A telltale sign of a good prospect is their demonstration of sound fundamentals that translate directly to the next level. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has a firm enough understanding of the quarterback position that he’s an unsung prospect worth keeping tabs on.
He exhibits clean, crisp footwork in the pocket. He possesses an aptitude for the intermediate passing game. And he has strong anticipation with routes. Combine this with his toughness in the face of pressure and he has the tools to become a formidable starting quarterback. His transition to the NFL could be quick.
The Eyes-Feet Connection With Quarterbacking
A quarterback’s footwork allows us to see how cleanly he processes what is happening in real time. It also gives us a glimpse how that quarterback transfers that data into a scenario he can exploit. Joel Stave’s footwork paints a clear understanding of not only the offense but what the defense is doing in front of him. This enables him to attack coverages downfield with confidence.
The clip above is an example of Stave’s confidence shining through his footwork. Wisconsin lines up with two receivers to the field side of a two tight end set where one is to the field side, the other on the bottom of the screen to the boundary. The field side tight end and the fullback in the backfield will stay home to solidify the pass protection.
As Stave completes his drop, his eyes are fixed on the boundary side tight end who runs an out route to that sideline. Keying on this tight end forces the defense to show its hand. The defense is in some variant of Cover 3 because the defensive back to the boundary immediately squats on that tight end in the boundary knowing he doesn’t have another threat coming deeper to his side of the field. This also puts the free safety in a bind, because he now has to cover his deep middle third and the boundary third of the field.
This all goes down before Stave’s third step of a five-step drop.
As soon as Stave recognizes the coverage, his eyes switch to his slot receiver running a deep post. He knows he has an adequate window to throw into because of the coverage. Stave also used his eyes to keep the two interior linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage so he can thread the post in over the top of their drops.
Stave’s footwork is clean, methodical and deliberate. He makes a fluid transition from snap to drop to decision. A quarterback’s footwork isn’t solely about how crisp his feet are in the pocket. It’s also about their eyes and how they move defenders to exploit them at the top of their drops.
Extending the Play
This next clip illustrates Stave’s ability to run the play as called and extend it when it’s viable to take a shot downfield. His footwork is central to him getting in position to attack downfield.
Stave takes this conservative play-action call and transforms it into a first and goal situation for his offense. As he completes his fake to the running back, Stave realizes that his primary receiver is running into double coverage. He tapers his drop and begins climbing the makeshift pocket looking for his other receivers on the play. Stave does a great job of not getting too close to the sideline. Because he stays as central as he with his position, he keeps his vision and passing options open.
His eyes, feet, and arms are all in sync. The throw highlights his confidence not only in his ability but his skill in deciphering the defense.
Anticipation and Ball Placement
Another aspect of Stave’s profile that jumps out at you is his skill in anticipating passes, especially in the intermediate passing game. Wisconsin passing game has a lot pro concepts built into it. Stave shines in play-action – his patience in allowing his receivers to uncover is notable.
The clip above demonstrates Stave’s patience in the intermediate passing game. He easily could have targeted his back on a check-down and picked up a decent amount of yards, but he doesn’t settle.
The defense on that side of the field appears to be in a quarters (Cover 4) defense. The receiver does a great job selling the go route but actually runs a deep comeback. Stave rifles the pass into a huge window, making sure the receiver can pick up additional yards as well.
Stave does a good job of throwing accurate passes into windows downfield. The only way to consistently do this is with consistent anticipation as a thrower and skillful coverage reads of the defense.
A lot of defenses in college run Cover 3 heavy packages. It allows them to have numbers in the box and also defend down the field. Issues in pass coverage crop up in Cover 3 when the defenders don’t get proper depth and/or they give the receivers too much space as they pass through their third of the field.
Stave exhibits bold anticipation and fires a dart with low placement to protect his receiver working between the two defensive backs in their respective thirds. A lot of quarterbacks can read coverage but many also struggle with their ball placement once they do attack downfield coverage. This ball is in the air as soon as the receiver makes his break. This is a nightmare for a secondary to defend.
The intermediate passing game is a nice gauge of a quarterback’s ability to process information quickly. Stave is very comfortable in the pocket and is equally adept at picking apart a defense to find the best option. In the next clip note how Stave reads the coverage and places a perfect pass to his receiver.
There’s something emphatic about the way Stave delivers this ball. It is a throw that requires conviction of what the defense is in and where your guy is going.
He not only has the arm strength and knowledge of the coverage, but he consistently puts his receivers in a plus position. They can pick up extra yards and not get punished by the converging defense. In the film below, note how long the pass is in the air and its placement between two defenders.
Taking Punishment to Make the Play
Another redeeming quality Stave exercises often is his toughness. This can mean a lot of things depending on how you want to define it. To me, tough quarterbacks deliver accurate passes when they know they’re going to take a shot. They don’t look for contact but they’re not afraid of it
As Stave begins his delivery he sees the Crimson Tide defender barreling down the A gap. Either way he’s going to take a shot. The ball really should have been caught by the receiver, it hits him on the hands. Stave is unfazed with imminent contact and makes sound decisions.
In the next exposure, the pocket is collapsing up the middle. Stave could be more accurate for sure. The compressed nature of the red zone cuts down on the time plays have to develop, speeding up the rate of decision-making. If the tight end were more focused on this pace, this throw might have been a completion.
This last clip shows me that Stave has resiliency and I value his ability to manufacture offense when under pressure.
It’s unclear how much of the ball was tipped at the last second, but down by 18 points in the fourth quarter on a 3rd and 21, Stave delivers a strike against one of the better defenses in college football. He knew that his team had to throw against a defense pinning its ears back and coming after him. Stave didn’t shrink under pressure–a theme that plays out repeatedly when watching him.
Joel Stave is a solid developmental prospect with sound fundamentals at the quarterback position. He possesses the resiliency, accuracy and confidence to grow into a solid QB at the next level. His footwork in the pocket enables him to exploit defenses down the field. He shows confidence and the talent to anticipate passes in the intermediate passing game. Stave’s toughness is subtle, displaying leadership and poise under pressure on a regular basis. Stave is an ideal young quarterback to stash and develop with a proven starting QB in place. With added time to refine his game and adjust to the nuances of the NFL, Joel Stave is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on.
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.