Mark Schofield’s RSP Mailbag: Quarterback Q&A

Mark Schofield takes your questions about quarterback prospects in this Rookie Scouting Portfolio mailbag.

One of the interesting things about my current workload is that I’m flying without an assignment editor. Oh, the work itself gets edited (thankfully) but the assignments are all of my own choosing. Which is great, in a sense, because I get to write the things I’m passionate about and I’ve often found that when you are passionate about a topic the work product is light years ahead of other pieces that you craft. But often I wonder if people share the same level of interest in the topics I cover..sometimes late into the night.

And when I do not get enough sleep, I get cranky.

That’s why from time to time it makes sense to seek out an assignment editor – or editors – as the case may be. A mailbag piece is a perfect way to balance those concerns. So, let’s get to your questions.

This is a fascinating question to ponder. Part of the reason is that the NFL today is moving away from the old school model of development. Remember the days when a quarterback would be drafted, and he would sit and learn? In the economic realms of today’s NFL letting your quarterback sit and learn is a waste of those precious years where he is cost-controlled. So we are seeing more learning on the fly.

That also means that you better develop fast.

There might not be a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this, because what gets developed — or what is forced to develop — is sometimes dependent upon the QB himself or largely dependent on the coaching staff, scheme fit and what the player is tasked with accomplishing. Take, for example, Jared Goff. Part of the reason that he made the big jump from Year One to Year Two was an improvement in his mental processing. You could see evidence of that early in Year Two as he made more anticipation throws, a sign that the game is slowing down for him. But how much of that was him, and how much was Sean McVay?

For the most part, however, it will be that mental side that develops early, and often, for young quarterbacks. Most QBs by the time they reach the NFL are who they are in terms of mechanics, accuracy, and athletic ability. The mental approach, however, can always be developed further. While things like footwork and a throwing motion can be refined over time, it is that mental growth that usually happens first.

This will be the first time the name Brett Rypien is used in this piece, but it will not be the last.

Rypien, in my mind, is a refined passer and a refined quarterback in a class that might lack that kind of player. From a mental perspective, both in the pre- and post-snap phases of the play, he is among the best passers in this group. It largely stems from his experience, but you see him being active at the line of scrimmage, sliding people around, calling out the MIKE and adjusting the protection.

You also see him post-snap moving defenders with his eyes at all levels of the field and making throws with great accuracy and placement while understanding the coverage and the leverage. These are the “non-negotiables” when it comes to QB play, traits that will aid you to have a long and lengthy career. He has the potential to be a long-term starter in this league, and a good one, but he also has a very solid floor like a long term backup/spot-starter. Those players tend to stick in this league.

Jordan Ta’amu is a fascinating study in a QB class filled with fascinating studies. His game against Southern Illinois was one of my favorites to watch of any player, as he made bucket throw after bucket throw in the vertical passing game. But that offense did seem to limit him at times, making for the difficulty in evaluating him.

Right now I look at a situation like the Carolina Panthers and wonder if he would be a good fit in that offense. We all know Norv Turner has an affinity for the deep passing game, and Ta’amu’s experience in the Mississippi offense would be an ideal marriage of experience and scheme. He’ll need some time to develop, as that offense had about seven different passing concepts in it by my count, but he could translate to such a system pretty well.

If I’ve learned anything during my short time evaluating quarterbacks, it is this: Every QB has a chance to be discovered.

The University of Buffalo had on its roster two quarterbacks who are now looking to hear their name called during the draft, in Tyree Jackson and Drew Anderson, who transferred to Murray State. Jackson found his way to the Senior Bowl and is generating some early Day Three buzz, while Murray is hoping to mirror the rise of say Alex McGough from Florida International University last season, who was mainly on the outside looking in during the draft process but heard his name called on Day Three, in the seventh round by the Seattle Seahawks.

Anderson ran a quick-game based offense at Murray State and projects best to a spread system that utilizes West Coast and Air Raid concepts. That fits well with where the league is trending, and a number of teams will be looking for a quarterback with that scheme experience in the upcoming draft. I’d like to see him handle pressure better, there were some throws in his game this season against Kentucky for example that were really off target and/or interceptable when he had pressure either in his face or off the edge. But in this group of quarterbacks, he might be good enough to warrant a late-round flier or a priority UDFA spot.

