In the last few months, I've taken a look back at the top 25 running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, offensive tackles and defensive tackles that I've evaluated in my time in the recruiting industry and today I'm taking a look at the top quarterbacks since 1997.
From my vantage point, I've always felt like there have been three quarterbacks that I judge all other quarterbacks in this state against and if there's a Mount Rushmore of the position since 1996, they don't share the spotlight with anyone. Of course, while three stand alone as the best of the best from this top 25, it's clear that the reputation that this state once had for producing poor quarterbacks is dead. This list is full of college stars, NFL first round picks and a number of future stars on both fronts.
Guys that I flat out missed on:Kevin Kolb (NR in 2003), Brian Johnson (NR in 2004) and Case Keenum (NR in 2006)
Ok, now let's get down to the top 25 in reverse order:
25. Luke McCown - Jacksonville (No. 25 in 2000)
Comment: McCown has carved out a nice NFL career for himself after a record-setting career at Louisiana Tech. Coming out of high school, I thought McCown had a ton of all-around skill and he was much further along in the passing game than a lot of his peers. Although he lacked a lot of major Division I offers, I always considered him a near-elite level college prospect.
24. Matt Nordgren - Dallas Bishop Lynch (No. 23 in 2001)
Comment: Nordgren seemed to have the perfect combination of size, smarts and arm strength coming out of high school, but there were two questions about his play that limited his upside as a prospect. The first was the level of competition that he competed against (and didn't always dominate) as a prep star and the second was injuries. From the time he was in high school throughout his entire collegiate career, Nordgren battled nagging shoulder issues and other ailments that really prevented him from totally tapping into his old upside.
Comment: As a dual-threat quarterback in North Texas, Beaver possesses some of the best size/athleticism/quarterback skills that I've seen in over a decade of covering Texas high school football. Although he originally committed to play for Michigan, Beaver switched his commitment late in the process to Tulsa and we're all waiting to see how his career path unfolds. For the moment, he is serving as the back-up to former Longhorn quarterback G.J. Kinne.
22. Adam Dunn - New Caney (No. 23 in 1998)
Comment: Dunn was sort of a poor man's Ryan Mallett at the school level because he was such a huge athlete and his arm strength was truly top-shelf. We're talking about a guy that could sling the ball all over the field with a lot of velocity, but he was a little like the Rick Vaughn of college quarterback prospects. After signing with the Longhorns in 1997 (one of the first commitments I broke in the business), Dunn stayed around the 40 Acres for a brief spell, but when the Longhorns signed Chris Simms in 1999, he knew that he was boxed in and took the Cincinnati Reds up on their million dollar offer to play baseball. Tens of millions of dollars later, I'd say he made the right decision.
Comment: As a raw athlete, Green ranks much higher on the list, but he emerged as a legit quarterback prospect as a senior when he led Dayton on a deep playoff run after recovering from injuries as a junior. After signing with Nebraska, he played some as a true freshman and could still emerge as their quarterback of the future.
20. Carlyle Holiday - San Antonio Roosevelt (No. 19 in 2000)
Comment: Holiday arrived on the scene in 2000 as one of the first true dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks of the new quarterback era within the state. A poor man's Vince Young while starring at Roosevelt, Holiday's talent never translated to major college success, as he was a pretty mediocre college quarterback for the Irish. Eventually, he moved to wide receiver as a senior and that moved paved the path for him to carve out a decent NFL career. In fact, he had the honor of catching the pass from Brett Favre that broke Dan Marino's all-time completions record.
Comment: The state's top quarterback prospect in the 2011 class through the spring belongs on the list somewhere because of his physical ability. It'll be interesting to see how he evolves as a senior and climbs the list or slips a little from the current perch.
Comment: If we're ranking athletic skill and upside, Harrell would likely rank last in every category among those on the list, but I'm not sure there's ever been a spread quarterback from this state that was better suited to play in the modern pass-first spread game, especially for a school like Texas Tech. As the son of one of the state's top high school offensive minds, Harrell set high school records during his career and won a ton of football games. Although his ceiling as a player was limited, he didn't have much of a basement. In the right spread offense, this kid was born to throw for thousands of yards at the college level and that's exactly what he did.
