RSP contributor Mark Schofield invokes his inner Sam Tarley to profile Tyree Jackson’s stanky leg that only looks good when James Brown did it on stage. He also explains why quarterback evaluation might be as difficult as the act of being evaluated at the position.
Quarterback evaluation is one of those exercises where the act of evaluation just might be as difficult as the underlying act being evaluated. The deeper you get into the art of evaluation, the more you realize you do not know and understand.
This sets off a process of learning and discovery, which is then applied to the next cycle of evaluation, but inevitably uncovers more areas that need deeper study. In essence, a vicious cycle that flows through the phases of learning, discovery, and applying before returning again to learning.
Complicating matters is the fact that quarterback play is in some sense a moving target. By the time you feel you understand what quarterbacks are asked to do, the game changes, offenses evolve and adapt and the necessary traits are slightly different than they were just a few years prior.
Of course, there are the “non-negotiable” traits. Aspects to quarterback play that are always necessary. Decision making. Accuracy. Competitive and mental toughness. Regardless of offensive scheme, level of play, or any other factor, a quarterback is going to need those to succeed.
Are mechanics non-negotiable?
All evaluators have their process, their methods to the madness. Mr. Waldman, as you probably are aware, likes to listen to music while studying a player. For me, when I am studying quarterbacks I make sure to have a stack of books, playbooks, and manuals within an arm’s length. I do this because I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know.
If I have a question about a play, a route design, a scheme, a progression read structure, or anything about the quarterback I am studying, I try and find the answer within the books, playbooks, and manuals at my disposal like Sam Tarly reading about dragonglass among the dusty scrolls…
Which brings us to mechanics.
Now, I am not here to critique the throwing motion of the Night King (as I am saving that piece for April) but I am here to discuss mechanics and when they matter. As I have said in the past, notably when evaluating Patrick Mahomes with Mr. Waldman, mechanics “do not matter until they matter.”
Provided a quarterback is putting the football where it should be and when it should be there, then I do not care how he gets the football to his target. He can deliver it from behind his back, through his legs, overhand or sidearm. If the ball gets to where it should be on time, the mechanics do not matter.
If the mechanical process a quarterback employs prevents him from putting the ball where it should, then the mechanics matter. At that point, it becomes a distinction between a correctable flaw, a flaw that can be lived with, or a fatal flaw.
Take, for example, Carson Wentz and his right elbow. One of the criticisms of Wentz was his throwing motion, as it sometimes seemed to prevent him from delivering throws on time. This was an area he worked on with throwing coach Adam Dedeaux. Another area they worked on was his base and footwork. At times Wentz would overstride, which led to problems. “When Wentz overstrode [as a rookie] the ball would sometimes sail high, wide, or both. DeFilippo said he has seen a difference in the footwork.”
Wentz cleaned up his mechanics and went on to play at an MVP level in his second season before suffering an injury. So with the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback, his flaws were correctable.
Then there is Sam Darnold. A major knock on the current New York Jets’ quarterback was the loop to his throwing motion, and whether that mechanical issue would be a flaw as he transitioned to the NFL. There are quarterbacks who play the position at an elite level that sometimes have a similar loop to them, such as Russell Wilson, so for Darnold, this loop to his delivery was more of a flaw that can be lived with. Provided he gets faster with his reads and gets the ball out on time, then this mechanical issue will not be fatal for him.
As an aside, if you watch Kyler Murray long enough you’ll find a situation where he needs to dial up velocity, and he will resort to a similar dip and loop to his motion…
There are a few examples of fatal flaws for quarterbacks when it comes to their mechanics. Tim Tebow and Blake Bortles are two recent examples. Both utilized a severe dip and loop to their motions, and it proved to likely doom their careers. Tebow’s trebuchet-esque mechanics relegated him to a second career in the minor leagues, while Bortles is now on the outs in Jacksonville.
How often did we read about Bortles fixing his mechanics? Were they ever really fixed?
Now let’s talk about Tyree Jackson. The University of Buffalo quarterback is watching his stock rise after strong performances at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. But there is an issue with his lower body mechanics that will eventually fall into one of these three categories: His front leg.
I mentioned that I keep a stack of books at my fingertips when studying quarterbacks. One is Steve Axman’s “Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics.” Axman, who coached Troy Aikman in college, knows a bit more about the mechanical process than I do. He wrote this about a quarterback’s front leg:
..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 the back foot, causing a “break” of the body at the hips. In essence, the hips and lower 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 which the football is pulled down low, thereby causing a 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. Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics pp 44-45
When you watch Jackson throw, as we will break down in a moment, you can see how that front leg locks out and straightens, leading to some “negative pass-action results.”
