jaden Rashada
  5. Malachi Nelson

We'll see how it turns out in L.A. and how that weighs into the call for the SI99 rankings. Expect a fluid and fun run in trying to figure out the pecking order through the postseason SI99 come January. 

Have a recruiting question? Connect with @SIAllAmerican and/or @JohnGarcia_Jr to submit yours and it could be featured on the next mailbag. 

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