Unlike most other positions, the Scouting Combine is most notable for what the quarterbacks do away from the field. Their meetings with NFL front offices, their interviews, their whiteboard work and even their press conferences often matter more than passes made against air. But since that does not stop the takes from flying, let’s look at some notes from the quarterbacks’ time in Indianapolis.
Saturday’s on-field workouts were tailor made for Allen to display what he does best: Grip it and rip it. As Mike Mayock indicated in his own post-session press conference Saturday afternoon, this was a chance for Allen to “show off a little.” That’s exactly what Allen did, putting on a display of aerial prowess that included throws topping over 70 yards in the air.
That isn’t to say that Allen was perfect throwing the football, in fact his day started shaky with an overthrown vertical route, and then a second vertical route that was off target, causing the receiver to work toward the boundary and off the hash marks. Despite this, Allen did show off his arm during his throwing session. The high end velocity that he can deliver was evident on almost every pass he made, and to his credit you can see that his mechanics, both upper- and lower-body, have been tightened up a bit, which should help his accuracy.
Allen is still a work in progress, but Saturday was definitely a good performance for him. His wow throws definitely drew attention and have some believing he truly set himself apart, but something to consider – that we’ll address in a minute – is just how important those splashy downfield throws truly are in today’s NFL.
Not to be outdone, Rosen turned in a strong performance of his own. It started shaky with an errant throw on a slant route, but after that the UCLA quarterback settled in and displayed some of what he does best: Crisp mechanics and accuracy to all levels of the field. He also showed off a bit of arm talent, dropping one vertical route from his own 15-yard line to the opposite 30 with some zip on it. Rosen also looked very crisp and precise on the three-step drop, quick game routes that he threw.
Some of those watching Mayfield were almost surprised at the velocity he was dialing up on his throws, but that is something you could see from his tape while at the University of Oklahoma. Mayfield’s velocity is an underrated part of his game, and it was on display Saturday. He missed a few throws early, but after that settled in rather nicely and was strong and accurate to all levels.
Unlike some of the other passers, you could again see Mayfield moving his eyes and looking off imaginary defenders before making his throws. It is such a little detail, but attention to those little details often determines the difference between good players, and elite players. Allen might have the power arm, and Rosen might have the cleanest mechanics, but Mayfield might be the true gamer in the class.
As I wrote recently, “inconsistency” and not “inaccuracy” is the more appropriate way to describe the Louisville quarterback. His throwing session started with a miss on a deep ball, but then he dialed it in on a few subsequent vertical routes. When it came to making throws on in-breaking routes and between the numbers, Jackson was on point. He was confident and decisive on those throws, and even showed some anticipation on those routes.
When it came to patterns working outside the numbers and toward the boundaries, Jackson was a little more inconsistent. Some of the deeper out patterns were off target, and near the end of the session he threw three deep post-corner routes. The first two were on point, but the third hung in the air a little bit.
Something else that was noticeable was how the ball came out of his hand, and how his footwork seemed to be improving. Jackson can certainly hold his own in the velocity department, and his footwork, an issue for him, might be improving as we get closer to the draft.
In his Saturday press conference Mike Mayock summed up Rudolph this way: “He is who he is.” As someone who has been left underwhelmed at times by the Oklahoma State quarterback, I understand where Mayock might be coming from. Rudolph is a good quarterback and likely comes off the board early in the second round, and he’s likely looking at an eight to ten year career ahead of him as a long term backup/spot-starter. Maybe even a lower-tier starter. But I always find myself expecting more from him. I’m hoping that his landing spot, and NFL coaches, draw that out of him because I have to believe there’s an even better quarterback inside of him, waiting to be drawn out.
Arm strength. It was a question mark coming into the Senior Bowl, which I thought Lauletta answered in his favor, but it was an issue again during his drills on Saturday, as many evaluators and scouts were quick to point out that he does lack velocity on deeper throws, and downfield routes require much more effort and come out with much more arc to them.
From where I sit, Lauletta’s issues with arm strength are one of schematic limitation and not a complete bar to an NFL career. His velocity is more than sufficient to operate in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, and he also throws with very good anticipation, which is the ultimate equalizer regarding arm strength.
