Pro Bowl QB Discussion

January 29, 2011

Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Michael Vick lace them up for the NFC this Pro Bowl and the trio provide a glimpse at the definition of the NFL QB. Brees, the consummate professional is undoubtedly disappointed that he isn’t too busy preparing for the ‘Big Dance’ to take up his spot, but a somewhat down year for the New Orleans passer will have him primed for a better 2011. Ryan represents the young star on the rise. You could see that his star is already ascended, with the Falcons outstanding regular season and Ryan’s tremendous year, but a playoff clunker will be a good reminder of how young Ryan really is. And Vick. Well, nobody would have predicted he would be here, let alone among the NFL MVP leading pollers. Vick is the show of what can be amazing about the NFL, the pure athleticism, the chance for a bad story turned good. Lets hope it stays good.

On the other side, the AFC, the trio of Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers and Matt Cassel represent some of the understatedness of the NFL. Manning needs no introduction, but his low key off-field demeanour belies his achievements and the respect he commands. He is no doubting hurting after the COlts playoff exit, and will likely let that fuel his offseason. Rivers makes his Pro Bowl debut as a voted in player. Rivers was an early season MVP candidate, carrying his Chargers on his shoulders, only to have their disastrous special teams play take it away. Cassel earns his nod on the back of Tom Brady’s withdrawal. Cassel was discussed as one of the snubs of the voting process, plying his trade quietly down in KC. The Chiefs piled up their best season in recent memory and the play of Cassel was a big part. When the Chiefs had a late season slide, much of it fell on Cassel’s shoulders and he will be more resilient in dealing with that.

I always enjoy the Pro Bowl as a spectacle and show case, never more than seeing the players interact around the resort and at practice. But this position group, they were all business. Aloha.

Tim Tebow reignited the thought in my head during the ESPN documentary last week. Are we being unfair in considering limitations of QBs based on how much they did or didn’t do something in college? Obviously Tebow was a clear discussion point in regard to that – “Will have to learn to take snaps from under center” etc. Just because his coach and system in college didn’t ask him to, doesn’t mean he can’t. The same discussion comes up with many other QBs who play in a particularly system or scheme.

Lets look at Mike Vick. In his Va Tech days he ran a pretty pro-style offense. It allowed him to do some drop passing, roll-out stuff and make some plays as a scrambler. At Philadelphia he runs the West Coast Offense. If he were a HS prospect today, many would be suggesting he should be used in a spread offense with some zone read. And you know what…he would excel at that. That is three different schemes that could and would work for Mike Vick. Now, don’t get me wrong, not every QB has the broad skill set of Vick, but isn’t this reflective of what others could do?

The Air-Raid and Run and Shoot offenses have seen some prolific passers over time in college. Have all of these QBs gone on to  be NFL stars? No. If you look at Colt Brennan, David Klinger, Graham Harrell etc. All were very successful in their college time, but couldn’t crack the NFL long term because they were ideal for a system that was in place in their college. Just not the systems in place for most of the NFL franchises. If the Houston Oilers were still cranking out the Run and Shoot, then you may have seen a perfect NFL system fit, but the case for drafting such a narrow range of QB is hard to swallow for many GMs who know the need for contribution early from draft picks, and the pressure is on with QB selections especially. I am sure that each of these players, if surrounded by the right personnel, entrenched in the right system and given the opportunity to develop, could well have been successful. But they represent a large portion of the ‘system guy’ talk, and for the purpose of NFL drafting, I can see their point.

In considering the case of a QB like Denard Robinson and his predicament as a successful QB in a RR zone read offense, things get interesting. No doubt D-Rob is ideal for this scheme. It plays to his strengths. He was recruited to Michigan for his ability to play in this system, the same as why Ryan Mallett left Michigan because he didn’t fit the system being introduced. With a new coach in place, many are wondering if there is still a place for DR in the ‘Pro-Style offense’ being introduced by OC Al Borges. Maybe DR can comfortably adjust and run a system that Mike Vick thrived in. Maybe he won’t. If he doesn’t, many will consider that Denard didn’t fit the scheme introduced. Maybe we should be considering if maybe the scheme didn’t fit with the players in place. Robinson is the brightest spark on the Michigan team by far. I would consider the staff should be showing their flexibility to move to him, not the other way round. But this is about ego of course, power and control. My question is whether the desire to implement a new system for this purpose may see a lack of success which may see the coaching carousel spin again!

