There's a precedent for this.
Johnny Manziel was in his second year out of high school when Kliff Kingsbury, then the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, named him the starting quarterback over Jameill Showers (the favorite to start) and helped guide him to the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
If he only knew the half of it.
Now Kingsbury is entering his second year as the head coach at his alma mater, Texas Tech, where he's spent the summer hyping up another two-years-removed-from-high-school QB. Like Manziel, he was a looked-over 3-star prospect on the 247Sports Composite, and like Manziel, he is not much to look at physically (at least not yet).
But just like Manziel, Davis Webb can play.
That became obvious during Webb's true freshman season, when he, unlike Manziel, was called on to make a few starts. Walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield beat Webb for the job out of camp, but by the end of the season, after Webb threw for 403 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in the Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, the job was so obviously Webb's that Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma.
Now the job belongs to Webb indubitably. The team and the offense are his, and the 6'4", 215-pound sophomore from Prosper, Texas, is good enough to...well, to prosper. Not just at an All-Big 12 level, but as one of the very best statistical quarterbacks in America.
Webb could be the shocker of the season.
Kingsbury doesn't mince words. He never has, and he never will.
That was his style as a player—Kingsbury, by the way, won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation's top QB in 2002—and that's been his style as a coach. Confident and outspoken. Eccentric and hip and cool.
Despite this, the comments Kingsbury made about Webb in late May seemed out there. Way out there. Even by his own "way out there" standards. Here's what the second-year coach had to say about his second-year quarterback, per Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com:
He has a chance to be very special. He has one of the quickest releases and strongest arms I’ve been around. Very smart, intellectual thinker. Processes things very quickly. Sees the field. Great at checking to the right place. He probably had the best spring I’ve ever been around as far as protecting the football and making plays in our scrimmages. In our live scrimmages, [he had] 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, which was a huge step from where he was last year.
I think he’s one of those top-5 pick talents with his arm strength and his mind and his size, and how athletic he is for being 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds.
It is normal, as a first reaction, to rebuff Kingsbury's praise as hyperbole and coachspeak. Of course he'd call his quarterback a top-five type of talent. What is he supposed to say—that he isn't?
But look a little closer, and you realize that he might not be so crazy. Webb is not a household name—his namesake, Katherine, is better associated with college quarterback play than he is—but perhaps he ought to be. His true freshman season was that historically good.
Webb finished No. 12 in the country in ESPN.com's Total QBR metric last season. The three players immediately behind him were Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater and Connor Shaw. Tajh Boyd, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr could all be found a little further down the list.
Only six returning players finished ahead of him:
|Top 8 Returning Players in College Football – Total QBR|
|Adjusted QBR||Pass EPA||Run EPA|
|1. Marcus Mariota (ORE)||89.5||67.7||31.4|
|2. Jameis Winston (FSU)||88.5||85.9||7.6|
|3. Bryce Petty (BAY)||85.5||74.1||5.9|
|4. Brett Hundley (UCLA)||84.8||60.8||41.9|
|5. Nick Marshall (AUB)||83.0||27.0||35.9|
|5. Dak Prescott (MSST)||83.0||25.4||36.8|
|7. Davis Webb (TTU)||82.6||51.5||-4.0|
|8. Braxton Miller (OSU)||81.5||38.3||32.7|
Not a bad list to be on.
Because he ranks so high, based on his own performance, you might think calling Webb the surprise of 2014 is a misnomer. How could someone who's already placed himself on that list be a "surprise"?
The answer to that question is simple: Because he still don't get no respect. When the most recent batch of Heisman odds were released in February, per Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com, seven of the eight QBs listed above were included.
Care to guess which one was not?
The Total QBR data at ESPN stretches back to 2004. During that time, no true freshman has ever posted a higher score than Webb's 82.6 in 2013. That's a decade's worth of data that Webb stands on the forefront of—and still nobody seems to notice him!
Well, not nobody. People understand that Webb is poised to be good. He just hasn't penetrated the national discourse.
He did, however, earn this endorsement from Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com, who called Webb the most indispensable player at TTU:
The Red Raiders' hopes for success are sitting on Webb's shoulders. ...
He looked even better during the spring with his spot as "the man" in the Red Raiders' offense, capping his spring with a four-touchdown performance in the spring game. Heading into his sophomore season, Webb is accurate, takes care of the football and continues to improve, making him one of the Big 12's most valuable players.
If he's out of the equation, Tech's hopes for success take a major hit. Not only because Kingsbury's squad is set to have a true freshman Patrick Mahomes, as its No. 2 quarterback, but because Webb's stellar play would be difficult to mimic for any signal-caller.
Kingsbury's offense, which was welded from his time spent learning under Mike Leach (as a player) and Kevin Sumlin (as a coordinator), is among the most dangerous in the country.
Even after losing tight end Jace Amaro, Webb still has explosive players such as Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez to rely on. According to Chatmon, receivers are the team's strongest position.
Webb has a little bit of Manziel in him, too. He wants every play to be the game-changer. Or at least that's how he was when he first arrived.
"He was trying to hit a home run with every throw," Kingsbury told B/R's Ben Kercheval. "He didn't let the game come to him."
To which Webb, himself, conceded, "I have a big head."
Sound like anyone you know?
But now Webb is being lauded for his decision-making, for the way he takes care of the football. He's still got that Manziel mentality, but he's better at reigning it in. And although he'll never be the wizard on his feet that Manziel was, Manziel will never be 6'4" (and slowly filling out).
All of which points to a huge season for Webb—statistically and otherwise. Putting up very good numbers would surprise no one, but Webb is poised to do much more. He's poised to put up Derek-Carr-in-2013 numbers, the type that merit Heisman consideration.
If Texas Tech can cobble together a defense and win nine or 10 football games, that's exactly what Webb will receive.
Don't say you haven't been warned.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT