Monday brought good news for all types of Tennessee sports fans. The first good news of the day was the shocking announcement of 5-star quarterback Nicholaus Iamaleava, who publicly committed to the Volunteers. Later on, fans got to see the women’s basketball team advance to their first Sweet 16 since 2016, after a thrilling (and stressful) win over Belmont.
We’ve covered both events on this website, so make sure to check out our pieces on what happened. This article will be the second dedicated to discussing Iamaleava’s commitment.
Typically, we would do the analysis in the same article that we do the commitment. But the circumstances of the commitment, and the sheer gravity of Tennessee getting a 5-star quarterback, warrant another deeper look.
If you want to go into the background of his recruitment, Terry Lambert has you covered. Iamaleava is at the center of the one of the biggest changes in college football history, with the introduction of NIL deals and multimillion dollar agreements. Feel free to read about what Tennessee has allegedly done for him. This article is strictly talking about him as a player and what he potentially means for the program.
Competitive in your field
Obviously, getting a top-5 quarterback in any class is a huge victory. That’s especially true for this one. The 2023 quarterback recruiting class is one of the better ones in recent years. Iamaleava is currently ranked as the No. 4 quarterback by the 247Sports Composite Rankings, and is seen as a consensus top-10 recruit by all services. This should not be taken lightly.
Also in the class is the most famous of the quarterbacks, Arch Manning. While Tennessee fans may be disappointed that they are not getting another member of the Manning family, Iamaleava is not far behind at all. The class also boasts very high-quality prospects in Dante Moore and Malachi Nelson, and there’s even guys further down in the 2023 class that I believe would be ranked higher in a class like 2022 or 2021. Overall, if you need a signal caller, this is the class to grab one.
Iamaleava has every single physical tool and flash of talent that you want. He’s got a mix of accuracy, touch, spin, arm strength, maneuverability, pocket presence, a little bit of everything a prospect needs. He’s also got the prerequisite size (6-foot-5), albeit he’s on the “rail thin” side right now (195 pounds).
One of his more mature traits is the ability to stand tall in the pocket and continue to keep his eyes downfield. Younger quarterbacks can have a tendency to get flushed out of the pocket quickly and take off far too early, when there are options developing downfield. Iamaleava does not follow this trend, and instead maintains composure in all sorts of pressure situations. There are multiple clips of him against a collapsing defensive end, a blitzing linebacker, spying corner, etc. Even in all those instances, Iamaleava prefers to try and find an open receiver. In some of them, he quickly tosses the ball to the safest option that still results in positive yardage.
That doesn’t mean he can’t run. In fact, a lot of scouts love his ability to scramble down field and escape defenders. Some of it might be his wiry build, some of it might just be his awareness. I will say that I don’t find his scrambling to look particularly natural. He can do it, but it’s also obvious that he does not rely on it like some quarterbacks do. He is still a danger when he gets going downfield. His maneuverability in my opinion is more valuable when he’s evading defenders in the pocket.
Iamaleava’s throwing is where the highest ceiling remains, as well as the most work. On one hand, thanks to his size and length, a lot of passes do have a certain wind-up to them. Which doesn’t get punished in high school, but is more vulnerable in college/NFL. But at the same time, when he reaches the apex of his throwing motion, the ball zips out with as much force as he wants—and almost “makes up” for the elongated motion.
Iamaleava’s touch is a coach’s dream as well. He can throw at different speeds for different routes and situations, while also threading the needle through a defense. As with many his age, it’s all about having awareness on which throws are “smart” and which ones are “risky”. There’s a world of potential with his physical attributes—it’s about channeling those into a specific offense.
My personal comparison would be Geno Smith of West Virginia. It’s an unusual one, but when I watch Iamaleava, I really get the sense that he is the type of passer who “swings for the fences”, so to speak. He’s an aggressive quarterback that loves to push downfield and keep a defense exhausted. Those Mountaineer offenses of the early 2010s were a force to be reckoned with, and much of it was thanks to Geno Smith and his ability to make all the throws. Ideally, Tennessee’s offense would produce the same sort of fear that those West Virginia teams did. A bunch of really talented athletes getting the ball in their hands thanks to a really talented quarterback.
An added perk
I’d be remiss to ignore a potential recruiting boon with the commitment as well. Since this is not related to Iamaleava as a player on the field, I’ll keep it short. I would just like to point out that already having a 5-star quarterback and top-10 overall player committed can be a real building block for the class. It lets other talented players see that they will be in good company if they choose to attend the school. It also makes for some very good PR, since recruits like Iamaleava typically bring a lot of national attention on what they do and what schools they go to. Should Iamaleava stick with his commitment— which we simply have to assume to be able to discuss anything, even with the realities of recruiting— he could give Tennessee three to four years of a new program ceiling.