The Midwest’s production of blue chip quarterbacks improved by 50% in 2009-15, but the number of success stories of those at Midwestern schools stayed about the same
Last week we took a look at the quarterback high school recruits produced in the Midwest that ended up at Midwestern schools. The takeaway from that was 1. Kyle Orton is vastly underrated, and 2. Midwestern quarterbacks don’t do so well in the NFL.
Today we’ll look at the blue chip quarterback recruits who were in the 2009-2015 recruiting classes. That seemingly arbitrary stopping point of 2015, by the way, is because that was the last recruiting class that had a blue chip quarterback graduate from college.
Let’s review the parameters of this exercise:
- I’m defining the Midwest the same way the US Census Bureau defines it: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. So to be considered “from the Midwest” you need to have graduated high school in one of those states.
- I’m using the 247 Composite rankings to determine who was a 4- or 5-star quarterback, the designation given the “blue chip” moniker. Rivals, 247, Scouts, and other recruiting services give their own rankings that vary from source to source, but the Composite rankings put all that in a statistical blender to come up with an average from all recruiting sources. It’s the more thorough of the rankings systems, so that’s what I’m using.
- To be considered a Midwestern quarterback who went to a Midwestern school, you have to have graduated from the Midwest, signed with a school in the Midwest, and then played your entire college career in the Midwest. So, 5-star James Banks from Indianapolis who signed with Tennessee? Doesn’t meet the qualifications. Joe Burrow, the Athens, OH native who signed with Ohio State but only played at LSU? Doesn’t meet the qualifications. The career has to stay in the region to count.
- Also, if a guy signed as a quarterback but transitioned to receiver/tight end/safety/etc., I’m also not counting your career. We’re looking at quarterbacks only!
Here’s the list of Midwestern blue chip quarterbacks that signed with schools in the Midwest from 2009-2015:
The 2000-2008 sample – a nine-year stretch – produced 21 blue-chip quarterbacks but only 11 signed with a Midwest school and played in the region for their full college career.
The 2009-2015 sample – a seven-year stretch – produced 31 blue-chip quarterbacks but only 12 signed with a Midwest school and played in the region for their full college career. This sampling featured eleven transfers, seven position changes, one guy who decided to play baseball professionally (Bubba Starling) and one dismissal (our dear Blaine Dalton). So let’s take a look at the dozen gentlemen who qualified for this list.
Andrew Maxwell was a huge get for Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State Spartans but Maxwell didn’t get a ton of chances and didn’t make those chances count. He redshirted and backed up Kirk Cousins from ‘09-’11 and then went 7-6 as a starter in ‘12, barely completing 52% of his passes while only throwing 14 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. Young 3-star recruit Connor Cook usurped the veteran Maxwell in ‘13 and Andrew never got to start for the Spartans again.
The former Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, Scheelhaase, chose Illinois over offers from Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, and Kansas, mostly because the Illini guaranteed that he could play quarterback. Missouri, at the time, had both Ashton Glaser and Blaine Dalton committed, and while Scheelhaase was definitely on their list, they weren’t necessarily in dire need of a quarterback with Blaine Gabbert the likely starter for the next two years. Of the Midwestern quarterbacks at Midwestern schools in this exercise, Scheelhaase is the second-most accurate with a 63% completion rate. He threw for over 8,000 yards, ran for 2,000 more, and accounted for 74 touchdowns through the ground and air while holding Illinois’ school record for career offensive yards. His team, however, only went 20-29 and Scheelhaase couldn’t find a tryout with an NFL team. He immediately went into coaching and is now Iowa State’s wide receivers coach.
Gardner committed to Rich Rodriguez’s Michigan Wolverines in the spring of ‘09 and was immediately deemed the heir apparent to the electric Denard Robinson. However, by 2010, Rodriguez was fired and Gardner had yet to see the field past Robinson. In 2012, he was starting to work in as a receiver but Robinson was injured midway through the season and Gardner began to spell Robinson as the primary quarterback. He’s also the only quarterback of the past 70 years to wear the number 98— in honor of Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon. Gardner had a 60% completion rate with over 6,000 passing yards and 44 touchdowns to 32 interceptions, but his lone season as Michigan’s starter bore a 7-6 record, and after going undrafted, bounced around to various NFL teams without ever finding a home.
Hendrix spent four years at Notre Dame as the perennial #2 guy behind Tommy Rees. He took a graduate transfer to Miami (Ohio) where he threw for nearly 4,000 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He is currently a med student who recently shared the horrors of COVID-19 through the lens of his first-hand medical experience.
