Garrett Gilbert vs. Russell Shepard. Who do you take? The answer will almost certainly prove to be the boring, non-discussion prompting "both," but what fun is that.
So, let us pretend that Shepard is a problem drinker who ran over Gilbert's mom in a purple drank related incident (don't crunk and drive, kids), so Gilbert refuses to share a team bus with him. So, like the Highlander, there can only be one.
Shepard - 45% completion for 794 yards.
Gilbert - 65% completion for 4826 yards.
Easy choice, right? Yes, it is. I'd take Shepard in a heartbeat.
Yes, I know, Comic Book Guy. But hear me out.
To me, the debate isn't about who is going to be better. In order to really argue that, you'd have to know how good each of them will become, and there is just no way to know. This isn't a really crucial year for us in terms of QB recruiting, unlike, say, DT, so picking the one with the highest ceiling would probably work out OK, but you don't want to get into the habit of settling or taking risks. That's how you end up with freshman Colt McCoy at QB.
But ceiling arguments certainly should play at least a small part. At some point potential can get so high that you just have to take the chance. In this case I would have to give the nod to Shepard, since any QB that can run like he can only needs to be a competent passer to become a lethal weapon. Add in his arm strength, and it's no contest. The end.
The much more important step, to me, is figuring out what happens if things don't go as planned. What if Russ Shepard gets Davised and stays a 45% passer? What if Gilbert is one of roughly 450 high school QBs that pass for 5,000 yards a year in high school then go to college and turn out to be terrible?
This is the crux of the debate. Most people I've heard speak very highly of Garrett, and think he'll be a great one. Well, I say, don't be so sure. Football is a coach's game, and it becomes more and more apparent the further down the ladder you go. In high school, one Todd Dodge is all it takes to become a power. Well, there are a few other things that matter. Quick, rattle off the top high school teams in the state. Now add up all the black players from those teams. If you got 7, you are correct.
My point? Money talks. The best coaches, the best facilities, the year round training, you won't find those things at Houston Madison. Southlake Carroll and Westlake won't field the best 4x400 relay teams, but they win. And win. And win. So every year or two these teams have yet another QB coming out that gets state-wide attention before flaming out and going into that university's medical school. Sometimes there is a Drew Brees, but there are way more Riley Dodges.
For most colleges, this isn't really a problem. So many run these same offenses now that it doesn't really matter is the QB is naturally talented or not, they can function perfectly well within it because of years of practice under really good coaches. But we're trying to win championships . . . I think. I like to believe that. So putting in a well schooled, plucky QB might work if you want to get to a nice bowl, but the standards ramp up when you set your sights higher.
In this vein, you have to be wary of Gilbert. He might be good. He might be really, really good. But right now there is no way to tell. He doesn't have the dazzling arm or accuracy that Jimmy Clausen had. He can't run like Vince could. His highlight tape linked below is just throw after throw to somebody wide open, like you'd see at any powerhouse Texas school. There is nothing there that screams no-brainer. Matt Stafford has a much better reel and he's been nothing but a big old keg of mediocrity. Plus, it's pretty easy to see that there is no future as a runner for him, so unless Davis figures out how to make this offense work with a scrambler-at-best QB, we're going to get stuck in the same hell we are now. To me, it's much more likely that we end up with a taller, slower version of Colt than a superstar.
But what about Shepard? His 5:45 minute long highlight video has a grand total of 6 passes on it. He completed 45% of his passes this season for less than 800 yards. People who've seen him say he has a ways to go, to be kind, in the passing game. Why him?
Well I'll tell you why, thanks for asking. Because Pat White and Dennis Dixon also have a ways to go, to be kind, in the passing game, and they were a thumb and a knee away from playing each other in the MNC game. Bottom line is, running ability from the QB position is the single deadliest thing in the entire game these days. Ever since some genius figured out you could run Air Force's offense from the shotgun, QBs have had more space than ever before. Arkansas beat LSU with Darren McFadden getting a ton of snaps at QB, afterall. It's the modern single wing, and it's brutally effective. We don't need someone who can make quick reads and hit his dump off guy, his legs are his own outlet receiver.
I kind of mentioned it above, but passing is a team skill. It takes your OL, the WR being in the right place at the right time, the OC making the right call, and the QB making a good throw to make a completion. In order to drop back then scramble 50 yards, it just takes one guy. Even if you run the option out of the shotgun, you can take the action outside the OL and play 2 on 1 (or 2 on 2, even, if your QB or HB can break tackles). With somebody like Shepard, you decide where the action is. We'll have a great OL when he gets here so it shouldn't be an issue, but running QBs can take things into their own hands in a way no one else on the field can. This becomes important in certain situations.
And here is the most important reason of all: running ability doesn't bust. Even if he comes in can't throw better than the 45% completion rate would suggest he could (hey, Reggie McNeal overcame it . . . no wait), we still have a dynamic playmaker on the team. It's the same reason MLB doesn't draft catchers, if they can't hit, what do you do with them? They are already at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. If Gilbert isn't any good, it's a wasted roster spot. With Shepard, we can stick him in the slot and let him return punts. There is no way this turns out bad for us, save for injury, or his opinions on bitches, and whether or not you should kick them.
To me it boils down to two things. One, he is already closer than Gilbert to being a big time QB because he's already demonstrated the hard part about being a deadly running QB. Second, there is no downside. Worst case scenario we get DeSean Hales two years in a row.
That being said, let's go get both.