The University of Notre Dame football team is going to have a new starting quarterback in 2017 and, somewhat incredibly, that is something of a back ground story. Sure, people talk about it, it is the single most important position in football, but generally you can find a lot more discussion about the defensive line or the safety position.
The reason for this is fairly straight forward. Spring is about position battles and there is no such competition for the starting quarterback job this year. God forbid a calamity that shall not be discussed, it will be junior Brandon Wimbush. There is certainly intrigue regarding how he has looked in practice, but the majority of fans are aware that we are just not going to have an answer over the spring, either way, good or bad. He could look great, which can easily be dismissed and likely lead to panic about the defense, or he could look poor, which will lead to reminders about how terrible DeShone Kizer looked in the spring of 2015.
However, it’d be silly to go an entire spring without revisiting who Brandon Wimbush was as a quarterback when he was recruited and what an offense with him at the helm could look like, especially compared to the other quarterbacks Kelly has brought in to run his offense (and is now bringing in to run Chip Long’s offense). How athletic is he in relation to Malik Zaire? How accurate is he compared to Everett Golson? How does his arm strength measure with DeShone Kizer? Let’s talk about it.
Wimbush The Recruit
The quarterback out of St. Peters Prep in New Jersey will be the first true big fish to be taking the snaps under head coach Brian Kelly for the Notre Dame football team. Gunner Kiel was a higher rated player in 2011, but he transferred before ever getting under center. The combined 247 composite scores of Golson, Zaire, and Kizer yield a .9092 score, which is a low four star prospect. Wimbush registered a .9784 rating, nearly a five star talent and the #3 player at his position nationally and 45th among all players. I get the sense that he isn’t viewed in this light, probably because when he signed Golson, Zaire, and Kizer were all on the roster. His path to field was multiple years away, or so it seemed. But, make no mistake, he was a big time prospect that was coveted by everyone. Yes, even Alabama.
Wimbush The Thrower
If you follow enough of the Notre Dame beat guys on Twitter, you’ll have noticed a running joke amongst that community in regards to the arm strength of DeShone Kizer. It’s widely considered that Kizer has the strongest arm in the draft and as the saying goes “yeah, but he might have had the third strongest arm on the Notre Dame team” after Zaire and the cannon-armed Wimbush. This isn’t something you need to take my word for, of course. There is a youtube video of Wimbush launching a deep ball for a touchdown that carries the title, “Longest HS throw ever?” (In reality, it almost certainly isn’t. It’s a 65 yard pass in the air, impressive, but I’m sure someone has got an 80 yarder in there somewhere.)
Clearly more impressively, he overthrew Will Fuller as a freshman in 2015, which doesn’t seem possible, but there is video to prove it is so. I’d say this puts him ahead of Kizer in the arm strength department, as well as Zaire and Golson. He can definitely sling it.
Wimbush The Athlete
When it comes to Golson, Zaire, and Kizer, all three were pretty good athletes and movers in and out of the pocket. Golson sports a career long 61 yard run, Kizer has a 79 yard jaunt to his name and Zaire has a 56 yarder. But, at least from an athletic traits point of view, Wimbush is far superior to all three of them. It remains to be seen how good Wimbush is within the pocket in terms of presence and feel for the rush and where to escape. All the mobility in the world won’t matter if he can’t develop a feel for the pocket.
That being said, a little search on the internet machine shows Wimbush sports a 10.81 100 meter time and a 22 flat 200 meter time, which is pretty darn explosive for a quarterback who will have plenty of opportunities to tuck the ball and matriculate his 6’2, 225 pound frame down the football field. He already has a 58 yard little something, something against UMass in 2015 and Chip Long’s RPO system will open up even more running lanes for Wimbush to do damage with his fleet feet.
This is the one area I think people need to be more excited about. So much more can happen with Wimbush outside of the pocket and he can do more damage in the secondary than his predecessors. As he showed in the state championship game as a senior in high school, when he gets into the second level, he is looking to score.
Wimbush The Marksmen
Here’s where it gets a little tricky in regards to Wimbush in comparison to other quarterbacks under Brian Kelly. Can he display the accuracy of someone like Everett Golson or DeShone Kizer? Or is he more similar to that of Malik Zaire, who possessed a strong arm like Wimbush, but never displayed a ton of touch or laser like ability with his throws? This is a question that’s simply unlikely to be answered following the spring game Saturday or even after the first couple of games. After all, Zaire dazzled with a 19-22 performance against Texas only to sputter against Virginia at 7-18 before getting hurt.
For whatever it is worth, he was a 67% passer in high school, including 72% as a senior, but that was not the case from reports from practice early in his career. This will likely be the tell tale sign as to how good he can actually be.
Wimbush The First Year Starter
A lot has been made of the fact that first year quarterbacks under Brian Kelly have done extremely well, but I’m not sure how relevant that is in the current situation. Kelly doesn’t call the plays any more and the offense is changing a good amount under new signal caller Chip Long. Luckily, we have a nice little example of how a quarterback can look in Long’s offense as a first year starter.
In 2016, after transferring from junior college, Riley Ferguson replaced three year starter Paxton Lynch at Memphis and was impressive in his play. He completed 63% of his passes, threw for 3,700 yards, 32 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His quarterback rating was higher than Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya, Lamar Jackson, and DeShone Kizer. It’s not quite apples to apples since Ferguson played in junior college, but it’s pretty big leap straight to FBS competition and he had to learn a new system, much like Wimbush has some new wrinkles to iron out.
There is a chance Wimbush will be the best signal caller to play at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly in 2017. Kizer is probably still the best prospect, but we never got to see him maximize his potential, and Wimbush possesses an explosiveness as a runner that Kizer simply didn’t have. Their arm talent is similar, and Kizer isn’t exactly the most accurate quarterback we’ve ever seen.
Kelly has said he’s not going to put too much on the Wimbush plate in 2017, invoking memories of Everett Golson and his “doesn’t have to drive the bus” comments from 2012. The difference is Wimbush is in his third year of college while Golson was only in his second. And Wimbush already looks far more comfortable being the man at quarterback for Notre Dame than frankly Golson ever did. I think a lot more will be put on Wimbush than Kelly is letting on, and that seems right.
The biggest determinants to how good a quarterback will be are intangible: how they perform under pressure, how they respond to adversity, whether they can make plays out of nothing. These are things that will remain unknown till Notre Dame plays some games that count. But, from a physical tools, scheme fit, and mental makeup standpoint, the Fighting Irish should be in very good shape heading into 2017 at quarterback.