Mark Schofield’s RSP 2020 QB Combine Preview: What Matters for the 17

What do we make of the NFL Scouting Combine, particularly from the quarterback position? As the NFL world descends on Indianapolis here is a quarterback preview of sorts where RSP contributor Mark Schofield looks at all 17 of the invited passers. 

What’s the most important thing for each of these quarterback in Indy. For some, it might be a physical place, such as a hotel suite or an interview podium. For others, it might be a body part. For all, the NFL combine is a chance to ace the world’s oddest job interview. 

Kelly Bryant  – Left Hip and Shoulder

I know, I know. After all, I am the person who coined the phrase “mechanics don’t matter until they matter.” But sometimes…they do indeed matter. Bryant is a very interesting evaluation. A cursory look at Bryant’s numbers might lead you to believe that he is an accurate passer, given his career completion percentage of just under 65%, but when you watch him on film you can see an example of mechanics mattering. 

Bryant’s ball placement lacks precision in the short and intermediate areas of the field, and you can see examples of him missing on some pretty standard routes, even from clean pockets. Some of this can be attributed to his mechanics. At times Bryant fails to properly involve his left arm and left hip, which turns him into more of a pusher, or an arm thrower. This also has a tendency to alter his release point. Cleaning up his mechanics would lead to both better ball placement and better velocity.

Joe Burrow – The Podium

Burrow probably does not have anything left to prove.

At least, on the field.

Some might quibble with his arm strength, make the case that he lacks upper-end velocity, and they may have a point. I would counter that such an issue is more of a scheme fit line of thinking than anything else, but I’m sure to come “QB Velocity Day” many are going to look at Burrow’s number. For me, the most important place in Indianapolis for Burrow is during the media portion, when he is standing at the podium. Why? Because of the fact that Burrow, cognizant of the lay of the land, is now at least floating the idea of the “leverage” he has.

Now, for probably 99% of the people reading this you’re probably thinking something like this: “So what? He does have leverage. He can try and pull an Eli Manning and force a trade or something. Why play in Cincinnati and get ruined.” For the most part, you’re right. He does have some leverage here. But 99% of you reading this who feel that way…are not NFL decision-makers.

Those who are, think more like this:

NFL decision-makers, on the other hand, are more “old school” thinkers. They want someone who will “compete.” They want someone who will “do their job.” So they’ll want to hear Burrow say the right things, such as “I just want a chance to play” and “I am the best QB in this class and if the Bengals pick me, we’re going to be a great team.” 

Lip service? Perhaps. But you do not walk into a job interview and tell a prospective boss that “you have leverage” and hope to get the job. Remember, that is what this long process is, the world’s longest – and strangest – job interview.

Kevin Davidson – Hands/Ball Carriage

The Ivy League gets on the board with Princeton’s Davidson getting an invitation to the combine. Davidson saw limited action during his first three years with the Tigers, but waited his turn and produced some impressive numbers for Princeton the past season. 

Watching Davidson, one thing that stands out is his ball carriage. Traditionally, quarterbacks are taught to keep the football up high on the chest, as that will speed up the throwing process. Think of when you took your first driver’s education class. Why do we keep our hands at 10 and 2? Because if you don’t, and you need to suddenly swerve or avoid another car, the first thing you are going to do is to put your hands there. When every second counts, you start where you are going to end up with your hands.

It is the same with the throwing motion. While a more modern approach has relaxed that a bit, Davidson (and James Morgan from Florida International) start with the ball pretty low, closer to their waist than their armpit. As a result, it takes the ball a beat longer for Davidson to get the ball out of his hands. That…matters. Watch his game against Dartmouth. He threw an interception on a hitch route where the ball came out late, and you can see the release playing a role in that turnover. I’ll be curious to see if he has cleaned that up when he throws in Indianapolis.

