After two days of drafting, six quarterbacks are off the board. The New York Jets surprised a lot of people by making Christian Hackenberg the first signal caller taken on Day Two, while the New England Patriots selected Jacoby Brissett to play QB2 for the first four games of the season, and the Cleveland Browns chose their found QB in Cody Kessler. Mark Schofield still has plenty of thoughts on quarterbacks already taken and those waiting to hear their name called.
So that happened.
Yesterday, I tried my hand at predicting what quarterbacks might come off the board during the second day of the NFL Draft. I got some names right, I got some teams right, and – perhaps unfortunately for Jets fans – I got one player and team prediction exactly correct, with the New York Jets selecting Christian Hackenberg. With one day left and a number of intriguing quarterbacks on the board, I wanted to share some thoughts on what we have seen so far, and what we can maybe expect today.
The Slide(s) of Connor Cook and Cardale Jones
The fact that both of these quarterback remain on the board is somewhat surprising to me. Perhaps the mental/attitude issues with Connor Cook are legitimate; without the opportunity to sit down with a player as NFL teams have, I cannot delve into his mindset and understand if the concerns seem genuine to me or not. But, on-the-field, it is hard to argue with Cook’s production and traits: He’s Maverick in cleats, a guy willing to push the envelope and challenge the throwing windows that few others in this class dare test. I would be surprised if his slide continues long into the fourth round and remain confident that the Cowboys eventually grab him to try to solidify the position behind Tony Romo.
As for Cardale Jones, perhaps teams are focusing on the fact that he lost his job this past season at Ohio State. I would argue that this is a flawed approach to evaluating him as a player, given that the spread option attack he was running last season was not the best fit for his skill-set. If you look back at his three-game run to a national title in 2014 while running Tom Herman’s more complex downfield passing game, you see the signs of a potential NFL talent. Factor in the context of the situation – third string QB pressed into action, playoff and national title implications in each contest – and what Jones did was even more impressive. I still believe that Jones is a smart, talented QB who can do the things pre- and post-snap necessary to succeed in the NFL. He’s going to fall into someone’s lap and, perhaps, make that organization – and their fans – truly happy.
New England Grabs a QB
I thought that the Patriots would grab a quarterback on Day 2, I just expected them to go in a bit of a different direction with a guy like Kevin Hogan. But I do like the Jacoby Brissett selection. Like any rookie QB, he will need to speed up his mental processing as he transitions to the NFL, but what I love about him is how he handles the pocket when it breaks down. Like Jared Goff, Brissett is a QB who will stay and fight in the pocket and can use his tremendous play-strength to shrug off would-be sackers, all while keeping his eyes trained downfield looking for a target. He is also athletic enough to both extend plays with his feet and pick up yardage on the ground, whether by design or when forced to scramble. Some question his completion percentage on downfield throws and argue that he cannot succeed in a vertical attack, but: 1) That isn’t New England’s preferred method of moving the football; and 2) When watching him on film, he delivers the deep ball with precision, and was simply hampered in the box score by some drops. I think this is a good fit for both player and team, as he can come in and be the backup if necessary (Rumor has it the starter may be suspended for some games.) and then fall back to QB3 and refine his playing style. In a year or two, he looks to be a strong option for the backup position – or even the future starter – depending on how the organization handles Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo going forward.
Cleveland Grabs Their Quarterback….Maybe?