No doubt QBs have strengths and weaknesses. For some it is their strong arm and pocket presence. Others, their run-pass threat. Then you have the QBs who are accurate and read the field well. Not all can do all. So you play to their strengths. Give them opportunities to do what they do best. DO that, and as coaches you will do best. If you are desiring a move to a new system, sure, recruit for it, and build upwards towards it. Just don’t try to change it overnight. The leash of Div 1 Head Coaches is very short.

So we have a number of pre-draft activities to dissect before we even start selecting, but already the buzz around the QB class is huge. Not because of the quality, but because of the dire need at the position. The biggest disaster of the draft already for NFL GMs wanting QB help was the decision of Andrew Luck to stay at Stanford. This was a huge boon for the other QBs whose stock just rose. Here are some early thoughts…

First off the board – Blaine Gabbert, Missouri. Has all the tools, the physique and the character that teams love. Will be gone by 5.

Biggest reach who gets taken in the first – Cam Newton, Auburn. Some team won’t be able to help themselves with his athleticism and potential. Think VY lite (but heavier).

Best QB to be taken after the first round – Andy Dalton, TCU (guessing R2). Look for Jacksonville to get in on this action.

Draft sleeper – Jerrod Johnson, Texas A & M. Lost his job at A&M when the Aggies got hot without him. Still has all the tools and played under Mike Sherman.

Here is how I see the first round of QB Drafting:

With the 4th Pick, Cincinnati selects Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

With the 8th Pick, Tennessee selects Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

With the 10th Pick, Washington selects Jake Locker, Washington

I see a trade back into the first for someone to take Newton if he declares and look for San Francisco to consider a move to get Christian Ponder if they don’t think he lasts to their second round.

I have to think if Luck is there, that we get more teams pulling the trigger as better value appears for QB as a flow on from there.

We shall see how the combine and pro-days shake it out!

 

 

 

 

The Newton Verdict

January 11, 2011

Cam the Man is a Heisman winner, a national champion and undoubtedly a huge talent. Is he NFL ready? Not yet. Another year of seasoning would do him wonders and probably save him from competing with some more polished performers in the first round. All that being said, he is hotter now than imaginable, and his head and the NCAA looming, will say time to go. But NFL scouts are silly. They don’t get caught up in the hype. The study film, they pick apart mechanics, they find holes in your psyche. They attack character issues head on. Some of these will see major red flags for NFL GMs concerned at throwing money at a young QB. I believe Newton would be best served b returning to defend his Heisman, his National Title and his character. But it won’t happen. Not if family has anything to do with it.

So the Wildcard round is done and dusted. 4 teams exit the postseason, and 4 move on. How did the QB play stack up? Let look at each of the starters.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle. Hasselbeck has not been up to the Pro Bowl form of previous years in 2010, but coming back after injury for the game against the Saints, Hasselbeck was sharp, playing undoubtedly his best game of the year. His supporting cast helped out, receivers and tight ends, not to mention the surprising contribution of the run game, particularly Marshawn Lynch. Hasselbeck will need to be onsong again in Chitown for the Seahawks to move on.

Drew Brees, New Orleans. Brees hasn’t been as sharp this year as in his Superbowl winning form. His INT count is up, and despite making his share of big plays, just wasn’t able to build the rhythm we expect from the Saints passing game. He wasn’t poor, just not as good, and when the NOLA defense plays that poorly, he needs to be out of his skin.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets. Sanchez was what he always is…inconsistent. His up and down performances were overcome by a strong defensive showing and some old school LT running. At times Sanchez is maddeningly inefficient. Other times, downright special. For the Jets to have any shot against the Pats, he needs to be special all day. He certainly needs to get Edwards and Holmes more involved as his obvious keying on Dustin Keller was almost his downfall.

