Check With Me: March 19, 2018

Welcome on in my friends to the latest installment of “Check With Me,” my semi-regular column addressing quarterback issues at both the NFL and collegiate levels. Today we’ll dive into some NFL teams that need to address QB2, some reader questions, highlight another cause to support in “Helping One Another” and stay away from any takes regarding headbands.

Addressing QB2

Much of the talk surrounding quarterbacks the past few weeks has focused upon big name free agents and the incoming crop of draft quarterbacks. However, one of my pet causes in life is trying to stress the importance of the QB2 spot. Teams can see a season end without a solid #2 guy, and in the Twitter-dominated era of fandom, there is not a lot of room for patience after a lost season. In addition, the last three Super Bowl Champions all saw a backup quarterback see significant playing time, and Nick Foles was the Super Bowl MVP. That spot matters. I’m not saying teams need to draft a quarterback every season, but organizations do need to consider that position each offseason, and need to always be thinking about an upgrade. You’re just one twisted knee or rolled ankle from QB2 becoming QB1.

To that end, here are three teams that find themselves needing to address that spot in the weeks ahead, and some thoughts on potential options.

Houston Texans

Our Lord and Savior Deshaun Watson is already running and looks to be well on track to start Week 1.

But the Houston Texans would be wise to make sure they have a solid plan in place behind him, just in case.

Tom Savage left the AFC South for the NFC South, inking a deal with the New Orleans Saints to backup Drew Brees. That leaves T.J. Yates and Taylor Heinicke behind Watson. The Texans could choose to roll with those two players behind Watson, or they might be smart in adding a Day 3 or even a UDFA player into the mix to give the quarterback room a boost.

Some players that could be in the mix for Houston in that area of the draft, and who would fit schematically with what the Texans are doing on offense, include Kurt Benkert from Virginia (who might come off the board a little early for Houston), Riley Ferguson from Memphis, J.T. Barrett from Ohio State and Nick Stevens from Colorado State.

Another option floated around over the weekend involves current New York Jets’ quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has yet to see a regular season snap after being drafted in the 2nd round. While that remains one of my few predictions that I actually nailed (seriously, look at this column I wrote the morning of Day Two of the 2016 Draft. I slotted Hackenberg to the Jets in the exact pick they used on him, while missing on basically everything else. But I did predict that New England would grab a QB, just not the one they drafted. Alas…) But I was not a fan of the Hackenberg selection, especially at that point in the draft, as outlined in my “Draft Grades in the Words of Tyrion Lannister” piece that came out post-draft.

At first blush the move could work, pairing Hackenberg with the coach who made him look like a potential NFL quarterback in Bill O’Brien. But in the words of my friend Jeff Risdon: Hard Pass.

Again, the Texans could stay pat with their current crop of QBs, but in my opinion it would be wise to try and get some more talent into this room, just as an additional backstop should Watson suffer a setback. I’d go down the later round draft path if it were me, but the organization might be enticed by the potential reunion between O’Brien and Hackenberg. 

Kansas City Chiefs

Hold that thought. Or, in the parlance of my former life, I reserve five minutes your honor.

New England Patriots

Well, we know it won’t be A.J. McCarron

We entered this draft season believing that the Patriots would be looking to add a quarterback. After a brief notion that New England might look to the free agency market to add a QB, we are back to the draft process.

I’ve long been of the mind that Kyle Lauletta from the University of Richmond would be the guy, but other names have crept into the discussion. Logan Woodside from Toledo has been mentioned as a potential prospect, and he would bring some pocket presence and experience to the mix. Recently Mike Reiss from ESPN mentioned Chad Kanoff from Princeton University, who the Patriots watched work out at his Pro Day. I could see both of those players fitting in well with what New England does schematically. Other names linked to the Patriots include Mike White from Western Kentucky and Luke Falk from Washington State.

