As I've documented, the otherwise outstanding recruiting track record of Les Miles, is a bit tarred by his inability to find excellent QB prospects. While [QBs redacted] could, at best, be described as "sufficient," no one this side of the Mississippi would go about bragging about their accomplishments. Under their watch the Tigers did claim one SEC Championship and a trip to New Orleans for a National Title, but that season was largely built on the backs of outstanding defense and special teams.
Coming fresh off the Mettenberger era, things seem to be looking up. The offense is now coordinated by a veteran, proven successful coach, who paid immediate dividends in 2013. LSU's offense was more than competent, ranking seventh nationally in Yards/Play, featuring a 61/39 percent run/pass split that still featured the first 3,000 yard passer since JaMarcus Russell in the Miles era. Mettenberger is a player we've long saw tremendous potential in, but as I forecasted preseason, he truly asserted himself in 2013. The offense, in many ways, is the ideal version of what Les Miles envisions: an emphasis on downhill running with the boost of down field passing.
Yet, Cameron's big work is in front of him. The 2013 offense featured an experienced and talented passing QB, a pair of NFL Draft worthy WRs, and a superb NFL draft worthy RB. Those "toys" would be enough for any offensive coordinator to come in and seem competent. For LSU fans, though, there's plenty of reason for optimism that future offenses won't venture into the 10th percentile, despite difficult personnel losses. Firstly, Mettenberger himself looked like a different QB from year one as a starter to year two as a starter. Secondly, the offense operated with purpose and cohesion. The play calling didn't seem a scattered mess, as we saw under both Crowton and Studrawa/Kragthorpe. The job now is to develop less experienced talent.
Enter Brandon Harris. Harris, an early enrollee that arrived on campus on January 15th, prepped at Parkway High School in Bossier City, LA. Parkway isn't a traditional Louisiana power, and, in fact, has never appeared in the State Championship Game until this season. Guided by Harris, the Panthers reached the Dome primarily on the arm and legs of Harris. In the Dome, Parkway was felled by a superior, and traditional power, Acadiana.
Harris brings a dual threat skill set to the table, though the strength of his game lies in his right arm. Harris, like Anthony Jennings, is a capable runner, though don't expect him to post Cam Newton/Johnny Manziel-type rushing statistics against SEC defenses. He's probably a 4.6-4.7 guy, capable of making defenses pay with his legs, and running some designed option plays, but, as you will see in the film study, one who consistently keeps his eyes down field to makes plays in the passing game.
Harris' recruiting rise was a bit meteoric. As I detailed in his original commitment piece, early in the 2014 recruiting cycle, Harris looked like a D1 prospect destined for smaller school ball. After working the camp circuit, however, his stock sky rocketed, earning him offers from Auburn and Ohio State, amongst others. The reason? Both his charisma and personality, along with his exceptional tool set.
The personable Harris committed to LSU on July 17th on ESPN and never looked back. He's drawn affection from fans for being an active and vocal recruiter to other LSU targets, often coming to Baton Rouge during big recruiting weekends in the fall. At his announcement Harris stated that he wanted to be in the Louisiana Hall of Fame, not the Alabama or Ohio Hall of Fame. He also praised Cam Cameron as one of the primary reasons he chose LSU.
His Senior numbers:
209/330, 63%, 3,518 passing yards, 37 passing TDs, 9 INTs
144 carries, 1,153 rushing yards, 17 TDs
Harris accepted an invite and played in the Under Armour All-American Bowl on January 2nd. At practices, 247 Sports' Kipp Adams anointed Harris one of the top performers on both Day 1 and Day 2. He also exhibited his personality in a segment for NOLA.com where he interviewed fellow UA Bowl participants.
Tale of the Tape
Weight: 184 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.64
20-yard Shuttle: 4.43
Vertical Jump: 30.3
A solid athlete with good speed for a QB. Harris was an Elite 11 competitor, he failed to make the finals, though his omission was somewhat surprising, as he did impress. As stated above, he was also selected to play in the Under Armour All-American game.
In July, I summarized, "I like Harris. I like Anthony Jennings more." Has anything changed about my opinion after a lackluster performance by Jennings in the Outback Bowl and a super senior season by Harris. Let's hit the Senior tape to see what Harris offers.
Strengths: Arm strength, Athleticism, Quick Release, Ball Skills, Personality, Frame
What I Like
Arm Strength: At the 1:43 mark, we see the first example of that live arm. It's to a wide open target, but thrown on a rope. Follow that up with 1:50 mark, with what is such a jaw-dropping, effortless deep ball. Great deep ball accuracy, as well. At 2:12, may be the most impressive throw on the reel. From a technical perspective, not great. His body action is moving backward and he doesn't follow through on the throw. Ideally you'd like to see him plant that back foot and transfer his weight forward on the deep ball. Instead, it looks like he's throwing a fade from the nine yard line into the endzone. Yet, the ball travels 35 yards in the air. Arm strength can be categorized a lot of ways, but Harris throws a super live ball. Without even the help of his lower body in many cases, he's able to flick it either high velocity or long distances without "exerting." 2:51 is another example of that live arm. Another back-foot throw, but he just tear drops it in with beauty.
4:38 is just an absolute laser beam that would make Dr. Evil proud. 5:11 throwing off balanced and on the run, no big deal. The throw at 8:30, though, is one that shows me the kid has a legit arm - absolutely gorgeous. 10:18, scramble one way, flushed another, rolling to his right, throws a strike on the sideline.
