Although my takes on the players in the next series of posts might be useful to fantasy owners, this isn’t a fantasy football article. I’m not projecting stats. I’m writing about talented players whose portfolio of work reveals techniques and behaviors that I think translate well to the NFL game. At the end of the year, you might look at the stats and conclude that the quantity of the production wasn’t eye-catching for each of these emerging talents. However, I believe their work will be impressive enough for opposing teams, fans, and more astute fantasy owners to take future notice.
Once upon a time there was a Division I college quarterback. He had the minimum physical dimensions for NFL consideration, but he wasn’t an athletic phenomenon. The school he played for was a major program, but it was not a known commodity for quarterbacks. The lack of these quality bullet points on this player’s resume contributed to a lower draft stock. A noted exception were those who study film closely. These tape grinders saw a quarterback with an exceptionally quick release, good accuracy, and solid decision-making. Some of these analysts, (specifically this one) rated this quarterback among the top 3-4 in this class.
It didn’t make much of a difference. The quarterback was a sixth-round pick for a team that needed a better passer. But as with most sixth-round picks, that quarterback was waived. The team didn’t regarded him as a player to develop. While this is speculation on my part, said player likely didn’t receive enough reps to even make an impression. Six years later, the team that cut our hero made a trade for a signal caller who turned this franchise around – much in part to a new head coach who I think might have taken a greater interest in our hero if the timing were right. But reality dictated that for the next five years this team would falter in large part to inconsistent quarterbacking.
Our hero got picked up by a divisional rival, at team with a quality veteran pocket passer in the sunset of his career. Ironically, this team drafted a quarterback the following season via a blockbuster trade with another team that used these picks to select two future Hall of Famers. The first of these elite players would be traded five years later to the team that originally drafted our hero in the sixth round. The team that traded away these two picks only kept our sixth-round hero on the practice squad for two weeks before dumping him.
By season’s end, our hero was signed to another team’s practice squad in the same conference. In total, his rookie year consisted of a training camp with one team and four weeks of practice squad time with two other organizations. Fortunately for our hero, the third organization re-signed him at the end of his rookie year and he spent his second season as a third-string quarterback.
Based on what happened thus far, it doesn’t sound like much a career was in store for Marc Bulger. But by 2003 our hero, who was drafted and cut by the Saints and picked up for two weeks by the Falcons, led the St. Louis Rams to a 12-4 record and he was selected as the Pro Bowl’s MVP in 2004. Despite a beginning to a career that seemed to indicate he’d be completing more insurance claim forms than passes, in 2005 Bulger reached 1000 completions faster than any quarterback in history.
I’m sure the Saints are happy with Drew Brees and the Falcons can argue that at the top of his game (something they were never able to get out of him) Mike Vick might have been worth Drew Brees and Ladainian Tomlinson. However, what kind of players could have they acquired for their team to improve the overall product on the field if they had a quarterback like Marc Bulger performing at the top of his game? Although Marc Bulger’s career production declined as he suffered a slew of injuries and he’s been a career backup since 2009, there is moral to this story. Frequently enough, quality NFL prospects get overlooked or don’t get a real opportunity to show what they can do.
John Beck just might have been one of those players. Certainly Drew Brees didn’t become a starter a team felt confident with until 2005 and A.J. Smith drafted Phillip Rivers the year Brees established himself as a viable star. I’m telling you this because John Beck, much like Marc Bulger once was, is an afterthought for most football media. At best, he’s a humorous side story. This includes many good football media.
Exhibit A – Good Media I Respect
Exhibit A is Cecil Lammey, my friend and co-worker at Footballguys.com. Lammey’s favorite rant about Beck is that the quarterback has the demeanor and snap cadence of a church mouse. This isn’t the first time – nor will it be the last – that I disagree with Lammey about a player’s potential. We agree on Eric Decker. We disagree on James Starks and Knowshown Moreno. He’s probably going to be right about Moreno due the fact that he is hearing from those within the Broncos organization that Moreno’s work ethic is an issue.
