When discussing quarterbacks making the leap to the NFL, we often focus on traits like arm strength, pocket presence, deep accuracy, and downfield vision. However, the best signal caller can make all the throws. Mark Schofield has decided to eschew the usual build-a-quarterback and is instead intent on building the perfect route tree using the quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL Draft class.
With the draft on the horizon, and the work on the quarterback prospects nearing completion, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to build the perfect route tree using this year’s quarterback draft class. Bear in mind that this is a subjective exercise, but it helps to illustrate areas where each of these quarterbacks excels, and demonstrates what is the best means of executing each route. In part one of this series, we will examine the three common short routes in the college game.
Quick Hitch – Cody Kessler, USC Trojans
As with many of the shorter routes, throwing the quick hitch is more a matter of play speed and timing than arm talent. Once a quarterback has reached the FCB / FBS level, he possesses enough arm strength to put sufficient velocity on these shorter throws. Beyond this threshold of velocity is the ability to quickly process information, such as the coverage, and then time the throw with the receiver’s route. This creates a situation where the WR can pull in the pass and have both the time and the space to make a cut or two after the reception, leading to yardage after the catch.
Cody Kessler provides a perfect example of this on this quick hitch against Arkansas State:
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USC lines up with Kessler (#6) in the shotgun and 11 personnel, using trips formation to the right. The Trojans execute a run / pass option, with Kessler meeting the running back at the mesh point. The quarterback can either hand the football to his RB to follow behind the pulling guard, or pull the football and throw to one of three quick hitches to the outside:
Arkansas State stays with their base 4-3 defense on this snap, walking the outside linebacker toward the inside trips receiver, but not over him. Even with the safety cheated over this WR, the quick hitch is open before the snap because of the defensive alignment. Kessler knows this, but still needs to execute the structure of the play and get the ball out quickly. Which he does:
Steven Mitchell (#7) has executed his break and is turning toward Kessler. Notice how the football is already out. The quick read and timing here from the quarterback allow Mitchell to secure the reception and pick up yardage after the catch. Timing and anticipation are some of Kessler’s stronger traits, and it is no wonder that he is so adept at throwing the quick hitch route, which requires strength in both areas.
Quick Out – Jared Goff, California Golden Bears
Similar to the quick hitch, throwing the out route requires good timing. But arm talent plays a role here as well. With the quarterback attacking the sideline, the throw needs to have enough velocity to prevent a defensive back from breaking on the football. With the critical elements of timing and arm talent being in play here, the California quarterback stands out in this class for his ability to deliver these throws on time – with velocity, and with solid ball placement.
On this play against USC, Goff (#16) and the Golden Bears execute a run / pass option play, with the passing component consisting of an Indy 5 design, with the outside receiver releasing vertically and the slot receiver executing the quick out pattern:
The Trojans show Cover 2 in the secondary, but prior to the snap a safety walks down into the box and they roll to Cover 1. Goff meets running back Khalfani Muhammad (#29) at the mesh point as the offense shows split zone, but the QB pulls the football back and looks to throw. He opens to the left, reads the coverage, and once he sees the back of the outside cornerback (as the CB turns to run with the vertical route) he knows the quick out will be open. Watch as Goff delivers this throw with timing, velocity, and incredible placement:
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The QB puts this right on the money, allowing Darius Powe (#10) to secure the football and cut upfield, before being knocked out of bounds right at the first-down marker. The replay angle highlights not only the velocity and placement, but the timing as well:
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The ball is out before Powe even finishes his break, virtually eliminating any chance the defender had at breaking on the football and preventing this completion. Flawless execution from Goff on this throw.
Quick Slant – Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State Wolfpack
This series was born on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Mobile, Alabama. I was taking in the South Team’s practice in the stands, and after a somewhat chilly morning the sun was out and the temperature was climbing. With the majority of the work done for the week, most people in attendance were simply enjoying the effort on the field. Sitting in the stands observing some 11-on-11 red zone work, we watched Brissett perfectly drill a slant for a score. Two talented football minds near me, Charles McDonald and Matt Waldman, expressed their appreciation for the throw, and I responded with this statement: “If I were running a slant-only offense, Brissett would be my quarterback.”
This is why:
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The Wolfpack run the tosser concept to the left side here against Virginia Tech. The QB takes the shotgun snap and opens to the left, reading the coverage. Once he identifies man coverage on the outside, he knows that the outside slant route is his best option, with the inside slant route running off the slot defender and opening up room. Brissett makes his mind up quickly, and the ball comes out with great anticipation, about two steps before the receiver even makes his cut to the inside. From there, the velocity and placement are perfect. The ball is drilled right into the gut of the receiver, who doesn’t break stride on the play. Because of the arm strength, timing and placement, North Carolina State turns this 2nd and 13 into 1st and 10.
Having covered the screen routes, and the short, quick routes, Part 3 of this series will tackle the intermediate routes: the deep out, the curl, the comeback, and the dig. The final piece of this series will tackle the deeper routes, and in both pieces some other underrated prospects will be highlighted.