-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The quarterback position is easily the most important, and most difficult, position on the football field. Do the necessary skills needed to succeed change from high school to college football to the NFL? Of course, the need for accuracy, efficiency and touch increases exponentially from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.
But certain threads consistently weave from the prep to pro ranks: leadership, play-making ability, poise and toughness just to name a few.
This makes college football the uber-entertaining middle ground between the pure athletes running around making plays in small high school towns and the statuesque lightning-quick trigger-men of the NFL pocket. College football contains the best of both worlds. The savvy, coach-on-the-field pocket passers like Kellen Moore can have just as much success as open-field dynamos like UCF’s Jeffery Godfrey.
This makes ranking the top quarterback recruits every year a difficult task. But for the class of 2012, the experts have spoken with virtual harmony: Columbus East’s Gunner Kiel is the top quarterback recruit in the nation.
Five of the six expert services have this talented gunslinger ranked as the top quarterback in the nation. Kiel is the complete package at quarterback. The appropriately named passer has a consistent, accurate delivery with mechanics that are more developed than most players at his age. He shows great touch on his passes, sees the field very well and will make the right decision. He has good command of the huddle and is a natural leader with poise and maturity reflected by his family’s pedigree of QB play.
In fact, playing quarterback is a family tradition, as his two brothers (Indiana, Illinois State), father (Butler) and uncle (Notre Dame) have all played, or are currently playing, quarterback at the college level. Kiel is also a better athlete than given credit for, as he will pick up yards on the ground when the play breaks down. He has solid feet and won’t shy away from contact. He has nearly ideal height, bulk and overall size for the quarterback position.
With offers from big-time programs like Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame, Kiel pulled one of the biggest recruiting upsets in history when he announced he would be playing for the Indiana Hoosiers. New head coach Kevin Wilson and his spread system fit the Sam Bradford-clone’s skillset perfectly. Undoubtedly, having his older brother, Dusty, on the IU roster didn’t hurt either.
Winston is a special talent with a versatile skillset and loads of upside. Not only a stellar football prospect, the centerfielder is also a highly touted baseball star who will be a hot commodity in the 2012 MLB June Draft. Simply put, Winston is a leader. He shows great poise and command of the huddle. He has great instincts and makes the right throws more times than not.
However, his biggest asset is his athletic ability. As the top dual-threat quarterback in this class, Winston can make big things happen with his legs once he gets outside of the pocket. He is talented enough to have running plays designed specifically for him. He certainly needs work with accuracy, touch and consistency as well as his overall mechanics. Refining his pure passing skill will be the biggest area of focus once he's on a college campus.
The ASWA Super 12 pick in 2010 recently committed to Florida State over Alabama and LSU. Winston was a huge win for the Noles, who had to go into the Yellowhammer State to pull the No. 2 quarterback recruit in the nation. Whether he is a two-sport college star or a bonus baby on the diamond remains to be seen.
Pike’s size and overall bulk immediately stand out as elite assets. He looks like a defensive end, and at times, plays like one. He has a strong arm, can make all the throws in the book and possesses an NFL pedigree. His father, Mark, played defensive end and linebacker at Georgia Tech and for the Buffalo Bills.
Pike is not just a pocket passer, however, as his 1,072 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground last fall can attest. He is an above-average athlete but has been playing against paltry competition, so don’t look for Pike to be a featured runner in college.
The only issues with the burly Bluegrass passer are his accuracy and consistency. He can spray the ball and will need to work to maintain a dependable throwing motion. Refining his footwork and mechanics will help smooth out his delivery.
Back in April, Pike decided he was heading to Auburn over Tennessee, Arkansas, Purdue and Michigan. Once he irons out his mechanical kinks, he should be a perfect fit for the Guz Malzhan spread attack.
Brewer should instantly remind fans of Colt McCoy – and not just because he is going to Texas. He has a virtually identical frame and sneaky athletic ability like McCoy. He also has a slightly lower arm slot, but is an otherwise very polished player. He is accurate, consistent and has great touch on the deep ball. And his arm strength and RPMs might actually be better than McCoy's. He plays against a high level of competition and has consistently been a winner. He set a school record with 37 TDs a year ago.
5. Anthony Alford, 6-0, 190 (No. 66)
Petal (MS) Petal
Alford is the smallest and only uncommitted member of this list. He also might be the best pure athlete on this list as well. The smallish signal caller is a dynamic open-field force who has the talent to play running back or wide receiver on the next level. His speed, burst, explosion and change-of-direction skill will make him a terror in a zone-read option attack. Should he land in the right system, he has the arm strength, experience and poise to excel as a quarterback. Denard Robinson and Pat White are apt comparisons.
Also a talented baseball prospect, Alford has narrowed his list to Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Nebrasa, South Carolina, Southern Miss and Tennessee.
A solid all-around athlete, Kline is a fundamentally sound player who is confident in the pocket. He is a smooth player who lacks ideal size but makes up for it with tremendous footwork and mechanics. Possesses solid arm strength.
This future Aggie is a tremendous athlete who is excellent in the open field. Once he is outside of the pocket, his quickness, toughness and vision give him big-play ability. He will need to work on a consistent delivery and becoming a mechanically sound passer, or else he could easily end up playing receiver or safety.
8. Chad Kelly, 6-3, 210 (No. 101, Clemson)
Buffalo (NY) St. Joseph School
A rangy player with plenty of room to fill out, Kelly has terrific overall athleticism. Like most mobile quarterbacks coming out of high school, his arm strength is fine, but consistency, accuracy, touch and footwork will all need work. His delivery, however, does have a lot of potential – which is to be expected from the nephew of Hall of Fame NFL passer Jim Kelly.
9. Bart Houston, 6-4, 200 (No. 110, Wisconsin)
Concord (CA) De La Salle
Houston is a prototypical pocket passer with a big arm, great size and plenty of experience at one of the top high school programs in the nation. He is no statue, however, as his feet are quick and he scored 11 rushing touchdowns a year ago.
10. Tyler Matthews, 6-3, 205 (No. 139, TCU)
McPerson (KS) McPherson
Matthews is a fundamentally sound player who is accurate, consistent and productive. He has a quick release and seems to really understand the game well – even though it's against mediocre competition.
Other nationally ranked QB prospects:
11. Greyson Lambert, 6-5, 195 (No. 163, Virginia)
Jesup (GA) Wayne County (pictured)
12. T.J. Millweard, 6-4, 230 (No. 206, Arizona State)
Ft. Worth (TX) All Saints Episcopal
13. Cyler Miles, 6-4, 220 (No. 238, Washington)
Denver (CO) Mullen
14. Preston Dewey, 6-3, 205 (No. 258, Miami, Fla.)
Austin (TX) St. Andrews
15. Shane Dillon, 6-5, 185 (No. 263, Colorado)
El Cajon (CA) Christian
16. Ford Childress, 6-4, 210 (No. 266, West Virginia)
Houston (TX) Kinkaid
17. Tanner Mangum, 6-3, 195 (No. 278, BYU)
Eagle (ID) Eagle
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