This isn’t to say that my friend Lammey doesn’t watch games closely. He is more than a radio personality and beat reporter who only communicates what others say. He studies players. We’ve worked the Senior Bowl together for the past two years and I respect his views. He understands the game and he has a critical eye. But two people can watch the same player at the same time and have opposing assessments. This is why I believe training and continuous development with a clear evaluation process is important regardless of skill or experience with the people doing it.
I am sharing this with you because I believe John Beck’s potential deserves another look.
Bad Beginning in a Bad Situation
Beck was my top quarterback prospect in the 2007 NFL Draft. He was also Mike Shanahan’s top prospect and according to the Redskin’s head coach, it wasn’t even close. Considering that JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn lost their opportunities for a team any time soon, we can say that some teams were more enamored with physical potential than quarterbacking skill. Russell and Quinn failed to endear themselves despite significantly greater opportunities than what has been granted to Beck.
Even my No.2 prospect at that position in 2007 who has failed to develop – Trent Edwards, a sound combo of physical skills and quarterbacking potential – showed more promise than Russell and Quinn. I think Edwards got the snot beat out of him too early in his career. Since then, he hasn’t demonstrated the same aggressiveness down field that he showed at Stanford.
Beck had a rough start in Miami and we might find that this experience could have changed him the way it did with Edwards. I doubt it though. Edwards was forced to play through a prolonged beating of a couple of seasons. Additionally, Beck’s rookie debut was with a team that nearly lost every game and his wasn’t a prolonged nightmare.
Beck took over for Cleo Lemon (who was 0-8 after Trent Green suffered a season-ending concussion in Week One) in Week 11 and went 0-4 in his only career starts. This was simply a bad team up and down the roster. Coach Cam Cameron, who coached Drew Brees in San Diego and likened Beck to the Saints superstar, was fired by the Bill Parcells-Jeff Ireland regime and replaced by Tony Sparano. The Parcells Purge began in earnest and John Beck was seen as one of Cameron’s guys. He was promptly buried on the depth chart.
A somewhat damning argument against Beck is that no team was interested in acquiring him when he was initially placed on the trading block. However, I believe this had more to do with finances and hearsay than lack of skill. When an individual of Parcell’s reputation buries a player on the depth chart other organizations can use past history to know that player will eventually get cut if the Parcell’s team couldn’t find a taker for the player’s current contract. By 2009, that is exactly what happened. A reason why teams waited is the hearsay part. In my conversations with individuals with long-term connections to the NFL – people who possess an understanding of what happens at an organizational level – once a player gets a label from a head coach or general manager, that label can stick despite a differing opinion from teammates, coordinators, and talent evaluators.
A good example is Nate Davis, a young quarterback who recently got cut by his second team this spring. I am not alone when I say that Davis has as much, if not more potential than a player like Mark Sanchez, but he has been labeled a slacker. Interestingly enough, one of the NFL-connected individuals I’ve spoken with who has talked with veteran players within the 49ers organization says the players loved Davis and thought he should have gotten a chance to play.
This is one of the reasons why I don’t always take the actions of organizational management as gospel. This was especially the case with the Dolphins at the beginning of 2008. Chad McCown and Chad Henne are also Exhibits A and B of a style of player that this regime has historically favored – even if this style of quarterback lacked the refined conceptual skills to elevate their games. Henne was a typical Bill Parcells decision: picking a guy with a safe college resume.
Don’t counter with Tony Romo, either. He was not a Parcells player, he was Sean Payton’s project.
The Beck Bandwagon is More Than a Committee of Two
Ron Jaworski and Steve Young were very complimentary of John Beck’s game. I believe these two former quarterbacks-turned-analysts have the strongest skills for critiquing the position in the mass media today.
We’re not talking about a sixth-round pick. We’re talking about a second-round pick who got buried in the aftermath of a one-win season. The current sentiment among some quality beat writers and NFL analysts in the mass media is that Beck’s display of leadership during the lockout is a good target for their snark. However I don’t think veterans like Chris Cooley would be supporting Beck’s take-charge approach if they didn’t think he had something to offer.
