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2019 Iowa State Football Position Previews: Quarterbacks

The future looks bright as ever at the most important position in sports.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’re officially two work weeks away from the beginning of the 2019 football season, which means it’s officially time to start digging into previews. For the next couple weeks, we’re going to be releasing season prospectuses for each position group, examining departures, new guys, starters, potential contenders for playing time, and overall projection for the season. Let’s dive into the quarterbacks.

Departures

The Cyclones lost three players from the quarterback position during or after the 2018 season. First and foremost, seventeenth-year redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Kempt finally graduated. Kempt entered last season as the presumptive starter at quarterback, but went down with a knee injury in the first quarter against Iowa, and took only a few meaningful snaps over the course of the remaining 12 games. It was an unfortunate end to a bizarre college playing career that essentially began with him not even sniffing the depth chart at Oregon State, to going 6-3 as a starter in 2017 beating Oklahoma in Norman in his first career start, to only attempting 31 passes in four games last season.

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Iowa State vs Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Kempt’s ceiling as a player was always the main point of conversation with him. He was clearly a very smart player, but how far could his intelligence take the team, given his lack of running ability and below-average arm strength? Is a high floor more valuable than a high ceiling? That’s probably an interesting conversation for another day. However, nobody can deny his overall affect on the winning culture of Iowa State football, and how he’s helped shape the quarterback position for the foreseeable future.

Zeb Noland took over for Kyle Kempt following his injury at Iowa, and played well in a few games, and very poorly in others. Noland was undeniably good against Akron and Oklahoma, including 25-of-36 passing for 360 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners. However, he followed up his two strong performances against OU and Akron with a horrible performance against TCU, going 14-of-28 for a pitiful 79 yards and one touchdown. Zeb’s final snaps came in the first series of the next game at Oklahoma State, where he went 1-for-2 and took sack. Noland made way for Brock Purdy on the next series, and the rest is history.

Credit goes to Zeb for sticking around as the backup for Brock while Kyle Kempt healed from his knee injury, but as soon as Kyle was cleared to play (read: back up Brock), Noland read the writing on the wall and transferred mid-season to North Dakota State in search of playing time. Could he have stuck around and have the backup quarterback spot locked down for 2019? Maybe, but Re-al Mitchell is really talented and athletic, and could have potentially pushed him to third on the depth chart, so it’s tough to blame Zeb for looking for greener pastures.

The final defection was Devon Moore, a lefty dual-threat quarterback from Waterloo that was actually Matt Campbell’s very first commitment. Moore never really contended for playing time, and elected to transfer to South Dakota in search of playing time.

New Guys

Easton Dean is the quarterback for the 2019 class, and came in as a raw, but physically imposing player with the potential to develop into a solid dual-threat player. However, Dean’s been getting snaps at tight end in fall camp, and could potentially make a full switch depending on injuries this season. Brock has three seasons to play still, and the 2020 recruiting class has two highly-regarded quarterbacks that would likely be ahead of him on the depth chart, so a complete switch to the tight end position may give Dean the best possible chance at future playing time.

The other newcomer is graduate transfer quarterback John Kolar, older brother of tight end Charlie Kolar, who will be pushing for the backup role after transferring from Oklahoma State, where he attempted a grand total of two passes over four seasons. Reports out of camp are that he throws a nice ball, and as a reshirt senior he may be the most dependable option to back up Brock Purdy should the situation arise.

Leader of the Pack

BROCK MFING PURDY

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

LOOK AT HIM. LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL HE IS.

Baylor v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

*swoon*

After coming in for one weird play against Akron, Purdy made his real debut in the second offensive series against Oklahoma State, and made his presence known almost immediately.

I mean, this was his first touchdown pass:

What an absurd throw (and catch). How he managed to find Hakeem in the back of the endzone and hit him **exactly** where he need to with an absolute laser beam from 25 yards is still beyond me.

Then he busted this out on his SECOND offensive series ON THE ROAD in his FIRST (real) GAME EVER:

This is a true freshman absolutely tearing apart a defense in his first game ever in one of the tougher places to play in the Big 12. Somehow, Purdy’s stats might actually be even more impressive than the highlights.

You read that right. Literally the most efficient true freshman quarterback EVER.

E-V-E-R.

EVER.

Purdy finished sixth in the entire country in passing efficiency, including six spots higher and 12.3 points (169.9 to 157.7) than Clemson QB and 2019 Heisman contender Trevor Lawrence.

