Texas commit Jerrod Heard helps headline another class of capable dual-threat quarterbacks.
The college football landscape is filled with intricate variations of the basic spread offensive attack, including dangerous option packages. Coaches are implementing this game plan with quicker tempos and increased volume across the country in an effort to isolate defenders.
It takes a particular kind of talent to orchestrate this game plan from the backfield, keeping a defense off-balance with consistency. The offense typically lines up in shotgun formation, unveiling a three-to-five receiver set, and occasionally partners a pair of running backs alongside the quarterback.
The attack becomes even scarier when a dual-threat player is taking snaps from center and can effectively run a no-huddle approach.
Offensive execution is reliant on the quarterback and offensive line's ability to identify pre-snap reads, placing the football into the hands of targeted playmakers as quickly as possible or having the quarterback tuck the ball and take off with a designed run after receiving the snap. We've seen players become superstars and earn Heisman Trophy honors in these systems.
The 2014 recruiting class boasts a bevy of skill players suited for success in a spread offense. We span the nation in search of those equipped to make an impact in such a setting.
B/R college football columnist Tyler Donohue spent three seasons with the Rutgers University football program's recruiting department, contributing to three classes (2007-09) under head coach Greg Schiano.
William Crest, a 6'2", 195-pound quarterback, has established himself as a savvy player behind center. He led the Poets to a state title as a sophomore and junior, increasing as a pocket passer during the course of those seasons.
Despite excellent speed, Crest typically owns a pass-first mindset and has a cannon to back it up. When he does take off on a scramble or designed run, it's easy to see that he is a smart runner in space.
Crest uses downfield blocking well, while understanding when to hit the turf and live to play another down (an underrated virtue for dual-threat quarterbacks). He has thrived in a myriad of offensive schemes, adding versatility to his resume.
"We run a multiple scheme as we call it," he told NJ.com. "We have different types of weapons, different types of athletes who can run certain plays. We have certain packages for different people. We go underneath, we go shotgun, we go spread and sometimes we run out of the wildcat. But I'm under center 85 percent of the time."
Expect him to spend a lot more time taking snaps in the shotgun formation when he heads to West Virginia, where quarterbacks Pat White and Geno Smith emerged as national stars in recent years. He chose the Mountaineers in April after considering interest from Virginia Tech, Maryland, Rutgers and Ohio State (coached by spread option offense innovator Urban Meyer).
This 6'2", 210-pound Missouri prospect delivers quite a blow when he makes contact with defenders, playing the quarterback position with the rushing capabilities of a battering fullback. Rafe Peavey is a tank behind center, displays passing precision from all distances and already possesses the pocket presence of a collegiate passer.
When you watch his highlight tape, there are several things that stick out about the Arkansas commit.
He is highly capable of delivering downfield strikes and excels when forced to throw on the run. His rushing ability keeps linebackers keyed on the line of scrimmage and he often exploits that with well-placed passes into one-on-one coverage.
Peavey is an extremely patient player who doesn't have happy feet in the pocket and can buy himself time with excellent lateral movement in the backfield. Bolivar runs several designed rollouts, which highlight his ability to quickly assess options and make a decision.
Peavey's judgment outside of the pocket is reminiscent of Russell Wilson, who starred for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. Peavey, who stuck by his early commitment to the Razorbacks after a coaching change, was offered by option-centric teams Georgia Tech and Arizona but is likely to encounter more of a pro-style approach in Fayetteville.
Jerrod Heard committed to Texas the summer after his sophomore season, giving the Longhorns yet another major addition to a strong 2014 crop of recruits. The 6'3" Guyer High School star is among the premier quarterback prospects in the southwest and is regarded by many as one of the top Texan offensive players of his class.
He garnered an offer from the Longhorns with an outstanding first season as a high school starter (more than 2,800 total yards and 34 touchdowns) and finished off his junior season by accounting for all seven touchdowns in the state title game.