Comment: There were some that believed Rollison was the state's top quarterback prospect in 2009, but I was never sky-high on Rollison, despite his very high talent level. My biggest concern after scouting him in person was that he didn't have the mental side of the position down and that he might struggle with the academic side of things at the major college level. After one season at Auburn, Rollison announced his transfer to Sam Houston State in February. My guess is that he'll develop into a star if he can settle into his new surroundings.
16. Connor Wood - Houston Second Baptist (No. 15 in 2010)
Comment: On paper, Wood has everything that you're looking for in a major college quarterback prospect. The size is there, the arm strength is there, the athleticism seems to be there and the intangibles are there in bunches. The only question with Wood is whether he's truly a great player or just a very talented prospect. We'll find out in the next couple of years whether I had Wood ranked too low and focused a little too much on his private school status.
15. Ell Roberson - Baytown Lee (No. 12 in 1999)
Comment: All of the national services rated Brownwood's Colby Freeman as the state's top quarterback, but I thought the easy call was Roberson, who was a dynamic two-way threat at Baytown Lee. One of Dick Olin's original prize quarterback prospects, Roberson emerged as one of the nation's top quarterbacks in his final two seasons at Kansas State and helped lead the Wildcats to a Big 12 title in 2003.
Comment: Although I had Luck rated as a high four-star quarterback and the state's top prospect at his position, it wasn't high enough. Luck had all of the physical tools in the world coming out of Stratford and I probably dinged him for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on. Luck should have been a top-10 guy. My bad.
13. Robbie Reid - Houston North Shore (No. 7 in 2004)
Comment: Man, there was a time when you couldn't have convinced me that Reid wouldn't emerge as a major college star. The athleticism was there in bunches, but more than anything else, Reid seemed to max out as a perfect 10 as a leader and in the intangibles department. Of course, he landed at Oklahoma State despite a last-second pitch from Texas to become a Longhorn before he signed, and the rest proved to be history as his career can be summed up by five Mike Gundy words, "I'm a man. I'm 40!"
Comment: I'm not even sure how to review Snead's college career after a record-setting run at Stephenville. We're talking about a kid with a cannon for an arm and all of the physical tools to be a pro, but there's always been something missing. Seriously, we're talking about a guy that went into his junior season as a Heisman candidate, only to suffer a season of disasters that led him to turn pro and go undrafted. Huh?
Comment: This will sound crazy in retrospect, but Bomar really is the closest thing to John Elway I've seen from a talent perspective in the last two decades. From a physical skill standpoint, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that's had more coming out of the high school ranks. His athleticism was really underrated, especially when you consider his size, but I always felt like his feel for the game was not anywhere close to where you'd expect it to be in a great player. His decision-making on the field was my biggest question mark, but it was his decision-making off the field that killed a promising college career. That he was sent to Siberia for the majority of his college career and is preparing for his second season with the New York Giants says a lot about his natural ability.
10. Chance Mock - The Woodlands (No. 5 in 2000)
Comment: I think it's easy to forget just how talented Mock was coming out of high school because of the way his career at Texas ended (as a back-up), but this was a kid that posted a 39-inch vertical and a 4.48 time in the 40-yard dash at the Nike Camp in College Station back in the spring of 1999. On top of that, he possessed a big-time arm and played with a ton of moxie. When he arrived at Texas, he was the best dual-threat quarterback in the country and he eventually lost a lot of athleticism that I felt like made him special prospect.
Comment: In a day and age when everyone is looking for a quarterbacks with athletic ability, Shepard represented a diamond in the rough at the position with an incredible ceiling, but an equally big basement (from a quarterback's perspective). Athletically speaking, Shepard is as explosive as it gets and can score from any spot on the field. As a passer, his limited time at the position put him well behind his peers in terms of the number of throws and amount of work devoted to the craft. In my mind, he was a two-year project at quarterback, but LSU barely gave him two days before they moved him to wide receiver and we may never find out if the kid could have emerged as a star at the quarterback position.
