Last year, Joseph Ferraiola wrote that “we’re thinking about quarterback ceilings all wrong,” poking holes in the conventional draft wisdom on QB projections. He re-examines this theory by looking at 2018 rookies Josh Rosen and Josh Allen and applies this lens to the 2019 class’ top signal-callers, Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins.
When projecting NFL Draft prospects, evaluators have to consider a wide range of outcomes before putting their final grade on a player. Many of us attempt to answer, “What can this player do?” But often projections have to go deeper than that. Projections not only have to detail what a player can do, but what he can do in certain situations and environments. The raw player traits we study can help set expectations for our projections and determine floors and ceilings for incoming prospects. We can then generalize and bucket which traits translate to certain skills and which traits are attainable through practice and film study.
Nearly a year ago I generalized that quarterbacks with high level mental traits —e.g., processing speed and decision making — had higher ceilings than quarterbacks with superior athletic traits — e.g., arm strength and scramble ability. And athletically superior quarterbacks actually had higher floors than originally believed because their athleticism allowed them to compensate for deficiencies.
The idea originally stemmed from studying current Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen during the 2018 NFL Draft cycle. Allen possessed a rare level of arm strength and an excellent ability to make plays scrambling when the play broke down. But Allen struggled with processing speed, often waiting to see his target open before pulling the trigger, rather than anticipating the throwing window. This got Allen in trouble at times, but other times his rocket launcher for an arm proved to be the great equalizer for a QB with less than superb processing speed and decision making ability.
Allen’s arm strength and ability to use his legs carved out what I would call a successful first season in the NFL. Allen wasn’t a particularly good thrower of the ball, but he did enough in that area combined with his ability to scramble and break tackles to look like a solid “win with” QB. My projection on Allen was a bottom half of the league starter by his third year in the league that you could win with. That projection is two seasons away from being confirmed, but it’s seemingly on the right track.
The reasoning behind the projection was that while Allen didn’t have the processing speed, decision making, or accuracy you desire in a QB prospect, he did possess exceptional athleticism that could makeup for those weaknesses to set a baseline starter floor. He ultimately landed in a good situation as Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll schemed around Allen’s weaknesses and played to his strengths, allowing his QB to run wild while prescribing him a heavy dose of play action on dropbacks.
Of course, there’s more to it than blanket generalizations. Prospects have varying levels of mental and physical traits. Josh Allen just happened to be the extreme case.
The top two 2019 QB prospects, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, allow for more nuance in their evaluations pertaining to their ceilings and floor. Murray possesses better athletic ability, arm talent, and accuracy, while Haskins possesses better knowledge of schemes, manipulation of defenders, and quicker processing speed.
As is often the case for non-transcendent QB prospects; landing spot is going to play a major role in their development. But studying their traits and how they succeed can point us to who’s the safer prospect in what environment.
And thus, there are a few conundrums a QB-needy War Room has to solve when pitting Murray against Haskins…
Does Murray’s athleticism outweigh Haskins’ mental traits?
Do the results matter more than the process?
Does our organization have the infrastructure in place to maximize this player’s potential?
Murray clearly possesses the better athleticism of the two. Just two months ago Murray was going to report to Spring Training for the Oakland Athletics before he declared he was all in on preparing for the 2019 Scouting Combine. Murray’s rare athleticism and speed would have allowed him to be a major league-level outfielder who could also be a nightmare when he got on base.
Murray’s speed and quickness are going to translate to skills that can benefit an NFL QB. Many are going to point to Murray’s size as a concern for why he may struggle in the NFL, but his athletic traits are more than enough to make up for any deficiency.
Against Oklahoma State, Murray displayed the ability to avoid pressure and escape the pocket prior to completing a pass off-platform. The Oklahoma State cornerback hides the slot blitz well on this play, not showing much indication of his intentions pre-snap. When the ball is snapped the slot CB rushes free inside of the right tackle, with the weakside linebacker blitzing to widen the edge.
