When Everett Golson returned to Notre Dame after sitting out the 2013 season due to an academic suspension, it was widely assumed that the 6-foot, 200-pounder would reclaim his starting position despite an intense quarterback competition with Malik Zaire.
Although Zaire is a standout redshirt freshman with intriguing skills as a dual-threat playmaker, coach Brian Kelly will not move away from the signal-caller that guided the Fighting Irish to the 2013 BCS Championship Game. Kelly announced on Wednesday that Golson will be the team's starter.
Remember, Golson completed better than 58 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 11 starts in 2012, while also displaying spectacular running skills and instincts as a mobile playmaker. Most importantly, he guided the Fighting Irish to an unbeaten regular-season record and exhibited the core qualities NFL coaches and scouts covet in a quarterback prospect.
Thus, Golson enters the fall squarely on the radar of scouts searching for intriguing quarterback options in the 2015 NFL Draft. While he must make amends with his teammates and coaches for his questionable decisions in the classroom, Golson has plenty to prove to evaluators on the gridiron this season, too. Here are three areas scouts will study when watching Golson this fall:
The most important trait evaluators covet in blue-chip quarterback prospects is leadership ability. NFL scouts and coaches understand the challenges of leading 52 men into battle, so the franchise quarterback must be a "take-charge guy" with the work ethic and football IQ to match the confidence needed to thrive at the position. Thus, I'm curious to see how well Golson's teammates respond to his presence on the field and in the huddle when the game is on the line. Although I certainly won't be able to listen in to Golson's impassioned pleas on the sideline, I believe a lot can be gleaned from watching his body language and expressions when he's interacting with teammates on the field. From fist-bumping teammates following big plays to correcting his receivers and running backs on misfires in the passing game, Golson will reveal a lot about his football character when he's on the big stage during games.
I learned from Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Holmgren that sound judgment is one of the most important traits that blue-chip quarterback prospects must exhibit during the evaluation process. Elite NFL quarterbacks are exceptional decision makers on the field. They display a keen understanding of game situations and are willing to take the second and third options in the progression when defenses smother the primary receiver in the route.
In addition, elite quarterbacks routinely avoid the costly turnover that changes the game and puts their respective teams in tough situations. In Golson's case, he has already displayed the ability to effectively manage the game as a redshirt freshman, but scouts will want to see if he can play "winning football" without the support of a stifling defense that allowed him to play as a distributor from the pocket.
This season, however, Golson will need to be a dominant playmaker in the backfield, yet continue to take care of the ball and rely on his teammates when opportunities arise. This juggling act will test Golson's patience and poise, but it will give scouts an indication of whether he has the awareness and judgment needed to succeed as a pro.
Elite NFL quarterbacks consistently deliver pinpoint passes to receiver at every area of the field. They not only excel on short and intermediate throws, but they are capable of making accurate tosses on vertical throws down the seams or the boundary. In addition, elite quarterbacks routinely "throw" receivers open between the hashes with splendid anticipation throws that are launched well before the receiver makes his break.
Looking at Golson's play from 2012, I would cite his accuracy as one of the areas where he must improve to become a legitimate quarterback prospect at the next level. While he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes as a first-year starter, he missed too many open receivers to be considered an elite passer at the position. Now, I'm certainly encouraged by Golson's accuracy and velocity after watching him at a few Elite 11 workouts over the summer, but I need to see him put better throws on tape to pique my interest as an evaluator. If he makes a few jaw-dropping throws throughout the season, while maintaining a high completion percentage on challenging tosses, Golson can convince evaluators that he has the arm talent and accuracy to be a quality passer as a pro.