But here’s another thing to consider. The bulk of throws a quarterback makes are less than 20 yards. Using splits from ESPN.com I started charting the percentage of throws for NFL quarterbacks by distance in 2017. For example, Philip Rivers, who was fourth in ANY/A last year posting a mark of 7.6, attempted 83.8 percent of his throws 20 yards or shorter. Carson Wentz, who was sixth in ANY/A and an MVP candidate, threw 86.6 percent of his passes 20 yards or shorter. Alex Smith, who was third in ANY/A? 88.9 percent of his throws were 20 yards or shorter. That number was 85.4 for Drew Brees. Finally Jared Goff, who was the best in the league with an ANY/A of 7.72, threw 91 percent of his passes 20 yards or shorter.
So while Lauletta might struggle on those longer throws, it seems to me to be somewhat short-sighted to drop him far down your board – or take him off completely – given that 85-90 percent of what some NFL offenses might ask of him happens under 20 yards. Conversely, that’s something to ask yourself about Josh Allen. With Allen it might be like taking a long-drive champion off the driving range, and dropping him into the Masters. Sure, he can rope drives 475 down the middle, but the driver might come out of the bag only three times per round. What can he do with the other clubs?
(As an aside, I’ve now fully comped Allen to both Nuke Laloosh and a long distance driving champion. Gotta love draft season).
Similar to how this day set up well for Allen, it should be no surprise that it set up well for the Nebraska product. Lee might very well be Josh Allen-lite, with a strong arm and enough athleticism to be effective at extending plays. He threw the ball very well on Saturday, and drew the attention of many scouts and evaluators. The issue with him has always been one of decision-making and staring down routes. It was all over his tape, and it was evident again down in Mobile. So while Lee had a strong Saturday, it might not be enough to truly move him up in terms of draft position.
Shimonek was one of the lower-tier quarterbacks who truly helped himself Saturday, as he made a number of strong, accurate throws and showed some velocity in his own right. Shimonek was a one-year starter at Texas Tech and when watching him on tape, you could see some raw potential in him. His footwork was also improved from when I studied him on film, because at times his drops lacked any structure or even semblance of precision. But his performance Saturday might improve his stock in the eyes of teams looking to draft a quarterback on Day 3 with an eye toward developing him.
If Tanner Lee is Josh Allen-lite, then Woodside might be Kyle Lauletta-lite. There are similar concerns about Woodside’s downfield velocity and arm strength, but again to me it is an issue of schematic limitation. On film Woodside was a solid quarterback in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, and we saw that again on Saturday as he made some very nice throws to those levels. We also saw his footwork, which was solid and precise on his drops and during his throwing motion. He’s a very experienced quarterback who manages the pocket very well, and for a team (say the New England Patriots) that do not have an immediate need at the position but have a few years to develop someone, Woodside is a solid option.
The Stuff That Matters
Prior to the Combine I posited that the most important place in Indianapolis for Rosen was the interview podium, and for my money I thought the UCLA QB handled himself well during his press conference. For example, I loved this answer about progression reads:
Josh Rosen on his best attribute. Quite the answer. I wonder if he’ll scare the analytics guys? pic.twitter.com/DqvKIY0Lm8
— Arthur Arkush (@ArthurArkush) March 2, 2018
Rosen also gave his thoughts on leadership, which I thought were well-reasoned and articulated. To me, he handled this part of the Combine very well, and I think it should ease some fears people have about his nature and his interests away from the field.
I also posited that for Mayfield, his time in the interview suite with various teams was important. It seems he passed that test, according to one report:
Mayfield, Lauletta, Rosen “most impressive” in interviews per one AFC source.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) March 4, 2018
I’ve also seen some criticism of the decision by Sam Darnold not to throw at the Combine. Some, including Mayock, believe that it was a missed opportunity for the USC quarterback to compete and show what he can do as a passer. But I understand Darnold’s decision. He’s working on his lower-body mechanics – which were more of an issue to me than his loopy delivery, which he negates with anticipation and a quicker release – and given the work that he is doing, it makes sense for him to wait and throw at his scripted Pro Day session to receivers he knows well. He needs to ease concerns about his mechanics, and having the comfort of familiar receivers and a familiar setting, as well as not having to worry about what comes next, because he’s rehearsed it, is a smart decision for him.
The Stuff That Doesn’t
Velocity numbers. Some Thursday afternoon in the next few week they’ll be released and your Twitter Timeline will explode. Just remember: Deshaun Watson was clocked at 49 miles per hour last year, and he seemed like a pretty decent quarterback as a rookie, until his injury.
Pro Day workouts will be the next big dates on the horizon. Somethings to look for include Darnold’s throwing session, Jackson running the 40-yard dash, and the show that Allen likely put on display out in Laramie. Also, does Hue Jackson squirt water on Rudolph’s footballs before each throw, as he did with Jared Goff?