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Football: Beginner's Guide to Evaluating High School Prospects - Offense

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Let's stop arguing about stars, and start arguing about film.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Here's my previously promised guide to evaluating high school prospects. I split it into two parts due to he sheer size of it, so today we'll be talking about the offensive positions(minus TE of course), and some general things that apply to all players.

First Steps

One of the first steps in evaluating a prospect is checking their school's "classification" or "level of competition". For example, there are 6 classifications in Georgia, with AAAAAA being the largest, and A(split between public and private schools) being the smallest. The level competition is important, as is the state. For reference as to which states produce the most recruits, please refer to my first article here. The level of competition and state should not lead to predetermined conclusions about the prospect, but should provide perspective on the highlight video. Any Power-5 level prospect should be able to frequently dominate his opponent at any high school level, and especially so at the lower levels. For example, I played High School football in South Carolina's A classification. I played Offensive Guard. I weigh 180 lbs. It didn't take a D1 prospect to make me look bad.

The next step is to find the recruit's highlights. These are usually found on their hudl profiles, and can be found by googling "recruit_name hudl" and the video will be one of the first results.

A Note About Highlight Videos

Sometimes these videos are manipulated, meaning they are sped up ever so slightly to make the recruit look faster. However, there are other ways to determine a recruit's speed. Since the speed of the other players around him is unknown, it's difficult to judge speed using that information as well. For offensive recruits, watch the defensive opponents that are pursuing as they break away. The defender takes an angle they think can cut off the ball-carrier. The the ball-carrier then completely blows by that angle, it's a sign that the offensive recruit is significantly faster than anything the defender has seen.

It's also important to note that these are highlight videos. While sometimes players exhibit skills they don't show on highlight videos, it's generally safer to assume they don't have a skill that isn't shown.

What to Look for by Position

RB

Since both QB and RB in this offense have similar evaluation attributes, we're going to start with RBs. RB skills can generally be split up into the following categories: Burst, Speed, Lateral Movement, Power, Vision, and a category I call "Bendiness" which is a combination of fluidity and balance.

Most of these skills is fairly straight-forward to evaluate. Burst is acceleration, Speed has to do with top speed, and lateral movement involves the speed at which a player can make east-west cuts.

To look at burst, one of the major things to look for is foot speed. Generally, guys who have a high "turnover rate" in their stride are able to accelerate better than guys who are "striders." On a related note, if you aren't impressed with a back's acceleration and they have a longer stride, check to see if they have a good top speed. There are a good number of backs who have good top speed, but lack acceleration, such as this year's Heisman winner: Derrick Henry. Foot speed is also important for lateral movement. If a prospect seems lighter on his feet, that's a good sign he'll have the abilities he needs. Balance and fluid hips are also something important to watch.

Vision, Fluidity, and Balance are a bit tougher. For high school backs, vision can be tricky since they are often the best athletes on the field by a wide margin. At that level of competition, it is often advantageous for the back to just bounce the run outside and take it to the house. This doesn't necessarily mean that the back doesn't have vision. When the prospect runs it up the gut, check to see if they are patient, and allow the blocks to develop instead of charging headlong into the hole. On East-West running plays, look to see if the prospect sprints to the edge every time, or looks for a cut-back lane.

Vision is tricky in terms of projecting development. It's not really something that can be coached, but it is something that can be honed with experience. At the same time, some guys never develop it, even with experience. A lack of vision destroyed the career of perhaps one of the most physically talented backs in recent history, Trent Richardson. Patrick Skov's vision also didn't really improve over the course of the season, leading to Marcus Marshall becoming the lead at the position.

Fluidity and Balance are often connected, and are incredibly important for RB performance. If a guy has both, I'll generally just call him "bendy." To evaluate these traits, it's important to look at the player's style of running. Bendy guys are able to shift their center of gravity into the cut, helping them maintain speed through the cut. They also are able to stay on their feet when they take big hits to the midsection, as they absorb the blow well. On a high school tape, check to see if he's sinking his hips into his cuts, bouncing off hits, and if he can clear his feet of ankle tackles. The ability to clear one's feet is one of the most important parts of playing the AB position, as defenders who have been cut-blocked will be diving at the AB's ankles. For reference, I'd say Qua Searcy is the bendiest player on the team right now, while it was Laskey's biggest weakness while he was here.