Now, Brock did throw seven interceptions on the season, but many of those can be chalked up to typical freshman mistakes like staring down receivers and ball placement (not to be confused with inaccuracy). It’s also worth mentioning that he was working with a somewhat limited playbook last season, and was working behind a below-average offensive line that really struggled to pick up blitzes. He also had to deal with a receiver group that had some problems with drops, especially Hakeem Butler, who was often his primary target.

Give Brock Purdy a full offseason to develop, a solid offensive line, and some more dependable hands from the receivers, and who knows what could happen?

Needless to say, Brock Purdy is the future of the quarterback position for the Cyclones for the next two to three seasons. If he becomes the first Iowa State quarterback to start every game in a season since Austen Arnaud, and continues playing at the pace he did last season, we might just be talking about him in the same conversation as Seneca Wallace on our flight down to New Orleans.

Don’t Forget

Re-al Mitchell

Lost in the Brock Purdy frenzy was the other 2018 quarterback, Re-al Mitchell. Mitchell was an Elite 11 quarterback coming out of high school, and boasted really impressive athleticism to pair with his throwing ability. With Purdy not arriving in Ames until June, most thought Re-al would be the highest freshman on the depth chart, and might even jump Zeb Noland for the backup position.

However, Re-al hasn’t gotten much action yet in a Cyclone uniform, with the exception of a few plays as a utility player in the Alamo Bowl. Entering 2019, he’s likely sitting at second on the depth chart, but John Kolar will almost certainly be pushing for that spot. What does all of this mean? This season is make-or-break for Re-al.

He’ll likely never supplant Purdy as the starter (barring a complete meltdown on Purdy’s part or an absolute revelation on Re-al’s), but, we all know about Iowa State’s horrible streak of starting quarterbacks. In the event that Brock Purdy goes down with an injury, Re-al will need to make sure he’s in position to be the player to fill in. As we’ve seen plenty of times, those opportunities can springboard a player’s career.

Apart from holding a backup position in case Purdy goes down with an injury, Mitchell’s best chance to see the field in 2019 is as a utility player and situational quarterback. His game-breaking speed could put him in a few specialty packages designed to take advantage of his physical gifts.

2019 Projection

2018 was obviously an extremely impressive season for Brock, but projecting his 2019 is difficult. He does have a good sample size for small season, so we have something to base our predictions on, but he was just a freshman, he has different receivers, the offensive line should be better, and teams have tape on him now.

Let’s pretend that the positive and negative factors completely cancel out and Brock puts together exactly the same season he had last year, but extrapolated over a full 13 games. IF you’re wondering why it says nine games instead of ten, I didn’t count the Akron game since he was only in for one play.

Brock Purdy Extrapolated Stats

G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
9 146 220 66.4 2250 10.2 10.3 16 7 169.9
13 211 318 66.4 3250 10.2 10.3 23 10 170

This season would be nothing to scoff at, and would probably lead to a successful season for Iowa State, assuming the running game and defense were successful. The 23-10 TD/Int ratio is good-not-great, and wouldn’t reflect much growth on the part of Purdy. Fortunately, we have no reason to believe that Purdy won’t improve.

As mentioned before, Purdy did have to deal with a lot of drops most notably from his top target, Hakeem Butler. Butler consumed about 25% of Brock’s targets, but posted a drop rate of just over 15%. If the replacement for those targets posts a drop rate somewhere in the 5-8% range (roughly average) the completion percentage and yardage would almost certainly increase.

With all of the factors considered here’s my predicted stat line for Brock Purdy’s 2019 season:

Comp: 244

Attempts: 344

Comp %: 71%

Yards: 3,371

TDs: 28

Int: 8

How did I come up with these numbers?

I’m assuming Purdy’s usage will go up as the offensive line improves and he has a significantly more expansive playbook and balanced receiver and tight end group to work with. Campbell has always been a run-first guy, and will be more than happy to run the ball straight down the defense’s throat (and may do so if Breece Hall is as good as we’ve heard he is), but until we see exactly what that looks like in a real game, I’m going to assume that he’ll lean on his star quarterback to propel the offense and use a solid running game to attack the space created in the passing game.

Barring injury, I’m expecting Re-al Mitchell and John Kolar to have extremely limited roles at the quarterback position outside of some garbage time snaps. However, Re-al could definitely see the field at bunch of different positions in the coaching staff’s eternal quest to get the ball in the hands of their most dynamic playmakers.

Fortunately, they needn’t look far for playmakers, as possibly their best overall offensive player just so happens to be the starting quarterback.