Saturday, January 11, 2020

Jarrett Guarantano: Baller or Bust?

Jarrett Guarantano is the most polarizing player at the University of Tennessee in many years. The last player I can think of who was as frustrating to the Vol faithful was probably Arian Foster, who was a very good player with very bad timing on his handful of lost fumbles. Jarrett Guaratano is similar in the sense that he's not a bad player; he simply has terrible timing on when he makes his mistakes. I suppose said mistakes are the right place to start since they tend to be the focus of most Volunteer fans.

In his 34 career games, he has thrown 13 interceptions and fumbled 11 times, losing four of those fumbles. That's 17 turnovers in 797 plays either registered as a rushing or passing attempt. That's actually a better play per turnover ratio than Josh Dobbs (46.9 per turnover for Guarantano, 39.9 per turnover for Dobbs). Dobbs, as one of the more successful recent Tennessee quarterbacks, is the best recent comparison despite being very different players. Both had two of their turnovers returned for touchdowns, an interception and fumble each. Guarantano has a slightly better completion percentage through his first three seasons and Dobbs's completion percentage is only 0.6% better for their respective careers so far. Guarantano has had a much better career yard per attempt average, especially over the first three seasons, and the adjusted yards per attempt favors Guarantano by more than a yard per pass. Guarantano also has a better career quarterback rating. By most metrics, Jarrett Guarantano has been a better passer than Josh Dobbs.

If that's the case, why is Joshua Dobbs viewed as arguably the best quarterback at Tennessee since Casey Clausen? Well, Dobbs had an ability to make plays with his legs when everything broke down, something Guarantano simply can't do with anything resembling consistency. In fact, it could safely be called a rarity when Guarantano rescues a play with his legs. Even with a spectacular passing season next year, Guarantano will simply never come close to the total offense numbers that Dobbs was able to produce, and Dobbs's 85 total touchdowns is also a number that Guarantano will just not reach.

That said, Guarantano will likely not reach the turnover numbers that Dobbs put up either. He may not run the same number of plays, but his plays per turnover numbers would require a disastrous season to truly tank to that point. Guarantano has improved his touchdown and yardage numbers each season, and in all likelihood that will continue as long as he continues to be the starter. Without the mobility of Dobbs, Guarantano's lack of a strong offensive line has proven a liability at times and limited his ability to make plays, especially deep, and the lack of a consistent running game has hindered him as well. Dobbs, on the other hand, played with such running backs as Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, and John Kelly Jr., and those backs helped keep defenses more honest than they've typically been forced to play against Tennessee the last three seasons.

None of this is to suggest one quarterback is better than the other. When comparing the play of the two, it's comparing apples and oranges. Dobbs had true dual-threat abilities, while Guarantano is a pocket passer who won't make too many plays with his legs. Dobbs was a vocal leader in ways that Guarantano simply won't ever duplicate as a quieter, more downplayed player. Dobbs could make a big play out of a disastrous meltdown, while Guarantano is at the mercy of his blocking and the receivers getting open.

So, to the original premise of the article: is Jarrett Gurantano a bust? The short answer is no, but if you took the way recruiting services evaluated him to heart, he likely looks like one. A disservice was done to Guarantano before he ever committed to Tennessee when recruiting services took a fast 40-yard dash time and decided that a guy who averaged 2.1 yards per carry in high school was a dual-threat quarterback. He never actually fit that mold, and yet somehow some services even had him as the top dual-threat signal-caller in the country. Obviously, he's not that by any means. He is, however, an efficient passer. The six quarterbacks ranked higher than him in the 247Sports Composite have all transferred thus far in their careers. In fact, of the top 15 composite quarterbacks, only three haven't transferred: Guarantano, Dwayne Haskins, and Jawon Pass. Guarantano, while far from perfect, compares relatively well to most of that top 15 with the exception of Haskins and Jalen Hurts. In fact, ranking the top 20 quarterbacks from the 2016 class, he'd probably be top five or just outside it, behind Haskins, Hurts, Jacob Eason, Shea Patterson, and jockeying for position with guys like KJ Costello and Jake Bentley.

Is he a baller? That's probably a bit too generous. He's a solid starting quarterback who makes more good plays than bad but will drive you mad with the timing of his bad plays and just how bad they often go. He seldom makes big, game-changing plays, instead often relying on big, skilled wide receivers to win on 50-50 balls or making chain-moving plays on short to intermediate passes. I don't necessarily doubt his ability to make big plays, but timing throws are simply something that Guarantano seems to be allergic to, at least up to this point in his career. Whether it's a lack of trust in the receivers being there or being open, he tries to wait for the receivers to get open rather than trusting that they'll get there, allowing defenders to recover and resulting in sure-fire completions turning into 50-50 balls. He also struggles at times with feel in the pocket, expecting pressure that doesn't exist, likely a function this past season of not trusting his blocking despite it improving over the prior two seasons. It was painfully obvious at times that Guarantano wasn't able to run quickly through his reads, struggled to think on his feet, especially on RPOs, and lacked confidence in his blocking and receivers. Most of these things improved as the season progressed, although not all and inconsistency continued to rear its ugly head.

That said, he's making his way up the top ten lists for quarterback accomplishments. He's currently 8th in career passing yards and has the fourth-best single-game passing performance in program history with his outing against Missouri this season. Even just a mediocre passing season would allow Guarantano to pass Bray for 4th in career passing yardage as 2,383 yards gives him the spot. He has tied for 9th in career passing touchdowns with Tee Martin and Bobby Scott, and he is just five touchdowns away from taking lone possession of 6th place and 21 touchdowns from overtaking Joshua Dobbs for 5th. His career passing attempts and completions are also tied for 8th in program history, and he needs just 281 passing attempts to overtake Tyler Bray for fifth and just 223 completions to pass Dobbs for 4th.

None of what I just said can or should serve as justification for the level of vitriol this young man has endured from fans. It is simply ludicrous to think that a quarterback with his numbers and his body of work would be forced to endure harassment on the scale that he has, and yet, here we are. Have we learned nothing from the treatment of Jonathan Crompton? The answer to that appears to be not really. With the emergence of Instagram and Twitter, it's become significantly easier to type something out, hit send, and then move on without doing any thinking. Vol fans have become notorious for their Twitter presence, which is enjoyable when focused outside the program but downright malicious when directed within. Jarrett Guarantano's play is warranting of criticism at times, but there's a big difference between criticism and harassment, and too often that line gets crossed. Additionally, there is no need for any fan to share their critiques directly with a player online. If your name isn't Peyton Manning, your criticism isn't helpful to him so let the coaches handle it.

Jarrett Guarantano will be remembered as the quarterback who bridged the Butch Jones era in Knoxville and the Jeremy Pruitt era. As such, he won't have quarterbacked under ideal circumstances for the majority of his time with the Vols. Constant turnover among the coordinators and position coaches has hampered his development, and being battered by defenses in his first two seasons hurt his confidence and trust in his blockers. Maybe he settles in as a senior and becomes the quarterback he's shown flashes of being. If not, he will still have taken the shots, both on and off the field, in order to help the program to a brighter future.

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