LSU Football Recruiting: How QB Evaluation and Recruiting Has Changed in the Miles Era

Chris Graythen

Paul takes a look at the QB recruiting under Miles and how the philosophy and evaluations have evolved over his nine seasons.

As I've highlighted before, if there's a sore spot in recruiting during the tenure of Les Miles, it's the porous job done evaluating and recruiting quarterbacks. Like it or not, it's likely what cost LSU a 2011 National Championship and certainly more promising seasons from 2008 and 2009, the only seasons that LSU has failed to win double-digit games under Miles.

Before diving specifically into the Miles era, there's some important context to remember. Louisiana is not a state that routinely produces top-end quarterbacks. Sure, the Mannings are the exception, but historically, the list is rather thin. Even most of LSU's finest quarterbacks hailed from other states/countries: Wickersham, Tittle, Davey, Mauck, Russell, Flynn, Mettenberger. When you talk about the most prodigious QB recruits from Louisiana in the past 15 years or so, you are talking about guys like Ryan Perrilloux, John-David Booty, and Brock Berlin, not exactly a who's who of superstars here. This is partially because Louisiana High Schools adapt more of the Southeast mentality of sticking your best athlete at QB, regardless if he can throw with any consistency. Run the option, let him scramble, whatever, you are probably better off with him running around like a mad man than sticking any of the "true QBs" on your roster back there.

So LSU turns it's gazes out of state, quite often, for quarterbacks. These players mostly come from our regional neighbors to the East (Mississippi, Georgia, Florida) or the West (Texas). When a prime QB talent is present within the borders, you can almost be assured he'll garner an LSU offer.

Stylistically, too, does LSU vary from other top programs in the country. For example here are the leading passers in history by the top 12 programs according to wins:

The schools LSU outpaces are all traditional run-heavy programs, many of which were strictly option-based even as recently as 10 years ago. To get an idea of how deep LSU runshistorically as a passing program, Jordan Jefferson ranks 7th all-time in passing yardage in LSU history, just behind Zach Mettenberger.

So then, let's shift our attention back to the Miles era. We've run through now four different offensive coordinators in nine seasons. As we've progressed there's been a distinct evolution in how the position is recruited.

The Jimbo Fisher Era

Fisher is arguably the most successful offensive coordinator in LSU history. He oversaw successful offenses with Rohan Davey, Matt Mauck and Jamarcus Russell, some of the best in school history. LSU's two National Title winners in the BCS era were both products of Jimbo either as a coach or recruiter. He's gained a reputation for producing NFL talent at the quarterback position, most recently with the success of E.J. Manuel and Jameis Winston. At LSU he coached and/or recruited Rohan Davey, Matt Mauck, Jamarcus Russell, Matt Flynn, Ryan Perrilloux, and Jarrett Lee.

Jimbo's era under Miles is mostly odd. While the offense would flourish at times, they were also woeful against big-time opponents, notably hanging just three points up at Auburn with a litany of NFL talent in 2006. He's known for coaching his guys hard, a style not all players respond to. To make things more complicated, his relationship with Miles is still a subject of debate. Some claim Miles was constantly meddling with the offense. Others stick to blaming Jimbo's insistence on running bubble screens and being risk adverse. He's clearly a fine coach, and I think the overriding issue is that he likely believed he was deserving of serious interest for the LSU job but that was never reciprocated by the administration. In turn he worked under MIles for two years before leaving for the same role at Florida State with the ominous "coach in waiting" tag.

Let's review his QB recruiting under Miles. All data pulled from Rivals and Scout databases.

2005

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Ryan Perrilloux, *****, Reserve, LA
Jonathan Crompton, *****, Waynesville, NC
Joe Ayoob, *****, San Francisco, CA
Rob Schoeonhoft, ****, Cincinnati, OH
Evan Sharpley, ****, Marshall, MI
Bradis Dew, ***, Hemet, CA
Domenic Natale, ***, Princeton, NJ

Judging recruit offer lists is difficult. Rivals shows we only offered Perrilloux, while Scout gives the bigger list. Opinions still abound that Perrilloux wouldn't have wound up at LSU if Saban remained in charge, but I'm not sure that's rooted in reality. It's also worth noting that a bit of mythology has developed insinuating that so long as Perrilloux stuck with Texas, Colt McCoy was headed to LSU. You can scan through Rivals article titles alone and debunk that quickly. As early as May of the year before McCoy said he was likely to stay in state. He committed to Texas that fall, after Perrilloux was already committed, visited Texas on the final recruiting weekend, while Perrilloux was still committed, and never really considered or visited LSU.

