One of the treasures of watching prospect is finding diamonds in the rough, a player that evokes limitless potential at the next level. David Igono found one in Indiana.
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld demonstrates desirable traits that hints at a long-term career in the NFL. Sudfeld is a big, athletic quarterback with good footwork. His ball placement is almost automatic, protecting his receivers and maximizing yards after the catch. And Sudfeld has a grasp of the intermediate/deep passing game that is exciting. He is an intriguing prospect due to his integration of a pro-caliber skill set that is predicated on a strong technical footwork.
Listed at 6-6 and 240 pounds, Sudfeld demonstrates excellent footwork in the pocket and mobility despite his size. One of the keys to sound footwork is patience. Depending on the pressure, a QB may have to speed up the tempo of his drop to adjust. A patient QB with sound footwork rarely gets flustered.
In the face of immediate edge pressure to the play side Sudfeld executes a shuffle step to the rusher and fakes the beginning of his throwing motion to get the defender to leave his feet. This subtle move doesn’t work if Sudfeld’s feet aren’t in a position to fire the pass without resetting his delivery. The short, choppy steps he uses create space to get the pass off.
Although the pass is high and overthrown, Sudfeld most likely recognizes that the receiver was covered and throws the ball away to protect his guy and keep possession. Mobility at the quarterback position is best harnessed when it’s focused on extending a play to attack the defense. It can also be utilized to keep the offense on schedule and avoid a risky pass attempt.
In the clip above, the context of Sudfeld’s decision-making is underscored by how he uses his legs to save a play rather than gamble. The score is tied with less than two minutes to go in the game. Instead of forcing a throw, Sudfeld avoids pressure while pressing the line of scrimmage to see if a play can be made with his legs. Once he realizes he can’t make a play on foot, he throws the ball away. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see most quarterbacks force the issue in that situation.
The very next play, he takes his shot, validating his patience on the play prior.
Footwork can often be conflated with panicking and leaving the pocket prematurely.
In the clip above, Sudfeld demonstrates poise by hanging in the pocket through his progressions. The moment he senses the pocket folding he moves to his right, eventually scoring with his feet. Nate Sudfeld shows consistent accuracy and ball placement in the intermediate passing game and ball placement is of paramount importance the longer a pass has to travel in the air. Whether it’s driving a pass into a tight window or putting a pass where the receiver will be, Sudfeld regularly puts his receivers in a plus situation after the catch.
The pass above is a 20-yard rope to his slot receiver to the field side. The ball is placed on the receiver’s right hip. This allows the slot to pivot away from the defender without taking a big shot. Ball placement isn’t just about completing passes and protecting your receivers. Proper ball placement enables a quarterback to attack downfield and minimize the risk of turnovers.
Here’s a play where Sudfeld completes a pass into a potentially dangerous window.
Note where the receiver catches the ball in relation to the safety and corner that are covering him. Sudfeld puts the pass on his back shoulder, negating the oncoming safety from making a play on the ball or the man. It also lets the receiver protect himself from contact as he pulls the pass in.
The most exciting part of Sudfeld’s profile is his grasp of the intermediate and deep passing game. The deep ball is one of the most entertaining plays in football. What sets Sudfeld apart is what I’ve mentioned above – ball placement and accuracy.
The following target illustrates Sudfeld’s arm strength and the level of accuracy it takes to complete this pass for a touchdown. The ball is thrown out in front of the receiver so he can run under it for an easy score.
In the next clip, note how Sudfeld works through his progressions and find the deep crossing route. The throw is dropped in a window on the opposite side of the field. The receiver not only gets the first down, he picks up additional yards to boot.
Although shown earlier, consider the context of this fourth-quarter gem and why it conjures images of what the future can be for quarterback-starved franchises. With the game tied, Sudfeld throws a beautiful ball that allows the receiver to run away from defenders and make an uncontested catch.
The developmental curve for each quarterback is different. Sudfeld’s mix of anticipation, driving passes into windows and consistent accuracy elevates his understanding of the intermediate passing game. In every draft class there are prospects that need more development than the others at their position group. Nate Sudfeld has redeeming qualities that hint at a long-term career in the NFL: Consistently sound footwork and ball placement and strong execution in the intermediate and deep passing game.
Sudfeld’s skill projects favorably to the next level. His profile may seem like a diamond in the rough due to the fact he’s not from a traditional football powerhouse. The truth is that Sudfeld’s play belies a quarterback that will only garner more attention as the season progresses.
David Igono is a former defensive back who played at West Virginia University and a couple of seasons of arena football. A longtime draft anorak, he considers the 2014 RSP the inspiration for taking the process more intentionally. Follow him at @d1gono.