Manny Wilkins and the Exit/Climb Decision

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Studying and evaluating football players is a continual exercise in uncovering actions, methods, and processes in the players themselves that are repeatable and bear out well for their future development and advancement at their position of choice. Scout the process, and not the results. Often times you may find that even though a play or a group of plays lead to poor results on the field, the process that the player in question takes to meet that result is one that speaks well to how they will continue their development, and is illustrative of continued success at that position in college – and beyond.

Take these two plays from Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins Jr., from his game in 2017 against the University of Oregon.

Here is the first play, which comes from early in the first quarter. Wilkins (#5) is in the shotgun formation flanked by two running backs. He carries out a mesh fake before starting to roll to his right, where he has an out route and a vertical route from the seam to choose from:

Wilkins takes a shot on the deep ball, but he overthrows it:

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These are my notes from that play:

I love the advanced understanding of pocket movement; Pause @ 2:38 – Many QBs bail/exit to R here; he stops/climbs, then throws deep ball → Sure he misses here, but he’ll hit on these in the future, and by showing he can stop/climb that’s a great sign for his future development

Many quarterbacks, faced with that moment of decision when pressure is coming off the edge, either retreat, reverse field, or worse, try to bail the pocket and outrun that defender to the outside. All that does is give the defender a chance to disengage and chase you down, and as a quarterback you are taking your offensive lineman out of the play and making his job even tougher. It is an unnatural act, stepping up in the pocket, but doing so makes the job easier for your linemen, and gets you away from that edge pressure, as unnatural as it sounds and feels.

Here, Wilkins is rolling to his right but as he faces that moment, rather than continuing to roll he stops and climbs the pocket. That gets him away from pressure, as the edge defender simply runs past him, and gives him a chance to hit the deep ball. Sure. He misses the throw, but the process is what matters to me, and his process here is perfect. By showing that he will climb at that moment, he will put himself in a similar position more often than not, and the more chances he has at plays like this, the more of them he will hit. Climbing the pocket and making this throw is a much, much higher-percentage play than continuing to roll and facing that edge defender peeling off your right tackle. That’s a low-percentage play that usually ends in a throw-away, or a sack. My read of this play is that sometime soon, Wilkins will face a similar decision and because of what I see here, I’m confident he’ll climb the pocket again and hit the deep shot.

I did not have to wait long:

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Early in the third quarter Wilkins runs a similar concept, carrying out a mesh fake before rolling right. This time he has two vertical routes to choose from, along with a third wide receiver in the flat on a smoke route. Again, Wilkins faces edge pressure and once more, he climbs the pocket, before firing a strike along the boundary on a deep vertical route for a huge play. This play is very impressive from the young QB, both in terms of the pocket movement and the throw itself.

Wilkins has a long way to go before we can consider him a top-flight draft prospect, but I really like what I see so far. The process counts for a lot when trying to project players into NFL moments, but the decisions he made on just these two plays has me confident in his approach, and very excited to see him in the fall.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out all his work here, like his piece on RPOs as the next evolution of the hi-low concept and Deshaun Watson’s processing speed.

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