COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Between last week's Stanford Elite 11 and Friday's Elite 11 regional camp here in Columbus, Ohio, you could argue these two events clearly produced the finest quarterbacks of the spring camp and combine circuit, and even produced a few surprises. For the most part, the high-profile guys were as advertised and a few underclassman had strong showings.
For what it is worth, in a workout setting we place a premium on two areas -- footwork and accuracy. It is also critical to see how a player adapts and adjusts in a foreign setting and how quickly it happens. For the most part, Friday's prospects were a pretty well-groomed group of signal callers. There were anywhere from five to seven QBs on hand that will end up being top 25 players at their position for 2012.
Top performers (in alphabetical order)
QB Austin Appleby (Hoover HS, Ohio)
Just like we saw on tape, Appleby is a good-sized pocket passer who shows real flashes of developmental upside and can become a competent collegiate signal caller. He is the ideal fit for the multiple pro scheme where he can work from center and throw from within the pocket. He is an above average athlete who is capable of throwing accurately on the move. He is coming off a knee injury but looked strong and healthy. He should receive a lot of attention from non-BCS level programs and some lower level BCS schools.
QB Casey Cochran (Masuk HS, Conn.)
Cochran is a well built prospect who is always going to battle his lack of height when it comes to his recruitment. He reminds us of Rutgers QB Chas Dodd, who we also had graded very highly despite a lack of ideal measurables. Cochran can stroke it with zip and authority. He has good feet, anticipated well and when his feet were set he showed he is capable of making the necessary college level throws. He has a swagger and he competed at a very high level with good overall accuracy. His height will likely limit his BCS level recruitment, but there are real intangibles with him.
QB Chad Kelly (St. Joseph's Collegiate Inst., Buffalo, N.Y.)
On tape, Kelly is one this class' most impressive athletes and QBs, but it has been difficult to truly evaluate him as a passer, so it was very important for us to get a real feel for his downfield arm. After seeing him we feel confident he can make the necessary throws. Despite mostly playing out of the shotgun in high school, his footwork away from center was among the best in attendance. His drop speed, set up and balance were very good. He has a smooth and quick delivery. His arm is very good, but not elite on intermediate and deep range throws. He throws the ball extremely well on the run however and is such a crafty athlete with swagger and poise that you can't help but like him a lot.
QB Gunner Kiel (East Columbus HS, Ind.)
Kiel entered the event as one of, if not the most highly-touted prospect in the 2012 class and overall he met expectations. He is a physically great-looking prospect on the hoof who is a better athlete than you might think. He possesses a big arm and a very tight, compact delivery that, at times, is so tight that he can look tense in the upper body. He has good feet, is accustomed to working from under center and out of the shotgun and, at times, displayed real arm talent to stretch the field with power and velocity. Kiel throws surprisingly well on the move and is very natural doing it. He is one of those guys who could be a deceptive runner in a spread scheme and also be a bona fide pocket passer. His scheme versatility is impressive.
QB Sean Maguire (Seton Hall Prep, N.J.)
The attendance of Maguire was not expected (he already proved his worth at Rutgers camp earlier this month), but the days of him flying under the radar are likely coming to end as he has really shown he has what it takes despite playing in a run-dominated Wing-T scheme in high school. He throws extremely well on the run to both sides and is just a smooth, consistent passer in terms of being mechanically sound from throw-to-throw. He has an "it" factor that is tough to put into words, but you know it when you see it and his recruiting will likely start gaining a lot of steam over the summer and fall months.
QB Tyler Matthews (McPherson HS, Kan.)
The best release, natural wrist snap and velocity belonged to Matthews. He was taller in person than he appeared on tape as a junior, has good bulk and strength, and the arm to make all the throws. He has good feet, is a crafty athlete, gets the ball out on time and shows good anticipation. You can see he has spent most of his time in the shotgun as he needs refinement of drops and footwork, but you cannot coach his delivery. He has natural RPMs and can fit the ball into tight spots. TCU jumped on this guy early and for good reason. He is a guy we have really liked on tape to this point and he did not disappoint at all in person. He reminds us a little of a taller Kyle Parker from Clemson.
QB Patrick Towles (Highlands HS, Ky.)
After watching Towles take a few snaps on Friday, we asked him how many times he plays from under center in a game. "Zero, he said. He also said that was the case basically since he has been playing football, so it was no wonder he was clearly out of his comfort zone. However, his size, athleticism and arm tell you all you need to know. He is raw, but very gifted. On tape he reminded us of Nebraska QB commit Bubba Starling in terms of his playmaking ability and the way he consistently found ways to move the chains. As a passer, his arm can get the job done and mechanically he will get coached up. As a dual-threat guy who can throw it, he is the best guy coming out of Kentucky from this class.
QB Jameis Winston (Hueytown HS, Ala.)
We have seen Winston many times over the last two years, but this is the first time where we have seen him with a tighter, more compact release. Winston is a big-time baseball prospect with a whip-like, loose arm who is really fluid in his motion, but due to baseball, that motion can be longer than you would like. But that wasn't the case on Friday and he displayed a much quicker and tighter stroke than in the past. He is a scary dual-threat, but also a guy who can thrive as a pocket passer. His height and frame has loads of room to add bulk and strength and Winston has a chance to be special in two sports. That leads to quite the dilemma now doesn't it?
QB Matt Alviti (Main South HS, Ill.)
Alviti lacks great height, but has a live pistol for an arm. The ball jumps off his hand. He quickly adapted to each drill and was better on the next snap than he was the previous one. He was very well versed at throwing on the run, off balance and on quick timing routes, where he needed to anticipate and get the ball out of his hand. In the spread offense where he can be in the shotgun and aid his vision of the field, we would expect Alviti to be a very good player.
QB Shane Morris (De La Salle HS, Mich.)
Morris was one of the more impressive prospects in attendance regardless of class and the left-hander really made some impressive throws with accuracy and confidence. He has good height and is going to continue to add inches and bulk to his late-bloomer's frame. What stood out about Morris was the velocity and power and the manner in which he delivered the ball. Many lefties can really have a long, drawn out delivery that is more ¾ or sidearm, but not Morris. He had a quick stroke, was very accurate and threw as well on the run to both sides as any prospect on Friday. He is a definite Watch List candidate.
Tom Luginbill is ESPN's national director of football recruiting.