Ryan Finley is one more intriguing evaluation in this interesting crop of quarterbacks. A veteran passer who checks off all of the “Parcells Rules,” I like Finley when projected to timing and rhythm-based offenses, such as what the New England Patriots run with Tom Brady. North Carolina State used a number of different concepts to attack the intermediate area of the field, one of which was a three-receiver concept with a post route outside, a wheel route from the middle trips receiver and an out route from the inside receiver. On tape, it seemed that Finley loved to throw that route to the inside receiver, and the ball always came out on time and in perfect rhythm.

I got a chance to ask him about that design at the Senior Bowl, and his eyes lit up as he talked about how it worked and how they could isolate a good receiver on either the MIKE linebacker or strong safety. From film study and from talking to him, he seems like a smart quarterback with a deep understanding of offensive concepts and how to exploit different coverages.

He might be an example — similar to Rypien — of how slow and steady sometimes wins the race at the quarterback position. He does not pop off the film like a Kyler Murray or a Dwayne Haskins, but he does a lot of the little things well at the position, the things that matter. If I were a fan of a team that might need to replace an older quarterback in the next year or two (oh, and by the way I am, as a Patriots fan) I would be completely satisfied to hear them pick Finley sometime on Day Three.

I have yet to see that, but I will add it to my (growing) list of books and documentaries to watch. You know, in that lovely bit of time between thinking about the 2019 draft and looking ahead to the 2020 draft.

That’s gonna be a very busy day.

But I digress.

Grier is a quarterback that I was so excited to see in person down in Mobile during the Senior Bowl. While his week on the field might have been underwhelming, there is a moment from him that has been seared into my mind. After practice on Tuesday, he addressed the assembled media (having been unable to attend a pre-practice podium session during the Media Day portion of the week) and answered every question thrown his way. The confidence in his words is something I will not forget. Yes, he is the best quarterback in this class. Yes, he has the strongest arm in this class. Yes, he’ll be throwing at the combine.

You have to be confident, almost over-confident, to play the quarterback position. Grier checks that box with ease.

That confidence translates to his play on the field. He’s willing to challenge defenses over the middle and between the hash marks. He does not shy away from some throwing lanes that might test his ability. He shows — for the most part — an appropriate level of aggression and can dial that up at times, or dial it back at others. His playing style, mechanics and execution might be unorthodox at times, but he makes it work. Largely because he begins each play from a position of confidence. He’ll hear his name called pretty early on Day Two I would imagine.

Grading from Pro Football Focus is just one more tool added to the expanding kit of resources available to NFL teams. For the most part, however, teams are relying on the old school approach of written reports, cross-checking, and then working through meetings to stack and set their boards.

At least, that’s what I’ve been told. If there’s anything that draft season tells us, however, is that you should trust no one during the draft season. It’s like a variant of the first rule of Fight Club.

If there’s a player with enormous upside and that “boom/bust” tag, it is Jackson. Raw mechanically and a quarterback who will need some development, but also a quarterback with a tremendous arm that has some unlocked potential inside of it.

When you watch Jackson throw, pay particular attention to his front/left leg. He is a taller quarterback, every bit of the 6’7″ he measured in at down in Mobile, and like most taller quarterbacks he tends to overstride a bit with that front leg when throwing. That leads to the front leg straightening out/locking up when he throws. What that does is break the mechanical chain between the upper body and the lower body, serving as a brake of sorts on the throwing motion. Do not just take that from me, but take that from Steve Axman, who coached Troy Aikman in college and literally wrote the book on passing mechanics:

As previously mentioned, the front step is not a big step. Although each quarterback’s front step will differ in length due [to] physical differences, it must be short enough to force the upper torso to actually roll, or fall, over the ball of the planted front foot. Too big a front step forces the upper torso to position its weight toward teh back foot, causing a “break” of the body at the hips. In essence, the hips and upper body are left behind as the upper torso snaps forward from the hips. This action either causes a release that is too high, thereby forcing the football to take off high, or a situation in which the football is pulled down low, thereby causing substantial loss of torque and power and a low throw. Straight-legged stepping, often associated both with overstepping and tall quarterbacks, produces the same negative pass-action results. Axman “Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics” pg 44-45

This is something you see often with Jackson, due to his height. If he can correct that, you will see better ball placement from him as well as an increase in velocity. For someone who already “has the hammer,” the idea of additional velocity seems crazy, but it is possible. If you have a QB coach you trust, draft him early on Day Three and hope you strike gold.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am awful when it comes to player comps. So I’ll give you my thoughts on Haskins in depth.

