A little over a week ago, I saw that St. Thomas Aquinas would be playing its final game of the season against Utah power Bingham in Frisco, Texas, at the $1.5 billion training facility the Dallas Cowboys. Since I live about 45 minutes away from there, I decided to check the game out, since it would feature Syracuse football commit Josh Palmer.
So last night, I drove down to The Star, grabbed my trusty media pass, and set up shop in the press box to watch some elite high school football. And while he didn’t put up gaudy numbers, I came away impressed with what I saw of the 6-foot-3 wide receiver from Canada, who is one of five receivers committed to the Orange.
It was hard to tell just how fast Palmer is, in case you were curious, because St. Thomas Aquinas never really looked to go deep. Instead, the name of the (passing) game was screens, with STA’s speedy slot receivers doing a good bit of damage, while Palmer operated as basically the only true outside receiver for the team for most of the night (superstar WR Trevon Grimes, arguably the top receiver prospect in the nation at 6-foot-4, 200 and headed to Ohio State, has been injured and did not play).
By my less-than-scientific count, I had STA running just under 60 offensive plays (not counting the ones wiped out by penalties, obviously). Palmer was on the field for every single one of them, always lining up to the right of STA quarterback Jake Allen, whether he was spread out wide or working out of a bunched formation.
By my unofficial count, Palmer was targeted nine times, catching six passes for about 61 yards. Of those nine targets, seven were catchable balls, with the lone missed connection out of those seven on a ball that Palmer should have come up with, but just went through his hands. Palmer would probably be the first one to tell you he should have made the catch, which was on about a 10 yard route and maybe came out a little too hot from Allen, but still, Palmer got both of his hands on the ball.
Other than that, however, every throw that was within reach for Palmer, he made the catch. Four of his six receptions were on screen passes (like I said, St. Thomas Aquinas loves its screens), and his longest catch of the day, checking in at about 19 yards, was a slant that included about six or seven yards after the catch.
The other two targets that did not wind up being catchable included a first half play in which Allen scrambled out of the pocket and fired toward Palmer in the endzone, but the pass sailed about five yards wide and out of bounds, so there was nothing that could have been done. The second was simply a tremendous defensive play by Bingham’s defensive back Tongi Langi.
Palmer had used a beautiful double move to leave his own defender about 10 yards behind him and looked to have a surefire touchdown, but Langi came over and made a diving play to bat the ball down. Since Palmer was a good yard and a half beyond Langi, with his momentum carrying him away from the ball, there was nothing he could do to try to go get the ball. It was simply a great play by the defender, and all you can do is tip your cap.
It’s a bit of a shame that STA didn’t really take any shots down the field, because there’s where the majority of Palmer’s routes were throughout the night. And for what it’s worth, he was consistently getting open. Still, it’s hard to judge just how well his ability to get open will translate to the next level, since Bingham didn’t jam him at the line all night, and he had a good four inches on the corner generally covering him and was clearly a superior athlete. That said, it was clear that Palmer is a good route runner, and also showed very solid hands (other than the one incompletion early).
Physically, Palmer looks just about ready to step onto the field and play for Syracuse right now. He’s a legitimate 6-foot-3 and, even though the program listed him at 180, looked closer to 190 to me. His frame is reminiscent Syracuse freshman wideout Devin Butler.
Palmer showed a willingness and aggressiveness when it came to blocking, both for the run and going downfield on passing plays, though most of the offensive plays run by STA either went up the middle or to the other side of the field, so he didn’t get many chances. Based on this one game, though, his blocking will need a little bit of work, and on one play in particular he was a bit lucky that running back Mike Epstein was able to squirt past the defender who had managed to break free from Palmer’s block and came close to catching Epstein for a loss, but the Illinois commit made a nice play to gain about seven or eight yards.
Like I said though, it’s hard to judge based on one game, and there were other plays where Palmer looked perfectly fine when blocking. Plus, we’re not asking him to be a tight end out there anyway. We want him catching the ball, and he did that consistently when passes came his way.
It’s also hard for any offensive player to stand out for STA, simply because they are so ridiculously loaded. The ball gets spread around like crazy, and as I mentioned, the slot receivers got most of the work last night. It’s easy to see why, too, considering how talented STA’s slot receivers are. Mike Harley and Jordan Merrell were both Syracuse targets at one point, and Harley in particular was impressive with his speed and quickness. The shifty, 5-foot-11 West Virginia commit had the game’s first touchdown, a 45-yard reception in which Harley took a short pass and just turned on the jets, racing virtually untouched down the sideline for the score.
In all, I came away impressed with Palmer. Watching him through warmups, it was clear he’s a smooth athlete, and during the game I thought he showed some good physicality after the catch. The numbers weren’t huge, but it generally took multiple Bingham players to bring him down.
With a spot open at outside receiver opposite Steve Ishmael, Palmer will have a chance to compete for a role in Syracuse’s offense early. With his size, hands, and the way he plays the game though, I think Palmer is going to wind up being one of the favorites to step in and take over Ishmael’s role in the offense when Steve graduates after next season.