Elite 11 2014: 6 QBs Turning Heads Early On
BEAVERTON, Ore. — Built-up anticipation ended Sunday morning in Oregon as 19 of America's top quarterback prospects assembled on the same field for the start of Elite 11 finals at Nike's world headquarters. The annual event, led by head coach and Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer, puts its competitors through a variety of passing drills that challenge their power, accuracy and decision-making.
Elite 11 alumni include national stars like Andrew Luck, Tim Tebow, Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston. The 2014 edition features several recruiting class cornerstones, with Josh Rosen (UCLA), Ricky Town (USC) and Kyler Murray (Texas A&M) in the mix.
The group, which participated in a pair of sessions Sunday, is mentored by an impressive collection of counselors. Baylor's Bryce Petty and Notre Dame's Everett Golson are among the college standouts in attendance to assist, while Heisman Trophy winners Sam Bradford and Johnny Manziel spent time watching and speaking with participants.
Several quarterbacks turned in outstanding performances on the first day of a weeklong stay in Oregon, which culminates with The Opening later this week. Here's a look a six competitors who stole the show as we watched from the sidelines.
Blake Barnett, Alabama Commit
School: Santiago High School (Corona, California)
MVP Moment of Day 1
The drills that truly showed off what makes Blake Barnett a special prospect actually occurred without him throwing a single pass. The 6'4.5", 200-pound prospect displayed extremely nimble feet during ladder and hurdle drills, smoothly working his way through obstacles that tripped up (pun intended) other large quarterbacks.
Barnett, a former Notre Dame commit, continues to prove he belongs in the dual-threat quarterback category. He moves extremely well for a player of his stature, whether on the run or simply maneuvering in the pocket, and verified that footwork during the afternoon session in Beaverton.
Now that we've lauded over Barnett's lower-body work, let's shine the spotlight on his delivery. No quarterback in a crowded pack of premier passers looks more comfortable while firing the football.
There is no wasted motion, and his release looks effortless, regardless of how fast the ball is released. Barnett, who threw for 2,322 yards and accounted for 35 total touchdowns in 2013, felt positive about his performance in the immediate aftermath.
"I thought I did well," Barnett said. "We all came out this morning and competed, which was great. I felt like I had a strong day."
Kyler Murray, Texas A&M Commit
School: Allen High School (Allen, Texas)
MVP Moment of Day 1
The most memorable moment of the day for Kyler Murray came midway through a demanding afternoon session, when he shared a conversation with Texas A&M legend Johnny Manziel at midfield.
"We just talked like bros," Murray said. "He's been there for me."
From a performance perspective, the 5'11", 180-pound passer peaked during a group-accuracy competition. Murray threw darts downfield, splitting targets that others struggled to find.
His precision was a continuous theme throughout the day and really stood out during a fast-paced segment that got the better of some of Murray's most heralded peers.
The two-time defending state champion was a machine, exhibiting the most polished dropback of any Elite 11 competitor. Murray, the son of former Texas A&M star quarterback Kevin Murray, goes through the same motions on every snap and looked prepared for what he encountered throughout the day.
His passes are on the money, and a well-executed release point alleviates some of the concerns about how a lack of ideal height could impact him in college. Murray, who totaled 8,317 yards and 107 touchdowns during the past two seasons, already looks like an old pro from a fundamental standpoint.
"As many balls as we threw today, you're going to have your good passes and bad passes," he said. "I felt I did pretty well and finished strong during the competition."
Josh Rosen, UCLA Commit
School: St. John Bosco High School (Bellflower, California)
MVP Moment of Day 1
As expected, Josh Rosen started to separate himself from the pack during a drill that required deep-ball attempts. The 6'4", 205-pound phenom made long throws look easy, placing the ball slightly ahead of his receivers so they could corral it in stride.
Rosen shows off elite touch on passes that require significant power, all without sacrificing accuracy. One of his best throws of the day wasn't caught but landed exactly where you'd prefer, just a stride or two ahead of a streaking target along the sideline.
