Another year, another high-profile grad transfer quarterback in the offseason.
This time, it’s Malik Zaire who recently announced his transfer to Florida. The former blue-chip spent the past four years at Notre Dame, but his career there was anything but normal. He took over for Everett Golson as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and led the Fighting Irish to a Music City Bowl win over LSU and was named MVP. The following year, as a redshirt sophomore, he was named the starter to begin the season, but broke his ankle in their second game which allowed future second-round pick DeShone Kizer to take over and assume control of the job in 2016 as well.
Despite the limited experience as a starting quarterback, Zaire still possesses the talent to play at a fairly high level. A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Zaire has passed for 816 yards and six touchdowns through his three years of playing time at Notre Dame, and added 323 yards and a pair of scores on the ground as well.
For any other team across college football, they might be skeptical about taking a shot on a graduate transfer who has only three games of starting experience under his belt. But for the Florida Gators, who has suffered through abysmal quarterback play ever since Tim Tebow left, the addition of Zaire might be just what they need.
So what will Florida be getting in Malik Zaire?
At his base level, Zaire is a quarterback who is capable of executing simple throws that you see in any college offense. Roll outs, screens to the outside, and quick slants are all throws that he made during his time at Notre Dame.
These are throws that Florida’s offense has not had in some time. With players like Treon Harris, Austin Appleby and Luke Del Rio at the helm, these simple concepts are often missed because of a lack of talent on their part. Zaire, if he does nothing else, will be able to come in and provide immediate relief with these basic throws.
At his best, Zaire has proven that he is capable of working the middle of the field to a good extent. This is what separates good quarterbacks from average ones. Granted, he was working with an offensive line that contained future NFL players and a first-round pick in Will Fuller at wide receiver, but the throws that he made were impressive.
With a young, but talented, offensive line in Gainesville and players like Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland on the outside, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Zaire make these type of throws for the Gators in the fall.
There’s no questioning Zaire’s arm strength. As seen by the clip above, he has the capability to stretch the field vertically in a big way. If Florida can get one of Callaway or Cleveland to be the big-threat type of player that Zaire had in Will Fuller, the Gators’ offense will become that much more dangerous.
Again, these are types of throws that Florida’s offense has not seen in quite some time. The best quarterback that Florida has seen since Tebow left was probably Will Grier for his six game stretch before being suspended. But even he was not capable of chucking 60-yard bombs like Zaire is able to do.
Perhaps the biggest area where Zaire will help the Gators’ offense is with his mobility on the ground. At 6-0, 225-pounds, Zaire is built like a running back and he can move like one too. Notre Dame used him extensively in the zone-read game and he was able to earn MVP honors in a win over LSU mostly because of his work on the ground.
But Zaire has also proven that he has reasonably good pocket presence as well. If the pocket is collapsing, he knows when to take off with his legs and scramble. If Zaire can be just an average passer while having the threat of his legs as well, he will succeed in Gainesville.
While I’ve said plenty of positive things about Zaire, take it with a heaping teaspoon of salt. Zaire only started three games at Notre Dame: versus LSU in 2014, and versus Texas and Virginia in 2015. None of those teams were superpowers and most of his stats came in the Texas game versus a dreadful Longhorns’ defense.
Florida fans should be cautiously optimistic about what Zaire can bring to their offense. At his best, Zaire is a quarterback who might be able to contend for All-SEC honors if he stays healthy and performs like we saw versus Texas in 2015. At worst or if he is beaten out by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, Florida is getting a fifth-year senior backup at the cost of one scholarship for the 2017 season. I’d call that a win-win scenario.
In short, time will tell what the Gators are getting in Zaire. But if he even performs at an average level, he might be the best quarterback to come through Gainesville since Tim Tebow.