Heard, a long-striding runner who is excellent at evading would-be tacklers in the open field, can certainly afford to add 10-15 pounds of muscle to his thin frame as a college freshman. He'll need the extra padding as he looks to pick up an offense that recently featured dual-threat quarterbacks and Heisman finalists Vince Young and Colt McCoy.
Heard has a polished passing motion, as evidenced by his improvement in national Elite 11 action this summer. He's a determined young man who aims to enter the fray for a starting job at Texas as soon as he arrives in Austin. It's hard to count him out of contention based on his track record.
Mack Brown landed a cerebral passer who can sling the ball with the best of his peers in this class, while bringing elite scrambling ability. If he claims the quarterback spot at Texas, expect the team to tailor a game plan much like the one that allowed McCoy the option of tucking the ball and running if the defensive approach dictated it.
Heard has the potential to become a household name at the next level, which is why LSU, Nebraska and Arizona State also extended offers prior to his junior season.
You have to appreciate the type of running backs Rich Rodriguez routinely targets on the recruiting trail. His renowned option offense added a major spark to Arizona's attack last year and 2014 commit Nick Wilson will become a factor as soon as he arrives on campus.
The central California star is the total package you look for at running back in a spread offense. The 5'11", 195-pound speedster can cut on a dime, gets to the outside in a hurry and isn't afraid to throw a block when the ball isn't in his hands.
Perhaps even more important is the fact that Wilson already has proven his abilities in the offense at Central East High School. His junior season highlight tape is filled with examples of how versatile he can be as a member of a spread option backfield.
There's nothing finesse about this young man, who has the physical build to be an every-down back in college. Wilson shrugs off tacklers and you have to like how he refuses to run out of bounds, routinely taking on contact along the sidelines.
“I like to use my speed in the open field, but I love taking on defenders inside the box and playing a real physical brand of football when I’m carrying the ball," he told WildcatSportsReport.com (h/t Tucson Citizen).
His downfield vision and anticipation is elite. Those factors may be the most important elements of deciding whether a back succeeds or fail in a spread offense backfield, particularly when option packages are in play
Wilson considered offers from a wide range of schools, including Arizona State, Arkansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin before announcing his commitment to Arizona in March.
No senior quarterback in the country possesses the blend of top-tier talent Deshaun Watson brings to the table. The highly coveted Gainesville High School standout committed to Clemson last February, but new developments could call the concreteness of that decision into question (more on that in a moment).
Watson, a 6'3", 190-pound athlete, is about as mechanically solid as a kid can look at this stage of his career. His ability to read situations and react appropriately while commanding an offense is obviously an appealing part of his arsenal, as Elite 11 director Trent Dilfer explained after working with Watson at camp in Atlanta.
He is suited for just about any offense a college coach could throw at him, but it would be a thrill to watch Watson work in a spread set. It would instantly create space for him to exploit.
He's a compact runner who powers past the line of scrimmage with a low center of gravity and doesn't go down easy. Watson can take off at any time and sting an overly stretched defense.
As a passer, Watson is a technician. He's fundamentally sound in several key facets, keeping his shoulders square, arms raised and compact and eyes downfield even when under duress.
These are qualities some NFL quarterbacks lack and that discipline makes everything else much easier, especially when you're working in a frenetic set like the spread. While Watson still has room to improve as a deep ball passer (some minor adjustments on the back-end of his throwing motion will help that), his intermediate accuracy is consistently on point.
Watson would be quite a weapon if given the opportunity to occasionally work out of a spread option package and whichever team ultimately welcomes him will strongly consider adding several new wrinkles to the game plan.
His commitment to Clemson remains in place, but Watson visited Auburn this spring and is still being sought after by the likes of national champions Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. The Tigers will need to keep a tight hold on Watson as national signing day approaches.
For now, he'll look to build off a junior season in which he broke Georgia's all-time career passing yardage record and continue to polish an unparalleled skill set.