College receivers will catch that pass and take it to the house. Defensive backs must always be mindful of Rosen's ability to drop dimes from long distance.
The reigning state champion did everything he could to elevate his status as the No. 1 overall quarterback in 247Sports' composite rankings. Rosen throws a crisp spiral and, because of that consistency, it was surprising anytime the ball showed a sign of wobbling.
He is on point throughout every stage of his mechanics, moving around the pocket like a college-ready prospect. It's not surprising that Rosen expects to compete for a starting job at UCLA next fall as a true freshman.
"I'd love to take snaps on opening day," he said. "I'm going to work as hard as I can to make that happen."
Rosen threw for 3,200 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2013.
Brandon Wimbush, Penn State Commit
School: St. Peter's Prep High School (Jersey City, New Jersey)
MVP Moment of Day 1
Brandon Wimbush brought the heat early and often Sunday, showing the cannon that earned him an invitation to The Opening after his April performance at the New Jersey Nike football camp. The 6'2", 205-pound prospect commanded attention with his accuracy, particularly during a drill that challenged quarterbacks to combine velocity with precision along the sidelines.
He drilled the ball to receivers, placing it precisely where they could snag it before momentum carried them toward the boundary. Wimbush repeated this effort on several occasions and proved he can fit passes where so many others simply can't.
Penn State head coach James Franklin should be thrilled about what we witnessed Sunday, as his prized pledge arguably boasted the strongest arm. Perhaps more important than the power Wimbush displayed was the way he harnessed it and kept the ball under control without having to slow down throws.
Wimbush, who connected on 15 touchdown tosses as a junior, wasn't content with how things went during opening day and plans to progress when action resumes Monday.
"I thought I did good, but I think I could've been better during the second practice," Wimbush said. "I want to come out tomorrow morning ready to go and prove why I'm here."
Brady White, Arizona State Commit
School: Hart High School (Santa Clarita, California)
MVP Moment of Day 1
Brady White, a 6'2", 190-pound passer who represents the quarterback-rich Golden State, looked outstanding during progression drills. When forced to make a decision with limited time and preparation, he rose to the occasion and connected with the appropriate receiver.
Many other prospects appeared slightly out of their element when the pocket was disrupted and choices had to be made on the fly. White wasn't phased, firing the ball with extraordinary zip that consistently found its target in stride.
The poise he exhibits on game film translated flawlessly onto the field Sunday.
White, who tallied 4,535 passing yards and 50 total touchdowns as a junior, is among the top four quarterbacks in a California class that's uniquely deep. He outperformed Ricky Town while keeping pace with Rosen and Barnett.
For a guy who was passed up by UCLA and USC, it's clear to see he's one of Southern California's top prospects at the position in recent years. White is a smooth operator in the backfield and surgical with his downfield accuracy, especially in the intermediate range.
He sounded pleased with how the day transpired.
"I started out a little slow in the morning, just getting warmed up," White said. "Then I thought I progressed really well throughout the day. It was a lot of fun."
Deondre Francois, Uncommitted
School: IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida)
MVP Moment of Day 1
Deondre Francois, who previously played at Olympia High School in Orlando, was flushed outside the pocket during a pressure drill and delivered one of the most impressive passes of the afternoon. The 6'1", 195-pound prospect launched a laser off his back foot, presumably leaving the receiver's hand burning for the remainder of Sunday's action.
He showed off a cannon during earlier stages of the session but really gave a glimpse of his unique skill set on a play that placed him under duress. Francois—still considering Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon, among others—is expected to announce a collegiate decision later this month.
There's a lot of room for improvement in the accuracy department, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a quarterback in Beaverton who packs as much power into each pass as the Sunshine State standout.
He delivers line drives that make you wonder how special he could become with additional refinement for footwork and balance, which should come while under the tutelage of IMG head coach and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke.
Francois pushes the ball downfield in a hurry and is oozing with potential as a passer, complementing his above-average rushing abilities.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.