I won’t go as far to say that watching quarterbacks at college all-star practices is useless. There are fine points that can be gleaned from practices. But with each passing year I go to a college all-star game, the less time I want to spend studying them there. Watching Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and now Ryan Nassib goes a long way to validate this thought.
A series I started this year at the RSP blog is The Boiler Room. One of the challenges involved with player analysis is to be succinct with delivering the goods. As the author of an annual tome, I’m often a spectacular failure in this respect. Even so, I will study a prospect and see a play unfold that does a great job of encapsulating that player’s skills. When I witness these moments, I try to imagine if I would include this play as part of a cut-up of highlights for a draft show at a major network or if I was working for an NFL organization creating cut-ups for a personnel director. Unlike the No-Huddle Series, The Boiler Room is focused on prospects I expect to be drafted, and often before the fourth round.
It’s incredibly difficult to boil down any player with just one play, much less a quarterback. Yet, if I were Russ Lande pounding the table for Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib as my top player – yes, player – in this draft, and I need a play to emphasize in that highlight reel, this is my nomination. As strange as it sounds, it’s an incomplete pass and it’s still one of the best quarterback plays I have seen from a prospect this year.
This is a 3rd and 7 with 6:26 in the half from a 2×1 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun versus a 3-3-5 look at the Syracuse 32. USC sends five and the pressure off each edge comes hard enough that Nassib has to cut short his five-step drop and climb the pocket to his left. After demonstrating excellent feel for the pressure and his pocket, he gets his feet back into position to throw the ball.
He looks to his left to loft the ball from the left hash of the Syracuse 28 to his wide receiver on the intermediate cross with good underneath coverage at the USC 47 for an acrobatic catch. The pass is dropped, but it’s a fantastic throw.
Why is this such a telling play that belongs on the top of a highlight reel for a personnel director? Let’s break this down a photo at a time.
One of the best things about Nassib is his ability to see the field and make quick decisions before and after the snap. On this play, USC is going to run a twist with its left defensive end while the left defensive tackle slants outside. With the outside linebacker blitzing outside the left tackle as the tight end releases down field, the defense hopes this three-man twist and blitz gets one man through untouched. Nassib sees the pre-snap pressure from the outside linebacker and also notes the free safety taking a step backwards, which is an indicator he’ll be working to the deep middle after the snap.
After the snap, Nassib drops from center and looks down the middle to look at the two safeties as they rotate. The strong safety is moving to the middle to cover the tight end as that free safety drops as indicated before the snap. The running back spots the outside pressure coming free as the twist occupies the left side of the Syracuse line. The next photo is where I think Nassib shows something many quarterbacks don’t at any level of football.
As Nassib feels the pressure off each edge, he opts to abort a full five-step drop. Every day I watch quarterbacks and every day I see a quarterback finish a drop on a play where I know he must see and or sense pressure coming free. These plays generally end as successful defensive efforts. The best quarterbacks I watch in the NFL possess the awareness to change things up when they know the intent of the play isn’t going to work. Nassib does this above. As you can see, I circled his eventual target at the right flat. This will technically be his third read on the play.
Nassib demonstrates good form on his improvisation in the pocket. He extends the ball forward with both hands protecting it while looking down field and climbing past the edge rushers. He also has good feel for the open area of the pocket to his left and he slides in that direction soon enough.
Now in a position to throw, Nassib scans the left side of the field where he has a huge throwing lane thanks to his quick-thinking and execution. I numbered the spots of the field he scans where there are or will be receivers within the next 1.5 seconds. As I write about almost weekly, climbing the pocket is an essential part of good pocket presence and a vital part of NFL quarterbacking. Nassib is among the best in this class at it.
After making two reads to the left flat and the short middle and spotting coverage, Nassib sees his receiver over 20 yards down field crossing from right to left. He also feels the inside pressure coming free of the Syracuse center. Once again Nassib will have to maneuver from pressure in the pocket to make an accurate throw. This is where he displays fantastic accuracy, touch, and skill while off balance and under pressure.
Nassib slides left, gets on his toes and has his shoulders in great position to make a touch throw with pressure bearing down. Maneuvering the pocket successfully against two edge rushers is praise-worthy for one play; working away from a third and making the throw he does is excellent stuff. While this play is on the far end of Nassib’s spectrum of good work, he consistently displays good touch and anticipation on throws under 30-35 yards. Beyond this range, his accuracy fails him and it’s the biggest question mark of his game.
You can see the position of the coverage on this intermediate cross, but the photos below do an even better job showing how good Nassib’s placement is to this receiver who nearly makes an excellent catch on a pass thrown only where he can make the grab.
I’ve seen Nassib at his best and worst and I want to watch one more before you get the 2013 RSP. If you want a complete scouting report that I think is pretty evenly balanced, Sigmund Bloom wrote one yesterday that hits the mark. I have some minor disagreements about blitz recognition, but we’ve watched different games. I also recommend you that check out Lande’s report because I also get why he believes Nassib is the most NFL-ready rookie quarterback. I also agree that if he can develop a deep arm he can become an upper echelon starter.
If you ask me today about Nassib’s prospects, I’ll tell you that I see Lande’s logic way more than I did a month ago. Stylistically speaking, he’s a weaker-armed quarterback in the mold of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan. If he had the deep range and accuracy, I’d agree completely with Lande.
With more to analyze, I think he has the chance to develop more arm strength, but how much? If he doesn’t, I think he’s an effective but limited candidate to start for an NFL team as a journeyman who is a better fit as a backup. If he develops some arm strength to hit passes 35-45 yards down field he can become a productive, long-term starting quarterback in a system that has great talent and scheme to put a defense on its heels so Nassib is in control to pick his spots on deep passes. If he significantly improves his arm strength, he could be a special player.
Stay tuned. I am.
Post-Script: Check out this throw shared via Twitter by Shaun DePasquale at NFL Draft Zone.
That’s a 60-yard bomb in stride with velocity.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.