2006

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Tim Tebow, *****, St. Augustine, FL
Neil Caudle, ****, Hoover, AL
Alex Cate, ***, Salt Lake City, UT
Chris Smelley, ***, Tuscaloosa, AL

Cate narrowly chose Oklahoma State over LSU, after verbally committing to the Tigers in June before his senior season. By November he flipped to Oklahoma State. He never materialized. The rest of these guys hardly considered LSU.

2007

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Ryan Mallett, *****, Texarkana, TX
Mike Paulus, ****, Syracuse, NY
Cam Newton, ****, Atlanta, GA
Jarrett Lee, ****, Brenham, TX

I don't remember any of the other three seriously considering us. Lee actually committed to Jimbo Fisher in 2006, but stood firm with his decision after he departed.

Summary

LSU's previous recruiting is important here. When Ryan Perrilloux signed, LSU featured two talented, redshirt freshman QBs. Though neither had shown much to date, they were both former four-star (or higher) recruits with serious potential. Add Perrilloux into the fold and you are looking at some serious, young depth. That can be difficult to recruit against. That said, it's somewhat puzzling the staff failed to bring in any type of talent in 2006. The scope of recruiting was also tremendously narrow, many of these players scarcely considered LSU.

The Gary Crowton Era

Crowton is best remembered for the sharp downturn in offensive production that felled the LSU offense from 2008-2010. Though he oversaw one of the more productive offenses in school history, the lack of results thereafter still brings up angst in every LSU fan. He, or some combination of he and Ryan Perrilloux, are often cited as the reason for the tremendous struggles in 2008 and 2009.

2008

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Terrelle Pryor, *****, Jeannette, PA
E.J. Manuel, *****, Virginia Beach, VA
Dayne Crist, *****, Sherman Oaks, CA
Darron Thomas, ****, Houston, TX
Jordan Jefferson, ****, Destrehan, LA
D.C. Jefferson, ***, Winter Haven, FL
Tyler Wilson, ***, Greenwood, AR
Taylor Cook, ***, Altair, TX
Jack Elway, ***, Englewood, CO

Crowton's first class extended a much wider net. And more than simply tossing offers at the the top ranked players, LSU was legitimately in the running for Manuel and even Crist for a while. Thomas was a commit that eventually flipped to Oregon. Ditto with D.C. Jefferson, who flipped to Rutgers. Tyler Wilson strongly considered LSU before opting to stay in Arkansas. The big shift here is both the number of offers AND the fact that LSU began to look for more dual-threat prospects, as Pryor, Manuel, Thomas, and both Jeffersons all flashed running ability.

2009

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Russell Shepard, *****, Houston, TX
Aaron Murray, ****, Tampa, FL
Cody Green, ****, Dayton, TX
Geno Smith, ****, Miramar, FL
Chris Garrett, ***, Tupelo, MS
Tom Savage, ***, Springfield, PA

Shepard is a lightning rod recruit because we promised him the chance to compete at QB, but the true merits of that can be debated. Truly I think the staff valued his athleticism over his ability to ever become a QB. Garrett was more of the prototypical QB recruit, but he never amounted to anything at LSU and notably got his scholarship rescinded. This is a pretty mixed bag of players, but again you see mobility being an emphasis. Shepard, Murray, Green and Smith were all guys that could run some, with Garrett and Savage being more prototypical drop back players. LSU didn't go quite as national with their QB targets this season, but they did go out and recruit Tom Savage, a Pennsylvania kid.

2010

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Jake Heaps, *****, Sammamish, WA
Devin Gardner, *****, Inkster, MI
Nick Montana, ****, Westlake Village, CA
Zach Lee, ****, McKinney, TX

This class hearkens back to the Jimbo days of a more narrow approach with offers extended to the very top level talent. Lee committed early but his pro baseball aspirations proved to be just too much to overcome. The question here is why no contingency plans? Lee was a heralded baseball recruit and LSU knew that. The odds of losing him were strong. The fact that they didn't pursue any other players points back to the issue with planning for the position.