Jacob Eason – The Radar Gun

Yes, I know. I have mocked the idea of “QB Velocity Day” on Twitter before, and I am sure to again. I still have flashbacks of Deshaun Watson posting a 49 miles per hour during his Combine and the hellscape that Twitter turned into that afternoon when it was released. (More than usual, I know!)

But for a quarterback like Eason, who has the power arm in this class, he has a chance to put that velocity on full display out at Lucas Oil Field next week. We have seen some other quarterbacks parlay their arm strength and athleticism into an early first-round pick, and could Eason follow down a similar path? 

Jake Fromm – The Whiteboard

This is a perfect time to remind readers that, as Dane Brugler pointed out on Twitter a few days ago, the two most important events at the Combine for every prospect take place behind closed doors. First, the medical examination. Second, the interview process. The drills are nice and people will win money betting on the 40-yard dash times (bet the under on Henry Ruggs) but those two areas are the most important for every prospect.

When it comes to quarterback play, getting on the whiteboard is a big part of the process. For an experienced passer like Fromm, here is where he could shine. Fromm is perhaps Cody Kessler-plus, a quarterback who might lack upper-level traits but can win with anticipation and win with his mind. These are things he can show NFL teams when he meets with them in Indianapolis. He might lack the ceiling of some of the other passers in this group, but I’d bet on his floor, and showing what he can do with his mind might be enticing to some teams. 

Anthony Gordon – His Feet

Anthony Gordon put up incredible numbers this past season for Washington State, taking over for Gardner Minshew, and that production coupled with a solid Senior Bowl week has many wondering if Gordon could have a Minshew-like rookie season. 

However, the two are wildly different quarterbacks, despite coming out of Mike Leach’s system. Minshew’s footwork in the pocket was almost teaching tape. As he worked through reads you could see his feet matched perfectly with his mind. His footwork kept him in position to throw, even as he worked from sideline to sideline with his mind.

Gordon, by contrast, lacks that right now as a passer. Too often he was flat-footed, even statuesque, in the pocket. That would inevitably lead to him making off-platform throws, even when it was not necessary. 

Gordon is working on his footwork, and I’ll be curious to see how that is coming along when he throws out in Indianapolis. He does not need to be completely finished product, but someone with his arm talent and aggressive approach could become a very attractive prospect with some improved footwork in the pocket. 

Justin Herbert – The Interview Suite

Coming into draft season, there were two areas to focus on with Herbert. One, the offense he was running at Oregon. With a lot of one-read concepts, designed throws and not a lot of work attacking the middle of the field, a question about his transition to the NFL was on the table. That is why his week of work down in Mobile during the Senior Bowl was a great thing to see for his draft stock. He showed the ability to run a more “pro-style offense,” whatever we consider that to be, and was the best passer down in Mobile the entire week.

But as Herbert himself told the media during Media Day in Mobile, there is another aspect to his game that he needed to put on display: Leadership. Stories of Herbert being a quiet kid and concern over his leadership style were the other area of worry. He might have addressed some of those issues during Senior Bowl practices, but out in Indianapolis, he’ll need to do more of that. He’ll need to sit down with NFL front offices and coaches and convince them he can be the face of the franchise. He can be the leader for their offense. 

Herbert has one box left to check. Provided he checks it off, he could really force himself into Top Five pick territory. 

Jalen Hurts – The Podium

Hurts is a quarterback. Period. He will be the first to tell you that as well.

Down in Mobile during Media Day, he was clear to state that, as he addressed questions about a potential position switch. Out in Indianapolis, with even more media assembled, those questions are going to rise again.

I’m curious how he handles them anew, and confident he is going to handle them incredibly well.

Hurts has a future in the NFL as a quarterback, and the passer I saw down in Mobile might fit best in a vertical passing system. He throws the deep ball extremely well, he is certainly athletic and can make some impressive plays in scramble drill situations. But he will in all likelihood face these questions once more, and how he handles him might be the most important part of his week. 