The best quarterback recruit in the nation for the class of 2012, Kiel, at one time, was committed to Indiana, then LSU, and then Notre Dame before finally transferring to Cincinnati. Kiel was…ok? 60% completion rate, 6,835 yards, 56 touchdowns to 26 interceptions…but you expect more from one of the highest rate high school quarterback recruits of all time. He never received an invite for an NFL team and is now an industrial sales representative in Nashville.
Remember this guy? Yeah? Covered for James Franklin on that loaded 2013 team, going 3-1 in the process. Helmed the 2014 Tiger offense and won 11 games thanks to one of the best Missouri defenses ever fielded. Lost his job in 2015 despite the greatest Missouri defense ever fielded and was replaced by plucky upstart Drew Lock. There was supposedly a leaked video of him allegedly snorting some nose candy, but regardless of that, other disciplinary incidents caused him to be dismissed from the team before the end of the ‘15 season. He ended up at Eastern Kentucky and never played a down after graduating college.
Shane Morris’ tenure at Michigan is mostly remember for the “oh $#!% are they making that clearly concussed kid play?” moment:
But after backing up various quarterbacks-du-jour under Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh, Morris transferred to Central Michigan and immediately became the starter. The Chippewas finished 7-5, but Morris was a merely ok: 55% completion rate, 27 touchdowns to 22 interceptions and a little over 3,500 yards passing.
Aaron Bailey signed with Illinois but never found traction, appearing in 25 games and only throwing 27 passes over that time span. He transferred to Northern Iowa and immediately earned the starter position. He threw for 1,656 yards and ran for 1,334 yards and 19 touchdowns, both school and conference records for a quarterback. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to get any interest from the NFL and he never played another down.
Let’s give Matt Alviti some credit: despite being a blue-chip quarterback that never got a start at Northwestern, the dude stuck around and graduated having never seen the field as a starter. The dude that he couldn’t surpass is next on this list, but Alviti is a rare specimen: a talented, highly-rated quarterback that doesn’t transfer to play somewhere else. He is now an analyst for investment banking. Because Northwestern.
Here’s the guy who Alviti couldn’t beat. Four year starter, 53 consecutive starts (tied with Colt McCoy for most consecutive starts), Northwestern record holder in wins (35), passing yards (10,731), completions (991), and passing touchdowns (61). Oh, and he’s also the only B1G quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 20 touchdowns. Thorson might not have the accolades of a Troy Smith, but as far as a production goes he’s one of the better quarterbacks the Midwest has produced. He was drafted by the Eagles and is currently a New York Giant but has yet to see the field in any professional capacity.
Kizer had one of the weirdest college careers of recent memory. With Notre Dame on the ropes against Virginia in 2015, he came in to replace an ineffective Malik Zaire and engineered a come-from-behind victory. He never gave up the starting position after that and finished his freshman year with a 63% completion percentage, 2.884 yards, 21 touchdowns to 10 interceptions plus 520 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. The 2015 Fighting Irish went 10-3, losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2016, Kizer improves his passing yardage, touchdowns, interceptions, and ground game…and the Irish go 4-8 by losing multiple close games in spectacular fashion. Kizer clearly wants off the ride, declares for the NFL early, gets drafted by the Browns…and goes winless in his only season as a starter. He is now a practice squad player for the Tennessee Titans.
Oh, hey Drew. The local boy by way of Lee’s Summit, MO took over for Maty Mauk in 2015 and got plenty of teachable moments in disastrous campaigns over a two year stretch. It all finally clicked in 2017 when he led all of college football and the SEC in passing touchdowns while the Tigers started 1-5 and finished 6-1. His 2018 campaign featured the 4th-greatest Missouri offense ever (according to SP+) on the 3rd-greatest Missouri team ever (SP+ again) but close losses to South Carolina, Kentucky, and Oklahoma State gave the Tigers an 8-5 record. He ended up being the 42nd pick in the 2nd round by the Denver Broncos where he is currently the starter.
In the NFL…
Only three Midwestern quarterbacks from Midwestern schools were drafted between 2009 and 2015. Yikes.
Thorson has yet to start. Kizer…basically died a football death as the Browns’ doomed quarterback. And Lock led the league last year in interceptions and had the lowest completion percentage of all NFL quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts. Not great! There’s plenty of time for any of these three – but mostly Lock – to hit the esteemed air of a Kyle Orton, but it’s been a rough start so far for these gentlemen.
Next week I’ll recap the whole exercise and go into a by-the-numbers breakdown while handing out some superlatives.