Peyton Manning, Indianapolis. Peyton missed his slot guys. Blair White isn’t Austin Collie and when he went down against Jax last week, I knew Peyton would struggle to overcome it. Manning threw some typically classy balls, but was not insync all night and the Jets certainly aimed up.

Joe Flacco, Baltimore. Flacco is often overshadowed by his classmate Matt Ryan, but the kid is a star. He has the moxie, the skills and the supporting cast to take the Ravens all the way. He was on point all night and despite some tendencies to hang onto the ball a fraction long, his use of TE TOdd Heap and WR Anquan Boldin across the middle showed maturity and the understanding of the game. Baltimore will be even money with Pittsburgh next week.

Matt Cassel, Kansas City. A lot of Chiefs fans were miffed at the Pro Bowl snub of Cassel. He did have a strong year, but he showed today why he is not yet elite. Admittedly, the Ravens defense hounded him and a lack of playmakers in the receiving corps made it tough. TUrnovers were costly and Baltimore picked him apart.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay. Rodgers is one of my favourite QBs in the league. Nobody throws a prettier ball and his intangibles are out of this world. He hasn’t been as comfortable over the past couple of weeks, but if James Jones had some hands, he would have made this game a more clear victory. With the emergence of a running game, ROdgers becomes even more dangerous.  Rogers vs Ryan should be spectacular next week.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia. Mistakes when it counted. That is what hurt the Eagles. Vick made som beautiful plays, as he does, but seemed at times unsure in his progressions, especially as Green Bay presented some different looks and less blitz pressure than expected. Vick has done enough to carry the starting gig into next year, but the Eagles shouldn’t be too quick to throw away Kolb yet. Admittedly, DeSean Jackson was hobbled today, but Vick needs to get Celek more involved.

Some of the game’s best go under center in the Divisional Round as Tom Brady and Matt Ryan tee off, along with Big Ben Roethlisberger and the enigmatic Jay Cutler.

 

In no other year has there been more needs at the QB position in the NFL. Unfortunately, for QB hungry teams, the prize of the class won’t be there. Underclassman Andrew Luck decided to return to Stanford for his senior season and a shot at the heisman. Luck also cited his desire to complete his degree, an admirable choice. Luck was virtually guaranteed to go #1 overall, so this is a huge decision.

What does it mean for the flow on? Well, it means good news for Jimmy Clausen. He gets another shot in all likeliness. For the other First Round hopefuls, it potentially boosts their stock, but there aren’t any can’t miss picks.

The nearest to the sure thing (of course there is no such thing) is IMHO Blaine Gabbert of Missouri. Gabbert has the tools, the mental edge, the intangibles and the production. He should be the first off the board, but so much is put into the pre-draft workouts that the sheer skill, athleticism and potential of some of the other contenders could edge them closer.

Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, although yet to declare, will be one who follows up his stellar season with some wonderous workouts. His physique and natural skills will possibly be overshadowed by the lack of volume of his work and queries about how his game will translate to the pro game. The Vince Young failures of recent times may alarm some, although the return to form of Michael Vick could work in his favour.

Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett has the prototypical NFL build and rocket arm for a pocket passer. He has been somewhat inconsistent and is prone to the odd brain explosion. But the question is, is Mallett more Joe Flacco or more Ryan Leaf?

Jake Locker. Nobody can get a fix on him. A year ago he would have been in the discussion to go #1 overall. He returned to Washington hoping to have a strong senior year and polish his pro credibilities under Steve Sarkisian. But hasn’t been. Locker has been down this year and has seen his stock slide. He passes the eye test and the character test, but he will still need some nurturing.

Another high choice candidate who underperformed this year was Christian Ponder. The FSU signal-caller had injuries disrupt his year, but still showed some of what makes scouts get excited. He also showed the inconsistency that maddens.

There are needs everywhere, but the risk/reward balance will be one that GMs and HCs really have to work out.