Posts Tagged ‘Quarterbacks’

Trey Lance throws the ball downfield early and often at North Dakota State. He has a strong arm, seems to often place the ball just where his guy can catch it, and finds the open man to catch his passes. Lance ran for over 1,000 yards at 6.5 yards per carry in 2019 (on his way to another 1-AA national title). Overall, Lance looks great. It’s concerning to me that North Dakota State vastly outperforms the other teams it plays that Lance doesn’t ever have to actually make any difficult throws, or go through his reads. Watching his game tape, his receivers are often WIDE OPEN. I have concerns that he may struggle against actual defenses that aren’t ten levels below the offense he’s running. North Dakota State has won eight of the last ten national championships, they are more dominant in their arena than Alabama, Clemson, LSU or any other D-I team is in D1 football. This team in 2016 beat #13 Iowa with Easton Stick at quarterback (Stick was a 5th round selection, nowhere near the player Lance is viewed to be). North Dakota State has a season opener against University of Oregon, which game I believe will be monumentally important in showing the football world how Lance performs when he is NOT racing a Ferrari against proverbial Smart Cars. Oregon recruits actual NFL talent and has a smart coaching staff. There is a lot to like about Lance’s on field performance, I can see why talent evaluators like Daniel Jeremiah are excited about him. Because the level of competition NDSU plays is so low, it’s hard for me to say what Lance would look like in the NFL, where the skill gap between his teams and the teams he faces are much closer than they are at North Dakota State. 

I only watched one game of Justin Fields so far, the Clemson/Ohio State game in the College Football playoffs of 2019. Fields’ stat sheet made him look like he had a rocky outing (30/46, 320 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 14 carries for 13 yards). After watching the game I felt Fields played very well, and the referees made some bad calls that impacted the outcome of the game. His first interception was a sideline pass that Isaiah Simmons made an ultra athletic diving play to pick off. Simmons has absurd speed, height and athleticism even for the NFL game, most of the time that pass gets thrown it goes out of bounds or to his receiver. Fields should shoulder some of the blame for this throw, he understands Simmons is an elite defender, he is partially to blame for this interception, really Isaiah Simmons just made a crazy play on the ball. Fields’ second interception was a timing throw to Chris Olave on a route where Olave fell down and Nolan Turner redeemed himself after being badly burnt on routes previously by giving Justin Fields his third and final interception of the season. On plays like this, Fields has to trust Olave will show up at the catch point or else the defense may have enough time to drive Fields into the turf. Fields did exactly what he should have done, his receiver didn’t show up to catch the ball, the defender was there and picked it off. This is not Justin Fields’ fault. Fields made lots of passes downfield which required accuracy, arm strength, and split-second decision making.

Trevor Lawrence is an elite college quarterback prospect, I feel Clemson ran more YAC (yards after catcb) plays that didn’t demonstrate his arm. Both of Lawrence’s passing touchdowns were brilliant catch and run efforts by running back Travis Etienne. Lawrence himself had a 67 yard run, showcasing his own athleticism. Whether it was excellent coverage, play calling, or Lawrence’s comfort level, Lawrence didn’t pass down field often and I felt Fields outshone him as a passer in this game. Lawrence looks like an excellent thrower of the football overall and I look forward to watching more of his play as the Covid season progresses.

I really enjoyed watching tape of Memphis’ Brady White. White repeatedly threw the ball downfield into relatively tight coverage. Many college offenses run safer “catch in space” plays while Memphis really lets him loose with his arm. White doesn’t play a lot of elite teams as the starter at Memphis. In his bowl game against Penn State, White threw a lot of accurate, downfield passes. He was credited with two interceptions. One was a last second toss while being sacked which he threw towards his offensive line. This was an irresponsible pass but more of a coach-able moment than a deeply instilled passing habit. The interception to Marquis Wilson was Brady White trying to thread a needle too narrow. The pass was right on target for his receiver, but White has to respect the coverage better as Wilson jumped in front of the pass and intercepted the ball. I still feel White played pretty well overall, I would certainly like to see him adjust better for better competition in the future.

