Draft Grades That Matter: Peaky Blinders Edition


The RSP’s Mark Schofield delivers his analysis of the NFL’s draft-day selections from the 2020 quarterback class.

Everybody hates draft grades.

They are certainly a necessary evil in the football media space. When a draft is over everyone wants to know how their team did, but everyone also believes in what their team did, so if the grade does not comport with the reader’s own view of how their team fared, well, anger can result.

I know. I am the same way. It is human nature.

That is way at times I like to take a different path, and rather than giving a traditional “grade” I apply quotes to what a team did, specifically at the quarterback position. Or I might do this for quarterback comparisons as well.

That is what we are doing today. Grading each of the quarterback selections from the 2020 NFL Draft using the only grading system that matters.

Quotes from “Peaky Blinders.”

Look, if you have yet to watch this series, what are you waiting for? Chances are you are living under some sort of COVID-19 related quarantine, so there is no time quite like the present to dive into the affairs of the Shelby family. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Tua Tagovailoa: Miami Dolphins

Alfie Solomons: Intelligence is a very valuable thing, innit, my friend. And usually, it comes far too fucking late.

Alfie Solomons: The Scene-Stealingest Character Of All Time

First off, Ed Hardy was incredible in the role of Alfie Solomons, the Jewish gangster and sometimes ally of Tommy Shelby. In this quote, he is discussing a potential merger of forces with the Shelby family.

But this quote is a nod to the counter-intelligence operation of the Miami Dolphins. Dating back to the Senior Bowl, it was believed that the organization was slowly but steadily talking themselves out of Tua Tagovailoa in this draft class. There were rumors about the hip injury, then those concerns accelerated with reporting that Tagovailoa had other unreported injuries. In the hours leading up to the draft, further rumors circled, such as the team trading up for a tackle, or even just drafting a tackle at five and letting the quarterback chips fall where they may.

No, they fooled everyone, and drafted the Alabama passer. Tagovailoa, viewed by some as the best quarterback in this class, is an ideal fit for what the Dolphins are putting together. Kyle Crabbs, the Senior Analyst for The Draft Network and a host of the Locked On Dolphins podcast, took to Twitter to illustrate the vision:

Tagovailoa is a perfect fit for such an offense. He comes from a system repleat with RPO concepts under Steve Sarkisian, and his hair-trigger release is going to ease the task for the guys protecting him. This is an ideal environment for him.

Justin Herbert: Los Angeles Chargers

Alfie Solomons: These bastards only understand one language.

Again, Hardy is amazing in this show.

During the draft process you often hear the phrase “he checks the boxes.” Sometimes a prospect checks all the boxes. Sometimes they check some of them. Occasionally they check none of them, but odds are you do not hear that phrase during the draft process because players that check none of the boxes TYPICALLY ARE NOT DISCUSSED.

Sorry, got a little bit too into the spirit of the piece. Apologies.

When it comes to the quarterback position, NFL evaluators certainly have a type. Big arm, big guy. Right? Quarterbacks who have the physical stature and the huge arm get a ton of looks and opportunities, much more than guys with more prestigious college careers but a lack of the physical traits. I mean, we could go through the historical record if you want to but…do we really need to?

Justin Herbert checks the big arm, big guy boxes. But on film I will admit to being left…wanting more. I understand why the Los Angeles Chargers drafted him, and why they drafted him when they did. But if you wanted more evidence that looking the part is gonna get you attention, you do not need to look much further.

Jordan Love: Green Bay Packers

Luca Changretta: I’m Luca Changretta.

Alfie Solomons: Oh yeah, I know who you are. You’re a bit of a failure, aren’t you? You come all the way over here in this country to kill Tommy Shelby, but… I mean, well, he’s not dead, is he?

Season four was tremendous. Including Adrian Brody in the role of Luca Changretta, an Italian mafioso coming to England from the states with a score to settle. The above quote – and scene – is from when Changretta makes his introductions to Solomon.

Two things can be true about what happened on Thursday night with the Green Bay Packers.

