Who Mark Schofield is Watching: Senior Bowl Edition

Draft season rolls on, and at the 2016 Senior Bowl eight quarterbacks have a chance to showcase their skills for potential future employers. After four straight days of shoveling snow and watching Transformers: Rescue Bots, Mark Schofield is ready for Mobile, AL. Here is what he will be watching.

Carson Wentz

It should be no surprise that I’m most excited to see the Bison quarterback in person. I’ve been watching and writing about the NDSU product since December of 2014, and even with limited action this season Wentz demonstrated upper-level ability in a number of core quarterback traits. Wentz’s talents include accuracy, athletic ability, play strength and arm talent. This game against Northern Iowa ended with a game-winning drive featuring elite-level throws, such as this one:

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The QB finds senior wideout Zach Vraa along the sideline with a rocket. Notice the torque that Wentz generates with his chest and left shoulder, ripping his upper body through this throw.

One aspect of Wentz’s game to watch is his footwork. The quarterback often throws from a very wide stance, which lowers his release point and can get him into a bit of trouble with passes being knocked down at the line of scrimmage. A QB with his size should not have many passes tipped, and Wentz needs to work on both his footwork and standing tall in the pocket.

In addition, if he is forced to reset and scramble, the wide platform slows him down bit. Think back to driving school when “10 and 2” was stressed to young drivers. In a fight or flight moment, having your hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 gives the driver the best base from which to respond, regardless of direction. The same works for quarterbacks. Proper footwork and spacing establishes a solid base from which the quarterback can execute any necessary movement ‒ run, pass, or duck.

Dak Prescott

Prescott highlights the second tier of quarterback prospects in this draft. The Mississippi State senior quarterback showed improvements in his game from last season. When looking at his tape a number of things stand out, including his ability to work through progressions and manipulate defenders:

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Prescott executes this play perfectly. After carrying out the fake, he shifts his eyes to the single-receiver on the left. He recognizes the corner blitz, as well as the weakside safety rotating over to cover the intended target. The QB does not panic, trusting the blocking scheme and staying in the pocket, as he works through his next set of reads. Finding Ross, he executes a perfectly-placed throw.

The thing to watch this week is Prescott’s accuracy. If he can be more consistent with ball placement, he could be moving up draft boards.

Jacoby Brissett

The North Carolina State quarterback entered 2015 as a very interesting prospect based off his 2014 tape. I wanted to see him develop his skills and show the traits he would need to succeed at the next level. Brissett is a very tough, strong quarterback with a solid arm. He does some things well, including the ability to keep his eyes downfield and work progressions, as illustrated in this edition of First Sound.

The issue with Brissett is his play speed. The signal caller has not shown the ability to quickly process information and make decisions. His process for working through progressions is slow, almost methodical. He needs to show  quicker decision-making ‒ and the right decision when releasing the football. During 7-on-7 “skeleton” situations in Mobile, evaluators will have a chance to see if Brissett can improve this aspect of his game.

Kevin Hogan

It seems some evaluators stopped watching Hogan tape after the season-opener against Northwestern. If so, they are missing a quarterback who got better each week. While his performance against the Wildcats was head-scratching at times, the senior QB finds himself in Mobile with a chance to improve his draft positioning because of how he improved and refined his game on each drive.

Hogan is a poised player against the blitz, and very experienced in operating both under center and in the shotgun. One of the traits that stands out to me is his arm talent. One of the key questions scouts ask about a quarterback is: “Can he throw the deep out?” This pass pattern is where arm strength often determines the outcome of the play. Given enough velocity, even tight coverage can fail to prevent the completion. But if the pass hangs in the air, a defensive back can recover and break up the pass. The level of difficulty increases when the throw is made from one hashmark to the opposite sideline, especially in the college game where the hashmarks are wider than in the NFL:

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This is a very impressive throw. Hogan releases the pass from the 16-yard line and Cajuste pulls it in at the 38-yard line. But remember, this pass comes from the left hashmark to the right sideline, so while it goes down as a 22-yard completion in the box score, this throw covers nearly forty yards on the fly. Hogan exhibits good footwork and technique, gathering himself before throwing, leaving the linebacker no chance to break up the pass. It is also located perfectly, leading Cajuste toward the sideline and away from coverage.

Two areas Hogan needs to improve upon are deep accuracy and play speed. While generally accurate on short and intermediate throws, Hogan’s accuracy lags on vertical throws down the field. In addition, while the QB can at times process the information necessary to decipher the defensive scheme and deliver the big play , he needs to be more consistent in this area.

Cody Kessler

Another veteran signal-caller from the Pac-12, Kessler endured off-the-field turmoil during his senior campaign. When he is on and in rhythm, Kessler is an accurate passer who makes plays with timing and anticipation:

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Against Arkansas State the Trojans employ a spot concept to the left. The fullback runs a swing route, while the tight end executes a corner route. Rodgers runs the quick hitch, starting to the inside on a slant then hitting the breaks and finding a soft area in the coverage:

KesslerOT1Play1Still3

The progression on this play asks the quarterback to first look to the swing route in the flat, then to the snag route, and finally to the corner route. Kessler first looks to the running back on the swing in the flat. But because of the defender, the quarterback abandons the swing route and moves to his second read, the snag route.

This is Good Kessler, moving from his first read to his second quickly and showing great ball placement and timing. The throw is coming out just as the receiver is settling into the underneath zone. The timing and placement of the pass put the WR in position to secure the football and turn upfield after the catch, before defenders can close on him. When Kessler is in rhythm he can use anticipation and timing to mitigate his arm strength, and puts receivers in position to pick up yardage after the catch.

The biggest question mark surrounding Kessler is that issue of arm talent. Scouts are very curious to see how he looks in person, and how that football looks spinning out of his hand on each throw. Unless there is more zip on each pass than I expect, Kessler will be dogged by this question until Draft Day.

Jake Coker

The Crimson Tide product heads to Mobile fresh off a national championship victory. He possesses above-average arm talent, as well as the ability to make throws under duress and deliver accurate anticipation throws down the field. All of these traits were on display against Clemson in the National Championship Game:

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Expect to see a lot of that throw any time his name is mentioned during the draft process this spring.

Similar to Prescott, consistent ball placement is an issue for Coker. He struggles at times with both ideal ball placement and general accuracy. If you watched the Coaches’ Film Room broadcast of the NCG, you likely recall a throw on a deep out pattern to the left sideline that Coker sailed, leaving the coaches groaning. With some improved consistency in this area, Coker likely moves up draft boards

Jeff Driskel & Brandon Allen

Blame the snow if you want, but these two quarterbacks are blank slates to me at this point in the evaluation process. I’ve only seen limited tape on each, so I’ll be curious to get a general impression on both players, and then come back home ‒ hopefully with less snow ‒ and continue my work on them.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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 Draft Breakdown and ESPN.

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