RSP contributor Mark Schofield stands on the table for Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien, a 2019 NFL Draft prospect you should know about.
Football Twitter in the weeks prior to the NFL Draft takes on a dystopian feel, as the hours and hours of evaluation build to a near-psychotic crescendo. Every once in a while, however, a tweet breaks through which actually advances the discussion and enables thoughtful debate.
One such tweet was presented recently by Luke Easterling of The Draft Wire, who simply asked: Who are the players you would bang the table for?
As someone who limits his evaluation to the quarterback position, it is a bit of a loaded question to answer. Obviously, I would make the case for my top quarterbacks in this draft, but “banging the table” for players expected to be drafted in the top ten picks is not exactly an interesting answer. So I went in another direction.
Allow me to make my case.
While there is a more philosophical underpinning for this position – the distinction between evaluation and valuation – we will address that in a moment. First, let us begin with some of Rypien’s strengths as a passer. Specifically, some traits that I believe set him apart in this group of quarterbacks. Studying prospects is generally a “snap to finish” proposition, but that timeframe changes when analyzing the signal callers. To truly capture the essence of a quarterback the analysis must begin before the play, in the pre-snap phase. How active is the quarterback? Is he making protection calls or adjustments? If so, is it coming from the sideline or is he autonomous in this regard?
Here is where Rypien begins to make his case.
One of my favorite plays in this draft season is this one, from Boise State’s loss to San Diego State. In the second half and facing a third-and-long, watch Rypien (#4) involve himself in the pre-snap portion of a play:
This might be Rypien at his best. Identifying the blitz, adjusting the protection and formation, standing in the pocket knowing he is going to take a shot when the blitz pickup is missed, and delivering a strong and accurate throw past the sticks to move the chains.
These are some of the little things that matter when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL, and Rypien is a master of the little things that matter. Now, I know some might question just how important the pre-snap phase is in the NFL these days. After all, doesn’t Sean McVay have a system where he can communicate with Jared Goff? Yes, it is true. McVay uses an uptempo approach that allows him to communicate with his young quarterback longer in the pre-snap phase and while the Los Angeles Rams are at the line of scrimmage. But this is a copycat league, and 31 defensive coordinators saw the New England Patriots exploit that in Super Bowl LIII by using two different play calls of their own. Once the radio communication link was severed, the Patriots adjusted to their second play call, and Goff was left to his own devices.
The Rams scrapped their usual approach at halftime and scored three points in the game.
At some point, the quarterback needs to do this on his own. Rypien certainly has a head start.
But Rypien’s ability at the line of scrimmage is just one aspect to his game. Once the ball is snapped he is an accurate quarterback to all levels of the field. Rypien might face some concerns about scheme diversity, specifically his fit in a pure vertical-based system, but accuracy should not be the concern there. Whether it is in the short area of the field:
In the intermediate area of the field:
Along the boundaries:
Or in the vertical passing game:
Rypien combines his understanding of coverage and leverage with his solid ball placement to connect on plays to all levels of the field. Whether it is the boundary route with the defender having inside leverage, the deep post (where he looks off the backside safety), the seam route with perfect touch over the trailing defender, or just the simple flat route he puts on the defender, Rypien can be crisp and precise with his placement.
One of the questions that Rypien might face during his transition to life in the NFL is the arm strength issue. Studying Rypien on film left me somewhat puzzled when it came to the matter of velocity. There were moments to be sure that he dialed up the necessary arm strength needed to make throws in the NFL, but there were others when it seemed the ball speed was lacking to survive on Sundays.
Rypien’s performance at the combine – at least on the radar gun – might have eased concerns for some. However, that test needs to be taken with a grain of salt. As always, it is best to look back at the film to ascertain whether the passer in question meets the threshold for life in the NFL. Take, for example, this throw against Colorado State:
At first blush, this is a very impressive throw. From the far hashmark to the front corner of the end zone, between the cornerback and the safety in a Cover 2 scheme. Rypien challenges the turkey hole and delivers on a fourth down situation. This is an NFL throw. Now, he does put more touch on this pass than velocity, but it works.
Would this throw be sufficient in the NFL, against professional defensive backs? Perhaps not.
This throw, in contrast, does.
Rypien uncorks this throw from the left hashmark, and from the Boise State 47-yard line, and drives this deep out in almost on a line to the Connecticut 25-yard line. This is one of the proverbial “box checker” throws, testing whether a quarterback can deliver the deep, 20-yard out pattern with velocity. Rypien does that here on a throw that covers over 25 yards from release to target. Plus, he puts it in the perfect spot.
In addition to the ability at the line of scrimmage is Rypien’s ability to move defenders with his eyes. He is a master manipulator, both with his eyes and his full body. One of his first plays to truly capture my attention was this from a few seasons ago. Rypien looks to throw a route in the middle of the field in the red zone. But he needs to move one of the safeties with his eyes. This video walks through how Rypien ascertains what he needs to do in the pre-snap phase, and executes it in the post-snap phase (the play in question is at the 9:30 mark of this longer video):
This video is part of a larger look at Rypien’s ability to do “all the small things.”
