When the University of Wisconsin signed highly rated California prep quarterback Bart Houston in February, there was considerable rejoicing among a fandom that had wondered why the Badgers couldn’t attract a big name at the position.

To most, UW had finally landed a quarterback who could take the program to another level.

The problem with that line of thinking is that it has little basis in reality. And if last season — when transfer Russell Wilson, who was lightly regarded coming out of high school, led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl — wasn’t enough to convince UW fans that the quarterback rankings compiled by the recruiting mavens are borderline useless, then last month’s NFL draft certainly was.

For the most part, the recruiting experts had it right when they evaluated Stanford’s Andrew Luck. They did OK on Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, too.

But the other nine quarterbacks drafted by NFL teams were ranked fairly low, if at all, coming out of high school. It was much the same for the 13 quarterbacks who signed contracts as undrafted free agents.

Of course, not being drafted or signed by an NFL team doesn’t mean a quarterback had a poor college career. However, the NFL draft is a good indicator of a player’s ability to play the game’s most demanding position, which is what the prep rankings are supposed to predict.

As you shall see, recruiting a top-10 quarterback comes with no guarantee of future success. Nor does recruiting from well down the list mean a school can’t develop a quarterback with NFL potential.

Luck, the first player taken in April’s draft, was ranked second by Scout, fourth by Rivals and seventh by ESPN in the class of 2008. Rivals ranks quarterbacks in two categories — dual threat and pro style — and Luck was in the latter group. Griffin, selected on the pick after Luck, was ranked fourth (dual threat) by Rivals, 12th by Scout and 40th by ESPN in the class of 2008.

Among the quarterbacks ranked ahead of Luck by at least two of the three ratings services back in 2008 were Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Kansas’ Dayne Crist, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. Pryor is a reserve for the Oakland Raiders after leaving Ohio State in disgrace, Gabbert is starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the other three are still in school.

Crist will play one season at Kansas after washing out at Notre Dame, Glennon is the guy who replaced Wilson after Wilson left to play his senior season at UW and Manuel was stuck behind first-round draft pick Christian Ponder until last season. Of the three, only Glennon is considered a potential first-round pick.

Of the remaining quarterbacks drafted in April, Tennessee-Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman, a seventh-round choice of the Green Bay Packers, was the most highly rated in high school. Originally a Tennessee recruit, he was listed 10th (pro style) by Rivals, 16th by Scout and 89th by ESPN.

The other first-round quarterbacks, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, barely registered as preps. Tannehill was ranked 23rd (dual threat) by Rivals, 34th by ESPN and 58th by Scout in 2007. Weeden, who graduated in 2002, wasn’t rated by any of the services, in part because everyone thought his future was in baseball. A pitcher, he was a second-round pick of the New York Yankees and signed immediately.

Perhaps the most amazing climb was by Wilson. He was ranked 67th by Scout and 104th by ESPN and wasn’t ranked at all by Rivals in 2007, yet was a third-round draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks. After only one rookie minicamp, coach Pete Carroll said Wilson will compete for the starting job.

The remaining drafted quarterbacks and their prep rankings: Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler was 26th (pro style) by Rivals, 49th by Scout, 78th by ESPN in 2009; Arizona’s Nick Foles was 30th (pro style) by Rivals, 45th by ESPN, 52nd by Scout in 2007; Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins was 137th by ESPN and unranked by the other two in 2007; San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley was 34th (pro style) by Rivals, 47th by Scout, 51st by ESPN in 2007; and Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish was unranked by all of the services in 2007.

A few of the more highly ranked quarterbacks from 2007 are worth mentioning. Aaron Corp was ranked in the top five by all three services, started out at USC, transferred to Richmond, was signed by the Buffalo Bills after the draft and was released after one rookie minicamp. Florida’s John Brantley was ranked in the top seven by all three services yet went undrafted before signing with the Baltimore Ravens.

We all know recruiting is an inexact science, but it appears recruiting quarterbacks is little more than a crapshoot. This year’s draft shows that the recruiting gurus are often wrong and that many college coaches have limited knowledge when it comes to evaluating and developing quarterbacks.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

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(1) comment


Now, if we only played Iowa each year...

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