[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Welcome to the debut of “Check with Me”, a semi-regular column on Inside the Pylon where former college quarterback, Mark Schofield, addresses topics, trends, and issues involving arguably the most important position on the field. Whether they are issues on the Twitter timeline, debates raging on network shows, or just QB-related topics that pop up, Mark will do his best to dive into them and go beyond 140 characters. Because decision-making doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and sometimes you need context to get a complete picture. In the first installment of this piece, Mark dives into Davis Webb in the first round chatter, Deshaun Watson and velocity, and talks about two potential late-round sleepers.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Is Davis Webb a First-Round Quarterback?
One of the constants of every draft season is the late push from a quarterback to land in the first round. This is something we see every year, and while it may not always materialize (see Savage, Tom or Nassib, Ryan) it remains an annual ritual of the pre-draft process. This year, after the “Big Four” of Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, and DeShone Kizer, the name on most people’s lips for first-round status is Davis Webb, the California quarterback who left Texas Tech after losing his job to Mahomes. But is he really worth the first round pick?
In a vacuum, no.
Looking at these five quarterbacks in a vacuum, it is hard to truly plant the flag and argue that all five are worth a first-round selection right now. All of them will need to refine – or even rebuild – aspects to their playing style and don’t have the polish many first round QBs possess. Mahomes has footwork and technique issues, Trubisky and Kizer have mechanical flaws, Watson faces questions over his decision-making and arm strength, and Webb has his warts as well. But quarterback thirst is real, and this offseason is yet one more example of that basic fact. Look at the contracts signed by Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, and Mike Glennon as examples. Look at the potential trade value of a Jimmy Garoppolo, with only 1.5 NFL starts to his name. Teams need stability at quarterback and are willing to mortgage their draft and trade capital to secure it.
That brings us to Webb. As I outlined recently on the Setting the Edge podcast, Webb is limited right now schematically. He throws a great deep ball – perhaps best in this class – but the rest of the route tree is a mixed bag at this point. The ideal landing spot for him is either in Baltimore or Arizona, where he could slowly work his way into the lineup in a vertical-based passing offense. That would fit what he can do now, as well as give him some time to refine the rest of the route tree. Is that worth a first-round selection? Even for those teams, I would argue “no.” You can probably wait on Webb until the second round and select him early on day two. I could also see an argument for trading back into the late first round to secure that fifth-year option, depending on the cost in terms of draft picks. But that is for those two teams, and others like them that look to get the ball downfield in the passing game and might need to address the QB position in a year or two.
But for the bulk of teams, Webb is not the best schematic fit. Teams cannot live on the nine route alone. For a true West Coast team, or teams that look to run timing-based offenses like New England’s, or teams that attack the intermediate area of the field, Webb is a projection right now. As Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar recently found by sitting down with Webb, the young signal caller seems to have a mind for the game and seems to be an intelligent quarterback, but he’s still a projection to any other offensive style. Given those question marks, it seems like a bridge too far to select him in the first round based on the hopeful projection that he can pick up a system that he is ill-suited for at this point in time.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Deshaun Watson and the Velocity Question
In the days following the 2017 NFL Combine, most of the writers in attendance, as well as those evaluators who watched from afar, seemed to agree on one point: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was the best passer during the on-the-field drills. His workout was “sizzling.” He “struck a chord” with Mike Mayock. Watson “turned heads” and “excelled on the big stage.” But then, in a Friday afternoon news dump worthy of Inside the Beltway intrigue, Dan Shonka from Ourlads posted his velocity numbers from the combine. At the top, unsurprisingly, was Patrick Mahomes with a throw clocked at 59 mph. But you had to look a while to find Watson’s name on the list. And when you did, it was down near the bottom: 45 mph.
Now, Dan has been tracking this data since 2008, and there are some questions about the methodology and the sample collected to date. Not all quarterbacks throw at the combine, so it’s unclear what numbers players like Johnny Manziel, Andrew Luck, or Robert Griffin III would have posted in a similar situation. But from the data we have, the results do not show an easy or even likely path to NFL success for Watson. Benjamin Allbright, who has been compiling Shonka’s velocity numbers since their inception as part of his quarterback spreadsheet, considers anything under 55 mph to be “undraftable.” And looking at the results from 2008, only one quarterback – Tyrod Taylor – clocked at 50 mph or slower and is starting in the NFL. Only one player over that period of time is a very small hit rate. So is Watson undraftable to me?
I will admit, when that number was announced it gave me a bit of pause. So, armed with the information I went back to the tape. Specifically, I revisited Watson’s 17 interceptions from the past season, an exercise I conducted earlier in the year. I wanted to see if any of the interceptions he threw were solely an arm strength issue. To be sure, some of the interceptions could have been avoided with a stronger throw: The end zone post route against Louisville, the out route against Ohio State in the playoffs, perhaps the smash route against Florida State that he threw on the move. But as is the case with any throw in football, there is more than one way to complete a pass. Quarterbacks can rely more on anticipation and play speed, to get the ball out before breaks and get the ball to the target quicker. Teams can add a scheme component, whether by moving the quarterback around in the pocket or running a West Coast offense with quicker throws where the velocity can be maintained over a shorter distance.
