10 best HS quarterbacks: The case for A.J. Gray

The most dangerous high school quarterback in Georgia might be a player that won’t play quarterback again after this season.

His name as A.J. Gray, perhaps one of the state’s top 10 athletes in any sport. The Washington County two-way starter who has committed to Georgia Tech as a safety. He also was an all-state candidate this past season as a guard on the Golden Hawks’ top-10 basketball team.

‘’He’s not considered a quarterback at the next level, but nobody in the state has more impact at the quarterback position than A.J.,’’ said Gray’s coach, Joel Ingram said. “He is a true dual-threat. He’s also a star on defense who could play any position on the field. He is a very skilled runner, but the blessing is the fact that he is a dangerous passer too.’’

Gray threw for 1,913 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 1,324 yards. He had a hand in 34 touchdowns. His team averaged 47.7 points per game and reached the Class AAA final

Those kinds of quarterbacks – who will play other positions in college but who deliver the ball effectively enough to make them a nightmare to defend -- are becoming increasingly significant at the high school level. In 2013, they included Malkom Parrish of Brooks County (signed with Georgia as a cornerback), Donquell Green of Burke County (Marshall wide receiver) and Stanton Truitt of Monroe Area (Auburn wide receiver).

High school quarterbacks have been moved to other spots in college since the forward pass was invented, but it’s more common today that they have legitimate passing skills. Are those quarterbacks more valuable in high school than the pro-style player who shines with his arm at college-recruiting combines?

Naturally, Ingram thinks so.

‘’Especially in high school as defenses are becoming more complex and versatile, I’d much rather rely on a running quarterback to evade a blitz or bad play with his legs then rely on a kid to always make hot throws into tight windows,’’ Ingram said. “Guys like that exist, but most of them are first-ballot hall of famers. That type of quarterback is becoming a thing of the past.’’

Georgia also has some quarterbacks who can run and pass and will remain behind center in college. The best-known of those is probably North Cobb’s Tyler Queen. A senior committed to Auburn, Queen has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in his career and also is a threat to run. Queen is the No. 10 pro-style quarterback nationally by 247Sports.

Most of the rest of Georgia’s most highly recruited players are better known for their passing. Ingram says those are fine, but he wouldn’t trade any of them for A.J. Gray.

‘’It’s comical sometimes when you hear about an ‘athlete’ versus a pro-style quarterback – ‘He throws awkwardly, he has a funny release, blah, blah, blah,’’ Ingram said. “A running quarterback gives you an edge in the running game. It’s an extra number the defense has to account for. To me, if I can have a Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson versus a prototypical NFL QB, I’ll take the more athletic guy every time.’’

Georgia’s 10 best high school quarterbacks:

*Daniel David (Mill Creek): The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior passed for 1,332 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for a team-leading 651 yards for a Hawks team that finished 6-4 but failed to make the playoffs out of a tough Region 7-AAAAAA. As a sophomore, he led the Hawks to a school-record nine victories and an appearance in the state quarterfinals, matching the best finish in the program's 10-year history. David, ranked as the nation's No. 49 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, has offers from Georgia State and Mercer and has received interest from several SEC and ACC schools.

*A.J. Gray (Washington County): Gray, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior, made first-team all-state last season as a defensive back, the position he is expected to play in college. But he also put up big numbers on offense, completing 69 percent of his passing for 1,913 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 1,324 yards and 18 TDs. Gray also made 75 tackles and had five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Washington County averaged 47.7 points per game last season and finished 13-1, losing to Buford 35-19 in the Class AAA championship game. Gray committed to Georgia Tech in March.

*Kevin Johnson (Pace Academy): Johnson is a consensus three-star recruit who is ranked as the nation's No. 28 dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior was named the offensive player of the year in Region 5-A last season after passing for 1,692 yards and 23 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Pace Academy failed to make the playoffs in 2013 but finished 5-5 under first-year coach Chris Slade, tying for the second-most victories in the program's six-year history. He reportedly has received offers from Boston College, Illinois and South Carolina.

*Austin King (Alpharetta): King is rated as a three-star recruit who has offers from Georgia State, Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham, among others. He has received interest from several SEC and ACC schools, according to 247Sports, which ranks him as the nation's No. 35 pro-style quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior completed 64 percent of his passes last season for 2,036 yards and 17 touchdowns with seven interceptions. King led the Raiders to a 9-3 finish and the Region 6-AAAAAA championship in 2013. Alpharetta lost to Collins Hill in the second round of the playoffs.

*Jawon Pass (Carver-Columbus): The dual-threat quarterback, rated as a four-star recruit by Scout, was named second-team all-state as a sophomore by the Georgia Sports Writers Association last season. Pass (6-4, 185) completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,197 yards and 23 touchdowns with two interceptions and rushed for 404 yards and 11 scores. Carver went 11-2 and won its seventh consecutive region title last season, losing to Buford 36-6 in the Class AAA quarterfinals. Pass has received offers from Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Nebraska and Notre Dame, according to 247Sports.

*D.J. Pearson (Northview): Pearson was named the offensive player of the year in Region 7-AAAAA last season despite his team finishing 5-5 and missing the playoffs. He completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,531 yards and 19 touchdowns and had a season-best 392 yards in a 35-28 loss to region runner-up Creekview. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior is a three-star recruit and the nation's No. 48 pro-style quarterback, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He reportedly has offers from Georgia State, Arkansas State, Troy and Western Kentucky as well as some interest from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Tennessee.

*Tyler Queen (North Cobb): The 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior passed for 2,172 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushed for 434 yards and nine TDs last year for a team that went 9-3 and reached the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. He had even better numbers as a sophomore, passing for 2,607 yards and rushing for 925 in leading the Warriors to the state semifinals. Queen, rated as a four-star recruit by Scout and Rivals and ranked as the No. 10 pro-style quarterback nationally by 247Sports, has committed to Auburn. He will be sidelined until the summer after injuring the elbow in his throwing arm while pitching in a game in March.

*Chance Thrasher (Peachtree Ridge): Thrasher is rated as a three-star recruit and the nation's No. 57 pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, which reports that he has received college interest from Georgia, Miami, Tennessee and East Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound senior completed 183 of 304 passes (60.2 percent) last season for 2,364 yards and 18 touchdowns, including a season-high 388 yards and four TDs in a 55-17 victory against Duluth. Thrasher also rushed for 245 yards on 73 carries. Peachtree Ridge finished the season 8-4 and reached the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.

*Gabe Tiller (Archer): The fifth-year Archer program had its best season in 2013, winning a school-record 11 games, capturing its first region championship and reaching the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs, where it lost a 34-32 heartbreaker to state runner-up North Gwinnett. Leading the way was the 6-foot, 180-pound Tiller, who was 202-for-290 passing (69.7 percent) for 2,370 yards and 28 touchdowns in his junior season and had a season-best 329 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-20 victory against Central Gwinnett. He also rushed for 278 yards and three TDs on 71 carries.

*Aaron Winchester (Mount Pisgah Christian): Winchester began to gain attention last season when he led the Patriots to a school-record 12 victories – the previous best was seven – and the first region title in the program's 11-year history. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound senior passed for 2,272 yards and 31 touchdowns with just five interceptions and rushed for a team-leading 982 yards. Mount Pisgah reached the semifinals of the Class A private-school playoffs, losing 17-16 to eventual champion Aquinas. Winchester has received interest from several schools in the SEC, ACC and Pac-12, according to Rivals.

This is the first in a series of articles that identify 10 of the best players in high school football at their positions. The decisions are based largely on their impact as high school players, but their status as a college recruit also is considered. Coming next week: Running backs.