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De’Andre Johnson’s “It” Factor

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Though it is impossible to quantify, Florida State quarterback commit De'Andre Johnson has the "it" factor which college coaches covet.

“I feel like I was slighted a little bit, so I go out there to compete and get better, and to show guys that, in my eyes, I am the best quarterback out there. I just want to prove the doubters wrong.”
~Florida State QB commit De'Andre Johnson

If there is one glaring weakness in the manner in which high school prospects are scouted and evaluated, it is that evaluators have an overwhelming tendency to attempt to place the prospects within confined parameters.

Rather than solely focusing on a player’s production and ability to perform on the gridiron, it is easy to get caught up in the prospect’s “measurables”. Though it is not exactly clear why this is the case, the football society seems to have come to some sort of consensus regarding the prototypical measurables which should exist at every position.

We often hear those sentiments reverberating from our television sets most frequently right around National Signing Day and the NFL Draft. If you listen closely, you will catch certain key phrases and terms which clearly display how many in society have attempted to take a cookie-cutter approach to the evaluation process. 

At no position is the desire to find the prototypical “measurables” more prevalent than at the quarterback position. While traits such as accuracy and the ability to read a defense are examined closely, they seem to be less coveted than qualities such as height and arm strength.

At the end of the day, however, there isn’t an exact science to evaluating the quarterback. In fact, perhaps the most important trait which we should look for when attempting to evaluate a high school quarterback is the nebulously-defined “it” factor.

For the Florida State Seminoles, they believed that they had found a signal caller with that elusive “it” factor when they signed Jameis Winston in the class of 2012. One season, a Heisman Trophy and a national championship later, it suffices to say that the Seminoles were spot on in their evaluation of the most dynamic player in college football today.

As the Seminoles continue to look for a replacement for Winston following his eventual departure for the NFL, they believe they may have found their next quarterback with that “it” factor in De’Andre Johnson out of Jacksonville, Florida.

Currently ranked as a three-star prospect by the majority of the major recruiting services, Johnson has continuously impressed college coaches and scouts with his exceptional play for his high school team, as well as his dominant performances around the camp circuit.

Johnson was recently named the Top Performer at the quarterback position at the MVP Camp in Valdosta, a camp which attracted many of the top prospects from the entire southeast. He was singled out by the evaluators in attendance due to his outstanding accuracy, footwork, touch and eagerness to learn.

Despite consistently proving that he has the skills to be considered one of the class of 2015’s premier quarterbacks nationally, Johnson’s rating has likely been hindered by the fact that he stands just six-feet in stature. He was also held back that he suffered a shoulder injury between his sophomore and junior seasons which temporarily limited his availability on the camp circuit.

“Whenever I go these camps now, I have a chip on my shoulder, and I feel like I have to go out there and prove something,” Johnson commented on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “I feel like I was slighted a little bit, so I go out there to compete and get better, and to show guys that, in my eyes, I am the best quarterback out there. I just want to prove the doubters wrong.”

Johnson is certainly keenly aware of the stereotypes and challenges that come along with being perceived as a “smaller” quarterback prospect.

Again, he uses what many people perceive as his lack of ideal size as a motivational tool to become better and more efficient than the signal callers who currently rank ahead of him.

“I feel that if I was six-three or six-four, I could be the number one quarterback in the country,” Johnson continued. “That’s just something that, once again, puts a chip on my shoulder. Growing up, I watched a lot of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. Those guys went out and proved that undersized quarterbacks can get the job done too. Just like they went out and won Super Bowls, I feel like I could go out there and do that too.”

Inspired by what he considers to be unwarranted criticism, Johnson has quickly developed a reputation for being one of the hardest workers in the country in the 2015 class.

In addition to putting in countless hours in the weight room and on the practice field like the other top prospects in his class, Johnson also spends an exorbitant amount of time studying film and perfecting the mental side of the game.

That preparation paid dividends during this past fall, as Johnson completed 68 percent of his passing attempts for over 3,000 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions for First Coast High School.

Though it is nearly impossible to tangibly quantify, Johnson believes that it is his mental aptitude which gives him an advantage over his competition.

“I believe that my biggest strength is my mindset,” he remarked. “Day in and day out, a lot of people don’t get to see the work that I put in. I try to model myself after Peyton Manning, in that I want to study film and be a great teammate and leader.”

Attempting to find a glaring flaw in Johnson’s game would undoubtedly require a tremendous amount of creativity, because there simply is no denying that he possesses both the mental and physical tools to succeed at the next level.

Though he may lack what many people consider prototypical size, Johnson has routinely displayed that his arm strength, accuracy, foot work and decision making are exceptionally advanced for a prospect of his age.

Perhaps more importantly, Johnson has shown that he has the drive and the intangibles to thrive in Florida State’s offense.

Rather than getting caught up in the strict confinements of a quarterback’s “measurables”, perhaps it is time we focus our attention on a player’s ability to lead his team and produce on the field.

In both of those categories, there are few who can compete with De’Andre Johnson.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.