Rypien’s penchant for moving defenders has continued throughout Rypien’s career. In his first game of the season this year, against Troy University, Rypien used his upper body and a subtle pump fake to get a cornerback a step out of position. That was all and his target needed to execute on this vertical route in the red zone for a touchdown:
This is a prime example of full body manipulation. In addition to his eyes, Rypien can use a mixture of shoulder movements and pump fakes to get defenders out of position – even for just a single step – and then exploit their misstep.
Here is one more example of Rypien’s prowess in this area. While moving the free safety – or freezing him – with your eyes and then throwing a fade route to the boundary is perhaps the easiest example of this trait, this throw of Rypien’s against Colorado State comes with a bit higher degree of difficulty. It’s one thing to move a safety when he really would not be in position to make a play on the route anyway. But it’s another altogether when he could:
Here, the Rams show a two-high safety look before rotating to a single-high safety at the snap. Rypien still moves the free safety or gets him to open his hips to the middle of the field before throwing the go route along the right sideline, but in this instance, the safety never really strays from the hashmark. So with less ground to cover, the safety actually could make a play on this throw. Rypien’s manipulation, and then the perfect throw, prevent that chance.
Finally, another strength of Rypien’s is his pocket toughness. We saw it already on the throw against San Diego State. He is willing to hang in the pocket and take a shot, even when he knows it is likely coming. Here is another example:
On this play against Colorado State, Rypien faces a blitz from the slot. He hangs in the pocket, knowing the hit is coming, to make sure he can replace the blitz with the football. A perfect play.
Now it is rare to find the perfect quarterback prospect, and Rypien is not that kind of player. He will face questions about transitioning to life as an NFL QB. The first of which we touched on already, which is the arm strength issue. In my mind, he has met the threshold to be successful in the NFL, and the radar gun in Indianapolis might have helped his chances in the eyes of other evaluators. But his question will always linger until he starts playing as a professional. Ultimately it might be more of a scheme limitation than anything else, but it is certainly a factor to consider.
Rypien can be prone to some pretty tough mistakes as a quarterback. A prime example comes from Boise State’s 2017 bowl game against Oregon, in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl. Just before halftime in that game, the Broncos were driving, with a chance to perhaps take a 31-7 lead into the locker room before halftime. However, Rypien underthrew a fade route in the end zone, and it was returned the distance for a touchdown. Part of the reason for the mistake there? He stared down the route and telegraphed his intentions. For someone as adept as he is with his eyes, he will need to get even better in this regard.
Handling pressure is another area where Rypien will need to improve. If there are occasions where his accuracy dips, it is a response to pressure in the pocket. Whether he is forced to speed up his process, or whether he is forced to reset his feet and throw, those are the moments when his accuracy can take a hit.
Rypien is not a tremendous athlete and is more in the “functional athleticism” realm of the quarterback position. If he is forced to try and escape the pocket or create on his own, the results are usually mixed at best. He’ll need to rely on subtle pocket movements to create space and escape pressure, which brings us to the previous point.
Finally, there might be a size concern with Rypien. At the combine, he measured in at 6’2” 210, which “[f]alls below normal minimum standards for size” according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. In addition, his hands measured in at just nine inches. This is one of those measurements that sends you back to the film, and you can see instances of his hands perhaps being an issue for him. Weather is one instance, and in the Mountain West Championship game this past season against Fresno State, Rypien struggled at times in the wet and snowy conditions. You also see instances of him losing fumbles in the pocket, which might be attributable to his hand size.
Even with those concerns, I would still be banging the table for this player. Rypien’s mental approach is his path to an NFL roster early in his career, and having seen both his arm and athletic ability develop over his time in Boise, I will bet on continued growth as he embarks on his NFL career. But the final feather in his cap might be this: Value.
Looking around the football evaluation world you see evidence of a wide chasm when it comes to Rypien. There are some, like me, on the outside looking in who are high on Rypien. He is my QB4 in this class, behind Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, and Drew Lock. The NFL and those with league experience, however, probably think that is a bit insane.
Rypien did not get a Senior Bowl invitation, he was one of the “throwing quarterbacks” at the combine, and then there is this. Greg Gabriel, who spent almost a decade as the Director of College Scouting with the Chicago Bears, is currently the head evaluator for Pro Football Weekly. In our draft magazine, Rypien was not even listed at the quarterback position.
That is a pretty wide chasm.
Yet, that might work in Rypien’s favor in a sense. Yes, players drafted earlier get more chances to stick in the league. But for Rypien, a player with his skill set and mental approach is still valuable. There are aspects to his game that he needs to develop and refine, sure, but he is well ahead of many other quarterbacks in this group when it comes to doing the little – but important – things at the quarterback position. The value a player like Rypien provides say, in the sixth round, might even outweigh the value other quarterbacks who will be taken earlier provide. Rypien’s floor, in my mind, is a high-end backup/spot-starter, and that is higher than the floors of most other quarterbacks in this class. That value he offers would be beneficial for many organizations.
Ultimately, the NFL’s view of Rypien might be more in line with the view shared by those around the league, such as the Senior Bowl, Gabriel, and others. I might be wrong with my evaluation of Rypien. But I still think from a valuation perspective, even if I am too high on him as a prospect, the value he will provide being selected later in the draft is still impressive, and might make his future employers very, very happy they took a chance on him.
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