Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, a new segment: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.
While not the recommended method of player evaluation, sometimes a single play or two can give a scout a window into the true capabilities of a prospect. Some great football writers, such as Matt Waldman with his Boiler Room series, do impressive work breaking down individual plays, but even they would concede that you need more than one play to complete a full evaluation.
The issue of whether a college quarterback is “pro ready” is one of constant debate in football circles. Kevin Clark with the Wall Street Journal recently penned an article illustrating the depth of the NFL’s “quarterback problem,” with anecdotes on recent draft prospects who were unable to identify the Mike linebacker, for example. While I would posit that no quarterback is ever truly ready to make the jump to the professional game (especially from game one) college QBs can demonstrate traits and abilities on film that suggest a smoother transition to playing on Sundays.
A quarterback that has flown under the radar to date is Brandon Doughty from Western Kentucky. He returned to school on a sixth-year of eligibility for medical hardship, after suffering two season-ending knee injuries in previous years. He has put up incredible statistics for the Hilltoppers over the last two seasons, including 2014 where he completed over 67% of his passes for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns. Some draft analysts, such as Justin Higdon envision a professional future for Doughty and I would agree. Part of the reasoning for this opinion can be found in these two plays from WKU’s game against Louisiana Tech.
Play One – Working from Read One to Read Two
One element that many rookie quarterbacks lack in their game coming out of college is the ability to work through progressions in the passing game. In a growing number of college systems, QBs are tasked with making a number of reads during a play, beginning with the run/pass option. While these schemes require the quarterback to choose between a number of different options, they are not progressions in the traditional sense of the word. Asking a quarterback to identify the coverage on the fly and work from receiver to receiver is a different challenge, and one that some rookies are learning as they adjust to the professional game. Understanding, and even feeling, the coverage is a different task altogether.
On this play, the Hilltoppers face a 1st and 10 near midfield. Doughty is in the shotgun with 10 offensive personnel in the game, in a 2X2 alignment. Louisiana Tech has their 4-2-5 sub package in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
Prior to the play, the running back sets in deep motion to the left, and a linebacker trails him. The offense runs dual slants on the backside of this play, and Doughty now knows that he will face man coverage on the outside, given the linebacker shifting outside in response to the motion:
At the snap, the QB looks first at the inside slant route. As the shorter (easier) throw this is his first read. But the second linebacker, Beau Fitte (#6) drops into the underneath “hole” in this coverage, to help against slant routes and other shorter pass patterns:
As the play develops, Doughty checks the inside slant but the linebacker is breaking under this route. The QB quickly resets and shifts his eyes to the outside (you can see a slight reset from Doughty) and then fires to his second read, the outside slant route:
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Not only is this a quick illustration of working progressions, even if just from first to second, it gives us a glimpse at Doughty’s arm talent and ability to see (or feel) the underneath coverage. The pocket is collapsing at the QB’s feet, so he cannot step into this throw. But given the narrow throwing window, he needs to put enough velocity on the pass to squeeze the throw into his target.
In addition, Fitte keeps rotation from the inside slant to the outside slant, meaning not only does Doughty have to zip the throw into a narrow window, he needs to somehow fit the throw around the LB. The replay angle shows just how he does this:
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The pass tracks just over the outstretched arm of the LB, perfectly placing the ball into the waiting hands of wide receiver Antwane Grant (#3).
Play Two – Full Field Progressions
While the previous play gives us a snapshot of Doughty making a quick two-progression decision, here we see the QB working the entire field. Western Kentucky has 20 offensive personnel on the field, with Doughty in the shotgun, an inverted slot on the right and both running backs in the backfield. The Bulldogs have their 4-2-5 package in the game, with a safety in a linebacker’s alignment, showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
On the backside the Hilltopppers use a quick curl route, while they have dual underneath crossing routes from the slot WR and the fullback. To the outside, they get a deeper curl route from the outside WR, while Allen turns upfield on a vertical route along the sideline.
As the play begins, Doughty opens up and shoots his eyes to the left at the backside curl route, trying to freeze the free safety in the middle of the field. He then checks the underneath crossing routes – and nearly pulls the trigger. You can see him start the throwing motion and then reset. Then, after checking the deeper curl route, he spots his fourth (or fifth) read: Allen:
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Now that Doughty has spotted a target, he must execute the pass. His throw is perfect, just over the diving attempt of the LB in man coverage, just to the outside shoulder of the RB.
From this view, we can watch the QB’s helmet, and eyes, as he scans the field for an open receiver:
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Notice how he first is staring at free safety Xavier Woods (#7), holding the defender in place. Doughty then shifts his attention to the underneath crossing routes, then to the curl, and finally to Allen on the outside, where he executes a perfectly placed throw.
Just two plays, but a glimpse into how Doughty’s mind works in the pocket. He can feel underneath coverage, influence defenders with his eyes, and work through a progression system to find an open receiver. Will he have to answer additional concerns leading up to the draft? Of course. But on these two plays, he answered some of those questions.
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Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.