I still think they look to Lauletta, but this draft will tell us a lot about how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels evaluate the quarterback position. When word came out that the Patriots were perhaps considering McCarron, my initial thought was that the organization might be lower on this draft class than I and others are. Remember, while addressing the potential life after Tom Brady might make sense now, and Belichick always likes to be a year ahead of that process, they still have Brian Hoyer at least in the mix. New England could theoretically punt on this decision for a season if they do not like this class, and revisit the need next year. That would fly in the face of Belichick’s stated philosophy on the position, but I’ve been wrong many times before when trying to climb into his head. Us Wesleyan guys, we’re often unpredictable…

Reader Questions

Let’s dive into some reader questions. As always, I’d recommend that you follow everyone who submitted a question. We’re supposed to be having fun out here, right?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

-Ferris Bueller

I’m tempted to let the wannabe Sausage King of Chicago speak for me here, because the mere thought of starting to highlight quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL draft here in March of 2018 has my body starting to break out in hives. But such is life in the Draft Industrial Complex, of which I am happy to play my part as a mere cog.

The interesting thing about carving out a tiny niche as a quarterback-only guy is that my work gets finished fairly quickly each season. So as much as I’d like to just give this a chuckle and say wait until summer, the truth is that I’m already three or more games into the guys for next year. Not exactly proud of that fact, but the work goes on. There are some guys that I like out there, and expect some more on this class once we hit May. But for now I’ll just highlight one quarterback, Brett Rypien from Boise State. I did this video on him last summer and I remain intrigued.

Tis very much marmite with analysts. I’ll also forgo on the easy Men at Work reference.

I love these two moves from the New York Jets. Josh McCown was putting together the best statistical season of his career last year, until suffering a wrist injury that ended his 2017 campaign early. But while he was sidelined he took on the role of a “player-coach,” and indicated that life on the sidelines would continue for him once his playing days were over. I look at the one-year extension for him as the beginning of that transition for him and anticipate McCown playing a pivotal role in that quarterback room as both quarterback and mentor.

Signing Teddy Bridgewater is also a very low-risk, high-reward type of decision for the Jets. When he last saw significant action, in 2015, Bridgewater led the Minnesota Vikings to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. Bridgewater’s numbers, however, were not exactly stellar. He threw 14 touchdowns against 9 interceptions, and posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of just 5.70. At times it seemed like Norv Turner’s offense was not the best fit for him. In New York he’ll get a better schematic fit I believe, given Jeremy Bates’s status as a branch off the Jon Gruden/Mike Shanahan West Coast coaching tree. I think that style of offense meshes well with Bridgewater’s skill-set.

Now just add Baker Mayfield to the mix and you’re cooking with gas…and that got much more likely over the weekend when the Jets traded up to the third spot in the draft, executing a deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Did the Jets give up a lot in that trade? Perhaps, but when you consider that a cost-controlled rookie quarterback playing at a high level is a valuable asset, then it’s work the risk and expense for New York to try and get their guy.

One of the things that life inside the Draft Industrial Complex teaches you on a daily basis is that absolutely nothing you do or say matters in the long run. That is especially apparent when studying and evaluating quarterbacks. You can watch dozens of games, #grind the #alltwentytwo (shout out to our man @betz) spend hours creating content and have the evaluation right, but if they are drafted by a team that is a poor schematic fit, any projections you make for the player might never materialize.

That’s all because scheme fit, coaching staff fit and landing spot matter so much more than anything else when it comes to quarterbacks. Look at Jared Goff 1.0 and then Jared Goff 2.0.

But it’s important as part of this process to try and identify the best fit for them, so we can have a sense of expectations for rookie seasons. It’s also something I’ll admit to struggling with when it comes to Sam Darnold. He has the potential to be schematically diverse, but my biggest hang-up with him right now is the lower body. I’m not quite sure that his footwork – right now – would comport well in a timing and rhythm-based passing game such as an Erhardt-Perkins system.

If I’m looking for the right fit for Darnold, I’m thinking a more downfield offense. He has the arm strength to function in such a system, he is athletic to extend plays should the protection break down around him, and in that vein he might be at his best when on the move and needing to create.

