Check With Me: Self-Evaluation and the 2016 QB Class

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Life is filled with lessons and learning experiences. That is a concept that my father instilled in me at a young age and it is an idea I am trying (with varying levels of success) to instill in my own children now. As we age we can take something from our experiences, both the good ones and the bad, and apply the new knowledge in future situations.

That is something I’™ve tried to do with my own work these days.

About a year ago I revisited my 2015 draft rankings. That was my first year doing this quasi-professionally, and I evaluated both the quarterbacks and the wide receivers for Inside the Pylon. One lesson that I learned through that process? If I wanted to do this the right way, I needed to stick to one position and cover it inside and out. Which brings us to the 2016 quarterback class.

Yes, it is time to take a few Ls.

Player Schofield Rank Draft Slot Status
Jared Goff 1 1 Starter – Rams
Carson Wentz 2 2 Starter – Eagles
Paxton Lynch 3 26 Backup – Broncos
Connor Cook 4 100 Backup – Raiders
Vernon Adams 5 UDFA Backup – Tiger-Cats
Cardale Jones 6 139 Backup – Chargers
Cody Kessler 7 93 Backup – Jaguars
Trevone Boykin 8 UDFA Free Agent
Jacoby Brissett 9 91 Backup – Colts
Kevin Hogan 10 162 Backup – Redskins
Vad Lee 11 UDFA Backup – NAL
Jeff Driskel 12 207 Backup – Bengals
Josh Woodrum 13 UDFA Backup – Ravens
Brandon Doughty 14 223 Backup – Cardinals
Christian Hackenberg 15 51 Backup – Jets
Jake Rudock 16 191 Backup – Lions
Dak Prescott 17 135 Starter – Cowboys
Brandon Allen 18 201 Backup – Rams
Nate Sudfeld 19 187 Backup – Eagles
Jake Coker 20 UDFA Free Agent

 

Ok, so where do we begin, exactly?

Honestly, there’s part of me that wants to point to Goff and Wentz at the top, Hackenberg where I ranked him, and call it a day. Who would blame me for that? I mean, I had Goff as my QB1 in the summer prior to that 2015-2016 season, and I was one of the first people writing about Wentz back before people truly knew who he was. As for Hackenberg, well, there were many of us screaming that he wasn’t exactly the ideal second-round pick, even though many of us also saw that pick coming from a mile away.

But this is supposed to be a learning process, so it’s time to focus on what I missed.

Early on, we see Cook in the fourth spot, but the Michigan State quarterback fell to the fourth round and has seen minimal action for the Oakland Raiders. Cook did start a playoff game in 2016, but when Derek Carr was injured last season, the team turned to E.J. Manuel instead of Cook to replace the injured starter. Cook was knocked for his mentality off the field, but I viewed his arrogance as a positive, instead of a negative. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that thought when evaluating players.

Vernon Adams. What can I say? I bought in, and you can make the argument that I actually missed twice on him. Here’s what I wrote, in part, about the former Oregon Duck:

Adams is a lightning rod in draft circles at the moment. Many evaluators believe he is worthy of a high draft pick, myself included. But every report coming out of the NFL right now is that he is likely a UDFA, and he himself indicated that he has not even visited with a team (or worked out for a team) since the Combine. So, here’s a possible one- and three-year projection:

Adams goes undrafted, or a team decides to take a flier on him late in the 7th round. He goes into a camp, but because of limited reps during practice and early in the preseason, he finds himself on the wrong end of a numbers game, and is cut. He goes to the CFL, where he ends up doing very, very well over the next three years.

Meanwhile, one (or more) of the teams that passed on him for a more “standard / polished” quarterback in this draft find themselves in a precarious situation when their starter goes down next year, and the player they drafted to be the backup fails to produce. This team (or these teams) are left rummaging through the scrapheap of other failed QBs while their fanbases wonder why a contingency plan was not in place. Three years from now, these franchises again try to address the QB position … and again reach for a more conventional model.

The NFL. Rinse, lather and repeat.