The Green Bay Packers are an ideal spot for Jordan Love to develop.

Jordan Love is not an ideal fit for the Green Bay Packers, and he does not help them get closer to a Super Bowl in 2020.

Let’s begin with the first part of that statement. Jordan Love will need some time to develop. 17 interceptions will make that case pretty clear on their own. But go through them (apologies here for not doing that before the draft as part of the “RSP Interception Project” but as you might have guessed global pandemics and all tend to be a drain on the resource of time) and you will see that his decision-making is a real question mark. Even if you rewind life back to 2018, when times were simpler, we were not all grounded at home and he was playing with a different group of receivers and in a different offensive system…the mistakes were still there. Maybe not 17 interceptions, but a good chunk of, to borrow a phrase, interceptable passes.

So, there needs to be some development.

Surely in Green Bay, he will get that opportunity. Nobody, not even Jordan Love if he’s being honest, is expecting him to see significant playing time in 2020. Because Aaron freakin’ Rodgers is still on the roster. He will get a chance to observe, watch, and learn. Additionally, Green Bay is one of the limited few destinations for a rookie quarterback in the NFL where there is actually hope for development, because the offensive staff at least has some semblance of a track record for doing just that. LaFleur was part of the staff that turned Jared Goff from potential bust to at least something resembling a professional quarterback.

Now to the second point.

There is a possibility that the Green Bay Packers – and specifically their front office – looked at 2019 as something of a mirage. A run to the conference championship game done with smoke and mirrors, hiding deeper flaws on the roster. Sure, they finished 13-3 and secured a first round bye. But look at their 13 wins. Of those 13 victories, only three of them came against playoff teams. They swept their season series against the Minnesota Vikings, and went into Kansas City and beat the Chiefs on a Sunday night.

With Matt Moore at quarterback for the Chiefs.

Their three losses? Philadelphia at home on a Thursday night. A loss on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers, and a loss at San Francisco on a Sunday night by a score of 37-8. That does not exactly scream “impressive resume.” In the playoffs they got past the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round – after Seattle had to trek cross-country the week prior and play on the road against the Eagles – and then were dispatched the following week again when the 49ers hung 37 points on them.

Maybe the organization, in a rare bit of NFL self-reflection, realizes they overachieved last season, and is retooling to be more competitive down the road.

Beyond Love, they drafted A.J. Dillon to add to an already crowded running back room. However, both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are on the final years of their contracts. Perhaps Dillion is a committee member in 2020 and then is the featured back in 2021. They drafted Josiah Deguara, a tight end out of Cincinnati but someone that I compared to Kyle Juszczyk when he was coming out of Harvard. A player whose best role seems to be fullback in the NFL. Someone who agrees? LaFleur, who said he wanted to use the Cincinnati TE in that same Juszczyk role with the Packers. Now, Green Bay ran 21 offensive personnel on 25% of their plays last year, so it is a part of their gameplan, but these two picks scream “ball control offense,” not “let Rodgers rip it.”

But again, Love does not help that equation in 2020. Perhaps in 2021.

Yet Rodgers is still here.

Jalen Hurts: Philadelphia Eagles

Tommy Shelby: Five for peace, two for truce, one abstention. Let’s get on with the war.

At times, Tommy Shelby needed to keep his family together when it looked like it was tearing apart. That often left views unsure of whether family – or external – chaos would be his downfall.

Speaking of chaos, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson unleashed some chaos of their own on Friday night when, using the 53rd selection overall, they drafted Jalen Hurts, the quarterback from Oklahoma. Now, Hurts belonged to be drafted in the second round of this draft, and I will have more on him and his fit into the Eagles’ offense in a moment, but we need to consider the bigger picture for a moment.

A war is coming in Philadelphia.

Within moments of this selection, various sports radio programs in the City of Brotherly Love were writing the epitaph on Carson Wentz’s career with the Eagles. That was Friday night. Just imagine drive-time shows this week. It is true that sports radio hosts often favor the controversial over the rational, but if there is one things people in that line of work know, it is their audience. In many cities the backup quarterback is the most popular person in town, and while Wentz still has the hearts of the majority of the Philly faithful, love is often blind…and fickle.