I’m fully aware that Cooley expects the Redskins to pursue another veteran quarterback in the offseason, but let’s look at the options that might be available to them:
- Matt Hasselbeck – His career is closer to the end than the beginning, which means Beck at age 29, is still a viable QB of the future if Washington makes this choice.
- Vince Young – The statement Washington will make with a Young signing is a “second chance” opportunity. However, I doubt Shanahan, a good friend of Jeff Fisher’s, would approve of having Young. If the Redskins staff thought McNabb had sloppy technique and a questionable work ethic, I doubt Young and his issues are the solution. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beck is seen as a stronger prospect in Shanahan’s eyes.
- Marc Bulger – Not as mobile as Beck, but they both possess great anticipation and the quickest of releases you’ll see. Beck once again would then make sense as the heir apparent.
- Kevin Kolb – While the Eagles were fine with trading an aging McNabb to a division foe, I don’t think Kolb, an emerging player in his own right, will get the same treatment.
- Kerry Collins – See Bugler and Hasselbeck.
- Bruce Gradkowski – We’re looking at a similar player to Rex Grossman, except conceptually more talented and a grittier leader.
- Donovan McNabb – if the Redskins keep McNabb then Beck will still have a shot to become an heir apparent.
- Carson Palmer – If Palmer is truly healthy and motivated to continue his career he could have enough mileage left to derail the plausibility of Beck as a future starter.
There aren’t many other quarterbacks I can think of who will be on the Redskins’ list. Unless they tried to deal for a Jimmy Clausen or a young quarterback they see as a developmental prospect to compete with Beck, I think the Shanahan regime believes that Beck has potential to develop into a viable starting quarterback. The opportunity might not come this year, but the current quarterback market indicates there’s potential it will.
An Analysis of Beck’s Rookie Debut
Certainly if the Redskins fare poorly in 2011 and Beck doesn’t perform, the team will target a top quarterback prospect in the 2012 draft. However, I’m going to show you highlights of Beck that I think reveal potential. The first video is from his rookie debut versus the Eagles; a game where he went 9-for-22 for 109 yards and failed to score a touchdown. Despite this uninspiring statistical performance, Beck didn’t turn the ball over against an aggressive Jim Johnson defense that had a field day with blitzes against this 0-10 Dolphins squad.
Good anticipation (0:01) – Beck faces a heavy blitz, but he demonstrates the anticipation to release this pass to his receiver on a flat route before his teammate makes his break. The pass his a little high, but it’s in a place where no one else can make a play on the ball. Beck also stands in the pocket and takes the hit.
Quick, smart decision (0:05) – A 2nd and 16 situation where the Eagles defense drops seven into coverage against the Dolphins’ two-tight end set. Beck makes the quick decision and find the open man underneath the linebackers for a short gain. One could criticize Beck for not trying to spread the defense out with a formation change, but we don’t know if the rookie was given that amount of responsibility in his first start of the year. This was a safe and accurate throw that allows fellow rookie Ted Ginn to gain eight yards and set up a manageable 3rd and 4 situation.
Quick, smart decision and accurate throw under pressure (0:16) – Beck finds the open crossing route on 3rd and 4, but his teammate Derek Hagan gets his hands up too late and the pass sails between his mitts. One could say that the pass was a little high due to Beck getting hit as he released the ball, but watch this play closely and you’ll see that Hagan did not have his hands up. The receiver was not ready to catch the ball in front and away from his body. Hagan reacted slowly and his arm motion ended up stabbing upward for the pass over his head rather than in front of his head. If Hagan catches this pass the play results in an easy first down. It was a good read and a good throw under pressure.
Short range accuracy on the move and solid mobility (0:21) – Although not a great play action fake on his bootleg right, Beck outruns the pressure had his heels and delivers an accurate pass to Justin Peele on a drag route in tight coverage. The pass is good enough that the TE has a chance to gain some yardage after the catch. The run after the catch was the greatest factor for the yardage gained on this play, but Beck was poised, mobile and accurate.
