Tom Hauck for ESPN.comGeoriga-bound quarterback Zach Mettenberger has the strongest arm of any 2009 prospect.
In recent years, with the rise of the spread offense, the quarterback position has become a spot that emphasizes athleticism over all else. Statuesque pocket passers, with their inability to move around, don't have a place in some offensive systems. Below we will examine the Class of 2009 quarterbacks and determine which are the best in a particular area of importance.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: The ability to make spectacular throws into tight spots with arm strength alone. These players display the ability to drive the ball vertically with power and are able to consistently throw the deep comeback route to the sideline from the opposite wide hash.
Mettenberger actually has a stronger arm in person than he appears to have on tape. He's a pocket passer with tremendous power to drive the ball vertically with zip. Mettenberger has the arm to deliver the football to most spots on the field even if his feet are not set.
Murray possesses a lightning-quick arm and his wrist velocity and quick release enhance his naturally strong right arm. He can generate tremendous zip on the ball and is capable of making throws into tight spots when throwing across his body or on the move.
With his Kerry Collins-type delivery, Savage may wind up a bit, but he is capable of generating serious power behind his throws when his feet are set and he is protected -- much the same as Mettenberger. His arm, coupled with deceptive athleticism, is his greatest asset.
The only question about Cotton's arm is where the ball is going to end up. Out of all 12 quarterbacks at the Elite 11 camp this past summer, there was not a player there who possessed the zip, velocity and power Cotton does. He knows nothing of touch yet and must develop accuracy, but there are flames coming off his shoulder when he delivers the football.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: Simply put, will the prospect be the same player four years from now as he is today? Is there still growth potential both physically and mentally to develop into a better player down the road?
At 6-foot-4 and a gangly 187 pounds, Gilbert will continue to get stronger physically -- both with his arm and his overall tools. What you don't appreciate about Gilbert if you have not seen him is his athleticism to run and make plays with his legs. He's heady, tough and in command. There's an "it" factor with him. He's more than just statistics.
2. AJ McCarron (Mobile, Ala./Saint Paul's Episcopal)
The Alabama verbal is not having the year he had as a junior due to a talented 2008 class moving on. Although he's not the same athlete Gilbert is, McCarron has many of the same tools and the frame to develop into a strong pocket presence. In fact, we like McCarron's delivery more than Gilbert's.
Butch Davis and UNC were smart to jump all over this kid when no one knew of him. A wonderful athlete who was an all-state receiver as a sophomore, Renner has only played QB for one and half seasons to date. His dual-threat capabilities and quick delivery are a perfect recipe for success at the college level. His best football is ahead of him.
Although Smith needs to hit the weight room, his physical tools and work ethic lead us to believe he has the right stuff to blossom into a pocket passer who can get out of trouble when he needs to.
Most accurate passer
What Scouts Inc. looks for: These QBs have the ability to consistently place the ball within the strike zone in all areas of the field, even when they have to throw with defenders in their faces. Accuracy is far more important than arm strength. When coupled with an understanding of timing, accuracy can make a passer with a marginal arm a lethal weapon in the passing game.
This is where Barkley's footwork and overall mechanics set him apart from others in this class. He anticipates routes, can throw to a spot and has enough arm strength to stick the ball in there. He also throws a very "catchable" ball.
2. Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis)
It's tough not to mention Gilbert in this category -- he has only thrown two interceptions all season. He's a player who is likely not at full arm strength to due surgery on his throwing shoulder last spring.
3. Allen Bridgford (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
When his feet are set and he is comfortable, Bridgford, due to his quality mechanics, rarely misses the strike zone. He has a real feel for timing and making the throw to where only his guys can catch it.
Best dual-threat quarterback
What Scouts Inc. looks for: These prospects can be every bit as dangerous with their legs and overall athleticism as they can be with their arms. Oftentimes at this stage, dual-threat QBs are better athletes than passers; they are a candidate to move to another position down the road, which can make them a "can't miss" prospect.