The organization seems to be trying to recapture the magic of a few years ago, when a veteran backup stepped into the lineup and helped deliver the team’s first Super Bowl title. But trying to recapture magic is not a plan, it is a fallacy. Fool’s gold.

Hurts is an NFL quarterback. I have no doubt of that in my mind. But two things make this potential fit extremely difficult in my mind. First, Hurts is more of a “see it, throw it” passer right now. His snap-to-throw time last year was a whopping 3.08 seconds. That would have been dead last in the NFL, eclipsing the mark of 3.01 seconds set by Kirk Cousins. In the Philadelphia offense, the ball is supposed to come out quick, on time and in rhythm. It is a shoot off the West Coast coaching tree, predicated on quick throws and yardage after the catch. That is why they drafted Jalen Reagor, given his prowess on quick routes, his ability after the catch and then what he can add downfield on shot plays or in scramble drill situations.

Yes, an area where Hurts excels, but that is a situation, not an offense.

Another aspect of this fit that gives me pause is the fact that while mechanics are not a problem until they’re a problem, they can be a problem in a West Coast offense. Again. Timing and rhythm. Quick throws. Yardage after the catch. That is tough when the ball is supposed to be out but the football is still in the QB’s hands as he is drawing his throwing arm back like an English longbowman steadying his arm for one more volley at the charging French knights. Sure, Hurts cleaned up his mechanics for the Combine and the throwing motion looked great, but have we all forgotten Blake Bortles? Every single spring starting with his Combine, his throwing motion was cleaned up, but then by opening drive of Week 1 there it was, that dip and loop, coming back. Muscle memory is real, and it is not exactly spectacular when it comes to quarterback mechanics.

Hurts, in a sense, deserves better. A better fit schematically, and a better situation to walk into. This is going to be chaos.

To his credit, everything we know about Hurts the person – the leader – indicates that he will handle this well. With class and conviction. Perhaps that is the elixir that convinced Roseman and Pederson this was the right move. They know all too well what they have unleashed, and what this rookie will be walking into. They know all too well that he will be able to handle it, and that he will come out the other side of this a stronger and better quarterback. That is the bet they are making.

What the buildup looks like before the other side is reached is what worries me.

Jacob Eason: Indianapolis Colts

Freddie Thorne: Sergeant Thorne, reporting for duty, sir.

Poor Freddie Thorne. A childhood friend of Thomas Shelby’s, the two served along the front lines over “in France” and while Freddie actually saved Thomas’s life during the war, the two had a falling out when they returned home and Freddie started adhering to communist philosophies. But when it was time for a showdown between the Shelby’s and Billy Kimber’s men, Freddie was there, sporting a massive Lewis machine gun designed for the trenches and not the streets of Birmingham.

Perhaps it was because Freddie was in love with Ada Shelby, Thomas’s sister, but still…

The massive hand cannon that Freddie brought to the fight does remind one of what Jacob Eason has attached to his right shoulder.

As was discussed during the second on Justin Herbert, the NFL does have a type. Now, the fact that Eason – with that rocket of a right arm – fell to where he did in the draft might be an indication that the league is starting to look past pure arm talent and dive deeper into the other parts of playing the position. Things like reading the middle of the field, working through progressions, understanding leverage in the secondary, and handling the pocket with poise and confidence. These are areas where Eason could stand to improve.

However, he found a perfect environment to do so. With Philip Rivers in place, there will be no need to rush him into action. Beyond that, with Jacoby Brissett on the roster there is a chance – perhaps due to an abbreviated training camp – that Eason starts the year as QB3. He also lands under a head coach in Frank Reich who has a proven track record of developing quarterbacks, as he was in the room in Philadelphia that brought Carson Wentz along. A perfect landing spot for him to develop and learn how to best use that Lewis machine gun attached to his right shoulder.