Which is why I believe more and more, as I noted in this column last week, that Cleveland might be the fit for him at #1.

To start here, I’ll draw upon a lesson instilled in me from Dan Hatman, former NFL scout and current Director of the Scouting Academy: “scout the traits not the scheme.” Basing your opinion of a player upon what they were asked to do in college might lead you to a faulty conclusion, because in all likelihood they are going to be asked to do something entirely different in the NFL.

One of the critical components to playing the quarterback position is processing speed. Sounds robotic I know, but it’s part of the job. How quickly the QB takes in information, digests it, and then makes the right decision based on that information can make the difference between the good ones, and the great ones.

So to the question at hand, whether a QB is running a half-field read system or a full-field read system should not change your analysis of them. It might be something to note when projecting a scheme fit, but the core question for both players is how fast they process information. The half-field quarterback might work through his reads, decisions and keys extremely quickly, while the full-field quarterback might be slower. The question does not turn on what offense they ran, but how quickly their mind worked through the offense in question. Saying that a QB can “make full-field reads” sounds great at first blush, but if he’s working through them like the sloth in Zootopia, then how great a benefit is it?

You and me both my friend.

Last summer I wrote about Linehan after studying him, and though his traits, in combination with how he executed an offense rooted in the Erhardt-Perkins system, might make him an attractive option come draft time. But Linehan has stayed under the radar this season, perhaps due in part to the injury he suffered to his throwing hand late in his senior season. The injury caused him to miss the final three games of his collegiate career.

Linehan did get a chance to return to action for his Pro Day, recently held on the University of Idaho campus. Scouts and evaluators from 12 teams were on hand, including the New England Patriots, whom I linked to Linehan back last summer. In addition his father, current Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, was on hand as well, serving as both NFL OC and proud father.

The injury might have ended the chances Linehan hears his name called over draft weekend, but I still believe that he’ll be in an NFL camp come summertime, added as an undrafted free agent shortly after the NFL draft concludes.

Patrick Mahomes when he shows up to watch film today in the Chiefs’ quarterback room:

Last year three quarterbacks were on the Chiefs’ roster: Alex Smith, Mahomes and Tyler Bray. With Smith departing for the NFC East and Bray now moving with former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to Chicago, the second-year quarterback is now Will Smith, looking around an empty room with no one to watch film with.

The departure of Smith meant that the Chiefs were likely in the market for a quarterback behind Mahomes and to push Bray for the backup spot, but with the former Tennessee Volunteer (and a player once mocked to go third overall in a mock draft) off to Chicago, this is now a more immediate need for Kansas City.

I’d imagine it shaking out like this. The Chiefs have signed Chad Henne to be a “mentor” of sorts to Mahomes. But I think they also look at adding a quarterback through the draft process, either on Day 3, or perhaps someone they could add as an undrafted free agent. Some names to consider later in the draft would be Woodside, Falk or Chase Litton from Marshall. Woodside fits more with the West Coast elements of what Andy Reid likes to do on offense, while Litton would add some more downfield passing ability, in line with the direction the offense looks to take under Mahomes. Falk might come off the board earlier than the Chiefs would look, but if he’s available he might make sense for them. If they go the undrafted route, two guys to keep in mind would be Peter Pujals from Holy Cross and the aforementioned Kanoff.

Helping One Another

In case you missed this part of last week’s column, here is a link you should check out: https://www.gofundme.com/james-jounrney

This week we’re gonna turn to another proud denizen of the Draft Industrial Complex, Benjamin Solak. Ben is headed to Tijuana, Mexico over his “Real Break,” to help at St. Innocent Orphange and with a home building initiative they are currently undertaking. For more information on that projection you can click here: https://www.gofundme.com/t27bw4-real-break-project-mexico

If you’d like to help Ben with a donation, you can click here: https://www.gofundme.com/t27bw4-real-break-project-mexico

Also, if you’ve got a project or a fundraiser you’d like to see mentioned in this piece, let me know.

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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