Yes, we know he is in the athlete category, but there is not another player in this class quite like him. He certainly can run and if utilized in the right scheme at the next level, he has the upside to be effective in the passing game.
This scrapper lacks great height, but he is fun to watch. He has a quick release and an uncanny ability to create and improvise both on designed runs and when things break down in the passing game. Forcier is a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's scheme at Michigan.
Beaver will be joining Forcier in Ann Arbor, and the two freshmen could be battling with Justin Feagin from the 2008 class for the keys to the Michigan offense. Beaver is tall, possesses upside as a passer and is a gifted runner. He's not as a fast as West Virginia standout Pat White, but Beaver has better size.
What Scouts Inc. looks for: A player with the ability to succeed on toughness, leadership, savvy and creativity. Some guys have great tools along with intangibles and others lack great measurables and physical gifts, but find ways to win regardless. Intangibles are extremely difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.
There is a quiet swagger and confidence about Brehaut, but it does not rub you the wrong way. Like Aaron Murray, Brehaut lacks height, but we feel he has the necessary tools from the neck up to be the real deal for the UCLA Bruins.
2. Jon Budmayr (Woodstock, Ill./Marian Central Catholic)
Budmayr is a lot like Todd Reesing from Kansas -- a competitor who overcomes his lack of height with deceptive athleticism and a quick arm. Unfortunately he lost his senior campaign to an injury earlier in the year. Budmayr may be just what the doctor ordered for Wisconsin at the QB position; he is certainly different than anything the Badgers have had before.
Maxwell is quiet, workmanlike and very poised. Maxwell is the type of guy that leads by example and production, shows good leadership skills and has a knack for making plays with a phlegmatic demeanor.
Best overall tools
What Scouts Inc. looks for: A player with the ability to make all the necessary throws at the college level -- touch and arm strength as a passer come into play as well as overall athleticism. Size, strength and ideal measurable standards are a must for these players.
Murray has the arm, athleticism, confidence and release that are important for a top-notch signal-caller. You wish he was about two inches taller, but coaches love his moxie and competitive flair.
2. Matt Barkley (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei)
Although he's not as athletic as Murray, Shepard or even Gilbert, Barkley has the size, arm, knowledge of the game and accuracy to be extremely productive at the collegiate level, particularly in the scheme USC employs that can protect him and put playmakers around him. He might be the most well groomed player in this class when it comes to putting time in to learn the game.
3. Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis)
For many of the reasons Gilbert has appeared in other categories, he may have more upside with his physical tools than both Barkley and Murray. The son of a former NFL QB, Gilbert has the pedigree.
Best raw ability
What Scouts Inc. looks for: More often than not, high school quarterbacks are raw and unpolished and have excellent physical tools to mold and develop. When the ability to work at becoming a great player meets natural physical gifts, magical things can happen to a prospect during the first two to three years of college. These prospects are players who aren't there yet, but their tools give them a real shot to be elite college quarterbacks.
Alipate has not been on very good teams throughout his high school career, but he shows all the physical tools. It is impressive how athletic he is given his size. Blessed with a big arm, Alipate can make all the throws, but he must become more polished and disciplined as a player, which should come under Mike Dunbar the offensive coordinator at Minnesota.
You could use the term "project" when describing Reed -- though that may be a little harsh. The reality is that his size, coupled with natural physical gifts to throw the ball and run it, give coaches reason for optimism. We are a little concerned about his level of competition and he must polish up his fundamentals. Still, when we described him physically as a cross between JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Perriloux, we meant it. Now we'll see if those tools can transfer into production.
3. Raymond Cotton (Fort Meade, Md./Meade)
As mentioned above, Cotton certainly has the arm, but he must become more than a big athlete who can throw the ball a mile. If he remains committed to Auburn, he will eventually be a nice fit for their version of the spread -- if they stick with it -- but not immediately. Cotton needs to grow and develop.
Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts Inc. and a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.