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LSU QB Recruiting: Bizarre Past, Interesting Future

Can LSU break the trend of failure when recruiting QBs?

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - LSU v Central Florida Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s not often that LSU is left with a plethora of QB options. In most cycles, like last season, LSU is typically hunting amidst a group of flawed prospects to pick out the least damaged object in the bin. I know that sounds overtly harsh about Peter Parrish, but it’s clear he’s a prospect that needs some polish. There are things to love about his game, and he does have an opportunity to excel, but that will be a long road ahead.

When’s the last time LSU didn’t have that quandary? Lowell Narcisse came to LSU with one half of each leg. Myles Brennan weighed two pennies. Lindsey Scott was more athlete than QB. Justin McMillan, ditto, and probably even more of a recruiting ploy. Is it Brandon Harris? That seems scary.

Realistically, most QBs aren’t fully formed coming from the HS level. Guys like Trevor Lawrence are the exception, not the rule. But still, it feels LSU’s options have been even more project-oriented than most. Myles Brennan didn’t just need to grow into his frame, he needed to add significant weight. Scott & McMillan probably lacked the necessary tools to be SEC-caliber QBs AND didn’t show enough intangibles to play the “leadership” card. Lowell Narcisse, sadly, is probably permanently a fractured version of his fully realized self. LSU’s QB recruiting often feels like buying the best car on a lot of lemons.

“This one’s got a fresh coat of paint and some sweet features, but no engine.”

“This one’s got the engine, but the transmission is shot.”

“This one, well this one here... she drives like a beaut... 30% of the time. “

LSU’s best two QBs of the past decade have both been transfers that showed up to Baton Rouge more fully formed. Noticeably, they also weren’t prospects that needed a metric ton of miracle working to become suitable, either. Mettenberger was six-foot-five, 229 pounds with a strong arm as an incoming freshman to Athens. Joe Burrow was six-foot-four and 200 pounds heading to Ohio State. Leaner, but not devastatingly so. He showed the ability to run and pass adeptly in HS. Of course both needed development to become strong college QBs, but they were closer already as prospects than someone like Lindsey Scott or even Myles Brennan.

It feels like a bizarro world that LSU, one of the schools that’s recruited as well as nearly everyone nationally over the past decade, fails so miserably at securing even decent QB talent. And blame goes all the way around, starting with Miles and his staff and, until we see more from Myles Brennan, continuing into the Orgeron regime. Burrow looks like a hit, but he owes at least a portion of his development to Ohio State coaches who routinely proved up to the task at developing QBs.

My point here is not that LSU fans should give up on Orgeron & Ensminger or call it all a wash. Just that we haven’t yet seen the forward progress in QB development liked we hoped with ushering in a new coach. It’s the major aspect of the Miles era we all hoped to leave behind. Instead, LSU’s offense remains mostly the same. So it’s fair for LSU fans to be strictly in “prove it” mode.

Which brings us to now. Landing Parrish in 2019 is nice, but he feels closer on the spectrum to the Lindsey Scotts of the world than the Zach Mettenbergers. Which means it becomes doubly important for LSU to land at least one, if not a pair, of top tier QB prospects in the 2020 cycle.

The coaching staff seemingly agrees, offering eight players, securing two verbals while continuing to heavily pursue players across the nation. Max Johnson, son of Brad Johnson, a 4-star pro-style QB from Georgia and TJ Finley, a 4-star pro-style QB from Louisiana are both pledged to Orgeron and Ensminger and both re-affirmed their solidarity after a recent Junior Day visit.

Johnson looks the part of your prototypical “pro-style” player, with a solid build. The lefty signal caller’s numbers are underwhelming and much of the blame falls on his under talented teammates. On tape, he does show flashes, but it’s not the type of overwhelming film that makes me think “this guy’s got it.” I recognize that’s an unfair distinction, but time and again we’ve seen great QBs truly elevate their teams, even when they can’t match his talent level. Johnson, instead, seems to get dragged into it. He seems to short-arm some throws and his mechanics seem to buzz all over the map, which is a little surprising from an NFL player’s son. Would he be as highly sought if not for that fact? I’m not saying that he’s destined to bust at the next level but that he looks more like a 3-star type of QB prospect, which is the direction his ranking his trending.