Brian Lewerke – His Feet

A few summers ago, the Michigan State passer was the darling of the Draft Twitter world. When we were digging into the film of up-and-coming quarterbacks and wondering who could be next, many settled on Lewerke.

But he never lived up to the billing, and after struggling with some injuries a season ago Lewerke has a chance out in Indianapolis to try and recapture some of that “summer of ‘18 magic.” What I’ll be watching for is his footwork. One of the areas of Lewerke’s game that has left me concerned for a while now is his “fight or flight” response. Now, it is hard to duplicate a collapsing pocket during the Combine, but that remains perhaps my biggest issue with him. Even throughout his 2019 tape there are examples of him evacuating clean pockets, or trying to create with his legs rather than staying in the pocket and fighting. More than anything else, Lewerke is one of those passers who, once he gets the feet moving, finds it hard to transition back to thrower and remains a runner.

How do his feet look in Indy? That’s what I’ll be watching.

Jordan Love – The Whiteboard

2018 Jordan Love was the reason he (like Lewerke a summer before him) was a darling of the Draft Twitter world before this season started.

2019 Jordan Love, however, was a different passer.

Last season Love made a number of head-scratching decisions with the football. Throws that left many wondering if he would be better served going back to school. But with his raw talent, athleticism and arm strength, Love made the decision to test the draft waters. However, he knows the interceptions, and the mistakes are an issue. “I look at every interception as a lesson,” Love told us down in Mobile. Well, last season he had 17 of those lessons.

If I’m an NFL coach or scout, I want to know more about his mental approach. I want to get him on a whiteboard and walk me through each of those interceptions. What was he reading? What was he seeing? I have questions about each of those plays – something I’ll address soon on this site – but if I were in a room with him, I’d want to hear his line of thinking on these.

I can’t be alone on that. 

Jake Luton – Left Hip and Left Shoulder

From where I sit, the fun in this quarterback class starts after the guys at the top. After Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and even after Herbert. Perhaps it is because I always consider myself a defender of the quarterback classes, and find myself picking up the shield and the sword for the Day Three guys, but I think there are some very interesting prospects as we get deeper into the mix.

Jake Luton is one of those guys for me.

Luton was a very efficient passer last season, throwing just three interceptions and throwing for a career-high 28 touchdowns. But I think there are some mechanical strides that he can make that could make him an even more efficient passers. He is a taller quarterback (listed at 6’7”) and as we saw from Tyree Jackson a year ago (also a 6’7” quarterback) these taller passers have a tendency to lock up their front leg when throwing. That often serves as a brake on their throwing motion, which tends to reduce velocity.

Luton seems to compensate for that not by flexing that left leg/knee more, but by using a violent torquing motion with his upper body. When you watch him throw you can see him just rip his left shoulder and hip throw the motion, generating incredible torque and increasing his velocity. 

So I want to see the mechanics dialed up a bit and evened out. More flex in that left knee, less violence in the upper body. You aren’t Cersei, Jake. You don’t need to choose violence. 

Steven Montez – His Target Point

There’s a reason that I wrote a piece a few weeks back titled “The Curious Case of Mr. Montez.”

Consistency, or better phrased, a lack thereof.

At times, Montez seemed to really get it. You’d see him running concepts, making the right read against the defense and going to the right read on time and in rhythm.

Then you’d see him do the complete opposition. 

Even on the same concept, against the same defense, and in the same game.

That lack of consistency was also on display down in Mobile during the Senior Bowl, especially during practice week. He can flash at times, but then it just is not there for him.

I want to see a more consistent thrower next week in Indianapolis. Starting with consistency in his ball placement. 

Cole McDonald – His Right Hand

There was another Draft Twitter darling this past summer, in addition to Jordan Love. A few brave souls took a trek onto McDonald Hill and planted a flag.

I was among them.

