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Michigan’s Recruiting Big Board: Scouting the 2019 quarterbacks

Marc-Grégor Campredon, MGoBlog

Hello, all! First things first, let me say that this post is going to try to shirk the day-to-day updates of what recruits have said and how they’re feeling, and instead I wanted to delve into the tape and focus on the comparable talents and contrasts among Michigan’s 2019 quarterback board. Later versions of this will focus on the evolving landscape and get more into the interviews that 2019 recruits have given out.

So, let’s jump into the tape, shall we?

Michael Johnson, Jr.

Eugene, OR (6’4”, 190) - Great athleticism, good quarterback play

Johnson looks like a terrific four-star athlete who’s also a good high school quarterback. This isn’t exactly a knock on his quarterback skills, as - like I just said - he’s a good quarterback prospect even without that athleticism.

But he does fit in a certain mold that a lot of high school players are in. The scrambling ability is there, and it gets him out of tricky situations where I’d be curious to see how else he’d respond. Ironically, that athleticism can limit the “quarterback reps” he gets, which puts him at a disadvantage when the game speeds up and he’s playing against other athletes as good as him. It’s one of those question marks that the coaches have to decide - what’s his mental and emotional make-up, his attention to detail, his understanding of how to protect the ball while making plays, etc.

I think Johnson is a tougher prospect to judge at this point in time. From his junior highlights - a sometimes treacherous way to build analysis, admittedly - I think he has pretty good accuracy downfield, but doesn’t always make great decisions or make them on time. (And timing matters greatly for downfield throws.)

His arm strength isn’t elite - again, not a real knock, and some QBs have done a lot with less. His first instinct when the pocket collapses is to run the ball; although, to be fair, I wasn’t convinced he had as much to work with from his receiver group as some of the other QBs on this list.

I think Johnson can get more reps and smooth out his motions, his eye discipline when the pocket is collapsing and inevitably some of his technique. I think he’s not a guy who would knock down the doors as a freshman. But he’s definitely a great prospect.

Sam Howell

Monroe, NC (6’1”, 217) - Great arm, quick release, shorter stature

There’s a lot of information to run through here, so if you want to boil down Sam Howell into one phrase, here you go - he plays like a young Drew Brees. Shorter stature, great arm strength, quick release and good scrambling ability around the pocket (similar to Joe Milton, in that regard). If you want to see what a young Drew Brees looks like against high school competition, here you go again:

There’s a lot to like with Howell’s game. You’ll notice he benefits from his receivers catching a lot of 50-50 balls, so despite his shorter stature he’s good in a pro-style system and doesn’t need spread concepts or wide-open receivers. Howell has great downfield accuracy; the ball flies through the air but receivers seem comfortable hauling it in. Howell throws a wicked slant route, too, and that complements the downfield attack perfectly. Basically, he puts a lot of stress on pass defenders with his rifle passes and pinpoint accuracy.

Paul Tyson

Trussville, AL (6’4, 210) - If Wilton Speight and Bear Bryant combined into one man...

Tyson is a fresh addition to this list; he was offered at the very end of January. Tyson is apparently the great-grandson of Bear Bryant - and yes, Alabama has offered him.

Paul Tyson never met his great-grandfather, but on Saturdays in the fall, he could hear his voice. When Paul was four years old, he began going to games at Bryant-Denny Stadium with his father, Marc Tyson.

Even though the Crimson Tide won most of those games, some of the most special moments came before kickoff. That’s when the voice of Bear Bryant rings through the stadium, and that’s when Marc Tyson would look down at his son and say, “That’s Papa.”

Alright, he’s going to Bama. Still, credit to Harbaugh for competing for the kid.

Tyson is a very good, but not elite, prospect - tall and not super athletic, calm in the pocket and accurate downfield. Imagine a Wilton Speight who was better at timing and completing passes downfield, and you’ve got Tyson.

Taisun Phommachanh

Avon, CT (6’3.5”, 186) - All-around good to great, no holes in his game

I spent way too long trying to find how to pronounce his name, but no dice. He does have a Hudl tape, though, and he’s a fun player to watch - basically no holes anywhere in his game. He’s tall and durable but athletic, he’s got accuracy downfield and good technique, and he’s pretty cool in the pocket but shows enthusiasm and passion and doesn’t think twice about sacrificing his body.

I don’t think Taisun would end up attracting as much hype as someone like Brandon Peters, but he could be a great QB one day. And with Michigan’s Connecticut pipeline, he has at least as good a chance as anybody to wind up in Ann Arbor.

Grant Gunnell

Houston, TX (6’6”, 212) - Great measurables, veteran play

Gunnell, for lack of a better word, is good.

Alright, cheesy Wall Street references aside, Gunnell plays like how you’d expect the #2 quarterback prospect in the country to play. Tight spiral, accurate all over the place, everything seems just a little easier for him. He’s 6’6” with good speed and a veteran demeanor, so of course scouts love him.

Gunnell is currently committed to Texas A&M, and he’s the type who could compete anywhere Year 1 if he has a smart football mind.

Graham Mertz

Leawood, KS (6’4”, 205) - Alex Hornibrook clone

Mertz looks a lot like Wisconsin’s current starting quarterback, Alex Hornibrook - tall, mobile, a bit of a wind-up throw, except Mertz is a righty. He’s also committed to Wisconsin.

Mertz has a similar game to Taisum Phommachanh, as well, and it seems Michigan’s ‘type’ for this class fits in that mold - tall but athletic, able to make throws on time. Some of these guys break off that mold a little more than others, but Mertz is a pretty prototypical Harbaugh recruit.

Cade McNamara

Reno, NV (6’1”, 187) - Elevates players around him, great accuracy and timing

Can I call him a ‘shorty’ if he’s 6’1” and I’m 5’8”? No? Okay, was just checking.

Cade McNamara is a little shorter than some of the other guys Michigan has offered, and he has a very similar game as Sam Howell. McNamara does a great job of throwing his receivers open, and I spent most of his highlight reel feeling bad for how hard every throw seemed to be to complete. He got a lot of passes into some very tight windows with perfect timing. On the downside, he seems a little less athletic than Howell, a.k.a. Young Drew Brees.™

Ty Evans

Monument, CO (6’2”, 192) - If Ty Isaac and Chris Evans combined into one man...

The last of the quarterbacks! Ty Evans has the requisite arm, accuracy and pocket awareness for a Michigan offer, but he’s a little less athletic than some of Michigan’s other targets. And for a pocket QB, he doesn’t have ideal height. But Evans seems like a good prospect who’s poised to do good things for the Colorado program.


What conclusions can I draw from this?

Well, Harbaugh seems to dab pretty evenly between play-makers who can learn to manage games and game managers who can learn to make big plays. Five of the top six quarterbacks in the 2019 cycle are currently committed - with the sixth being Michael Johnson Jr. - so it’s probable that Michigan ends up with a small project with high upside no matter who they take. Depending on which kind of quarterback you like and how that player develops, this cycle could be a big success.