Good pocket presence, movement, and mobility to avoid pressure (0:34) – Beck climbs the ladder in the pocket when he feels pressure and, knowing the down and distance situation, smartly breaks the pocket up the middle and dives past the first down marker. Prospects with far better starts to their careers than Beck haven’t shown the ability to slide forward under pressure in this tight of a pocket. Most try to outrun the defender to the perimeter. He also did a good job ducking under the hit.
Excellent manipulation of defense and intermediate accuracy (0:43) – This is a 3rd and 12 completion to Ginn on what appears to be a dig or a deep cross behind the linebackers and under the safety. This is Beck’s primary target, but he does a good job of disguising it after making a decent play fake by looking to the shallow cross to keep the linebackers at a depth where he can hit Ginn under the safety. The throw is placed over two defenders with good velocity and it arrives on the back shoulder of Ginn for a gain of 18-20 yards.
Good play fake and intermediate touch on the move (0:51) – Beck’s play fake draws all three linebackers to the line of scrimmage and he does a great job of sensing pressure from his blind side. He rolls right and delivers the ball just over the linebacker to his receiver Ginn on a comeback near the right sideline for a first down. When a quarterback can throw a comeback 12-15 yards down field, on the move, and this kind of touch and anticipation, he has NFL-caliber passing skills.
Decent ball placement (1:02) – Although the ball is nearly picked off, Beck actually places the pass low and away, but his teammate has trouble snaring the ball. This gives the cornerback a second-chance opportunity.
Dropped pass, but some skill to throw the ball from an unconventional platform(1:12) – This was a typically conservative second-down play when backed up in one’s own end zone. Beck made the quick throw with a sidearm motion, but the RB failed to hang on. The accuracy could have been a little better or the RB got turned around on the play. With pressure coming and the defense playing a zone to cover shorter routes over the middle, Beck made a good decision.
Throw away (1:21) – Despite the commentator’s hasty decision to editorialize, this was a smart decision given the fact that the play was a screen pass and the RB was well-covered. Unless Beck could have made a better pre-snap read to change the play (which we don’t know if he was given permission in his rookie debut), this was the best decision he could have made.
Bad throw (1:27) – The first really inaccurate throw I’ve seen so far, a slant route thrown behind the receiver.
Too aggressive a decision (1:30) – Beck’s receiver does a poor job of releasing too close to the sideline as he moves up field on this deep sideline fade. However, Beck tries to lead the receiver inside and just under the safety. In theory this is a smart placement of the attempt if the only choice is to get a reception or go home. However with a 7-3 lead in the first half, Beck should have thrown the ball out of bounds. The receiver doesn’t do a good job of adjusting to the ball and the cornerback nearly makes a play on the ball. This is a typical rookie mistake where the young quarterback is trying too hard to make a play and loses his patience.
Good pocket presence, but too aggressive and off balance (1:41) – Watch how Beck climbs the pocket away from pressure and delivers the ball down field to a receiver in single coverage. The error of Beck’s ways on this play is that he hitched too long after the ladder climb away from pressure and he didn’t show the same anticipation he demonstrated as a collegian. The throw was late and behind the receiver. Beck also delivered the ball off balance because he waited too long to release it and anticipated the pressure behind him. Veteran pocket presence initially, right idea down field, but rookie execution on the tail end.
Mobility, seeing the field (1:52) – I believe that Beck lost his poise on this play, but only at the very end. Many quarterbacks in this situation lose their poise and drop their eyes from their receivers when they feel heavy pressure. In contrast, Beck looked to three different quadrants of the field to find an open receiver and demonstrated good mobility. His pass to the RB slipping out of the backfield was too wide of target, but the decision was still good.
Mobility and demonstration of delivering from a different platform (1:57) – Although a short pass, Beck does a good job getting the ball over the defender coming over top. The pass is a little behind the receiver, but still manageable.
Aggressive, but not reckless (2:04) – Beck initially looks down field and opts to check the ball before he takes a sack. Although he squeezes this check down into tight coverage that results in an incomplete pass, the placement of the football is where only the receiver can make a play.