We all knew that the Browns were going to select a QB on Day 2, and I thought it was going to be Cook. Instead, they opted for Cody Kessler, the senior from USC. First impression: This is a bit of a head-scratcher. The biggest question for the USC product is scheme fit, given the fact that he lacks the power arm necessary to thrive in the NFL in an offense predicated on the downfield passing game. He plays with timing, anticipation and accuracy, and fits best in a West Coast system. So the fit with the Browns is a bit of a question mark. Last season with the Cincinnati Bengals Hue Jackson implemented a bit of a downfield approach, but the silver lining for Browns fans is that he also incorporated some West Coast elements, with quicker passing concepts attacking the shorter areas on the field. So if the plan is to utilize Kessler in those aspects of the playbook in the short-term, while trying to refine his mechanics to dial up the velocity on deeper throws, this could work. He could run the West Coast elements of the offense in a pinch and, hopefully, expand the playbook as he develops. But if he’s asked to run the entire offense early, some of the plays might not mesh well with his playing style, and this plan could falter. I’m fairly high on Kessler and had a third-round grade on him, so I’m not surprised that he came off the board when he did, I just have some reservation regarding the potential fit here.
Day Three Options
I’ve long maintained – to anyone who will listen, really – that this is a very deep quarterback class. In addition to two names already mentioned, Cook and Jones, there are some very intriguing options left on the board. Another player that I remain high on is former Oregon Duck Vernon Adams. I maintain that he can come in and operate in a few different offensive schemes – perhaps best in what Chip Kelly is trying to do out in San Francisco – and can help a team win games as a rookie, even if coming off the bench in a pinch to give the team a needed spark or to replace an injured starting quarterback. I still think that fit makes sense.
Kevin Hogan remains a potential selection for a team looking to upgrade at the QB2 spot. I think the Stanford product has the ability to come in as a rookie and learn an offense quickly, and can serve as a backup quarterback for a number of teams in Week 1 of his first NFL season. He lacks the textbook throwing motion you would like to see from a quarterback, but still manages to have a quick release even with that wind-up in his mechanics. He also comes from an offensive structure that saw him operate under center, carry out play-action fakes in the backfield and moving to his left and his right, and then work through progression reads. There are a number of teams in this draft that might want to upgrade the backup quarterback position (Detroit and Pittsburgh come to mind) and Hogan might be an option for them.
Some solid developmental quarterbacks should come off the board on Saturday. Some names that I am high on in this category are Josh Woodrum from Liberty University and Vad Lee from James Madison University. Both QBs are from the Football Championship Subdivision, but each bring potentially intriguing skill-sets to a NFL team.
Woodrum is your classic dropback QB, with ideal size and arm strength for the position. A four-year starter for the Flames, Woodrum has the arm to challenge narrow throwing windows down the field, can make anticipation throws, and shows a good understanding for timing and route structure.
Lee has taken a very different path to this point in his career, starting out as a QB in Paul Johnson’s flexbone option offense at Georgia Tech before transferring to James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association. While at JMU, Lee ran a more spread-based attack, but put up prodigious numbers and displayed a number of intriguing traits. He is a quarterback who altogether lacks fear in the pocket, one who will stand in and take a hit while he waits for a route to come open, and is also adept at manipulating defenders be they linebackers or in the secondary. Given his athleticism, it would not surprise me to see an NFC West team pick him late in the draft or sign him as a UDFA, simply to have him emulate Russell Wilson in practice two weeks a year. That might be Lee’s initial path to a future in the NFL, but given some time to develop he could become something special.
Some other developmental guys are waiting for their names to be called, such as Jake Rudock from Michigan, Jake Coker from Alabama, Nate Sudfeld from Indiana, Brandon Doughty from Western Kentucky, and Brandon Allen from Arkansas. The first three are more of your basic downfield passers, guys who can challenge in the vertical game, while I think Doughty and Allen project best in more West Coast type systems. Allen might make sense to Kansas City late in the draft, as an attempt to replace Chase Daniel. My friend Matt Danely projected Doughty to Washington, and I think that marriage makes a great deal of sense from a scheme-fit basis and a developmental arc as well. The other three are more dropback, downfield passers, and the NFL can always find a home for those guys, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear their names called as well.
