What Can Auburn Fans Expect from Joey Gatewood: A Scouting Report
USA TODAY Sports
For months, those who follow recruiting have undoubtedly read the same few lines regarding Joey Gatewood. The 6 foot, five inch, 230 pound consensus four-star athlete is viewed as the crown jewel in Auburn’s early signing period. However, despite being compared to Cam Newton he wasn’t even the starting quarterback on his high school team. Rivals ranks him as the seventh best dual-threat quarterback in this class and the 28th best football player in Florida, the second deepest state in the country in terms of producing D1 athletes. The Jacksonville native held offers from virtually every major program in the country but never wavered in his commitment to Auburn.
It is strange to reconcile how a player can be so highly regarded but not be the starting quarterback on his own team. What should Auburn fans expect from Gatewood?
Let’s address the most common question surrounding Gatewood: why wasn’t he the starter on his own team?
Fellow senior Riley Smith made 17 more pass attempts than Gatewood over the course of the season, completing three more than Gatewood while tossing 18 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Smith finished his senior year with a quarterback rating of 104, just shy of Gatewood’s 114. While Gatewood added 16 touchdowns on the ground, Smith added eight of his own. The two were deadlocked in most rushing categories except Gatewood had almost 500 more yards on 67 more attempts. Along the way, Smith was regarded as 118th best high school quarterback in the nation and the 14th best in the state of Florida. Suffice to say it was less about Gatewood not being a starter and more about Bartram Trail having two legitimate D1 senior quarterbacks trying to play at the next level. Translation: they both had to “get theirs” on a weekly basis.
Looking at Gatewood’s game, specifically, it would be easiest to start with the comparisons to Cam Newton. Since his initial comments on the comparison, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has amended his comments to say that he meant Gatewood’s appearance closely favored Newton’s hulking physique, not his play on the field.
Those comments stirred the internet into a frenzy because it wouldn’t be the first time that a player has been compared to college football’s most dominating player. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson was perhaps the first and most notable player to garner that comparison. And of course there was Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson, who was often compared to Newton and was considered a preseason Heisman candidate before sinking into obscurity after a miserable career.
Some point out that Gus Malzahn has not been able to bring a high school quarterback into the college game and develop a winner. They are correct. The list of quarterbacks that have failed the eye test under Malzahn is lengthy. Where will Gatewood sit on that list? Will he be the first success?
After breaking down film, it can be seen that Gatewood has a striking resemblance to Newton when he runs with the herky-jerky jukes that give defenders fits. Gatewood can stop his massive frame and change direction in a way that doesn’t look very pretty but leaves defenders with broken ankles. Like Newton, when he gets in stride in the open field, there is almost no chance that the defense can bring him down.
Gatewood’s highlights on Hudl.com show what he can do. His long runs are gorgeous and, while not every run goes for big yardage, he averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. That number would be fantastic for a college quarterback, but his are against high school players where he was a man among boys. Routine plays don’t make highlight reels, and for every ankle-breaking move up the middle or every long-striding perimeter run, there were a lot of plays for no gain.
It is easy to compare his running to Cam Newton, but he is more like former Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd with his upright running style, exploring the edge of the defense before planting a foot upfield. He looks more like a running back playing quarterback than a quarterback running the ball.
Of course, a quarterback has to throw the ball. In reality that’s a much more important aspect than running ability. Can he make pre-snap calls? Can he read defenses and run progressions? Can he throw the ball?
In watching film, it is apparent that Gatewood is a pre-snap, read quarterback. That is, he counts the defenders in the box, and that dictates run or pass. For a pass, he knows pre-snap to whom he is throwing and locks in to that player. This results in a lot of quick two-step dropback tosses, usually on quick hitch routes or slants. Occasionally, he sees a matchup he likes and will take a chance throwing the deep ball. Gatewood has the arm to make these throws, even without taking a single-step drop, and he can do it on the run as well. (A lot of credit for his success should go to his main target, Xavier Hutchinson, who made a lot of grabs on balls that wouldn’t have been caught by a lesser player and likely wouldn’t be caught at the next level due to elite defense.) Regardless, Gatewood delivers a good ball when he makes the right read. He can also scramble and make throws, but they typically aren’t in stride and are typically to wide-open receivers.
He is as calm as any high school quarterback I have watched and has a lot of confidence. He has good footwork, doesn’t have heavy feet and doesn’t shuffle or pat the ball. He simply takes the snap and delivers the rock. The ball typically comes out really fast and there is no hesitation when Gatewood has the matchup he wants. This is probably the main reason he had only one interception as a senior.
Every recruiting cycle, there are a lot of “can’t miss quarterbacks” as well as many “wait and see” players. Auburn seems to get the latter, and its fans are still waiting for the first type. Only time will tell if Gatewood will become more than a one-read quarterback like Jeremy Johnson, although much of the onus for Johnson’s performance is on Gus Malzahn.