Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor Mark Schofield delivers comparisons that really matter for the quarterback class in the 2019 NFL Draft: Game of Thrones characters. No Ayra Stark this year, she was was drafted two years ago by Kansas City.
We are inching closer and closer to the only event on the calendar this April that matters. No, not the NFL Draft, but the return of Game of Thrones. HBO’s award-winning epic fantasy, based on “A Song of Fire and Ice” by writer George R.R. Martin, returns to screens on April 14th. If, like me, you have been along for the ride since early in the series, you have probably spent the past few weeks rewatching the first seven seasons, as well as rereading some of the books themselves.
Now, longtime readers of my work know that I am not a fan of comparisons. I made this point pretty clear a few weeks back when writing about Drew Lock. However, when I am able to have a little fun with them and think outside of the box a bit (rather than make the same boring comparisons such as Lock to Josh Allen that I did a few weeks ago) then I find comparisons rather enjoyable. So let’s count down my top ten draft quarterbacks by comparing them to Game of Thrones characters.
(Beware. If you are not current with the series then you might want to look away. The night is dark and full of spoilers).
Gardner Minshew – Oberyn Martell
“The Mountain Versus The Viper.” One of those moments when – either reading the books or watching the series – Martin’s ability to suddenly drop a plot twist is executed brilliantly. Viewers were first introduced to The Viper in the fourth season when Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne made his way to King’s Landing for the wedding of King Joffrey to Queen Margaery of House Tyrell. Oberyn is there on behalf of his brother, the current ruler of Dorne, who could not make the trip due to his health. But The Viper has revenge on his mind, over the brutal death of his sister at the hands of the Lannister’s.
As fate would have it, this champion fighter was given a chance to avenge his sister when he stands for Tyrion Lannister in a trial by combat, with Tyrion charged with the murder of the King at his wedding. Oberyn is given the change to square off with Ser Gregor Clendane, or “The Mountain,” the man who brutally raped and then murdered Oberyn’s sister. During the trial by combat, Oberyn flashes his incredible footwork and movement, as well as a confident flair for the dramatic…for a time.
That brings us to Minshew. A product of Mike Leach’s offense the past few seasons, one of Minshew’s strongest traits as a quarterback is his footwork in the pocket. As Minshew himself would be glad to tell you, Leach’s offense trains quarterbacks to make full-field progression reads on every single play because that is what Leach’s route concepts ask of the quarterbacks. As he works through his reads, Minshew’s feet are always paired perfectly with his mind. From the footwork to the sheer confidence you can see when talking with Minshew, the Oberyn comparison is apt.
Hopefully, the comparison ends there, given how Oberyn meets his fate in King’s Landing…
Ryan Finley – Brandon Stark
No, this is not a knock on Finley’s athleticism…
One of the youngest Stark children, Brandon loses the ability to walk when he is shoved out of a tower window early in the series by Jamie Lannister after making a rather interesting discovery. This incident sets Brandon in a rather interesting collision course with his own destiny, as during the course of the books and the series he grows to become the Three-Eyed Raven. An individual with the ability to see all things at all times, including both into the past and potentially into the future. (There is some debate as to the extent of Bran’s ability to see into the future, but at a minimum, he can catch glimpses of future events, such as dragons flying over King’s Landing or the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor). In addition, Bran can also warg, taking over control of their bodies.
One of the senior’s best traits as a passer is when he can win with his mind, both in terms of making quick decisions or when the defense shows him an unexpected look by rotating the coverage at the snap. Finley is a very smart quarterback, and his game against Syracuse is a wonderful study of a QB being forced to recalibrate his diagnosis of a defense based on spun safeties at the beginning of the play. Furthermore, Finley also excels at turning his back to the defense to carry out play-action fakes and then picking up the secondary as he finishes his drop to make a snap decision.
In addition, Finley also functions very well in a timing and rhythm-based offense. Again, the comparison fits. For example, just ask Littlefinger about Bran’s sense of timing…
Tyree Jackson – Jamie Lannister
The Heir to Casterly Rock, Jamie Lannister is perhaps the most famous man in all of Westeros. Dashingly handsome, known as the Kingslayer for when he broke a vow to protect King Aerys II Targaryen and stabbed him in the back, and once a tremendous swordfighter. However, his skills at swordplay might currently have a fatal flaw: Jamie lost one of his hands when he was captured by the Boltons during the War of the Five Kings. Fitted with an ornate golden hand upon his return to King’s Landing, he underwent training with Ser Bronn of the Blackwater (we’ll talk about him in a moment) to learn to fight with just one hand. He’s has done well…so far. But we do not yet know if that will prove to be fatal for him.
That brings us to Jackson. A raw and tremendously talented quarterback who has the athleticism and the arm talent that make scouts and evaluators drool. However, there might be a fatal flaw lurking in his future: His mechanics. As discussed in this piece on him, outlining “when mechanics matter,” Jackson has a tendency to lock up his front leg when throwing. This is an issue that you can often find with taller quarterbacks. The straight-legged passer is an inaccurate passer, who has issues with ball placement and also an accompanying issue with a drop in velocity. Both issues can be found when studying Jackson.