I truly appreciate his mental approach to the game. Similar to what we discussed with Rypien, you can see from him in the pre-snap phase of the play. Identifying the MIKE, adjusting the protection, bringing in a tight end to help with protection. All those little things that quarterbacks have to do on a down-to-down basis in the NFL, he is doing now. Sometimes those calls come from the sideline, but oftentimes they do not, so despite the “one-year starter” tag that he is being hit with, his mental approach in the pre-snap phase is more of a veteran than an inexperienced QB.

He also is a more natural manipulator of defenders with eyes than, say, Kyler Murray. With Murray, that needs to be built into the structure of the play, but with Haskins, it comes naturally. Whether looking off a middle of the field safety in Cover 3 or the underneath hole linebacker in Cover 1, Haskins is adept to moving defenders with his eyes.

The book on him is that pressure gets to him, but over the course of last year, I saw him start to grow in terms of how he handled pockets. He’s learning that his path to NFL success is not as a Lamar Jackson clone at all but as a Tom Brady clone. To use his feet to slide, maneuver, create space and then throw.

Where I want to see improvement from him is in the execution phase of the game. Often my notes are filled with “great read, great decision, great process…but I wish he hit this throw.” A play early in his game against Purdue University (a must-study on him, in my opinion) is a perfect example. A variation of the Smash concept where he looks to throw a corner route, and he does everything right pre-snap, he looks off the free safety and creates the separation for his receiver by fooling that defender, but he misses the wide-open throw.

Despite those concerns, he’s at the top of my board and I do not see that changing.

There goes that man again.

Even if you like Murray and Haskins more, which would be understandable, that puts him in that QB5 range, which is where many seem to be putting Rypien.

As alluded to above, I’m a big fan. I first wrote about Rypien over at Inside the Pylon back in 2015 when he was a freshman, my first “First Sound” video on him came out in 2017, so he’s been a player I’ve been studying for a while. Again, with Rypien, it comes down to doing all the little – but important – things well. It comes from his level of experience. He’s a – maybe the – refined passer in this group and if a team values that, he’ll hear his name called sooner than some might expect.

What I will be watching for is this: It seems the draft community writ large is moving towards him as a top tier QB this season, but will the NFL follow suit? He did not get a Senior Bowl invitation, which was shocking to me, but was at the East-West Shrine Game and from all reports he had a very good week in Tampa. Will this gulf that exists between how the draft community is viewing him and how the league seems to be viewing him remain, or will that be erased over the next few weeks? He is a player that can truly help himself in Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine, and I would venture a guess that post-Combine, we’ll be hearing his name more. But that leads us perfectly to this final question:

It’s not just you Nick, it’s everyone I think. In fact, Mr. Waldman and I just did a podcast on this very topic…

I think part of the difficulty this season is that we might be at an inflection point of sorts with this game. We can see the trend schematically in the NFL, away from the traditional “pro-style” offenses and towards a more spread-based, wide open type of game. But the timing of that switch is a difficult one to pin down. Is it coming? Is it here? Or has it already happened and a few years from now we’ll look back and wonder how we missed it unfolding before our very eyes. So that has made finding scheme fits a trickier proposition than in years past. So that’s issue one.

Issue two is the idea of quarterback development. As I’ve written for the RSP and elsewhere, the three year growth time frame, posited by Bill Walsh of all people, is out the window now with the new economy. If you get a rookie quarterback, get him on the field and get him to play at a competent level, build around him, and make that Seattle/Chicago/Los Angeles type of run into the post-season. Look at the dichotomy in the playoffs this past year. Of the twelve playoff teams, seven had QBs on their rookie deal. The other five? The New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks. So you either had either rookies or guys in the upper tier.

Oh yes, and Nick Foles, but they had Carson Wentz on a rookie deal so the point remains.

This means that more and more we’re going to see teams take their rookie QB, plug him into the lineup and find a way to make it work. So the evaluation part might have to move from “how can he be good?” to “how can he be functional?”

Finally, there is something to be said about this crop of prospects. I will not call it a bad quarterback class. It is just…different. Yes, it lacks the “sure-fire prospect” type of player, but many draft classes also lack that type of guy. Goff, Wentz and Paxton Lynch had their fair amount of questions, and all three went in the first round, albeit with some mixed results from them. But it has been a difficult class to evaluate, for these reasons just mentioned and for the fact that these are all different quarterbacks, with different levels of experience, playing in different conferences and different levels, and all of whom have a question mark or two to their game.

But that’s why this might end up being my favorite class to study in recent history. For the fact that it has been a tough class to study.

So no, you aren’t alone Nick.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019  Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.

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