Now imagine for a moment a franchise actually drafts Adams sometime on Day 2 or early Day 3, and puts a plan in place for him to be successful, giving him reps in practice, placing him in an offense that suits his skill set. His ceiling in the NFL might very well be a backup QB. But as a threshold matter, QB2 is a pretty important position to begin with, as the Dallas Cowboys would tell you. But beyond that, I think even in his rookie season in the NFL (and if given the chance as outlined) Adams might not do enough to win the backup job outright, but he is the type of player (and has the type of playstyle) that can come off the bench in the second quarter of a game with the starter hurt or ineffective, and spark a team to a win. His athletic ability, improvisational skill and ability to play on structure are valuable to an offense in those scenarios. He might not be the guy year one that you turn to for an extended stretch, perhaps opting for a veteran option in that scenario, but for a one-game situation, he’s a viable option. Perhaps that’s his ceiling, a guy who comes off the bench for a game or two each season and guides his team to a win. What is that worth to a franchise? Maybe check with teams the past few years that could have gotten into the playoffs with one more win.

Vernon Adams can deliver wins for a football team. Whether that happens in the NFL or the CFL remains to be seen.

So I kinda nailed the reality, except he hasn’t exactly been lighting up the CFL. And in a bit of foreshadowing, we see a reference to the Dallas Cowboys. I stand by the argument that teams need to address QB2 often, given the importance of that position. After all, the past three Super Bowl winners all saw a backup play for extended periods. As for the lessons from Vernon Adams? Sometimes in the search for the exception we might find ourselves pushing the boundaries a bit, in terms of collegiate scheme, size, and other thresholds that quarterbacks are tested on. Adams might have been the search for the ultimate outlier, and it went badly for me. I can at least be thankful that I only had him fifth, and not higher…

Looking through the rest of the list, not many names stand out early on. I was higher on both Cardale Jones and Trevone Boykin than the league was, but I stand by both of those evaluations. I still believe there is a good QB inside of Jones waiting to come out, and perhaps it will out west. Boykin’™s draft stock was hurt by some off-the-field issues during his bowl week, and he was recently released from Seattle due to some more off-the-field issues, as his girlfriend accused him of a brutal physical assault.

But I’™ve put it off long enough. It’s time to take the L of Ls.

Dak Prescott. QB17.

To try to understand how I missed, I’ve read and re-read my profile on him, and I’ve read and re-read all my notes from studying him. My hesitation with Prescott came down to an accuracy/ball-placement fear. There were things I liked about him, which I will get to, but my ultimate fear was that Prescott was not consistent enough in terms of putting the football where it needed to be, when it needed to be. As I wrote:

Accuracy is a major area of concern with Prescott, as he struggles with precise ball placement on short and intermediate throws. He can deliver deeper passes with the general accuracy necessary for those plays to succeed, but left a number of yards and plays on the field in the shorter passing game by failing to put the football where it needs to be. Play speed for Prescott is a double-edged sword. He plays fast enough and processes information quickly enough on some plays, but there are times when his reads and decisions are almost made at a frenetic pace. This causes him to give up on route concepts and not be patient enough for them to break open, forcing him off structure and into perilous situations. This was evident against Alabama in 2014 when he missed a number of open receivers and was then put into a position to force throws late in the play that went for interceptions. He also needs to improve his footwork as he moves to the NFL, as he was primarily a shotgun QB with some pistol concepts.

I just did not see the accuracy and placement on a consistent enough basis to be convinced Prescott could succeed at the next level with this hang-up. I hoped to see more of him in person, down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. But he was missing throws in practices that you would expect him to hit. In the end, I thought without marked improvement in ball placement, his ceiling was that of spot-starter/long term backup:

Scouts and evaluators are varied on Prescott. Some believe that his skill set translates well to the next level and believe he is perhaps the number four quarterback in the class. Others are simply not sold. After reviewing his tape from the past two seasons, it is clear that Prescott has made a leap as a quarterback from his junior year to his senior year. He has improved in his ability to operate from the pocket and work through reads on both sides of the field. However, the inaccuracy is a big sticking point, and given the difficulties present in trying to scheme around inaccuracy, it is tough for me to see Prescott’s transition to the NFL going well, absent a remarkable change in this area. He is likely a long-term backup in the NFL, with the potential to be a spot-starter given his more impressive skills, such as play strength, arm talent and athletic ability, which can be enough to win games off the bench.

Now, there were things I liked about him that I wrote about, particularly his aggression and ability to make throws downfield. That’s why I projected him to a downfield, Air Coryell type of system. One that he is currently running a facsimile of in Dallas, given Jason Garrett’s influence on the offense.