Quick decision, pocket presence (2:14) – Beck climbs the pocket on this third down blitz and finds his TE coming across the left flat. Although Beck doesn’t have time to reset his feet, he delivers an accurate pass that bounces off the hands of his receiver and is nearly intercepted on the tip. This should have been a positive play. He led the receiver enough that he had a chance to get close to the first down marker.
Good manipulation of defender in space (2:22) – Note the route combination on the left side of the formation. Beck looks to the inside receiver before throwing to the outside receiver. This draws the linebacker back to the slot receiver despite initially drifting towards the receiver lined at the numbers. This is the kind of skill Beck demonstrated as a vertical passer with BYU.
Touch, velocity, footwork, hot read recognition, and anticipation (2:33) – This is probably a better catch by the receiver than a throw by Beck, but this seam route is placed over the head of the shallow defender and with good enough anticipation to keep the safety away from the play. This throw couldn’t have been looped over the head of the receiver without welcoming the safety into the play. Although this higher velocity throw has the potential for the safety to have an easy interception, the placement is good enough for the receiver to make the catch. Note the crisp footwork and the recognition of the blitz of the LB and DB coming off the slot receiver’s side. Beck makes the correct decision and executes it quickly and accurately.
Good manipulation of defender in space (2:40) – Although he overshot the receiver on the slant, Beck looks to the shallow route and forces the defender who initially drops into the flat to honor the drag route to the sideline. The defender initially had perfect position to help cover the slant, but Beck’s eyes force him to charge up field and to the sideline, opening the slant. Beck delivers the throw only where the receiver can make the play, but still too high. Until the throw, this play had potential for a big gain and Beck’s eyes were the reason.
Good play call and execution by team (2:51) – Not much to say about Beck’s performance on this play.
Good play fake, good look outside to drag route, and solid touch to TE (2:56) – Beck shows the ball to the defense as he turns toward the RB and this freezes the defense. Beck has done this pretty well for most of the day. Then note how Beck looks quickly to the outside to force the CB to maintain his coverage on the outside route just long enough for Beck to toss the ball to the TE in the back of the end zone. The placement of the ball is over LB Takeo Spikes and the TE gets both hands on the football. However, he loses control when Spikes comes over the top to knock it loose. You might argue that Beck should have thrown the ball sooner, but I think the pass was perfect. Beck’s release comes immediately after his back foot hits the ground out of his drop – the look to the receiver on the right is clearly window dressing.
If there were an issue, it was the TE turning back to the QB too early and not maintaining a position with his back to the defender for an over the shoulder grab. This is a more difficult catch, but Beck released the ball with the TE’s back to him and the placement was as such that the receiver could have run under the pass to the end line and caught it over his shoulder. Instead, the TE tries to rebound the ball over the LB and loses control. Watch Peyton Manning’s highlights (0:22) and (1:05) to Dallas Clark and you’ll see similar routes with Clark keeping his back to the defender and catching the ball over his head near the end line.
What we didn’t see in the analysis of Beck’s rookie debut was a lot of down field throws, but this is a positive aspect of Beck’s game. He has an NFL caliber arm, excellent down field anticipation, and a fast release. The highlight reel below is a fan tape, so we’re only going to see successful plays from mostly clean pockets. However, you should get a decent understanding that Beck as NFL caliber arm strength, deep accuracy, and accuracy on the move.
The next highlight package tells me that Beck has some grit. He’s a player capable of delivering the ball in the face of pressure and he has mobility.
Beck may never become a starter. He might fail in limited time. But from what I see, his skills project well to the NFL. And also from what I’ve seen, NFL teams aren’t as informed about players as they could be. Even if the Redskins trade for a 2011 starter, I think there’s a good chance Beck could see the field. If he does, I expect him to acquit himself well. He might not be the next Marc Bulger of 2003-2006, but I won’t be surprised if the same people who mention him sarcastically take him more seriously six months from now.
All I’m saying is keep an open mind and consider the non-statistical evidence where the sample size has more quality than the numbers from four NFL games.