I got a bit carried away in this section, I'll try to keep the others shorter.

QB

Naturally, QB is a bit different in CPJ's offense than it is in more traditional attacks. The idea is to get an athletic runner who can read defenses, and who has an arm that is at least passable. As far as being a runner goes, the evaluation is pretty much the same as that of a RB. The QB needs to be a bit more of an outside runner than an inside runner, but Nesbitt showed the value of an inside runner at the position, and Tevin Washinton's vision allowed the team to rack up a lot of easy short TDs and 1st down conversions.

If the player appears to run an option based offense, it's important to look and see if and how they progress through reads. Ask yourself: Is the QB really riding the mesh, and does he have his eyes pointed towards a read key? If not, it's probably a glorified fake, and not a real mesh.

For passing, look at the footwork. Does he plant his feet before throwing downfield? Is he planting his front foot, driving off the back, and following through, or is he planted on his back foot? Also check the arm action. How quickly can he release the ball? Where is the release point? A higher release point can be beneficial to shorter QBs, and most option QBs are on the shorter side. Additionally, can the QB make different types of throws? Do they exclusively throw darts, or can they put touch on passes as well? Do they put the ball where only the receiver can get it? Do they fit the ball into tight windows, or is the receiver always wide open? Also be sure to see how quickly the QB can go from snap to release.

WR

Wide Receiver is a bit different in the Georgia Tech offense, in that it favors players who can beat man coverage downfield vs. those who can slice through a zone. Thus, the coaches look for physical tools, and choose to develop the player once they arrive on campus.

Acceleration off the line and top gear speed have to be evaluated within the context of the route that the receiver is running. Does the receiver accelerate off the line to force the defender to retreat? Can he burn his man deep on deep balls? Does he get caught from behind when he gets behind the defense? This is the simpler part of WR evaluation.

When the receiver is running routes, take note of how the player attacks his breaks in the route. Are they abrupt or does he "round off" his cuts, allowing the DB to stay on him? Also look to see how they attack the ball when faced with tight coverage. If they are aggressive and beat the DB down physically, they'll be a good fit.

Hands, hands, hands. The receiver must catch everything with his hands and not his body. Body catching leads to drops, plain and simple. Also look to see if the player has strong hands. If he can hang onto the ball away from his body while going down or being hit, that's impressive, and will help tremendously in the Georgia Tech offense, where jump balls can be common.

The last thing to look for is body control. Simply put, can they control their bodies in the air to make acrobatic catches?

OL

Offensive linemen for this offense need to be good run blockers first, though this season showed just how important pass blocking is to the offense. In the run game, make sure the player fires out low and fast, and gets control of the defender. It's one thing to just fire out and strike a guy, it's something else entirely to get hands on him and drive him down the field or clear him from the hole. Also look at the OL's feet. Does he keep them moving at all times, and does he stay balanced while driving? Dominant drive blockers are ideal fits as Guards in Paul Johnson's offense.

Is the player athletic enough to get LBs and DBs at the second level? This is essential in all offenses, but it is especially essential in a flexbone scheme. Players who can shed jam attempts and get to LBs are ideal candidates for Tackle in this offense.

For pass protection, quick feet and lateral movement are essential. If the player can slide from side to side quickly, they will project well. The OL must also be able to set himself into a strong base, so check to see how well the player absorbs power rushes. Also, make sure to evaluate the player's "punch." When engaging a rusher, the OL should punch into the chest of the defender in an attempt to stun, grab, and take control of the rusher. The Georgia Tech OL was bad about doing this in 2015, especially the younger players.

Thanks for reading! That got a bit long. If you need clarification or have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I will try to leave my thoughts on commits this recruiting season as well.