For both men, they have survived to this point thanks to their tremendous level of talent despite their current flaws. What the future holds for them is, however, uncertain. If both are given the chance to continue refining their mechanics – whether as a passer or a swordsman – they could go on to future success. If put into a bad situation too quickly, however, things could end poorly…
Jarrett Stidham – Podrick Payne
Perhaps the show’s greatest enigma meets the greatest enigma of this draft class.
Podrick Payne first appeared as a squire to Tyrion when the diminutive Lannister was serving as the Hand of the King prior to the Battle of the Blackwater. During that clash, the young squire managed to save his charge when a member of the Kingsguard – at the direction of Tyrion’s sister Cersei – tried to assassinate Tyrion on the battlefield. As a reward for saving his life, Tyrion offered his squire some female..companionship courtesy of the King’s Landing brothels. However, Tyrion’s payment was refused because of Podrick’s, shall we say, prowess as a lover. Something nobody really saw coming.
After Tyrion was charged with the murder of Joffrey, Podrick left King’s Landing in the service of Brienne of Tarth. At first, Podrick seemed unable to handle the duties of a true squire, after all his biggest task under Tyrion was to refill his wine, but over the course of his time with Brienne Podrick developed into a more capable squire, swordsman, and potential knight.
Again, something nobody really saw coming.
Stidham is a perplexing study because he played in two very different offenses, and the quarterback that we saw in Mobile for the Senior Bowl was vastly different than the QB we saw the past two seasons in Auburn. He showed flashes of ability while at Baylor, and over the past two years under Gus Malzahn, but he was at his best playing for Kyle Shanahan during Senior Bowl well. If you are getting that quarterback, who seemed to develop nicely when given proper training, then you might be getting a true diamond in the rough. Similar to how Podrick grew under Brienne’s tutelage.
Daniel Jones – Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen
At first blush, Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen looks every bit the part of the true hero. Good looking, albeit in a more brooding sense, a man who tries to do the right thing at every moment and aspires to the ideals instilled in him by men such as Ned Stark, Aemon Targaryen, and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, Jon Snow seems every bit the prince that was promised. In addition, unbeknownst to him but eventually confirmed to the viewer/reader, Jon Snow is not the product of a one night stand by the man he viewed as his father, but rather the child of a secret marriage between the heir to the throne and his father’s sister, making Jon…or Aemon, the true heir to the Iron Throne. This makes him an easy character to root for.
However, when you dig a bit deeper you might find his decision-making lacking, and you might eventually be a bit underwhelmed with what he brings to the table. One of Jon’s first acts as a member of the Night’s Watch is to forgo his vows and fall for a member of the Free Folk. Then when he becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he allows the Free Folk to pass south through The Wall, which results in a mutiny and murder at the hands of his brothers.
Brought back to life, Jon then tries to retake his childhood home with his sister Sansa, but at the Battle of the Bastards he is goaded into charging early, and only Sansa’s deal with Littlefinger saves him and the army of the north. Jon stumbles into another leadership role, as the new King in the North, but quickly decides to bend the knee and almost ruins the peace meeting that takes place in King’s Landing at the end of Season 7.
So to encapsulate all of this: Looks the part, questionable decision-maker.
That might be Jones in a nutshell. The Duke University quarterback looks every bit the part of a first-round quarterback, with crisp mechanics, good athleticism and some arm talent to back it up. He also has a relationship with a revered figure in his field. No, not a former Warden of the North or Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but David Cutcliffe, a man viewed as a quarterback guru who helped mold Peyton and Eli Manning.
Now, both men might put things together in the wars to come. Jon might be the Prince That Was Promised. Jones might be the quarterback that was promised. But until they put it all together either on the fields of Westeros of the playing fields in the NFL, I will maintain a healthy level of skepticism.
Will Grier – Ser Bronn of the Blackwater
A brash, confident sellsword who goes about his business in an unorthodox manner. It might not always look ideal, but he understands the situation around him and applies the appropriate amount of aggression necessary for the moment, but is also smart enough to live to fight another day if he is outmanned. This certainly describes Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, but it also could be applied to how Will Grier plays the quarterback position.
We are first introduced to Ser Bronn before he earns his title, when he takes up the cause of Tyrion at his first trial by combat, in the Vale. Accused by Catelyn Stark of the attempted murder of her son Brandon, Tyrion demands a trial by combat at the Eyrie. Without his brother Jamie to ride to his rescue, Tyrion taps Bronn to fight in his stead. Bronn squares off with Ser Vardis Egen, a talented knight who insists on wearing heavy armor and carrying a large shield. Bronn relies on quickness, forgoing armor and using the terrain and obstacles to even the playing field. Eventually, Bronn emerges the victor, and he dispatches Ser Vardis through the Moon Door. When confronted by Lady Arryn for not fighting with honor, Bronn dryly replies, “no, but he did” pointing to the now dispatched knight at his feet.