James Morgan: New York Jets

Polly Gray: You have your mother’s common sense but your father’s devilment. I see them fighting. Let your mother win. 

Wise words from the matriarch of the Shelby family are applicable to James Morgan, the newest quarterback on the New York Jets.

Morgan is one of a few true roller coaster quarterbacks in this draft class, and it does not take long to see that on film. Here are my notes from watching the first few plays of his 2019 game against Old Dominion:

1-10: Gun formation, low ball carriage in pocket, curl route along left sideline, misses badly on this. Mechanical issue?

2-10: Gun formation, active pre-snap (on him or from sideline? Looks like this comes in from sideline); Opens to left, works progressions, does not like what he sees, comes to right, throws sail route along sideline to slot WR, good read, processing speed, and throw.

1-10: Gun formation, slot-fade route, over shoots this slot fade, again we see low ball carriage in pocket –> Mechanics?

2-10: Gun – Swing screen, ok

2-15: Pistol formation; play-action (back to defense) then rolls to left; tough throw into traffic, looks risky on first viewing –> replay; great throw, puts it on the money between multiple defenders, impressive how he fits this into a tight window

3-20: Gun–>Gets strip-sacked here; 3rd and long and a slow developing play, but he needs better internal clock and/or pocket management here

Just a little bit of variance there.

If Morgan could get some consistency to his game, he might be a tremendous get for the Jets at this point in the draft. The potential is certainly there, but he needs to put things together. Or, as Polly would put it, listen to the common sense part of his quarterbacking brain.

Jake Fromm: Buffalo Bills

Tommy Shelby: You don’t parley when you’re on the back foot.

Early in the first season of “Peaky Blinders” one could see that Thomas Shelby was a man with a vision. A forward-thinking design for this family. Brutal, in a sense, but you cannot deny the vision.

That brings us to Jake Fromm, and specifically the idea of being on his back foot. Fromm, notable in the draft community for the stuff he brings to the table as a QB from the neck up, experienced a draft weekend slide down the board, all the way to the Buffalo Bills at the 167th spot in the draft. Explanations for his slide include a lack of athleticism, size concerns (specifically related to his sub-nine inch hands, which did cause him problems on film in weather situations, and a lack of arm strength).

However, what if one of those is correctable?

Prior to the draft, Fromm himself outlined how his lower body mechanics were an issue that started to spin out of control for him. He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that footwork has “…definitely been a coaching point and something that we’ve been working on throughout this process. I think it’s been my feet. My feet have not been as clean as they needed to be this past football season.” Fromm directly connected his footwork and throwing base to the perceived lack of arm strength on film. “That’s something that we’ve really been hammering throughout this process. So, for me, I’m trying to get my feet better and as good as they can be because wherever my feet are, and how they are doing, it’s going to take care of the rest of whatever is going on. It starts from the bottom up. I’m really trying to take care of those [issues].”

The arm strength issue – and the potential fix – was also highlighted by draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah from the NFL Network. “The knock on him, the concern has really been pure arm strength. When I’ve watched him, I’ve seen throws, I’ve seen him make deep outs from the far hash in the Florida game.“You see examples of it, but there’s other times where the ball hangs and the ball dies.” Again, the footwork is the path. “I think mechanically he can help with some things there to get his lower body more involved,” Jeremiah told the AJC. “And I know he’s been down in Mobile, Alabama at QB Country working with David Morris and Daniel Jones down there. He’s starting to make progress there. That’s his challenge. I have him in that second-round range. And I don’t think he’s for everybody.”

We often hear about quarterbacks who need to fix mechanical issues getting that part of the job done, but then muscle memory takes over and the reworked throwing motion falls to piece. Footwork is a bit different, and there is a shot for Fromm to get off the proverbial back foot, and add a bit of velocity to his game.

 

 

 

Jake Luton: Jacksonville Jaguars

Alfie Solomons: Never give power to the big man.