Comment: Like Shepard, I had McNeal ranked as a five-star athlete and a high-four-star quarterback prospect. Also like Shepard, McNeal arrived in college without a ton of development in the passing game, but he found a school in Texas A&M that was 100 percent committed to keeping him at quarterback and making his future their future. McNeal certainly showed flashes as a college player, but he never quite found a stride that would help him turn the corner from pretty good to great.
Comment: While most had Bomar rated as the state's top quarterback back in 2004, I had McGee rated as the best, although none of the truly elite prospects ever emerged as the stars that they were projected to become. McGee probably came the closest based on the fact that he started the majority of his college career (and finished it at one school), while also creating an NFL career to boot (fourth round pick in 2009). He didn't quite have the physical tools that Bomar possessed, but he was a guy that graded extremely well in leadership and the ever-important intangibles department. The most surprising part of his college career is the lack of development in the passing game because he was such an illustrious passer in high school and the Aggies turned him into a fullback.
6. Chip Ambres - Beaumont Westbrook (No. 3 in 1998)
Comment: Texas A&M fans will always ask themselves what might have been had Ambres not signed a seven-figure deal with the Florida Marlins coming out of high school. For those that never had a chance to see Ambres in action, think former Texas starter James Brown with an extra gear in the athleticism/speed department. Ambres actually grew up a pretty big Texas fan, but former Longhorns coach John Mackovic did not make him a priority in recruiting and by the time Mack Brown arrived in December of 1997, it was too late to turn the tide.
Comment: Although he isn't the most fleet of foot, there have been few pure pro-style pass prospects that have come out of this state that come within a 10-foot pole of Mallett as an NFL prospect. This kid ranks right up there with Matt Stafford in terms of his ability to throw the ball around the field on a rope and he comes in a bigger, stronger package. If there was any concern about Mallett coming out of high school, it probably centered on his intangibles and leadership skills. As a college player, he appears close to taking the step to stardom and his NFL prospects are extremely strong.
Comment: If there was a guy who warranted special consideration for the top three, it's probably the guy who went No. 1 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft and appears headed for an incredible pro career. What can you say about Stafford from a skills standpoint? The kid can pretty much do more with the football than anyone on the planet. The reason he doesn't crack the stratosphere of the top three is I never quite felt like he had the "it" factor like the elite three. It's a little thing, but if my team was down by four and needed to drive the length of the field in two minutes, I'd give the ball to the top three without hesitation.
3. Drew Brees - Austin Westlake (No. 10 in 1997)
Comment: The level for which I judge quarterback play was established over the 1995-96 seasons when I had a chance to watch Brees in person about a dozen times, while working in television. From an intangibles standpoint, Brees has always been a different guy from the pack and there's a reason why he never lost a game as a starting quarterback in high school. Even when he was less than one year removed from his ACL repair, Brees was always the best player on the field. He's always been an underrated athlete and when he matched up against elite-level athletes, he was able to what he wanted, when he wanted. My only regret is that I only ranked him No. 10 back then when he should have been in the top three. In hindsight, I thought I had guts by rating a kid with two offers inside the top 10, but I didn't trust my instincts enough.
Comment: Basically, he's everything that I thought Drew Brees was in high school, except he comes in a better physical package. From the first time I saw the kid play during his sophomore season, I knew that I was looking at a kid that had a chance to develop into something special. He finished his high school career by putting a previously underachieving program onto his back and he carried them to two straight state titles, while rewriting passing records across the state. From an accuracy standpoint, Gilbert is the best high school prospect I've ever seen and his ability to dial into the moment and make a play when his team absolutely needs him to is off the charts good.
Comment: He's the best high school and college player these eyes have ever seen. Period. We're talking about a guy that was so much better than the competition than his peers that he toyed with players on the biggest of national stages. An alien in cleats.