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Expectations for a 5-Star Quarterback

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What should Husky fans reasonably expect from the incoming Sam Huard?

Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl - Washington v Boise State Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

A few weeks ago Washington officially signed quarterback recruit Sam Huard. He instantly became the highest rated UW quarterback commitment since the start of the modern recruiting era and the 4th highest overall in the 247/Scout database (12th overall in the class of 2021). Add on top of all of that he’s both local and a legacy. Let’s just say that expectations are high.

With the exodus from the quarterback room at the end of the 2020 season it has opened a path Moses parting the Red Sea style to challenging for the starting gig. Returning starter Dylan Morris was good in the small 4-game season for Washington but he didn’t put enough of a stamp on the job to make it a sure thing he beats out Huard next fall. The Huskies also added Colorado State grad transfer Patrick O’Brien and the expectation is he will most likely provide depth but he has more college experience than anyone else on the roster.

The closest we’ve seen to Huard (rankings wise) from a pro style quarterback as a true freshman recently has been Jake Browning who of course started from day one and went on to have one of the most accomplished careers in school history. Is that what we should expect from Huard or is that an unfair comparison?

From 2013-2019 there were 10 pro-style quarterbacks that finished ranked in the top-16 overall in the 247 Sports composite. Let’s re-examine the careers (so far for the more recent ones) of each in order to see if we can figure out how likely it is that Huard can be a star from day one versus needing some time.

2013- Max Browne, USC/Pitt 6’5, 210 #11 overall, Christian Hackenberg, Penn State 6’4, 210 #15 overall

We’re not off to a rousing start with this group. Browne was a superstar at nearby Skyline High school and chose to go to USC over hometown Washington and some other national powers. He came in as a true freshman and failed to win the battle against Cody Kessler who ended up throwing for 8.2 YPA and 20 TDs against 7 INTs. Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach to give hope Browne might win the job under new management but Kessler put up even better numbers winning the job as both a junior and a senior. Browne’s patience finally appeared to be rewarded when he was named the starter under new head coach Clay Helton in 2016. However Sam Darnold took over for Browne after he struggled for a few games and Max transferred to Pittsburgh for his final season and started 4 games there before suffering a season ending shoulder injury.

Hackenberg came in and instantly won the starting job under head coach Bill O’Brien and looked promising throwing for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 TDs and 10 INTs in year one. Then James Franklin and OC John Donovan (whoops) took over for Penn State and Hackenberg lost all confidence while playing behind a truly abominable offensive line. He threw almost the same number of yards but in almost 100 more attempts and threw an extra 5 interceptions. His junior year saw another drop in his completion percentage even though the interceptions improved and Hackenberg decided to declare for the draft. He was selected in the 2rd round by the Jets based on his pedigree but never attempted a pass in the NFL.

2014- Kyle Allen, Texas A&M/Houston 6’3, 200 #8 overall

Allen didn’t win the job in fall camp but after early struggles from starter Kenny Hill he took over and looked like he’d become the savior in an upset win over #3 Auburn. He fell apart once facing the teeth of the SEC schedule and true freshman Kyler Murray took over. Allen was yo-yoed in and out of the lineup and eventually decided to transfer to Houston. He redshirted his first season there because of transfer rules then was benched after 3 starts in his RS Junior year. He finished his college career throwing for 7.4 YPA with 37 TDs and 18 INTs. He went undrafted after leaving early but has gotten some starts in the NFL and will seemingly have an 8-10 year career.

2015- Josh Rosen, UCLA 6’3, 205 #11 overall

Chosen Rosen appeared set to take UCLA by storm and won the job as a true freshman with Brett Hundley having departed as the previous starter. He threw for 3,670 yards with 23 TDs and 11 INTs and seemingly lived up to the hype. Things weren’t the same in his sophomore season when he was just 3-3 before suffering a season ending injury and the team cratered without him to finish 4-8. The start of his junior year featured one of the most memorable games in recent history with the 34-point comeback win over Texas A&M on Labor Day. Rosen put up numbers slightly better than his freshman campaign and declared for the draft where he was taken 10th overall but has already just about flamed out of the NFL.