Concerns about over-striding and locking the front leg are not confined to Axman’s work. I also rely on “Coaching the Quarterback: By the Experts,” a collection edited by Earl Browning that contains various coaching clinic presentations on the quarterback position.
In that work, we read, for example, from Ken Anderson, a former quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals who later became a coach, and who authored another good book on quarterback play, “The Art of Quarterbacking.” I used that book as a child to teach myself the position.
As Anderson frames the front leg issue: “We do not want to kick the front leg. If we do that we have no chance to be accurate with the pass. You have to have a throwing motion with the knees flexed. As you come through, the knee has to lock. If you try and do it at the beginning of the throw, you have no chance to throw the ball accurately. You do not want to have the front leg locked when you are throwing the football.” Coaching the Quarterback: By the Experts pg 9 (emphasis added) Anderson makes a distinction between the follow-through and the throw itself. If the quarterbacks locks up the front before the throw is released, he has no chance at accuracy.
This work also contains a presentation from Al Fracassa, a coach at Brother Rice High School in Michigan. (Before you gripe about a high school coach’s advice, remember that high school coaches are the individuals who instill many of the mechanics you see in draft prospects). As Fracassa framed the issue: “Have the quarterback take a hitch step if time allows. I have found that there is more accuracy to a football that is thrown this way. Don’t lock your knees because the ball will travel nose down when thrown.” Id at 61
Finally, consider Greg Seamon, who at the time of his presentation was the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach for the University of Cincinnati, and who is currently the tight ends coach for the Cleveland Browns:
We want them to stride into a soft front leg. The stride length of every quarterback is a little different. This is because of their body build or their height. There are two schools of thought on this. If you talk to Bill Walsh, a strong point for him is this: the quarterback has to step into every throw on a soft front leg. How far is a long stride? Is it too far if I am over my heel and my front leg [l]ocks while I still have the ball in my hand? That is too far. A soft leg has a little bend in it as I stride. If the stride is too long I will not be able to transfer my weight from my right hip over my right foot and into the throw. I will tend to throw against myself. If you check your kids on this you will get a kid who recoils a little. In other words, he will throw the ball and rock back. Id at 164
Seamon is addressing the break in the biomechanical chain that can occur when a quarterback locks that front leg before the throw. It works like a break, stopping the forward momentum of the lower body and turning the quarterback into a pure upper body thrower.
Keeping these thoughts in mind, let’s look at Jackson on film:
Now, as the film illustrates Jackson does not always lock that front leg, but he does it enough where it is noticeable, is a concern and impacts some of his placement on throws. It is a work in progress, as there are times when Jackson has more of a bent, or soft, front leg. But even if you watch his recent Pro Day workout from early March, there were throws (such as a post route in the red zone that he placed high) where the front leg issue arose:
UB QB Tyree Jackson throwing at his Pro Day. https://t.co/27UNpTEixR
— Sal Capaccio 🏈 (@SalSports) March 13, 2019
(The post route in question comes at approximately the 19:12 mark).
So with Jackson, the ultimate issue is this: What bucket does this front leg issue land in? Correctable, livable, or fatal? His film and recent performance may place it in one of the first two buckets, but there is something that might be working against him: History. Remember Axman’s words: “Straight-legged stepping, often associated both with overstepping and tall quarterbacks, produces the same negative pass-action results.” Jackson is a very tall quarterback, who measured in at 6’7″ at the Combine. This list, taken from a podcast over at The Ringer, contains every quarterback who measured in at 6’6″ or taller at the Combine since 1999: Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Mike Glennon, Ryan Mallett, Joe Flacco, Tony Pike, Sean Mannion, Tyler Bray, Jamarcus Russell, Byron Leftwich, Derek Anderson, Nate Sudfeld, John Skelton, Josh Freeman, Jordan Palmer, Eric Ainge, and John Navarre.
We wonder about the viability of shorter quarterbacks, but should there be a similar concern over the super tall quarterbacks? If so, does it have to do with the overstepping issue, as outlined here, and will that work against Jackson? These questions require additional study, but they are something to consider when thinking about Jackson and his ultimate viability as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
[Editor’s Note: While watching Jackson’s tape with the incomparable James Brown accompanying me, I too noticed Jackson’s stanky leg and have written about in the quarterback chapter of the upcoming 2019 RSP publication. It’s a facet of Jackson’s game that looks a lot better when Brown did it on stage. I also like to keep technical books on hand.]
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