I’ve long believed that in terms of traits, specifically accuracy versus velocity, teams can scheme around a lack of arm strength. But accuracy – or inaccuracy to be more exact – is a much tougher flaw to overcome. In the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, Watson is a generally accurate passer. So I think teams can use a timing-based offense or put Watson in a West Coast system, and he can have success early. In the end, the velocity issue with Watson just solidifies the fact that a more vertical based offense is likely not the best landing spot for him. I don’t think this number makes Watson “undraftable,” but I do think it is somewhat limiting in terms of his landing spot. Is he still worth a first-round selection? Yes. But those teams like Arizona and Baltimore? Maybe he is not near the top of their boards.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Two Late-Round Sleepers
At the outset, I am not looking for the next Dak Prescott in this section. There is only one, and he’s currently getting ready for his second year in the NFL. But given the proximity to Prescott’s rookie season and his fourth-round selection, there is more attention being paid to the late-round quarterback possibilities in this draft class. I want to highlight two briefly who might be worth keeping an eye on as day three unfolds.
C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Beathard, like his entire team, enjoyed a magical season during 2015-2016, making a run to the Big Ten Championship Game before losing in the final seconds to Michigan State. Over the course of the season, the junior put up very strong numbers in Iowa’s ball-control offensive scheme. He completed 61.6% of his passes (averaging 7.76 yards per attempt) for 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. But he and the rest of the Hawkeyes were unable to duplicate their success from the previous season. Iowa finished with an 8-5 record and was blown out in their bowl game by Florida. Beathard completed 56.5% of his passes for 1,929 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with three of those turnovers coming against the Gators in the Outback Bowl.
Having watched Beathard on tape over the past few seasons, as well as seeing him in person at the Senior Bowl, I have noticed some traits that stand out. He’s tough in the pocket. He makes throws with a decent amount of anticipation, as I highlighted in this video on the ITP YouTube Channel. Beathard also shows patience in the pocket, and displays a good understanding of the secondary and pre-snap leverage advantages.
In addition, there are people in this industry I trust when it comes to QB evaluation, and whose words move me. Ted Nguyen, a partner in crime over at ITP, is one of them. During the process of putting together the ITP Draft Guide, Ted banged the table for a bit on Beathard’s behalf. As he stated in our QB scouting meeting:
But I think he could be a late-round draft pick that could surprise people with some development. He’s a really tough kid that had a rough situation. Receivers really struggled to create separation and the (Iowa) offense wasn’t creative
He had a nice release, stood strong in the pocket, delivered while taking hits, threw with a lot velocity, and anticipated well. I liked that he processed quickly. Probably the best trait I liked about him. Not all of the QBs in this class could process quick and anticipate.
Shameless plug: For more insight like that, you can see the entire chat we had by purchasing the ITP Draft Guide here.
So while Beathard might not be a guy you hear about on day 2, or even early on day 3, he has traits that he brings to the quarterback position that teams look for at the next level. I agree with Ted that in a West Coast scheme, or even an offense like New England’s that thrives on timing and anticipation, Beathard would be a good option on day 3. He has not received a lot of attention this draft cycle, but do not be surprised to see him come off the board quicker than many expect.
Chad Kelly, Mississippi
This quarterback class is filled with some difficult evaluations and projections. We’ve talked a bit about both Webb and Watson. Chad Kelly from Mississippi is another, albeit for different reasons than the other quarterbacks in this class.
Between the lines, Kelly is a double-edged sword, much like Mahomes. Kelly is capable of making plays and throws that leave you with your mouth opening and wondering how that just happened: But for both good and bad reasons. There isn’t a throwing window he’s afraid to challenge, a breaking pocket he’s scared of escaping from, or a defender he’s shy of deking in the open field. As I wrote last summer, he is the consummate gunslinger, but with perhaps a bit more depth than he gets credit for.
The issues that cloud his evaluation stem from his life away from the field, as well has his medical issues. From a health standpoint, Kelly’s collegiate career ended early when he tore the ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee midway through this past season. This comes in the wake of a previous ACL tear to that knee during the 2013 spring game while Kelly was enrolled at Clemson University. Now, the medical technology has advanced to the point where players can return in mere months from ACL tears, such as Adrian Peterson or Rob Gronkowski. But two ACL injuries to the same knee is a significant red flag.
Kelly also has a somewhat checkered past from a personal standpoint. He was dismissed from Clemson in April of 2014 following a sideline altercation with the coaching staff. He landed at community college for a season before enrolling at Mississippi. There was also an arrest outside a nightclub in Buffalo, when he apparently threatened to “get my AK-47 and spray this place.” In addition, we also saw him run onto the field during a fight during one of his brother’s high school games, and engage another player physically. These are incidents he’ll need to answer for when meeting with NFL organizations.
We are huge on context at ITP. In preparing those above linked pieces, I spent a lot of time working through Hugh Freeze’s presentation to the 2016 Nike Coaching Clinic, when he went in depth into how Mississippi uses tempo in their offense. Coach Freeze spent a great deal of time talking about Kelly, and his “severe ADD.” This forced the coaching staff to structure the naming concepts of their plays and offense to enable Kelly to understand and absorb the scheme and be able to run it effectively. This is not in any way meant to excuse Kelly’s behavior, but it provides some context to his demeanor. Just another data point to consider.
On the field, Kelly is a baller, as his coach described him. Kelly also has some big fans in the evaluation community. My friend Matt Waldman thinks the world of him, but as Matt will admit, his evaluation is between the lines, and he does not face the risk of drafting him and seeing things implode around the rookie QB. These red flags likely push the QB down the board on draft day, but in the right setting and in a strong organization (Dallas, Baltimore, and New England come to mind) Kelly could find the structure and support that would enable him to flourish at the next level. Understanding the context, and provided his knee checks out during the medical evaluations, Kelly could be that late round steal teams are looking for.
[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Looking Ahead
With the first installment of this series in the books, I’m looking to you, the readers, for input. Have any questions about quarterbacks, whether draft QBs, quarterbacks in the NFL, or scheme-related stuff? Submit them here: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get to them in the next piece.