Two elephants left in the room are Trevone Boykin and Dak Prescott. I remain high on Boykin’s abilities as a quarterback, and some of the decisions and throws he made as a senior were a joy to watch. There is a lingering feeling that the league doesn’t regard him as a quarterback and, when you pair that with the bowl week arrest, it doesn’t portend well for his NFL future as a QB. But the idea of moving him to wide receiver makes little sense to me, as I think he is a quarterback, first and foremost. Back in October, Bill Carroll was on the ITP podcast and he put it this way: “He’s earned the chance to prove to me he isn’t a quarterback.” Boykin belongs in a camp, as a quarterback, to either sink or swim.
For Prescott, I’ll say this: There was certainly improvement from 2014 to 2015. But there are lingering questions that I need answers to, specifically regarding accuracy and decision-making. Can he be patient enough to let more complex route structures come open? Can he put the football where it needs to be on a more consistent basis? If he can answer those questions in the affirmative, then he has an NFL future. If not, then…
But luckily for him (perhaps), I’m not making the ultimate decisions, and it only takes one team.
Finally, a few words of thanks. The journey from lawyer to football writer has been a wild ride. After ITP launched in September 2014, we pretty much tried to figure things out on the fly. Given our launching point (breaking out from sonsofsamhorn.net, a Red Sox message board) we focused on the Patriots a ton in Year 1. So much so that the Monday morning after they beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, we looked around, wondering what the hell to do next… and so we figured we’d write about the draft. So we tried that, and well, no one really knew who we were.
But that changed a bit in Year Two. And then more than a bit. There are many reasons for this. First is, and must be, the community at large, filled with so many incredible and talented writers and content creators. This is a great time to be a football fan because whatever you want to read or watch, you can find it at a moment’s notice, and probably multiple versions. Whether it’s scheme stuff or fantasy stuff or salary cap analysis or breaking news, there are people at big websites – and small – doing great work. It’s also a welcoming community, and there’s no greater evidence of that than the many – and I mean many – hands of support and outreach that have been extended our way. There’s too many people to thank, so here is a blanket thank you:
Thank you. You all know who you are.
[Editor’s Note: Schofield is totally serious and sincere right now. As in he submitted this at like 1:30 AM on a Saturday morning despite having two toddlers and a cat that wakes him up at 3:30 AM every morning by throwing his alarm clock onto the floor. I’m not even a little bit kidding – the guy loves you people.]
Second, it’s because we added some great contributors, like Matt Carracio, Sal Conti, Shane Alexander, Brent Cassella, Daniel Syed, Joseph Ferraiola, Ted Nguyen, Sam Gold, Chris Dougherty, and Jeff Lloyd (although he needs to write some more 😉 ). For all the stuff we publish, the discussions behind the scenes with all of these guys is perhaps even more impressive, to say nothing of how enjoyable. And from where I sit, each of those guys – along with everyone at ITP – drives me – inspires me – to keep plugging away. It’s an honor to work with all of them, and everyone at the site.
Finally, the readers. Look, we wouldn’t be doing this if people weren’t reading it. When we launched, we all viewed ITP realistically as something that might last for a little while. We hoped. But with the support of all of our readers, we’ve been given a chance to craft our story, to share our thoughts, and it’s been incredible to see the support. Whether it’s a retweet of an article, a kind word in a comment section, sharing an article on Facebook, or saying nice things about the podcast on iTunes, we see it all, and we appreciate all the kind words. We also appreciate the criticism. We aren’t perfect, and we know that. When we screw up, call us out, because we want to get better each day. Seriously, get in touch and then we can get at it. That’s the goal.
So as the draft winds down, and we prepare to spend a little bit of quiet time before double sessions start, just know this: We’ll be spending our time preparing for next year, trying to get better each day, and working to bring our readers even more great stuff come next fall. We’re just getting started at ITP, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.
[Editor’s Note: I’m going to be really interested to see how he responds to me insisting on inserting that image of him. Because I made it for him. And I made it because he’s awesome. Hell, I learned stuff just to make that image. You know how hard it is to learn stuff? It sucks, right? And he’s totally not comfortable with us talking about how awesome he is. But to hell with that, yeah?]