Murray feels the rush and passes up an opportunity to throw to his RB open down the seam—more on that later—to improvise and scramble outside the pocket before completing a pass for a nice gain downfield.
Murray’s ability to evade pressure and avoid sacks is going to be an invaluable tool for him in the NFL. With his burst and quickness, he can scramble and create with his legs. Rookie QBs that come into the NFL unequipped to evade the rush struggle in their first year or two in the league. This is because the teams that are in need of a QB are most likely lacking pass protection too, as was the case for Josh Rosen and the Arizona Cardinals offensive line last season.
Rosen, despite facing a lot of pressure at UCLA in 2017, was sacked at the lowest rate (5.5%) among 2018 first-round QBs in his final collegiate season. This was due to his functional mobility that allowed him to climb the pocket and avoid rushers running the arc. In Arizona, Rosen was unable to avoid those sacks, going down on 10.3% of dropbacks, despite having the same level of functional mobility.
Murray could have an easier transition to the NFL in an environment like Arizona because of how dynamic he is and his ability to make throws off-platform.
Haskins, much like Rosen, has displayed he can maneuver in the pocket by sliding and climbing when pressure threatens. But overall, Haskins is a pure pocket passer who struggles to create outside of structure and doesn’t always display poise when pressured. He tends to backpedal and not stand his ground in the face of the rush, and he will sometimes create pressure by escaping the pocket too early as a result of feeling ghosts. Haskins struggles when he’s not allowed to step up in the pocket to throw and when he’s forced to move laterally to create throwing angles like on this play against Michigan State.
Climbing the pocket to elude pressure is a skill that’s highly valued in QBs. But without the dynamic ability to create outside of structure, like Murray, the skill may not be as useful in year one if the pieces around the quarterback aren’t up to par. That makes a player like Haskins who struggles with accuracy in the face of pressure more reliant on the quality of his teammates.
Murray’s legs can add another element to an offense in ways Haskins cannot via the run game, whether on designed runs using read options to put defenders in conflict or taking off on dropbacks due to the void left by a Cover 2 Man defense. With offense’s adding more concepts from the college game, Murray’s ability to run can be more valuable in today’s evolving NFL than a pure pocket passer.
On the other hand, Murray’s athleticism can be a double-edged sword. If Murray relies too much on his legs to make plays instead of fully going through his progressions or taking what’s given, his athleticism could hinder his ability to develop as a QB. While the play I detailed earlier of Murray against Oklahoma State displayed his ability to feel and avoid the rush, the right process on that play is to check down to the open RB, who was the intended target after the scrambling occurred anyway.
Mark Schofield explains that while Murray often produces good results, the process is not always sound. For instance, this TD run against Army that Mark breaks down here. Players like Murray who possess rare athletic traits want to flex those abilities, sometimes to their detriment. It’s something to consider as he transitions to the NFL game.
On this play against Texas, Murray rolls to the outside, abruptly stops his momentum and recklessly targets the middle of the field. Murray doesn’t see the safety lurking, who ends up intercepting the throw because Murray rushes his post-snap process.
This is a recurring issue I’ve noted on quite a few of Murray’s interceptions. Against Texas Tech, Murray fails to recognize the defensive back near the line of scrimmage drop into coverage underneath, resulting in an INT.
Prior to the snap Murray recognizes the defensive back near the line of scrimmage indicating a blitz is potentially coming.
Murray uses cadence to attempt to get the defensive back to tip his hand prior to the snap. The defender looks to drop back into coverage as Murray fakes the snap count.
Murray confirms this by taking one last look to that side of the field before the ball is snapped.
Everything leading up to the snap is sound process and encouraging. The post-snap process is what is concerning for Murray. He locks onto receiver Marquise Brown and doesn’t see the defensive back he confirmed moments earlier playing underneath to cut off the curl.
From a processing speed standpoint Haskins grades out higher than Murray. At 6’3”, 218 pounds, with a well built frame, not only does Haskins looks the part of an NFL QB, but he also thinks like one. That’s a trait that can be the differentiator in some War Rooms.