Finley’s got the frame that coaches dream of. At six-foot-six, 233, he’ll physically remind of Jamarcus Russell and could wind up with a Ben Roethlisberger-type of build by the time he’s fully formed. Finley’s tape doesn’t really back up his physical dimensions. Despite his frame, he looks and plays more like a QB that’s 5’9”, in some ways. Maybe this is a function of his HS offense, but I don’t see a guy that’s standing in the pocket and throwing downfield. I don’t see a guy with a monster but untamed arm. Instead he’s a big-bodied soft tosser. Many of his throws are under 10 yards. There are moments when Finley can let one rip, so I think there’s potential to unlock there. But there’s a reason, too, that a player with a six-foot-six frame and a big arm is ranked in the mid 200s on the 247 composite and as a 3-star prospect in 247’s own rankings.

Ultimately, not a pair of can’t miss prospects. And the staff is not proceeding as such. They remain in the hunt for the nation’s top QB, DJ Uiagalelei, though on the outside looking in. Perhaps more interesting is the recent offer to Longview, TX QB Haynes King. At six-foot-three and 180 pounds, King is a long, lean prospect that recently clocked a 4.56 at an Under Armour camp. His offer list continues to grow, though right now features teams like Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee as well as Baylor and Houston from the state of Texas. 247 gave him a massive bump in their recent ratings revamp, and he’s now the 165th player nationally in their composite, just 30 spots after Max Johnson (who 247 dropped heavily). He’s the no. 1 QB in the state of Texas.

Of Finley, Johnson and King, King easily features the best tape, while also being the least physically refined. At this stage, he’s still very lean, but his six-foot-three frame gives him plenty of room to add good muscle and be of solid size. The ball just comes off his hand so effortlessly and King adds a dimension of mobility that neither Finley nor Johnson bring to the table in any serious capacity. He also lead his team to a State Championship.

Here’s where things get interesting: Gabe Brooks, a recruiting analyst with an Arkansas-Louisiana-Oklahoma-Texas focus, recently put in his crystal ball for LSU. Does LSU dare load up on three QBs in a single signing class? I don’t think so. So the question becomes where does the staff rank each of these prospects. On the surface it appears they rank Finley and Johnson above King, but could that be a byproduct of getting to see Finley/Johnson in person while evaluating King on film alone?

I don’t get the impression the staff are so married to the Johnson/Finley duo that either’s offer is irrevocable. I’d say both are firmly in the “prove it” camp at this point. The ideal scenario might just be getting all three guys on campus and letting them duke it out. Coach O loves competition and this situation appears demanding of one.

What will be fun to monitor is how the staff manages these offers. Finley and Johnson re-affirmed their commitments just a couple weeks ago, but you wonder if the staff will begin to throttle down the contact with one of the two and heat it up with King?

This all circles back to our tenuous history with QB evaluation and development. The current plan is one more year of Burrow and then hopefully at least one, if not two, strong seasons of a physically developed Myles Brennan. After that, it’s open season. So opportunity abounds.

What’s for sure is that the staff needs to nail one of these evaluations. If Peter Parrish blows the doors off the place, he could be the heir apparent, but in all likelihood it will be one of these 2020 prospects that ascends to the top of the depth chart following Brennan. Parrish, to me, looks like passable depth, the type of guy you could play if needed but aren’t counting to be your starter. If LSU misses again, then it’s right back in the cycle of repeating the same mistakes of the previous era.

Do you believe they can break the trend? Can they nail this evaluation and restore depth and quality to LSU’s QB situation? Will they pull the trigger on breaking ties with one of their verbal commitments and pursue the promising King? Or do they trust their early evals and believe those guys will develop into the stars they imagine?

The only thing for sure is that whoever is next in line for the QB gig will be the most popular player on the roster. Until he takes the job.