Jake Luton is certainly a big man. But as we have seen before from taller passers, sometimes that height comes at a cost. This is something we saw with Tyree Jackson a year ago, and something we tend to see from Luton: Lower body mechanical inconsistencies that impact the throwing chain between the upper and lower body, and it starts with the front leg.

Remember the words of Steve Axman, noted quarterback guru:

..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 Luton, you might be impressed at the outset with the torque he generates with his upper body. It leads to some throws that reach upper tiers of velocity. But dig a little deeper into how he is executing these throws, and you will see that front leg issue with him. As a result, he is overcompensating with torque in the upper body, as the front leg creates that “negative pass-action” result that Axman refers to. It almost serves as a brake on the body, stopping forward momentum and as a result, any velocity is generated purely from the upper body. To make up the difference, the QB torques.

Fix the leg, fix the problem. A curse of being tall and playing quarterback.

Cole McDonald: Tennessee Titans

Tommy Shelby: Get yourself a decent haircut, man. We’re going to the races.

We had to go here with Cole McDonald. I mean, we just had to.

The Hawaii quarterback, who turned in his almost-trademark dreads for a more clean-cut look, finds himself in a perfect opportunity in Tennessee. With Ryan Tannehill the presumed starting quarterback – a big contract extension and the departure of Marcus Mariota assures that point – there is a vacancy in the Tennessee Titan’s quarterback room. Behind Tannehill are two quarterbacks: Logan Woodside, and McDonald.

McDonald has a chance to win the backup job.

Do not get me wrong, Woodside has an edge when it comes to experience. Between his time spent with the organization already coupled with his stint in the AAF, Woodside has the upper hand. But where Woodside is methodical and excels at the mental part of the game, McDonald is aggressive, brash, and excels at the emotional part of the position. He plays without fear. I am constantly reminded of something he told me during our discussion at the Combine. I asked him about a play against BYU in the Hawaii Bowl, when the Rainbow Warriors were driving in the closing minute and faced a 3rd and 1 near midfield. They needed a touchdown on the drive, and when McDonald dropped to pass he had a crossing route wide open in front of him. Throw it, get the first down, stop the clock with the college rules and regroup for the next play. Instead, McDonald throws a vertical hole shot along the left sideline between the cornerback and the safety in a Cover 2 look. He drilled it. Risky, but the risk was rewarded. So I asked him about it:

You know, especially in our offense. Even on third down, fourth down, we’re gonna let it rip. We’re gonna throw where the defense tells us to throw. Like I said we’re a big counter-based offense so if they’re going to play that little out-route that we were running, I’m going to take advantage of that holeshot over the top. It doesn’t matter if it’s third and one or fourth and long. We’re gonna run our offense to the best of our ability.

A mentality like that wins a job in training camp. McDonald, newly clean-cut, is going to the races for sure.

Ben DiNucci: Dallas Cowboys

Aberama Gold: Who the fuck are you?

Alfie Solomons: Who the fuck am I?

In the fourth season, Alfie Solomons (again, protrayed by Ed Hardy) meets Aberama Gold, portrayed by Aidan Gillen, perhaps best knows for his portrayal of Petyr Baelish in Game of Thrones. Their meeting is a tremendous scene between two incredible actors, and sets the stage for this grade.

Look.

This was my sixth draft in terms of covering the event professionally. I would like to believe that my work ethic is not exactly to be questioned. I pride myself on showing my work, using video evidence to support my positions on players. Perhaps that is a callback to my prior vocation, because if you do not have evidence or caselaw to support a position, the judge is gonna let you know, if opposing counsel does not first.

So, a confession.

I do not have Ben DiNucci takes. At least, I do not have thoroughly researched Ben DiNucci takes. I know the New England Patriots were interested in him, which carries some weight. I know he is competitively tough, given a touchdown run he had against Richmond when he ran a defender over at the goalline. I know he began his career at Pittsburgh, and transferred to James Madison of the FCS after losing his starting job. I know he led the Dukes to the National Championship Game this past season, before they lost to North Dakota State. I know he has clean mechanics, solid footwork as a passer, moves well in the pocket, and after throwing 12 interception as a junior he took much better care of the football in 2019, throwing just six interceptions and completing a career-high 71% of his throws.

