Florida head coach Jim McElwain must select his next quarterback in 2017. It’s his biggest decision this year — and perhaps in his coaching tenure at Florida.
McElwain will have plenty of time during spring and fall practices to evaluate all of his quarterbacks in a practice environment. Each quarterback also has a live-action track record that may be more important than performance in a limited number of practices.
The table above shows statistics for two of the Gators options at QB in their senior years of high school. Player 1 excelled at throwing the deep ball, but averaged fewer total yards due to a significantly lower completion percentage. Player 2 was a much better runner.
Most experts believe that McElwain eventually will start 4-star redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks. It’s easy to understand why. Franks has a cannon for an arm.
But Franks is Player 1. Player 2 is 3-star true freshman athlete Kadarius Toney.
Coming out of high school, Franks’ his mechanics were inconsistent, which led to accuracy issues. But looking at the film I could find on YouTube, there were a few issues beyond his footwork.
Like many young quarterbacks, Franks locked onto receivers. In the play above it looks like his first read is the slot receiver. But the left corner blitzes, leaving the wide receiver at the bottom of the screen in 1-on-1 coverage against the safety.
The blitzing corner forces Franks out of the pocket, which makes him abandon the stumbling slot receiver before he comes open behind the linebacker. This play resulted in a touchdown, but it was not executed properly.
On the next play, Wakulla positions three receivers at the left of the formation. Three defensive backs are covering that half of the field. The design is to throw to the middle wide receiver on a curl route behind the other two blocking receivers. But Franks fails to deliver the ball on time. Instead, he scrambles to avoid pressure and eventually completes a pass to the same receiver. This is a sack in the SEC.
But Franks does lots of things well. In this play, he slips on his drop, but is able to right himself and throw a bullet between three defenders. The ability to thread that needle — especially after slipping — shows talent not many possess.
So beyond completion percentage (which is a big deal), what makes me think Toney is a better option? Let’s look at the film.
This play looks like a great athlete making a play after his protection breaks down. But notice what Toney does while in the pocket. He goes through at least three different reads.
One can argue he should’ve thrown the ball to his running back in the flat. But the ability to go through multiple reads and also scramble is rare.
On this next play, Toney throws a touchdown against 1-on-1 coverage. Toney places the ball perfectly. But just after the snap, Toney feels penetration on his right side and slides left. This allows him to get the throw off without any impact from the pass rush.
The accuracy comes from that little slide, and his feel for the game is impressive.
On this play, Toney has to beat the outside linebacker, who is in perfect position. The linebacker does his job, turning Toney back into the middle of the field. Unfortunately for the opposition, Toney freezes the safety with a cutback to his left and nobody can catch him.
I looked at the film because there was such a disparity between the high school statistics of these two players. Franks has better arm strength but is still learning how to be a quarterback. Toney already showed strong signs that he knows the nuances of the position.
Toney is only 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. It’s easy to look at him and think Treon Harris 2.0. But his accuracy sets him apart from that comparison.
Toney’s arm is not nearly as strong. His release isn’t traditional. But Florida’s most successful quarterbacks, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, were not lauded for traditional throwing mechanics or arm strength.
You can also dismiss high school stats if you like. But there was a recent 4-star QB who was highly recruited with similar stats to Franks: Treon Harris (62.1 percent comp., 5.0 yards per rush, 37 total TDs). The player I could find with stats most similar to Toney? USC QB Sam Darnold (67.8 percent comp., 6.3 yards per rush, 52 total TDs).
I have a suspicion that after fall practice, Jim McElwain is going to see what the film and statistics show.
Franks is the favorite. And Kyle Trask should compete as well. But Florida may be wise to give Toney a chance to win the starting job in 2017.