Iowa State’s Brock Purdy has gotten attention from some early 2021 mock drafters as a potential early quarterback in the 2021 draft. I felt that while Purdy was not a bad decision maker, most of his successful passes were a product of his offense rather than high level passing. Purdy has lots of plays showing him throw a jump ball to 6’7″ tight end Charlie Kolar, or throwing a quick pass to one of his receivers and letting the receiver create yards after the catch. While I understand this is likely a great gameplan for actually winning games in college, it’s more challenging to see what Purdy looks like if he is asked to make challenging throws. Like Trey Lance, I don’t feel I can confidently say I know who Brock Purdy is as a quarterback because of circumstances out of his control. He seems to protect the football well and take the plays that the defense gives him, but he is not asked to throw downfield enough for me to say how well he can actually throw downfield.

I’ve already written how I feel about Louisville QB Micale Cunningham. I feel he is being underrated and maybe a top two quarterback in the draft class. He has a 22-5 TD/INT ratio, a QBR of 50+ in all but two contests in 2019 (Kentucky QBR 50.0, Clemson QBR 22.6), and is an effective runner. Cunningham may spark concerns he can’t handle a high volume passing offense at Louisville where he hands the ball off a lot and was credited with 122 rushes himself. He has demonstrated impressive quick twitch arm strength and great accuracy. In a rough loss to Clemson, Cunningham placed a 42 (air yards) yard bomb to Dez Fitzpatrick just outside the reach of first round draft pick corner A.J. Terrell. His lone interception went through the hands of wide receiver Tutu Atwell and into the hands of Clemson safety K’Von Wallace. I understand quarterbacks are tasked with protecting the football, this the type of pass Cunningham needed to be willing to risk throwing if Louisville wanted any chance at beating Clemson. The placement of the ball was close enough I blame Tutu Atwell more (although Tutu is a great receiver) for not bringing the pass down over Cunningham for throwing it.

There are still other quarterbacks I want to get into before the draft, guys like: Tanner Morgan, Sam Ehlinger, K.J. Costello, Davis Mills, D’Eriq King, Spencer Rattler, Alan Bowman, Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, and several more.

Teams likely to draft a quarterback early in 2021 draft:

  • Chicago – With Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace likely gone, it’s tough to know what direction Chicago will want to go at quarterback.
  • Carolina – Carolina looks to either be in position to draft their choice of quarterbacks, or to trade up if they aren’t in the top five. I’d have to believe Justin Fields or some 2020 newcomer would be their top choice, based strictly on current QB hype/overall performance.
  • New England – Bill Belichick will pass on every good quarterback prospect until round seven when he drafts Large WhiteMan from Obscure University. Realistic connections could leave us with Mac Jones from Alabama considering Saban’s/Belichick’s connections, or a “lower-risk” QB like Kyle Trask at Florida.
  • New Orleans – I think New Orleans, who really liked Patrick Mahomes, will really like Trey Lance because of his deep ball and athleticism. Even if Trey Lance struggles a little to go from playing Illinois State to the Atlanta Falcons twice a year, the Saints will be confident they can work with his aggressive throwing he’s already shown.
  • Jacksonville – You can credit Shahid Khan, Jaguars owner, for identifying and pushing the Jaguars to draft Gardner Minshew. If Gardner does not work out long term, Jacksonville would likely to be thrilled with any of the big three (Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance). Trevor Lawrence might feel like more of a safe pick after flopping hard on small school risk Blake Bortles. Jamie Newman at Georgia would also be a name to monitor for Jax, as he may blow up in 2020.
  • Pittsburgh – Kevin Colbert may ride out Ben Roethlisberger for 2021 and start fresh in ’22. If he follows the trend of other general managers, I could see the Steelers looking at Jamie Newman and drawing comparisons because of his size and scrambling ability to Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Indianapolis – With Indianapolis, I’m reaching deep into the mists of the unknown. They could pursue a quarterback like Spencer Rattler or Alan Bowman if they develop at their current QB factories (Rattler projected to start at Oklahoma, Bowman at Texas Tech under Matt Wells). They would likely gamble on Trey Lance or be happy with Fields/Lawrence if they lose enough games.

Song of the post is “Why am I here” by Bonjr

 

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005. The 2005 NFL draft was moved to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. Paul Tagliabue hadn’t yet retired from his service as commissioner. San Francisco, the once proud NFC red-and-gold franchise humbly started off the draft with a glaring need at quarterback and the first overall selection. Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, and Alex Smith had each finished terrific seasons at their respective schools as Quarterbacks, but Smith’s statistics stood out the most. Smith in particular had come off a royal torching of Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, winning 35-7. Smith dismantled Pitt’s defense throwing four touchdowns and accounting for nearly 400 yards of total offense. He displayed dazzling talent as a passer and deceptive athleticism. San Francisco looked forward to the future taking the California native who looked a little like a former 49er who also played at a Utah school, Steve Young.