Bronn’s unorthodox style and appropriate aggression is a perfect match for Grier, who displays those same traits on the football field. It does not always look textbook from Grier, he can have an elongated delivery at times, his ball security mechanics are lacking at moments, and he often attempts throws that at first glance seem too aggressive for the moment. But upon closer review, you realize that Grier’s understanding of the route concept and coverage made such a decision possible. But Grier also knows when to dial things back a bit, as does Bronn, who saves Jamie from certain incineration at the hands of Drogon.
Brett Rypien – Lord Petyr Baelish
If you have followed my work over the past few years, and especially this draft season, you have come to learn two things: Manipulating defenders is an important trait for quarterbacks to have, and Brett Rypien from Boise State is pretty darn good at it. Rypien’s ability to move defenders with his eyes, or even his full body, is one of the reasons I remain very high on him, and it draws an inevitable comparison of one of Westeros’s greatest manipulators, Littlefinger.
Littlefinger’s laundry list of manipulations provides both the spark and the undercurrent to the entire saga. When he convinces Lady Arryn to murder her husband and help frame the Lannister’s, he sets in motion the events that lead to the War of the Five Kings. But that is not where Littlefinger’s machinations end. Along the way he betrayed Ned Stark, he conspired to murder Joffrey (and frame Tyrion), he married (and then murdered) Lady Arryn, he likely had a hand in the rise of the Faith Militant, and he saw Sansa married to Ramsey Bolton. That’s…almost impressive in its duplicity, and it is just a small list of what Littlefinger pulled off.
On the football field, Rypien is a master manipulator in his own right. Whether he is moving a free safety with his eyes, using a pump fake to get a cornerback to get out of position, or using a shoulder shrug to get a linebacker to flip his hips, Rypien displays the manipulative abilities of only the craftiest characters in Westeros. For both men, their ability to manipulate those around them is rooted in deep wisdom and understanding of all potential opponents. Rypien is a very smart quarterback, who shows a true knowledge of route concepts and coverage schemes, and that leads to his ability to get defenders out of position to execute in the passing game.
Unfortunately for Littlefinger, his schemes meet a gruesome end in Season 7. Rypien’s character arc, however, has yet to be told.
Drew Lock – The Night King
A rocket right arm ideal for the vertical passing game despite poor upper and lower body mechanics. I think we are done here.
Dwayne Haskins – Tyrion Lannister
Two men largely regarded as perhaps the wisest among their peers makes this perhaps my favorite comparison of them all. Tyrion’s wit and wisdom have placed him in trouble at various moments, but have also given him the ability to get out of some sticky situations. While serving as Hand of the King it was his plan to use the wildfire that perhaps staved off Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and he was able to talk his way into the inner circle of Daenerys Targaryen to eventually serve as her hand as well.
When studying Haskins, you can certainly see his wisdom for the game. LIke Rypien, Haskins is a very active quarterback beginning in the pre-snap phase of each play, with a perfect example being his late touchdown pass against Purdue University on a fourth down situation. Haskins sees a blitz look from the Boilermakers in the pre-snap phase and adjusts the protection and the formation, shifting a tight end into a wing to help protect him. But Purdue’s defense does not blitz and drops into soft zone coverage. Haskins adapts immediately, throwing a strike on a post route for a touchdown. Also like Rypien, Haskins is a more natural manipulator with his eyes than the other passers in the class.
However, wisdom is not the only thing that links these two individuals. Both Haskins and Tyrion show a great process, but at times their execution is lacking. Take, for example, Tyrion’s time with Daenerys. He reaches a tentative peace with the slaveowners of Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis, but they almost immediately go back on the agreement and Tyrion needs Daenerys to save him and the city of Meereen out of the blue. Then Tyrion convinces Daenerys to invade Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister, which fails spectacularly as the Lannister army previously abandoned Casterly Rock and is already en route to Highgarden, where they overthrow House Tyrell, raid the city’s gold stores and send Olenna Tyrell to her fate. Execution…lacking.
You can see this also with Haskins. Despite his knowledge and impressive process, there are times when Haskins fails to deliver on opportunities downfield in the passing game. He will make the absolutely right read, move defenders with his eyes, have his team in position to make a huge play…and miss the throw.
If, however, you believe the underlying process is what matters most, you probably have high expectations for both Haskins and Tyrion in the season ahead.
Kyler Murray – Ser Beric Dondarrion
A knight initially sent down one path, to hunt down The Mountain, who emerges reborn as one of the leaders of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Ser Beric’s…escapability…is the inspiration for this comparison. Beric’s ability to escape the ultimate fate is due to the Lord of Light and the Red Priest Thoros of Myr, who has brought Beric back from death six times.
For Murray, his ability to escape “death” in the pocket is one of his best traits as a quarterback. Murray is incredibly adept at escaping pressure, keeping his eyes downfield and making an impressive throw downfield. While Beric fights with a flaming sword, Murray pairs his escapism with a tremendous arm, with the ability to make touch-throws downfield, velocity throws to all levels and everything in between with near-precision accuracy.
If Murray could start playing with that right arm of his in flames, the comparison would be complete.
So there you have it, the comparisons that matter. Enjoy the draft, Season 8, and never forget: The north remembers.
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