Haskins’ ability to diagnose where the blitz is coming from pre-snap and change protections at the line of scrimmage is advanced for a first-year starter. Haskins is dedicated to his craft and spent all off-season working with then-offensive-coordinator Ryan Day on protections and responsibilities.
Haskins is also adept at processing information quickly in the post-snap phase, going through his progressions and pulling the trigger. This was something he hesitated to do at the start of the season, but he improved mightily as time progressed, becoming more comfortable throwing with anticipation, allowing his passes to arrive on time.
What separates Haskins from most QB in this class is how he reacts when the pre- and post-snap looks don’t align.
In a Film Room breakdown for the Big Ten Network, Haskins explained his pre- and post-snap thought process on this QB scramble for a gain of eight yards on 2nd and 9 against Michigan. Haskins explains that all week in practice SLB #59 was the blitzer. Because he believes #59 is blitzing, Haskins slides the protection to his right to pick up #59 and #10.
But Michigan goes against their tendency on the play by sending boundary pressure from the weak side with LB #12 and CB #28.
Haskins recognizes the blitz and knows he needs to react quickly to avoid taking a hit. He makes the smart decision to run to the soft spot of the protection and is able to pick up positive yardage. This play is a good example of Haskins processing information quickly and making the right decision.
Despite all the right things Haskins does in his preparation, process, and decision making, he lacks the results due to issues with his lower half mechanics that create inconsistencies with his accuracy. This is especially true on passes downfield.
Against Purdue, Haskins missed an opportunity to complete a deep pass to a wide open Terry McLaurin. The mechanical deficiency causing this relates to Haskins’ plant leg. Haskins has a tendency to keep his plant leg completely stiff when he finishes his throw and this causes him to sail the ball beyond his intended target.
In terms of accuracy, Murray is the most accurate QB in the 2019 draft. He possesses excellent arm talent to put the ball anywhere on his receiver to any distance of the field. Arm talent isn’t purely grading arm strength. Arm talent can also be defined as the feel a QB has for throwing the ball. Does he put enough velocity on passes thrown into tight windows? Can he take some velocity off to throw with touch? Does he have control of the trajectory of his passes? Can he throw from different platforms?
Murray displays the ability to throw with plus velocity and placement on this play against Oklahoma State, throwing a dart into the turkey hole of the Cover 2 defense for a completion.
Murray can also throw with excellent touch and trajectory to all depths of the field. Against Alabama, he executed a perfect touch pass with placement to his WR CeeDee Lamb, recognizing Lamb had leverage to the boundary setting up 1st and goal for Oklahoma’s offense.
With both prospects having just one full season as starters, there are still traits that have yet to fully develop, adding to the difficulty of projecting each of these QB’s floors and ceilings. Yet, both QBs are talented prospects and are deserving of being first-round selections.
Based on my evaluation of each player I prefer Kyler Murray to Dwayne Haskins. I’d take the advanced processor over the raw athletic QB in most drafts, but Murray can become a good “win with” QB that flashes “win because of” ability if everything comes together. That isn’t to knock Haskins, as both QBs have environments they can have success in.
Haskins environment fit: Best suited to enter an organization that has a stable infrastructure in place in the form of a quality offensive line. From there it would help for him to have one or two playmakers he can rely on, allowing him to act a distributor, making quick throws nears the line of scrimmage. Ideally he can utilize the mesh concept and take the occasional downfield shot. While not dynamic, Haskins has good functional mobility and would excel in an offense that called designed roll outs to get him throwing high-percentage passes on the run.
Murray environment fit: Best fits in a downfield offense because of his arm talent and pinpoint deep ball accuracy. His play caller should build in plays that create conflict and deception: e.g., RPOs, read options, play action. Using the read option inside the red zone to stretch a defense horizontally would be ideal, preferably in tandem with an equal threat to receive the pitch at RB. Murray doesn’t need a top notch offensive line unit because he can avoid pressure with his legs to create outside of structure and on the run.