As expected following the transition from CPJ’s spread option offense, the Georgia Tech quarterback room has been in flux for the last 12 months. Going into the 2019 season, most expected Lucas Johnson and Tobias Oliver to compete for the job and potentially share reps to emphasize Johnson’s passing ability and Oliver’s running ability.
There were certainly a lot of alternating reps through the first four weeks of the season, as the offense struggled to get any traction. The UNC game marked the turning point, as the keys to the offense were handed to R-Fr. James Graham. For the final eight games of the season, Oliver primarily played wide receiver, Johnson received only a few series and is now in the transfer portal, and true freshman Jordan Yates played a couple of garbage-time series.
The conventional wisdom holds that Graham improved over the course of the year, but the team offensive stats don’t bear that out. The offense averaged a 37% success rate for the first six games and fell to 30% over the final six. Similarly, the average of 5.1 yards per play over the first six games declined to 4.5 yards per play.
Two caveats: the schedule over the second half of the year was much more difficult (average SP+ rating of 8.57 compared to -0.03 for the first six opponents), and there were clear efforts in the second half of the season to be more explosive and explore the capabilities of the offense with Graham under center, which ultimately hurt the efficiency numbers.
That being said, James Graham did not grab a firm hold on the starting quarterback role. Going into 2020, the competition at quarterback is wide open, and that includes Graham, Yates, and two members of the 2020 recruiting class.
I opened up the fill to watch Gleason’s senior highlights and was pleasantly surprised. I had read about the downturn in his production from his junior (2,000 passing yards and 27 passing TDs) to senior season (1000 passing yards, 6 passing TDs), but Gleason shows athleticism, touch, and pocket presence against pressure that bode well for his development as a quarterback.
He lacks top end arm strength, but his quick release and decision making often offset that potential weakness. Gleason’s high school coach recently shared a promising evaluation with Tori McElhaney of The Athletic. Unfortunately, it’s behind The Athletic’s paywall, but if you have a subscription, you will certainly be happy with what you read.
From watching the film and hearing his coach’s evaluation, I’m confident in Gleason’s ability to make the reads and get the ball out when he needs to in the GT offense. If he improves his arm strength and can handle ACC pass rushes at his feet, I could see him as a 3+ year starter in this offense.
Sims is probably the second-most noteworthy signing of the 2020 class, behind Jahmyr Gibbs. A former FSU commit who flipped late to Tech and then played in the Under Armour All-America Game, Sims has the fanbase excited and optimistic.
As I began digging into Sims, the first thing that struck me is that his team was bad this year. Watching his film, he’s clearly the best athlete on the team and was asked to carry a heavy offensive load. The raw tools are there; he puts good zip on deep out routes and timing throws over the middle, and he effortlessly throws the deep ball. I saw him make a lot of good decisions under pressure to tuck the ball and run or find a dump off target. Further, he made some really impressive throws in the Under Armour game, although he was rewarded with two really bad drops. He can play against the elite of the elite.
On the flip side, his mechanics aren’t there yet. He holds the ball very low in the pocket, which increases his release time, and he can get happy feet. My biggest concern with Sims is how Sims will be able to develop under Coach Patenaude. The lack of development in our quarterbacks in 2019 and the lack of decisiveness in committing to one quarterback early in the year make me skeptical that Sims can reach his (obviously high) potential under Coach Pat’s tutelage.
Considering what I have seen from Graham, Yates, Gleason, and Sims, Gleason looks like the most ready-made ACC quarterback. He doesn’t have the top end talent and arm strength, but he has the best foundations and appears to have received the best QB coaching so far. I would not be surprised to see Gleason take the majority of the snaps as soon as this fall. On the other hand, if the offense stagnates this year and Collins brings in a new coordinator/QB coach, Sims clearly has the highest upside and could well be the QB of 2021-2023, when Georgia Tech aims to take significant strides forward.