James Graham took over the starting job at quarterback in 2019 in Week 3 and things didn’t go great. I’m openly admitting that. He threw for a paltry 6.0 YPA with a 45.1% completion rate. He seemed to struggle with running out of the pocket which limited the danger from his speed. All in all it was not a great year.
Obviously that wasn’t entirely on Graham. Last year was the first year moving away from the flexbone into a spread shotgun system. Everything changed from the quarterback’s point of view. The offensive line was a disaster (Pro Football Focus had them as the worst line in the country last year) leading to Graham running for his life more often than not. When he wasn’t running for his life, he was expecting it. For the most part receivers struggled with the transition too. Jalen Camp was alright and Ahmarean Brown made some big plays, but in general the receiving corps was not very good.
That’s not to say that Graham didn’t have some moments last year. He had a pretty good game in the close to Virginia. 15/22 for 229 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a pick against a very good defense isn’t anything to sneeze at. In the win against NC State he threw some absolutely balls on the way to 3 touchdowns. He also torched them with his legs. He showed potential.
This year a lot of that should be changed. James Graham will be in his second year in the new system and should be much more comfortable. Geoff Collins and Dave Patenaude will have had a year to work out some kinks and adjust to their players. The offensive line should be much improved this year. Maybe not great, but much better. Along with Jordan Mason that should give a real threat to the running game that will prevent defenses from just pinning their ears back. I like the receiving corps this year. Things should be way better for the quarterback this year.
That brings me back to James Graham. He’s the only quarterback option with significant experience under his belt. That’s important, but it should be especially important with how tumultuous this season is looking. There’s been limited practices and that game time experience is going to be huge for teams who haven’t necessarily meshed yet.
But experience isn’t the only argument. James Graham has the legs to be a major threat on the ground. He needs to improve his vision and decision making about when to leave the pocket, but I think he can do that. He’s shown the ability to make just about any throw. He’s just got to make the consistency happen. More confidence in his offensive should help him step into his throws. James Graham has the talent to be a high level quarterback. He wasn’t last year, but I don’t think he was that far off from being a good quarterback. I think he can make that leap.
The rest of the week other writers are going to make the argument to start Jordan Yates, Jeff Sims, or Tucker Gleason. They are going to downplay the experience advantage that Graham has. They’re going to argue that their chosen players are more talented than Graham or more suited to Patenaude’s system (which may be true for some of them). I expect they’re also going to try to argue that this season is a wash so we should focus on the future and develop a new quarterback.
I think that is incorrect for two reasons. First, James Graham is only a (redshirt) sophomore. He’s still young and developing and has two more years to play after this one. If he’s the best option this year, then there’s a good chance he’ll be the best option in 2021 and 2022. I’m for looking to the future, but in this case I don’t think that’s a good argument. Additionally I don’t think this season is a wash. We’re probably not going to win the ACC, but I think this team will be leaps and bounds better than last year. As a rule, I’m not a fan of teams giving up on seasons before they happen, but especially not this team. I think they can make a huge leap forward similar to Louisville last year.
James Graham is the best option to start at quarterback in 2020.