Unfortunately for Smith, San Francisco did not provide an environment where young passers can excel. Teams that draft first overall rarely do. In 2005, the ‘Niner’s top receiver was a young, sometimes impressive and sometimes inconsistent Brandon Lloyd. Rookie Frank Gore split time with veteran Kevan Barlow for playing time at running back. Pass rushers Bryant Young and Julian Peterson held together a shaky defense. Smith finished his rookie season completing barely more than half of his passes with one touchdown and eleven interceptions. Not until 2011 with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh did Alex Smith truly shed the label of ‘bust’ so hastily assigned to first round picks who fail to materialize into star quarterbacks the moment they’re thrown onto the field. Coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary drafted important pieces on the 49ers roster, but failed to recapture the NFC West during their time. Harbaugh came into San Francisco and saw Smith had potential, but would never reach it the way the offense had been structured in the past.

Instead of tasking Smith to win every game on his shoulders, Harbaugh built a strong defense and paired it with an already strong running game. Instead of asking Smith to do more, Harbaugh simplified the game for Smith. Smith’s new responsibilities were to keep the hashes moving with the fastest Tight End in football and the sure-handed Michael Crabtree. On 3rd and long situations, Smith would now throw a screen pass allowing for a solid punt putting the defense in better field position. This ultimately gave the team more momentum than trying to force a bad pass into coverage that would hopefully not get intercepted.

Alex Smith still carries the tag of ‘game manager’ because of his role in Kansas City as the custodian of the football. Despite his success in the playoffs and against strong teams such as New Orleans, Green Bay, and his recent four touchdown performance against Indianapolis that saw KC’s defense collapse, Smith’s still a ‘game manager.’

Contrast Alex Smith and his situation in San Francisco with Aaron Rodgers and his environment in Green Bay. Rodgers wasn’t asked to lead the team until his fourth season. And until that time, he sat and watched the legendary Brett Favre lead an NFL offense. Smith was thrown into a fire and expected to fix the team around him all with his own play. Rodgers was tutored for three seasons and surrounded by a cast of quality talent before being asked to lead the team.

Would Rodgers have developed into just as good a passer were he to be drafted by San Francisco and thrust into a starting role like Alex Smith was? It’s impossible to tell, but history suggests Rodgers may not have had the same success in Smith’s situation than in the situation he came up in.

Quarterbacks are asked to win now. Cam Newton set nearly impossible standards by throwing for over 4,000 yards and producing over thirty touchdowns as a rookie on a struggling Carolina team. Looking at the Aaron Rodgers experiment suggests that throwing a QB into the fray week one may not be the best recipe for success at developing a passer, that Cam Newton may be the exception to the rule, not the new rule.

Some qb’s rise naturally to the top. Russell Wilson straight out won the starting job in Seattle. Matt Flynn couldn’t compete with the two-sport athlete and backed Wilson up. Wilson seems to have developed fine, though in an environment that limits what he’s asked to do.

It makes little sense to start your veteran when the rookie gives you the best chance to win. But if you’re an NFL GM out there, and you have a veteran at QB maybe Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. Take a look at the QB’s available in the draft BEFORE you need a new one. Brock Osweiler, Ryan Mallett and Luke McCown don’t inspire the same confidence as their starters if a sudden injury or retirement were to elevate their position to starter. Jimmy Garoppolo or Aaron Murray may not grab as many headlines as other “first round” but left in the “QB oven” for a few seasons behind a solid starter and they have a chance to come out golden brown ready to lead an offense.

Before you have a baby, you go out and buy a crib, you take time off work, you buy baby food, and you baby proof the house so your offspring doesn’t eat the rusty nails in your basement. Before that special young lady comes over for dinner you clean the kitchen, you vacuum the carpet, you practice your finest hygiene skills in order to best NOT look like a homeless man and in order to persuade her to come back. Before you draft a young quarterback, give him some time to learn the game. Give him a defense that will make his job doable. Give him a mentor who’s been there, done that, and loves to play football. Give him a chance.