Quarterbacks, Environments and Development

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Dan Hatman’s latest piece on Carson Wentz and self scouting has me thinking a lot about quarterback’s environments and how they affect their developmental curves.

The Cleveland Browns are 0-8. After multiple benchings in favor of Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler, Coach Hue Jackson has named his rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, the starter – again. Kizer flashed some impressive traits during the preseason and Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he’s not been playing great ball as of late. He’s thrown for 3 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 1,144 yards in seven games started this season. Not great, Bob.

To add on – the Browns are in a perpetual state of dysfunction. One where no one knows if Hue Jackson will be around past the 2017 season or not. That exact dysfunction of constant regime change is why the Browns are constantly in this position. Dysfunction in an organization – especially in the NFL – permeates throughout the facility from the top down, affecting every level of the organization in the building. Including player development.

But this isn’t a piece about the Browns and their dysfunction. (For more on Kizer and the Browns here’s Jeff Feyerer’s piece.) It’s about the quarterback position and how their environment affects their development. The Browns dysfunction is to highlight what can make a quarterback’s development slope downward. When speaking with my colleagues about hits and misses in the draft recently I asked how we can better evaluate and project players. It’s really difficult to project a player from college to the NFL. Not only for the many obvious reasons like we’re projecting complex human beings, but because of the different environments they could be drafted. David Archibald brought up some excellent points, the first being that we really don’t have the tools to quantify the impact of context and the second being that context might not have an impact on performance, but development itself.

This sadly might be the case for Kizer and how his developmental curve is shaped moving forward. It’s certainly been the case for Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Positive in their cases. As Dan said in his piece the other day, “If you (like myself) thought Philadelphia presented a better environment than the Rams (under Jeff Fisher) for either Goff or Wentz, good for you.” Philadelphia had a better structured organization in place for Wentz when he arrived than Los Angeles did for Goff. Now with Sean McVay as the head coach, Goff is playing like a number one overall pick should. It’s still early, but improvements are being made. By moving on from an archaic system like Fisher’s to an innovative one like McVay’s, Goff and his teammates have been presented a more favorable environment to flourish.

Late round picks like Tom Brady and Dak Prescott were able to develop behind either good defenses or strong running games. This slows down the game and doesn’t throw them right into the fire by asking them to do too much. These two players were also drafted in the 6th and 4th rounds respectively, and thus there was less pressure on them to instantly perform. In college, Prescott had trouble being an accurate passer on a consistent basis due to mechanical problems and a subpar offensive line at Mississippi State. With the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott cleaned up his throwing motion and also has a cleaner pocket to work from with a high quality offensive line – which ups his ball placement consistently on throws down the field. Prescott has become one of the more accurate quarterbacks when throwing into tight spaces in the NFL and he also looks like a better passer thus far in year two than he did in year one. This is probably not the case if not for the environment around him in Dallas, and a great example of the context around a player and its impact on development

Stable organizations like New England, Green Bay and in recent years Dallas have the ability to help their players develop because of their systems already in place. On the other end of that spectrum are Cleveland and New York (AFC).

I think about how the Browns future would be like if they had drafted either Wentz or Deshaun Watson instead of trading back in the last two drafts. However, it’s hard to say whether or not players like Wentz or Watson would be playing like they are now for their respective teams if the Browns did draft them. Their developmental curve would definitely have shifted one way or another.

Projecting a player’s career pre-draft is extremely difficult without knowing the environment he’s going to end up in. It’s also probably impossible to quantify. There are probably a lot of players that struggled during their playing days because of the environment around them through no real fault of their own. No player can develop into his full potential on his own. There’s always a coach or multiple coaches that need to get through to him along with having the right players around him at the right time. For Kizer, I hope that Cleveland is able to eliminate their dysfunction and that he can flash the talent and ability he displayed at Notre Dame.

Check out more of Joseph’s work here, including a look at Kareem Hunt’s superior balance, how to mask deficiencies along an offensive line, and the effect Ryan Tannehill’s injury could have the 2018 QB market.

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