Every year has its share of peculiar ratings.
Individually, a rating is a fun topic of discussion as we vehemently stress how their opinion is so wrong. A rating is simply the summary of an evaluation. As we all know, evaluating is hard because of all the variables involved.
The easiest variable to spot — by far — is raw athleticism. A popular way to test raw athleticism is with Nike’s SPARQ system and it is no coincidence the players with the highest scores are often the bluest chips.
Athleticism is extremely important, but once you reach a baseline level, compensatory traits like instincts and toughness can mitigate shortcomings. At least to a point. That’s the really hard part about evaluation, especially for guys in my line of work who don’t have the football acumen coaches do. That’s why it’s important to talk to as many people “in the know” as possible.
Last year around this time I had questions regarding Roschon Johnson’s arm strength. I long ago learned that accuracy and anticipation were more important factors than sheer velocity, but just like with athleticism you must meet a standard. Throwing a fifty-five yard pass isn’t arm strength, by the way. Tons of high school kids can throw balloons. Throwing an out that doesn’t hang-up for six the other way is more of what I’m talking about.
With these modest concerns I asked around and talked to “someone in the know” who saw him at a camp and said he had similar concerns. At the time I mentioned this to the board but also underlined arm strength can improve with added lower body and core strength, as well as improved syncing of mechanics.
With Jerrod Heard’s evolution from highly rated dual-threat quarterback to wide receiver still fresh in mind, I wanted to be a bit cautious with how I viewed the Port Neches-Groves star.
But then two things happened: I did more homework on him, and he had a positively fantastic junior season. Never mind the incredible statistics, I felt like he alleviated some velocity concerns and obviously elevated his team in ways I doubt any other quarterback in the state could.
One of the benefits of covering a single team is I have the time to get to know players better. Even though Texas is its own giant region, I only have to be fluent in 150 names per cycle rather than 1000. This, I believe, allows for building a much better overall composite of a player.
A national reporter is much less likely to understand the football character or intangibles of a certain prospect. Even if he has a great eye for talent, he won’t have a good grasp of other highly important factors like the ones mentioned above and further down.
Rating Johnson a three-star based on tape is a bit curious in itself, but it becomes highly questionable once you get to know him.
A PROPER INTRODUCTION
These quotes from PN-G’s head coach, Brandon Faircloth, were taken from Friday’s Humidor and were collected by Justin Wells.
It’s important to run highly favorable quotes from a head coach about his star player through a filter, but this is the same sort of work ethic we’ve heard about from many others. A minor anecdote: Johnson has been spotted working on his drops during downtime in the in-field of a track and field meet.
He led his receivers down the field much better this past season. If his arm is continuing to strengthen, I’m not sure what questions will remain. As for accuracy, that’s on a positive trend as well, having improved from 61.6 to 64.9 over the previous two seasons. His yards per attempt also improved from 10 to 10.5.
61 touchdowns to 11 interceptions the last two seasons. Statistics aren’t nearly as important when projecting a player — it’s much more about transferable traits — but a 5.5 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio backs up his coach’s words.
Two things I always belabor, mental evaluation, which Coach Faircloth discussed, and also fit. Faircloth’s mention of fit serves as the perfect segue.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FIT
I often use the benefit of knowing where a player is going when doing rankings. If you’re a press corner and can’t play off, don’t go to a zone team. If you’re a dual-threat quarterback, don’t go to a traditional pro-passing offense. Etc.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better marriage of talent and fit than between Texas and Roschon Johnson. Herman knows it and Johnson know it.
Most everyone else does too, but it came into clear resolution as I attended a coaches clinic in which Faircloth discussed his offense.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how PN-G’s offense is hard-wired:
- Identity: Play fast, play physical, protect the football
– West Coast philosophy: high percentage passing (quick screens/quick passes); QB progression/3-step drop
– Downhill run game: Power, counter, iso, Buck Sweep
– Multiple personnel groups and formations with balanced 50/50 run/pass split.
– Lots of shifting and motioning to hide intentions but still keep things simple for the offensive line.
– RPO’s and RRO’s (inside run, outside run, option)
– Won’t run what’s on your scout card.
– Sequential Football: For every motion and every shift there is a run, pass, draw, screen, reverse, and trick in the quiver. After a run or pass is used in a game they build off of it. Everything is a setup. Build stuff off of stuff.
The comparison between Johnson and Heard (or any run-first dual) really breaks down at this point. Heard was more ZR, ZR, ZR, play action over the top. Johnson has considerably more on his plate and he understands it at a very high level. I could underline this point further but don’t want to reveal some things that might help PN-G’s opponents.
Physical tools are important (Johnson is athletically far superior on tape than in testing), but so too are mental evaluation, fit, and intangibles. In my well-rounded view, Johnson scores 4-star to 5-star in each regard and has an extremely bright future, especially as he plays in an extension and evolution of the system he’s currently operating; a system that rewards the interplay between intelligent passer and exceptional athlete.