Had this been, say, Brian Lewerke or Case Cookus, I would have had more researched analysis for you. But the truth is, I do not. So let’s move on.

Tommy Stevens: New Orleans Saints

Tommy Shelby: You can change what you do, but you can’t change what you want.

Yes, we have reached the Taysom Hill 2.0 part of the draft.

Despite inking the versatile offensive weapon to a contract extension over the weekend, the New Orleans Saints added his potential clone in Tommy Stevens, a quarterback from Mississippi State who began his career at Penn State, but transferred to Mississippi State back in April of 2019. He was in a battle for the starting job with Sean Clifford and Will Levis, but according to Stevens’ father his son’s relationship with the Penn State staff led to a decision to transfer.

That brought him to the SEC and Mississippi State. Last year he appeared in nine games for the Bulldogs, completing 60.2% of his passes for 1,115 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with five interceptions. He also averaged 4.6 yards per carry on the ground. But he was not the full-time starter, as he battled injuries and inconsistency, and as he looked to the NFL he began to embrace the idea of a more athletic role in the league. During his time in Penn State as the backup to Trace McSorley, he was often used as a gadget player. “I played a little bit of running back, I would catch passes out of the backfield, I’d play tight end, come across the ball and leak out into the flat. I’d line up at receiver. I would line up at QB and run, direct snap, run power and zone-sucker-reads. We were very creative,” he told the Indianapolis Star during the Combine.

That versatility, a change back to what he was doing at Penn State, seems to be what Sean Payton has in mind for him. During a video conference after the Saints selected the quarterback, Payton led with this opening statement: “Listen, Tommy Stevens is a player that we kind of followed throughout the whole draft process. Of course you guys know kind of his story relative to transferring into Mississippi State. We’ve seen him at quarterback and we’ve also seen him do a number of different things kind of in that F tight end role. We think he’s a real good athlete and we kind of have a vision that’ll start with quarterback, but a little bit much like Taysom (Hill).”

Interestingly enough, Stevens shared what started his unique role at Penn State:

I kind of originally tell this story and it’s going to kind of come off as selfish in a way, but I was really bored with the first four weeks of our season. This is my redshirt freshman year at Penn State. I went to our quarterback’s coach, Coach (Joe) Moorhead, and was like, hey, coach is there anything I can do? I really want to do something, can I run down on kickoff? Can I be a gunner on punt, can I just do something? He immediately put the running down on kickoff to bed. He was like, yeah, you’re not going to do that, but we’ve got some things that we’re going to be able to use you and kind of create some pain for other defenses and that’s what we did.

Stevens changed what he did, and it brought him to the cusp of what he wanted: A role on a football team.

 

Nate Stanley: Minnesota Vikings

Tommy Shelby: You have to get what you want your own way.

Let us begin with a very bold prediction:

Nate Stanley is the backup quarterback in Minnesota next season.

Similar to Cole McDonald, he enters the first preseason of his NFL career in a good spot. The Vikings have two quarterbacks in front of him (Sean Mannion and Jake Browning) but the fit with Minnesota’s offense is almost ideal for Stanley. So much of what the Vikings do is similar to what Stanley was running at Iowa, including play-action plays off of drops from center, play-action boots off of outside zone designs, and route concepts that seem to be taken from the same playbook. Stanley is in a very good position to grab a job during training camp, even an abbreviated session.

Not bad for a late round pick.

and finally…

Joe Burrow: Cincinnati Bengals

Arthur Shelby: This place is under new management, by order of the Peaky Blinders.

Cincinnati, too, is under new management. That of Joe Burrow’s.

Sometimes a photo is all you need.

Categories: 2020 NFL Draft, Mark Schofield, Matt Waldman, Players, QuarterbackTags: , , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Well done. Btw, it’s Tom Hardy, not Ed.

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