But McDonald’s season started off rocky, with a multiple interception game against Arizona that saw him benched, and stayed there. But he finished strong, leading Hawaii to a comeback in the Hawaii Bowl against BYU.

I re-watched both of those games this week, and what struck me was the difference in McDonald’s mechanics from the first game of the season, to the last. Against Arizona he had a very prominent dip and loop to his throwing motion, almost akin to Sam Darnold’s when he was coming out of USC. Against BYU months later, that was more of a drawback, rather than a dip and loop. Still an elongated throwing motion, but nowhere near what we saw from earlier in the season.

What does it look like out in Indianapolis? 

I’ve described McDonald as a “beautiful mess” before, and I think that fits. Everything is unorthodox, but at times it clicks together perfectly. I know I’ll end up higher on him than most, but there’s something about this kid that I keep coming back to.

James Morgan – The Radar Gun

Morgan’s name came up earlier in this piece, when talking about Davidson and ball carriage. Similar to the Princeton signal-caller, the FIU produce also has low ball carriage. But where they differ is in that Morgan still has a quicker release, and the ball pops out of his hand better than it does with Davidson.

That leads me to the velocity issue. I think Morgan, despite the mechanics and the ball-carriage, can have some success at the next level and velocity can be his initial crutch. I’m curious to see how the ball pops out of his hand during his throwing session, and I think his velocity could be a way to acclimate himself to the NFL game faster than some of his peers.

Shea Patterson – His Target Point

Very similar to Montez, and perhaps with reason. I had these two passers in the same tier going into Mobile, and while Patterson had the stronger week of the two, they both struggled with consistency. On film and during the practice sessions at Ladd-Peebles.

With Patterson, you see flashes of what he can be on his best day. Some NFL throws are scattered through his tape and I thought his Senior Bowl week got off to a great start on Tuesday, when he might have had one of the stronger days out of all the quarterbacks. But as the others settled into their practices and got acclimated to throwing to new faces, Patterson faded. 

That lack of consistency bit him again. 

I’ll be watching to see if that remains an issue for him next week.

Nate Stanley – His Feet

I’ve highlighted two passers already that I might be higher on than most, in Luton and McDonald. Stanley is the third you can add to that mix. I think he has an NFL arm, and the offense he ran at Iowa is sure to win him some supporters in the NFL. I mean, if you’re looking for that “under center, deep play-action drop with your back to the defense” kind of guy, Stanley is going to be your cup of tea.

I’ll be watching his feet next week, for two different reasons. First, I want to see consistency with his weight transfer on his throws. At times that got away from him, and I know that is something he is working on with quarterback guru Tony Racioppi. Additionally, Stanley is not the most athletic of these QBs, but a player’s athletic ability is not a prerequisite to NFL success. He’ll need to show fluidity with his feet, and that he can use his footwork to escape pressure and extend plays in the pocket. Similar to the Josh Rosen model from a few years ago, or, dare we say, Tom Brady. Brady is the Patron Saint for the “unathletic quarterbacks,” and his footwork and mastery of the pocket is the reason he is still playing at a high level into his 40s. 

That can be the model for Stanley. Light and fluid feet in the pocket.

Tua Tagovailoa – The Medical Examination

Remember the wisdom from Dane Brugler. The medicals and the interviews are the most important parts of the Combine for every prospect.

With Tagovailoa, the medical examination is easily the most important place for him in Indianapolis.

Strip away the concern over his lower-body injuries, and the recent hip injury, and Tagovailoa is a very solid quarterback prospect and perhaps even QB1 in this group, above Burrow. But when you factor in the injury history, that picture is much more cloudy. With rumors swirling of “80% mobility” and “arthritis by age 30” in his present (and future) how he really looks upon examination is a massive part of the 2020 draft story. If he emerges from Indianapolis with a clean bill of health, he is in the mix for one of the first five picks. If not, this Top Ten looks very, very different. His medical examination might be the biggest storyline for next week.

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