#1 best-selling author Mark Schofield reveals his list of the top quarterback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. Schofield, who wrote 17 Drives – a chronicle of the 2015 college football season – has ranked Vad Lee as his 11th ranked prospect. Click here to look at all of his work on the 2016 QB class.
After two seasons as the starting quarterback at Georgia Tech – running Paul Johnson’s flexbone / option attack – Vad Lee transferred to James Madison University, a Football Championship Subdivision school, with an eye toward proving himself in the passing game and in a different offensive scheme. Lee showed himself up to the task, tying JMU’s all-time passing touchdowns mark of 51 in only 21 starts at the school. As a junior he was a third-team All-American selection, and finished fourth in the Walter Payton Award voting, given to the top offensive player at the FCS level. As a senior he was named the Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the year, and completed 68% of his passes for 2,190 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. These numbers came in only eight games, as Lee suffered a left foot injury that required season-ending surgery.
When watching Lee on tape the first thing that stands out is his raw athleticism. He is an upper-level athlete, and a very dangerous player with the football in his hands. As a ball carrier he has the ability to change direction very quickly and to accelerate away from most defenders. With these strengths it is no wonder that some NFL teams are considering Lee as a running back prospect. But make no mistake, Lee is a quarterback who can run, not a RB who can throw. He has the arm strength necessary to make most of the throws required in the James Madison offense, and this should be no hindrance to his potential transition to the professional game. He can make short– and intermediate-level throws with velocity, and when forced off his spot he has the pure arm strength to make strong throws from awkward platforms.
Lee moves very well in the pocket, but is not a run-first quarterback. He will slide in and around the pocket but always keeps his eyes trained downfield to find a target in the passing game. While you might expect a QB with his level of talent as a ball carrier to rely on his feet in most situations, Lee thrives on trying to find a target during the scramble drill.
One area that stands out watching him is his ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes, both in the short and the deep passing game. Whether it is moving a linebacker to free up a swing route, or freezing a safety to open up a vertical route, Lee is capable at influencing defenders on the second- and third-levels of a defense.
Lee’s mental process is fairly solid. He makes quick decisions in the short passing game and he plays the position fearlessly. He will stand in the pocket in the face of the blitz and show patience to let a route come open, knowing the pressure is bearing down on him.
While generally solid, there are times that Lee’s decision-making could be more refined, perhaps even more conservative. He has an aggressive, playmaking mentality to his game but he could benefit from dialing things back just a bit, and taking the safer route or checkdown to keep the chains moving.
Lee’s accuracy is a work in progress as well. This is likely a result of his mechanics, which could use a bit more structure. He needs to learn how to better time up the throwing motion, involving the lower body to help generate torque in the throwing motion at the start of the movement, not near the end. But his delivery, while flawed, is understandable given the fact that his collegiate experience is in two offensive systems (the triple-option and the spread) which often involve a lot of movement at the quarterback position.
Similarly, Lee’s footwork is based off the mesh point with the running back, and then dropping from that point. As such, his footwork in the pocket also needs work. This is something he has been working on during the draft process, but he will need to display the ability to execute the three- and five-step drops at the next level with more consistency.
Lee fits best in a West Coast system that can capitalize upon his quick decision-making in the shorter passing game, as well as his timing and accuracy on these routes. He is very adept at throwing the quick outs, slants, and pivot routes that are critical components to this structure. An offense with these core elements, with a bit of a spread design and a little read option, would be ideal for Lee.
Against SMU, James Madison trailed 45-41 late in the game, when Lee and the Dukes took over at their own 25-yard line after a touchback. Seven plays later, the offense was at the SMU 17-yard line, facing 1st and 10 with 35 seconds remaining in the game.
The Dukes deploy 10 offensive personnel on the field for this play, with Lee in the shotgun and trips on the left. SMU has both outside linebackers on the edges showing blitz, and the secondary showing Cover 0:
John Miller is the inside trips receiver, running a corner route. The other two receivers on the left run curl routes:
The two edge rushers blitz, leaving the secondary in man coverage everywhere in the backfield. The three defensive backs defending the trips formation use catch man technique on this play. With no help to the middle of the field, redshirt freshman safety Jordan Wyatt uses inside leverage to push the receiver toward the sideline.
With the football on the right hashmark, any throw to the outside will be more difficult than a throw to the middle of the field. The two edge rushers generate pressure at Lee’s feet, and the quarterback cannot fully step into the throw. Instead, the QB is forced to make this throw off his back foot. But that doesn’t matter:
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Miller is able to gain separation after his break ‒ leaving Wyatt inside ‒ as he races to the outside. Lee drops this throw in the bucket perfectly.
One- to Three-Year Projection
I fully understand that I am higher on Lee than most, if not all, evaluators this draft season. But when watching Lee there are aspects to his game that just stood out, and chief among them is his willingness – and ability – to make plays all over the field with both his arm and his legs. He’s a gamer, the kind of guy that will find a way to beat you, whether it’s on the football field, on the basketball court, the golf course, wherever. But given the realities of the NFL, he faces a steeper climb than many quarterbacks in this class, having come from two offensive systems that don’t traditionally generate NFL QBs. But Lee is different, and he has proven the ability to transition from one offense to another with impressive results. Frankly, his pure athletic ability as a passer and runner might be his initial route to the NFL, as he might make the ideal scout team QB whenever a team is preparing to play teams with a mobile and athletic QB. Ideally, an NFL organization that is set at the quarterback and backup QB positions recognizes his ability to come in and utilizes him in this manner, while giving him the time to develop and refine his own game. If just given that opportunity, I believe there is a future NFL starter inside Vad Lee – at QB.
First Sound: Manipulation