One of the stock barbs thrown by opposing fans over the past couple of years against the Georgia Bulldogs was that Kirby Smart couldn’t recruit and develop top level quarterback talent. Admittedly, the Justin Fields era in Athens was over before it started. And Jacob Eason’s tenure in the Classic City didn’t end the way he would’ve preferred. Jake Fromm, Carson Beck, Brock Vandagriff, and Gunner Stockton were all pretty highly-touted signal callers. But the only guy to win a national championship under center for the Red and Black since the Reagan administration was a 5’11 former walk-on who even Smart admits he all but told to just go away already. It’s not exactly an unbroken line of excellence.
That being said, there’s every reason to believe that the latest quarterback to commit to the G may in fact be a whole different breed. In case you’ve been living under a rock Dylan Raiola, the top prospect in the 2024 class according to Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN, chose the Bulldogs this afternoon over fellow finalists USC, Nebraska, and Ohio State.
Raiola is the top prospect in this class according to a majority of industry services for a very good reason: the guy is actually that obviously good. Whereas some questions surrounded last year’s top QB recruit Arch Manning due to his level of competition, Raiola has played and excelled against big school competition first at Arizona powerhouse Chandler and has now transferred to Phoenix’s Pinnacle High (alma mater of Oklahoma/South Carolina standout Spencer Rattler).
Raiola’s measurables also measure up. At 6’3 and 228 pounds he has the physique to play in college right now. The son of former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola (a former teammate of Matt Stafford) has a solid lower body and excellent hand size as well. If you were creating a quarterback in NCAA football I submit that he would look a lot like Raiola (unless like me you made your QB 6’9 and 340 pounds, because why not).
So Raiola is impressive both in a stack of resumes and getting off the bus. But how does he look on tape? Let’s start with his sophomore highlights from the 2021 season.
Right off the bat it is obvious that Raiola has the arm to throw deep over the top. That is a prerequisite for a quarterback in big time college football. Effortlessly winging the ball 50 yards downfield is something not every high school QB can do, but it’s something a lot can do. Raiola however drives the ball deep with velocity in a way that’s hard to find:
What separates Raiola from the pack are the throws you see him making further along in the tape. He moves well in the pocket and can take some juice off the ball when necessary. He can adjust his arm angle and velocity to throw a catchable ball in the intermediate and short passing game. But even when he does the ball gets there quickly. He shows good accuracy even when he’s throwing into his body to trailing receivers, a throw which can be a little dangerous, but which Pat Mahomes has turned into an art form.
While most of these highlights are from a clean pocket, Raiola also stays pretty calm and creates under pressure (witness the Mailman-esque throw to the sideline at the 3:00 mark). He extends plays, but does so intelligently, knowing where receivers should be and getting the ball out instead of scrambling blindly and hoping an option will present itself.
It’s no surprise that Raiola threw for 42 touchdowns as a sophomore because Raiola is just deadly with the ball in his hands. He’s a sniper who can stand in and deliver in a way Georgia likely hasn’t had since at least Jacob Eason. These highlights showcase just about every throw in the route tree. See also, this throw from his junior season, a double move to the endzone sideline that Todd Monken and Mike Bobo have both used over the years.
It’s a ball that has to get out neither too early or too late and Raiola delivers it right in phase here. Plays like this are the difference between being a guy who can throw a football and being a quarterback. Raiola’s a quarterback.
The commitment is Georgia’s second at the QB spot for the 2024 cycle after the pledge of Connecticut standout Ryan Puglisi. Puglisi for his part has said than Raiola’s pledge doesn’t alter his plans at all. That’s welcome news for Bulldog fans who’ll just have to come to terms with watching elite quarterbacks fight it out for the right to take the field in Sanford Stadium.
Raiola’s commitment also extends Georgia’s lead over LSU for 4th in the current 247Sports recruiting rankings. However his pledge is only the eleventh one for the 2024 cycle, in which Kirby Smart is also in the hunt for multiple uncommitted top 50 recruits. Something tells me Raiola’s commitment won’t hurt in snagging some of those.