2011

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Jeff Driskel, *****, Oviedo, FL
Braxton Miller, *****, Huber Heights, OH
Kiehl Frazier, *****, Springdale, AR
Teddy Bridgewater, ****, Miami, FL
Jacoby Brissett, ****, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jerrard Randall, ****, Hollywood, FL
Marquise Williams, ****, Charlotte, NC
Zach Mettenberger, ****, El Dorado, KS
Cardale Jones, ***, Cleveland, OH
Stephen Rivers, ***, Athens, AL
Justin Worley, ***, Rock Hill, SC
Philip Ely, ***, Tampa, FL
Dak Prescott, ***, Haughton, LA

Here we see two major things:

  1. LSU offered the top prospects, as usual.
  2. LSU recognized the extreme need to bring multiple QBs in this class.

Mettenberger was a highly touted player but not without risk considering his past. Rivers was more a developmental player and Randall was a late grab that failed to qualify for Oregon. He, like Rivers was more a developmental prospect, but with a much higher ceiling. The Teddy Bridgewater situation was an interesting one. Some still claim his offer was never commitable. I still think that was more of a case of Teddy truly wanting to go to college with some of his buddies and Louisville being the only school to extend that opportunity. In hindsight it's hard to say LSU was wrong for sticking with Mettenberger, they certainly needed a short-term solution.

Summary

Recruiting under Crowton marked a couple of distinct shifts. First, LSU began widening the net, acting more aggressively toward QBs outside of their standard recruiting hot spots. Second, and perhaps more distinctly, they trended toward preferring more dual-threat options. Though they did still extend offers to more classic drop-back players, most of the prospects they pursued presented some running threat.

The Kragthorpe/Studrawa Era

Somewhat similarly to Crowton, this duo started strongly out of the box, though the offensive production fizzled some in year two. Much like Crowton they began with QB experience and transitioned to a new QB, though given one much more ready to play immediately in Mettenberger.

Unlike Crowton, Kragthorpe was an asset on the recruiting trail and the guy I believe marks a shift in the overall evaluation of the position.

2012

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Gunner Kiel, *****, Columbus, IN
Jameis Winston, *****, Hueytown, AL
Matt Davis, ****, Houston, TX
Anthony Alford, ****, Petal, MS
Jeremy Liggins, ***, Oxford, MS
Bennie Coney, ***, Plant City, FL
Tyler Cameron, ***, Jupiter, FL

Liggins signed with LSU but never qualified. Gunner Kiel committed but never signed. The others weren't truly in the picture. Overall, it's not a very good effort. Kiel had nice tools, and was heavily recruited nationally, but his "lack of chest" is well documented by now. Liggins was a project all the way. It's pretty interesting that LSU didn't hone in on a QB in this class with Mettenberger having only a year of eligibility remaining and there being no established depth behind him. Of course, Kiel pulling a last minute stunt also hurt efforts. It was clear the staff saw the need to add someone, thus the pursuit of Liggins.

2013

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

J.T. Barrett, ****, Wichita Falls, TX
Hayden Rettig, ****, Los Angeles, CA
Cord Sandberg, ****, Brandenton, FL
Jeremy Johnson, ****, Montgomery, AL
Anthony Jennings, ****, Marietta, GA
Riley Ferguson, ***, Matthews, NC
Connor Mitch, ***, Raleigh, NC

Here, the dividends of Kragthorpe paid off. He played a heavy hand in pulling both Rettig and Jennings to LSU. Dipping into California is rare, but Kragthorpe built a bond with Rettig that lured him to Baton Rouge. Jennings was the son of a former UGA player, so it was no small feat to nab him either. The major shift here is that LSU didn't strike out with top tier prospects, as we saw them do so frequently in years' past. Being strung out in 2012 likely proved beneficial, as they were able to lure two top prospects rather than one good one and a developmental guy or two.

Summary

I like the aim higher approach. Under Kragthorpe/Stud, LSU was in contention for serious top 150 QB recruits from across the country. They weren't merely blind offers to top prospects, there was legitimate opportunity both years. They were forced to "settle" in 2012, mostly because of what happened with Kiel. In 2013 they nabbed two top guys and didn't look back. But it's still far too early to know if the evaluations were good.