2016- Shea Patterson, Ole Miss/Michigan 6’1, 192 #4 overall, Jacob Eason, Georgia/Washington 6’5, 208 #5 overall

Chad Kelly was the incumbent at Ole Miss when Patterson got there but Kelly tore his ACL in November and Patterson burned his redshirt taking over. It was a so-so debut but Patterson was the clear starter as a sophomore and had a blazing start to that season. But he faded once he got to SEC play and then tore his PCL after 7 games. With Ole Miss facing NCAA sanctions he decided to transfer to Michigan. Patterson had near identical seasons as the 2-year starter in Ann Arbor and finished his career completing 60% of his passes for 8.0 YPA with 68 TDs and 27 INTs. He went undrafted and hasn’t found traction in the NFL.

Obviously Husky fans are incredibly familiar with Jacob Eason who left the state to head to Georgia. He won the job as a true freshman but lost it following an injury when Jake Fromm took the Bulldogs to the national title game and transferred back home to UW. He had a solid season for the Huskies throwing for 7.7 YPA with 23 TDs and 8 INTs before leaving for the NFL draft and getting selected in the 4th round.

2017- Davis Mills, Stanford 6’3, 192 #15 overall

If you only watched Mills play against Washington you’d think he had a better college career than he did. He redshirted his freshman year with Keller Chryst and KJ Costello both options for the Cardinal. Costello won the job in 2018 and 2019 but Mills got a shot as a RS sophomore after Costello injured his knee. Mills threw for 8.1 YPA with 11 TDs and 5 INTs in 2019 and followed it up with 7.7 YPA, 7 TDs, and 3 INTs in the shortened 2020 year. He declared for the draft last week and so his college career is over after just 11 starts.

2018- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson 6’6, 208 #1 overall, JT Daniels, USC/Georgia 6’2, 205 #16 overall

I’m guessing I don’t need to go into too much detail about Lawrence’s historic career. He split time with Kelly Bryant as a freshman but officially won the job in game #4. Clemson went on to win the national title and made it back to the title game as a sophomore. This past week Clemson lost in the CFP semifinals to Ohio State and Lawrence has declared for the draft and will almost certainly become the #1 overall pick. He’ll finish his career 34-2 as a starter throwing for 8.9 YPA with 88 TDs and 16 INTs plus an extra 951 rushing yards and 17 scores on the ground.

Daniels won the starting job as a true freshman taking over for Sam Darnold but didn’t exactly light things up for a Trojans team that fell to 5-7 as he completed fewer than 60% of his passes with 10 picks in 12 games. As a sophomore Daniels tore his ACL getting sacked in the season opener and after Kedon Slovis appeared to have stolen the starting job with his play as a freshman and Daniels transferred to Georgia. It took a few weeks for Georgia to feel that Daniels was healthy but once he took over he looked fantastic with 10.3 YPA, 10 TDs, and 2 INTs as they finished their season 4-0. It looks like the most likely scenario is Daniels starts next season, has a big year, and then heads for the draft.

2019- Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma 6’1, 198 #11 overall

It was a tough follow-up for Rattler coming in after Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts. He redshirted while Hurts came in as a grad transfer for Alabama then took over as the clear starter this year. There were some rough moments early but the Oklahoma offense looked as dangerous as ever with Rattler at the helm. He averaged 9.6 YPA in Lincoln Reilly’s offense with 28 TDs and 7 INTs.

2020- DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson 6’4, 246 #10 overall

I don’t think it’s fair to include DJ in this analysis considering he was a true freshman for 2020 but he did end up starting 2 games when Trevor Lawrence contracted COVID-19. He put up big numbers throwing 781 yards in those two games but it included a 2OT loss at Notre Dame. He’ll almost certainly take over next season after Lawrence heads to the NFL Draft.

FINAL TALLY

First became a starter...?

4- Day 1 of true freshman season (Hackenberg, Rosen, Eason, Daniels)

3- By end of true freshman season (Allen, Patterson, Lawrence)

1- Redshirt freshman season (Rattler)

1- By end of redshirt sophomore season (Mills)

1- Redshirt junior season (Browne)

Stayed with the school they signed at...?

