Futures: QB Tom Savage

Photo by Mike Pettigano.
Photo by Mike Pettigano.

Savage has the physical skills and flashes of on-field play that make him look like a first-rounder. Is his rumored late rise up draft boards a product of hyperbolic thinking?

Futures: Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage

By Matt Waldman

Beware of the fast rising quarterback. This is what Football Outsiders newcomer Jason Lisk wrote in 2012 after he did a search on quarterbacks whose stock rose in the month prior to the draft since 1990. His article led with Ryan Tannehill as the “buzz creator” approaching the 2012 NFL Draft that motivated his search for this dubious, late charge up draft boards to the first round.

While I liked Tannehill and still believe he is on his way to becoming a decent NFL starter, I think Lisk offered compelling examples why he could write an article about this subject. He mentions several players who reportedly had draft grades lower than the first round before the collective buzz from the postseason all-star games, combine, and workouts upped their draft stock in the final weeks.

I want to dig deeper than draft stock, which is shorthand for “ability and talent” for some, but as Lisk points out with some hindsight on his side, draft stock contains a healthy dose of other factors that influenced errors of judgment. One of these factors is what we might as well call “the eyeball test”—does he look like a franchise quarterback?

  • Does he have the requisite height?
  • Does he have the requisite weight?
  • Does he have a big arm?
  • Does he demonstrate the pro style throws that project well to the NFL?

If he has at least three of these four things, it appears that there are enough teams that believe that they can mold these players into good quarterbacks. They will often bet on these players at the expense of a more polished passer lacking the same qualities in abundance, but enough to get the job done.

Jim Druckenmiller is a great example. Tall, strong, and capable of throws that make people gush at workouts, Druckenmiller had trouble reading defenses and maneuvering the pocket.

Bill Walsh saw this was the case and told the 49ers to draft Jake Plummer. While Plummer never full lived up to his potential, he had enough moments to illustrate why Walsh liked the Arizona State Sun Devil the most from this quarterback class. Druckenmiller continued to have trouble with the same things he had in college and never left the San Francisco bench.

Patrick Ramsey was another late riser. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen relayed a lot of this sentiment in the final month prior to the draft for this strong-armed quarterback from Tulane with consistency issues. According to a Chicago Bears’ fans scouting site, Ramsey “looks like an All-American quarterback one play and totally different the next.”

Ramsey had difficulty reading defenses and maneuvering the pocket. Neither progressed enough for the former first-round pick to become a consistent NFL starter.

J.P. Losman was another Tulane product with a big arm and athleticism, who thought he could throw holes through defenders to get the ball to his wide receivers. He found out his ball didn’t burn through opposing defender’s flesh.

I’ll add Brandon Weeden to this list. A big guy with a big arm who had big production at a big-time school, add it all up and it still didn’t compensate for his big problem with rushing his reads under pressure because he didn’t maneuver the pocket with a comfort level desirable for an NFL quarterback. Weeden is now considered another one of Cleveland’s big mistakes on draft day.

I’m beginning to think there’s a pattern of mistakes that certain NFL teams make when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. I don’t know if this is true, but after 10 years of studying players—9 of those where I published the RSP—it appears that some teams have too many magnifying factors and not enough knockout factors.

As I mentioned in my piece on Jimmy Garoppolo, I’m getting closer to the point of instituting knockout factors in evaluations. Certain mistakes in quarterbacking are fatal errors and might be too difficult to fix. How a passer reacts to pressure is one of them.

Magnifying factors is a term I thought of while writing this column. It’s a set of qualities that prospects display that get NFL decision makers excited—too excited. Scouts, general managers, coaches, or owners see some of these qualities and let them overshadow flaws.

Based on the strengths and weaknesses of these five players above, it appears some teams will rationalize that they can coach these flaws away where they might not feel the same if the prospect lacked these magnifying factors. A simply way of putting it is crass, but I believe it illustrates the point:

Some NFL analysts and decision-makers look at arm strength the way some men look at the quality of a woman’s chest when they decide whom to date—they’re focused solely on what’s below the neckline. Later, they have the nerve to complain about the person’s flaws.

I believe there is a lot of magnification happening with quarterback evaluation. None more apparent this year than with Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage.

The 6-5, 230-lb. quarterback is equipped with one of the strongest arms in this draft and that accounts for three of the four qualities that teams appear to magnify with their quarterback evaluation process. It’s easy to see how this magnification can take place with Savage. There are several plays that in a vacuum look like the passes of an NFL starter.

See enough of these on tape, and it’s understandable that a decision-maker will take this sum of good-looking moments and allow it to out-weight the bad. Because there’s no regulation of strength and weaknesses that prevent evaluators from exaggerating the importance of what they saw, it’s easy to hyperbolize rare physical characteristics.

Even if this is not their intent to do so, I don’t know of scouting reports that have embedded into their process defined scoring weights for certain qualities or knockout factors. Today I’ll show you some plays that I believe some evaluators might be prone to hyperbolizing and flawed plays where they may underestimate the difficulty of fixing.

Read the rest of Foobtall Outsiders.

3 responses to “Futures: QB Tom Savage”

  1. Great article,, very informative a I hope the Texans don’t draft him anywhere before their last picks.

    I bought the RSP and it’s mind blowing. Where would Savage rank? If you’re not incline to pinpoint him to a definite slot, do you like him more than Jimmy Garoppolo or this is a nightmare question?


    • Thanks, Martin.

      I think his pocket presence is better than Garoppolo, but I’m still working through my process to rank him so I can’t give you a clear answer at this point. Will have one after the draft for sure.


  2. Great read, Matt.

    I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you ever do, but I recently wrote something similar about Savage, breaking down his game against Notre Dame to demonstrate some of the issues I think will prevent him from becoming a successful NFL starter (issues similar to the same ones you have found). I don’t mean to spam for my work or anything, but I hold your evaluations in high regard and we’re trying to do something similar on our site, so if you wouldn’t mind taking the time to look, I’d like your feedback.


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