But what did I miss? How was my ranking on him so far divorced from reality? Was there something right under my nose that I didn’t account for, or didn’t weigh enough? As I re-read my scouting notes, it turns out that there was:

Those are my notes after watching his 2014 game against Alabama. For those who might need a translation from my lawyer-influenced chicken scratch:

Gun 11 OP Split R Trey L v 4-2-5 Red 2 look PS (presnap)- Stick nod –>†’ Great throw here to the nod for TD – + CT (Competitve Toughness)

Very competitively tough player – can manipulate defenders with eyes – good play speed but does come off routes too quickly @ times – does force throws @ times – great athlete – good to great arm talent w/upper tier velocity

Competitive toughness. That’s what I missed, or more accurately, that’s what I didn’t give enough weight. Because in a league where every single player is among the best in the world at what they do, that’s what separates the good from the great. At a position where mental toughness is just as important as physical toughness, that’s a trait that cannot be undersold. It’s what drives you to hang in the pocket against the blitz on third down to give the route a chance to break open. It’s what convinces you to put in the extra hours of work to study film and learn blitz tendencies. It’s what convinces you to put your body on the line in a National Championship Game.

It’s what makes you put in the work to be ready when you get your shot.

I did not give it the weight it deserved. If I had, I’d like to think I’d have been much, much higher on Prescott than I was. Maybe not, but hopefully I would have.

Which brings us to the ultimate lesson from this class.

As I stated at the outset, life is filled with little learning experiences. This lesson, my miss on Prescott, is a pretty big one. But what did I learn? Not to undersell competitive toughness in the future. I mentioned œputting your body on the line in a National Championship Game” a few paragraphs ago, and with good reason. Because when it came time to study the 2017 QB class, I planted myself firmly on Deshaun Watson Hill. Why? Because of that competitive toughness I saw from him. Were there other traits I liked about Watson? Sure, but that was the extra boost to him that put him atop the rankings.

It is something similar with Baker Mayfield, who will shortly be officially unveiled as my QB2 in this class.

Is this a wild reaction? A drastic overcorrection? Time will tell. But this is all a learning process; we are all learning together, and for me, I don’t think I’ll miss on a guy’s competitive toughness again.

Helping Another

It took all of a few drills to realize Shawn was different. To realize that he was an athlete on another level from me. We were both 10, our Pop Warner season was just getting underway, but there was something about Shawn Feeney on a football field that stood out from the start.

For the next eight years I had a front row seat to watch him excel on the field, usually in the form of handing him the football and getting out of the way. With me under center and him in the backfield, along with some other great, great players, our Pop Warner team went through the years racking up league and division titles, and qualifying for nationals one year (although our name was not pulled out of the hat, sadly).

Shawn was so talented that when we got to high school as freshmen, and our varsity team was challenging for both a league title and a spot in the Eastern Mass Division Title Game, the varsity coaches wanted to find a way to get him on the field. So Shawn took up long-snapping. And wouldn’t you know it, on a chilly day at Nickerson Field (back when Boston University played football), it was Shawn delivering a perfect snap on what would be the game-winning PAT.

When we were seniors I was again handing him the football and getting out of the way, as Shawn went on to set a Waltham High single-season rushing record. He was also challenging for the state title in touchdowns scored, and I still regret to this day sniping a TD from him against Arlington when I called for a QB sneak down on the goal-line. In my defense, everyone in the stadium knew Shawn was getting the ball … but that’s beside the point, he would have scored anyway.

Shawn went on to play in college at the Division 2 level, and I was not surprised when he was voted a captain in school. Because on top of everything else, Shawn was a leader.

He still is.

Next Monday is the Boston Marathon. And among the countless runners taking on Heartbreak Hill will be Shawn, and for a very good cause. Shawn is running in support of Neurofibromatosis Northeast, a program promoting research and awareness for Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors to grow on the nerves, anywhere in the body.

If you could, check out the below page where there is a link to donate. If you can, tell Shawn that Scho sent you, he might get a kick out of that.

https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/sfeeney/2018-boston-marathon

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out all his work here, like his piece on RPOs as the next evolution of the hi-low concept and Deshaun Watson’s processing speed.

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