3- Left for NFL draft after just 3 seasons (Rosen, Lawrence, Hackenberg)

2- Transferred after losing job due to injury (Eason, Daniels)

2- Transferred after losing job due to performance (Allen, Browne)

1- Transferred due to NCAA sanctions (Patterson)

1- Left for NFL draft after 4 seasons (Mills)

1- Still at same school (Rattler)

Career Performance

2- All-American level starter (Lawrence, Rattler)

Lawrence- 66.6%, 8.9 YPA, 10098 yards, 90 TDs, 17 INTs, 164.3 college rating

Rattler- 67.4%, 9.5 YPA, 3112 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs, 172.0 college rating

4- All-Conference level starter (Patterson, Daniels, Rosen, Mills)

Patterson- 60.3%, 8.0 YPA, 8800 yards, 68 TDs, 27 INTs, 143.1 college rating

Daniels- 62.2%, 8.0 YPA, 4118 yards, 25 TDs, 13 INTs, 140.2 college rating

Rosen- 60.9%, 8.0 YPA, 9340 yards, 59 TDs, 26 INTs, 140.1 college rating

Mills- 65.4%, 7.9 YPA, 3464 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs, 142 college rating

2- Power Conference level starter (Allen, Eason)

Eason- 59.8%, 7.1 YPA, 5590 yards, 39 TDs, 16 INTs, 132.3 college rating

Allen- 61.7%, 7.4 YPA, 4283 yards, 37 TDs, 18 INTs, 138.6 college rating

2- Bust (Hackenberg, Browne)

Hackenberg- 56.1%, 6.8 YPA, 8457 yards, 48 TDs, 31 INTs, 121.4 college rating

Browne- 66.8%, 6.7 YPA, 1647 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs, 128.9 college rating

CONCLUSION

As was expected for an analysis based on a sample size of just 10 quarterbacks it’s difficult to draw any sweeping conclusions. Outside of the abysmal 2013 class I wouldn’t label any of the rest as severe underperformers. Everyone else at least ended up having flashes of brilliance and were solid starters on above average power conference teams. Kyle Allen was the most borderline as he eventually got benched with Houston but did enough to suggest he was slightly above replacement level.

So that’s the good news. It would truly be an upset if Huard were to not at least be a capable starter for a power conference team.

However, that’s not the level fans want or expect from someone of Sam’s pedigree. Based on this it’s probably close to 50/50 whether he is able to ascend to at least 8.0 YPA over the course of a longer career which usually it what gets you into all-conference territory. Jake Browning put up 8.3 career YPA and got Washington to the CFP in his peak. It’s tough to reasonably expect anyone to put up better numbers than that when they enter college even though the elite do.

I was most curious to look at the careers of Shea Patterson and Spencer Rattler as they are the closest physical comps to Huard among this group. None of them were the Greek god style rocket cannon arm 5-stars that fit the Jacob Eason prototype. Accuracy, poise, and arm talent is what gets you listed as a 5-star if you have those measurables and aren’t a plus athlete. A sample size of 2 is even lower than of 10 but I do think that a QB with Huard’s strengths is even less prone to bust than the guys who have all the physical tools but are missing some of the mental ones.

Regardless, we should expect to see Huard win the job whether it’s in the fall of 2021 or 2022. There may be some inherent bias in these situations similar to GMs/coaches who sign a player to a big contract in the pros giving them every chance to work out because of the size of the name.

I see 3 scenarios from most to least likely: 1. Huard wins the job as a true freshman, 2. Morris begins the 2021 season as the starter but through injury or performance the team turns to Huard by the start of 2022 and he keeps the job, 3. Huard redshirts as Morris has a Joe Burrow type ascension next year and Huard takes over in 2022 after Morris turns pro (not betting on this one). Regardless it’s tough to imagine Huard not getting a shot sooner than later.

And the best case scenario for those that want to see Washington take a leap into a consistent CFP contender is for Huard to win the job next year. It’s almost impossible to realistically challenge for the national title these days without a remarkably efficient passing game. Here are the YPAs of some recent title game participants: M. Jones- 12.8, J. Burrow- 10.8, J. Fields- 10.7, T. Tagavailoa- 10.2, T. Lawrence- 9.0 and 8.3.

The bare minimum for getting into that range is essentially to have Browning’s 2016 season and usually you need to be even better. Each of those players also were aided by multiple future first round picks at the playmaker spots around them. Maybe Washington has those guys on the roster that just haven’t fully emerged yet but if Huard ascends to that level it will likely be more the case of him pulling the supporting cast up rather than the other way around.

It’s not likely that Huard ever gets to that point. But it’s not impossible and that hope is what will have Husky fans salivating for the next 9 months or however long it takes for Huard to eventually start in purple and gold.