Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, we have our series: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.
When you consider the traits to evaluate during examination of a quarterback, you might not place play strength near the top of your list. Other abilities, such as arm talent, decision making, play speed, and athletic ability are often more highly desired abilities. But in today’s modern game, with the ability of athletes on the defensive side of the football to create havoc in the pocket, the ability of a QB to extend a play is paramount. While some quarterbacks rely on pure athletic ability to keep a play alive with speed, quickness, and agility, others can use strength. The first name that comes to mind is Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. How many times have you seen him shrug off a would-be sack in the pocket before moving the chains with a scramble or a pass downfield?
Like its distant cousin athletic ability, play strength is important because the ability of a quarterback to extend plays – by any means – allows an offense to mask flaws or breakdowns in a protection scheme. When a defense can free a rusher by design or by winning a one-on-one battle, yet the passer stays upright in the pocket, big plays can happen for an offense.
I wanted to marry the concept of play strength with downfield vision because this player has demonstrated the ability to first break a potential sack in the backfield, yet remain poised behind the line of scrimmage, have the composure to continue with the structure of the play and find a receiver down the field for a big play. This is a very difficult set of traits for a young quarterback to acquire and/or develop; when chaos is breaking loose around you and the bodies are flying, it is easy to let the innate human instinct of survival to take over and find the nearest open space of grass.
Unless you are Jacoby Brissett.
The North Carolina State quarterback first gained attention during a nationally televised game against Florida State in 2014. While many (including the author) tuned into that Saturday afternoon telecast to look at future number one pick Jameis Winston, it was Brissett who stole the spotlight with an electrifying performance in the first half. Although the Seminoles went on to win the game, it was the play of Brissett that turned many heads and drove veteran broadcaster Sean McDonough to compare the quarterback to both Roethlisberger and Fran Tarkenton.
On this play, the Wolfpack face 3rd and 6 on the Florida State 8-yard line. They have 11 offensive formation on the field, but empty the backfield and place the quarterback in the shotgun with wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (#84) alone on the left and the other four skill players right. The Seminoles have a 3-2-6 sub package in the game and show Cover 4 in the secondary, with a potential blitz off the edge.
The three receivers in the tight grouping run curl routes of various depth, with the two shorter curl routes crossing as they break vertically. On the outside, running back Matt Dayes (#21) runs a fade toward the back corner of the end zone. But with five receivers split wide and Florida State showing blitz, a problem quickly emerges with the protection. Defensive backs Jalen Ramsey (#8) and Tyler Hunter (#1) blitz off the edge, with Ramsey having a free path to the quarterback:
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The defensive back goes high on Brissett and gets his arm around the quarterback’s upper chest. But Brissett stands strong, gets himself free and escapes the pocket to his right. While it would be understandable for him to be looking for a place to run, his eyes remain downfield, as you can tell from the center stripe of his helmet. But the fun is just beginning:
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As Brissett rolls to his right looking for a target, defensive end DeMarcus Walker (#44) is closing from the backside. But he too goes high on the quarterback, and Brissett shrugs him off before breaking free once more.
Now, at this point it might be time to throw the ball away and live to play another snap. But Brissett refuses:
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Other than those moments when his head has been twisted toward the turf by Ramsey or his field of vision has been filled with all 6’3” 277 pounds of Walker, Brissett’s eyes have been downfield scanning for a target. His receivers have been working the duration of this play in the scramble drill, and one of them, Johnathan Alston (#15), is about to be rewarded. When the quarterback wrestles free from Walker, this is what he sees:
Three Seminole defenders are in the front of the end zone, while Alston is behind them with a decent throwing window. Brissett has the vision, as well as the arm talent, to place this football in a spot for Alston to make a play.
Here is another view of the play, from start to finish:
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Simply a magnificent individual effort from the quarterback.
Brissett had a strong game last Saturday against Wake Forest in NCSU’s 35-17 victory over the Demon Deacons. On the Wolfpack’s opening drive of the game, facing 1st and 10 at their own 41-yard line. The offense empties the backfield with Brissett in the shotgun in a 2X3 alignment with trips to the right. Wake Forest deploys a 4-2-5 nickel, with Cover 3 Mable in the secondary, with the slot cornerback matching the route from the middle trips receiver and a linebacker playing man coverage on the slot WR.
Defensive lineman Wendell Dunn (#14) is unblocked off the line of scrimmage:
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Again, Brissett is able to wrestle away from a potential sack and escaping the pocket to his right. After flashing the play strength to remain upright, he again shows the ability to keep his eyes downfield and find a target. This time it is Maurice Trowell (#87) breaking free in the secondary:
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Earlier it was mentioned that play strength from a quarterback can mask flaws or breakdowns in a protection scheme. This play is a perfect example. The defense only sends five rushers here, but the left tackle, guard, and center block two defenders, givinging Dunn a free shot:
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From this angle, you also see the quarterback tuck the football for a moment as he thinks about running the football. But then he reloads, snaps his eyes downfield (indicated once more by the tell-tale center stripe on the helmet), and finds Trowell running free behind the coverage.
Jacoby Brissett is a very intriguing prospect at the quarterback position for both NFL scouts and draft evaluators alike. On film he demonstrates a number of qualities that teams look for when analyzing this position, two of which we have covered. As this season progresses and teams dive deeper into his film, how he stacks up on some of the other traits will go a long way toward determining his eventual draft position.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.