The Cam Cameron Era

Cameron brings a legitimacy to the offensive coaching staff that was lacking since Fisher departed. He's a proven entity, not one with serious question marks (Crowton, Kragthorpe) or general lack of experience (Studrawa). We know Cameron can coach. Our major question was whether or not he could recruit. I think we saw that answered immediately.

2014

Offered (bolded prospects signed with LSU):

Jerrod Heard, *****, Denton, TX
Brandon Harris, ****, Bossier City, LA
DeShone Kizer, ****, Toledo, OH
Mason Rudolph, ***, Rock Hill, SC
Chase Litton, ***, Tampa, FL

Not a ton of offers, but that likely has something to do with Harris committing in the summer and the staff not needing to pursue any more players. If Harris hadn't committed, I think we'd have seen more offers handed around.

2015

Offered (bolded prospects committed with LSU):

Torrance Gibson, *****, Plantation, FL
De'Andre Johnson, ****, Jacksonville, FL
Tucker Israel, ***, Orlando, FL
Christian Campbell, NR, Ponchatoula, LA

Some early Florida offers. Gibson is a national prospect, so not surprising he was offered early. I'm really curious how this recruiting season plays out. There's not a prospect to the level of Harris in-state. To me, the staff needs to take the past as a lesson in regards to not taking a quarterback. I'm not certain where I stand on the "take a QB every year" argument, but I think you at least need that net average. Considering all the young talent at the position, it may be hard to lure top talent. That said, the staff must also be cognizant that Rettig/Jennings may consider transferring if the other wins the starting job and performs well. It's about contingencies, here, something we didn't have in 2008 or really, 2010, had Mettenberger been injured/suspended.

2016 and Beyond

Offered (bolded prospects committed with LSU):

Avery McCall, Dillon, SC (2016)
Zadock Dinkelmann, Somerset, TX (2018)

Summary

Offers are coming out earlier and earlier. I'm not sure I agree with the merits of offering an 8th grader for all manner of reasons. Just as it's far too early to judge Kragthorpe/Studrawa evaluations, it's impossible to know about Cameron's. Cameron did evaluate and offer Harris, a player who rose over the year and impressed during All-American practices, so there's reason for optimism.

What Does All Of This Mean?

I think we're seeing a bit of an evolution of how the position is recruited. As I mentioned above, Cameron brings legitimacy to the position. He can look at a recruit and say, "I helped develop Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Joe Flacco." He's got a long, impressive track record. That alone is the type of recruiting draw we've lacked since Fisher departed.

It's too early to judge the quality of evaluations, but I think the staff has ratcheted up their intensity level in recruiting the position. Tossing out offers to the Cam Newton's and Tim Tebow's of the world is pretty much a guarantee for all major programs. Getting into their minds, into their legitimate decision making process, is the next level of recruiting. Under Kragthorpe/Stud we nearly signed Gunner Kiel, then did sign two highly rated out-of-state prospects in Jennings and Rettig. This is all while having to point back to really low overall QB production.

However, having a surplus of young quarterback talent is not an excuse to use for poor quarterback recruiting. Time and again we see super talented quarterbacks go to programs that feature many high four and five star quarterbacks. LSU must learn from their mistakes. Having three talents so tightly bound together by eligibility increases the possibility that one could depart.

Cam Cameron should be a game changer for recruiting the quarterback position. He's already made a positive impact on Zach Mettenberger after only a year of working with him. Having a proven developer at the position will help sell our ability to put quarterbacks into the NFL, something we haven't really done under Miles. The real thing here is that he needs to minimize the downturns. The QB play at LSU took a steep dive from 2008 until, really, this season. It's mind boggling that LSU couldn't find a QB anything more than "serviceable" for five seasons. Jefferson and Lee never improved. Mettenberger did, with just a few months under Cam. Let's hope for more of the same.

That being said, LSU doesn't need a 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown machine. They don't need one to win; they don't need one to recruit well. Hitting 3,000 yards and the 20-TD mark should be the standard for performance, not the best QB season in half a decade. Those aren't Heisman-winning stats, but their solid benchmark numbers of success. 250 yards and 1.5 TDs a game isn't a ton to ask for of a QB in this era, regardless of our traditionally defensive-minded conference.

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