Athleticism: Check the play starting at 1:33. Harris' pocket collapses quickly, but it's easy to see his natural strength (running through arm tackles) and overall athleticism (breaking the pocket to pick up positive yards). At 2:01, again, you see he's capable of breaking the pocket and making things happen with his legs when the play breaks down.
At 2:59, they attempt a trick play that's quickly snuffed out. Harris makes himself available, catches a throwback and turns it into a sizable gain. Also love the attitude he flashes at the end of the play.
Quick Release: Watch how easily he pump fakes and then fires out a long ball at 4:09. He's not a "wind up" type of thrower, something that I think victimized both JaMarcus Russell and Zach Mettenberger at times. 5:11 is another play where he's forced to be mobile and is able to adjust and fire out the ball quickly. 5:37 again, the ball comes out hot while he's on the move. 6:43, a nice pump and then puts some nice touch on a ball up the sideline. 8:08, with pressure, on, an on target out route.
Ball Skills: At 2:21 we see him on a designed run. He flashes a nice ball fake, something that can serve as a major bonus in the option attack. Again at 4:09. 6:43 you see a more traditional pump.
Personality: Harris is bright, charismatic and personable. He's grounded and all around a solid kid... the type of kid you want your quarterback to be. I think players will flock to him as a leader and respect his guidance. He's confident in all the right ways. He's a hard worker. He's been a vocal recruiter for this class since the day he committed.
Frame: Harris is a solid 6'2", 200 pounds. Right now, he's long and lanky. He's a guy I could see pretty easily adding 15-20 pounds of solid muscle, possibly even in his first year on campus.
What I Dislike
Mechanics: Harris, like most young QBs, doesn't exhibit consistency in his throwing mechanics. His natural arm strength allows him to get away with things that other lesser-talented passers couldn't. This is something you can get away with in high school and probably, to an extent, college, as well. But finding those consistent mechanics will improve his accuracy and even his arm strength. The main area that needs tightening is footwork. Harris has a tendency to fade away on throws, and while he's got plenty arm to still get the ball out there, maintaining a good throwing base and stepping through his passes can likely take him to another level as a passer.
Dilfer dives into some of the mechanical issues in this video as well.
What I Don't Know
One major question mark I had about Harris after watching his Junior highlights was with his touch and accuracy. The live arm is ever present, but can he take the mustard off when needed? Can he drop the ball over a player's shoulder? What's his ball placement like? I must say from that tape to the senior highlights linked above, Harris looks significantly improved. There's a ton of clips of him hitting receivers in stride, dropping the ball over shoulders, placing them high and outside on the side line, etc. He throws with pretty good anticipation.
Could this be a young QB just improving and maturing? Definitely part of it. I'd also say it's likely a sign of his comfort and leadership of the offense. He knows these players and this system, so he "settled in." But I still need to see more. Reports from the UA game were that the physical tools were impressive, but he struggled some with his accuracy. A lot of this, I believe is tied to the mechanical issues mentioned above. It's also something most quarterbacks gain with experience.
Harris getting on campus early will be instrumental to his development. This spring he's in the QB competition with a shot to winning the starting job. I'd consider it a long shot that he's LSU's starting QB in Houston against Wisconsin Week 1. Harris has impressive physical tools, but he's still raw.
The great news is, his issues are all things that are correctable. The fact that he'll get an extra semester to begin refining his game under the tutelage of an outstanding QB coach like Cam Cameron, should give LSU fans great comfort.
I've been an unabashed Anthony Jennings supporter on this site, and while I'm not changing my tune on that, I'm not so sure Brandon Harris isn't the most talented QB on campus at the moment. Harris' physical tools are off the charts. Comparatively, Jennings doesn't have near the arm strength, with similar other traits. What I love about Jennings' game is that he seems to have a great feel for the passing game. Even during bowl practices, receivers commented on how much anticipation he threw with. When I wrote Harris' commitment piece, that was one aspect of the game I felt he lacked. Now watching Senior highlights, I think he's caught up in that regard.
Which player I like more is irrelevant. I think Harris' upside is exceptional, maybe some of the best we've had since JaMarcus. That makes him a super intriguing, albeit very raw, prospect. He reminds me a bit of Marcus Mariota, who was similarly lanky, athletic and with superb physical upside. Mariota's big, live arm is probably the most distinguishing characteristic between he and other QBs from the Chip Kelly era. Clearly Harris will run a more of a classic pro-style attack at LSU, but his athleticism should allow Cam Cameron to incorporate some of those option and read-option looks we've featured in the past.
Assuming Harris doesn't pull a Winston/Manziel and step into immediate greatness (even those two took redshirts), he'll likely have to bide his time before taking on the starting spot. Jennings is just a true Sophomore and Rettig will be a RS Freshman. It's way too early to speculate about which way the depth chart goes this fall. With only Jennings and Rettig, there's not much chance of redshirting Harris. Had Rivers stuck around, they may have had that luxury. It's something they can toy with, but not feel confident in doing. A year of adding good weight, learning the playbook and refining his mechanics means he'd be more ready to play when needed. It'd also put some distance between he and Jennings/Rettig.
That said, stars are stars. If Harris lights it up all Spring and clearly proves he's the better QB through the Summer, then he should be the starter. That resets everything and while it may give us pause for concern about Jennings/Rettig, let's not forget Jacob Coker who had a legitimate shot to win the FSU starting QB gig, until that Winston kid came along. Coker's now at Alabama, because Winston is quite clearly a star. That's not something I foresee happening. Harris has a bright future, but it's one we won't likely get to experience until 2016 or 2017.
High End: All-SEC QB.
Low End: Career back-up.
Realistic: Solid one or two year starter.