Check With Me: June 14, 2018

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Ah spring. When a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, and an older man’s fancy turns to the next crop of draftable quarterbacks. The buzz and clamor of the 2018 draft class remains right in the rear-view mirror alike the long stream of cars behind you on a jam-packed highway headed toward the shore on a hazy summer Friday afternoon, but ahead lies again the riches of the next best thing. The new shiny toy.

So the work begins anew.

Early Thoughts on the Potential 2019 Quarterback Class

As expected, the 2018 NFL Draft saw a number of quarterback selected, including five in the first round. That tied the 1999 draft for the second-highest number of quarterbacks selected in the opening round of the player entry draft, just one behind the magical class of 1983. While those players – and their pairings with the teams that selected them – are very notable, what is also of interest are the teams that face an uncertain future at the position that might already have an eye toward the next crop. The New England Patriots. The New Orleans Saints. The Los Angeles Chargers. Plus, other teams are facing a question at the position such as the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts.

Quarterbacks are always in demand, although the supply does not always match with the need (see 2015). So as the football media world shifts from 2018 to 2019, the early reviews of the next group were…mixed.

Now.

As a card-carrying member of the Quarterback Union my own insight is of course to be taken with a grain of salt and not as gospel, and it is never to be a substitute for your own analysis and study. But in life, politics and quarterback evaluation, there are always grey areas. At first blush, the 2019 class lacks the established star power that 2018 provided. Lamar Jackson was coming off a Heisman trophy season. Baker Mayfield was a Heisman finalist for a number of years. Sam Darnold was already anointed The Savior by many attached to the league. Josh Rosen was Chosen.

Then there was Josh Allen.

The next group certainly lacks that umph. It is also true that there is, as of right now, no sure-fire guy to point to as the Iceman of this class…or even the Maverick. (Seriously, we all got chills at this tweet, right? But I digress). But there are a bunch of Hollywoods who, with the right training and development, could become something greater.

May marked Phase One of my summer study, getting in anywhere from two to six games on a watch list of 38 quarterbacks. Later this summer I’ll revisit these guys with a few more games each, plus rewatching some plays that I want to go over again with a fresh set of eyes. There are well-known names in this group, such as Drew Lock (Missouri), Justin Herbert (Oregon), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss transfer to Michigan), and Ryan Finley (NC State). There are some names that are – and could remain – under the radar, such as Ty Gangi (Nevada), Andrew Ford (UMass), Lamar Raynard (NC A&T) and Case Cookus (Northern Arizona). Having emerged from the film cave, it is time for some early takes.

Potential, and consistency.

Looking through my hand-written notes on these 38 quarterbacks (yes, I’m very old school) those are the two words, or themes, that stand out the most. Many of these quarterbacks have true potential to develop into the players that can come of the board early in the 2019 draft. In fact, most of them have a few, or even a number of, traits that NFL scouts and evaluators are looking for in rookie quarterbacks.

But that leads us to the second theme. Consistency. I need to see more of it, over a much longer, extended period, before I can be sure. Before I can believe.

Summertime is not the moment for definitive takes or planting flags, although I have done that on occasion myself. It is more the time to get a gauge, a baseline, on each of these players and then as we watch them through the fall, to see how they progress, where they improve – and where they don’t – to then get a fuller sense of the picture for the next draft. But in terms of an overall view of this group, I will say this: Don’t count this class out yet, not by a long shot. Some of these guys can – and will – turn some heads come November.

My money is on Brett Rypien, but that’s for another time…

Placement Versus Accuracy

Recently, the wise sage Matt Waldman started up his RSP Podcast. Frankly, it was about time. I was lucky enough to sit down with Mr. Waldman for an upcoming episode, and in true Waldman/Schofield fashion, we nerded out over quarterbacks for over 40 minutes. Honestly, Matt sent over a list of 10 questions and we got through three. In fact, it would make sense for a second part to drop…or better yet for it to be turned into a TV show. Let us know, ESPN or NFL Network. I’m biased…but “Mark and Matt in the Morning” sounds pretty good to me…

One of the questions that we did not get to was something I was looking forward to discussing, so hey, why not break it down for the readers?

The issue is one of quarterback evaluation (of course) and how to look at accuracy. As I would have told Matt, the way I look at this trait is three-fold. First, I break it down into short/intermediate/deep accuracy. This was reflected in the trait grades that some of you might have seen in the Inside the Pylon draft guide. This gets to scheme. If a quarterback can not hit the deep stuff, he might not be suited for an Air Coryell system. If that’s all he can hit, maybe pure West Coast or Erhardt-Perkins systems are not suitable. That’s one part of the equation.

But there is also the matter of general accuracy versus precision accuracy, or ball placement. That is a very important distinction and a huge piece to the puzzle, in my opinion. Throws can be catchable, even accurate, but be poorly placed. Let’s look at two examples:

On these two throws against Georgia Southern, Jarrett Stidham (#8) from Auburn University completes two different passes to his slot receiver, Will Hastings (#33), and both plays go for first downs. But I grade these two throws differently, even though both are accurate. The second, which comes on a slant route, is a well-placed throw in a perfect spot. The first, which comes on a quick out pattern, is put to the wrong shoulder, forcing Hastings to make a tough adjustment. He makes that adjustment, and still has time to pick up the first down. But that’s the difference, to me, and something I’ll be watching for from Stidham and the rest of this upcoming quarterback class.

Now, the distinction does matter more, and carry more weight, in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. Downfield I’m just looking for general accuracy. If a QB hits a receiver 60 yards downfield on a deep post but throws it to the wrong shoulder, I’m not losing my mind. But if he does that on a 5 yard out, consistently, then I might.

The reason for the distinction is this. First, throws that are generally accurate and catchable, but perhaps poorly placed, can still be completed on Saturdays. But perhaps not on Sundays, when the athletes are faster, smarter and the coverage is tighter. Second, the job of a quarterback (or one of the many) is to put his receiver in the best possible position for YAC. Precision in ball-placement plays a big role in that, along with timing and anticipation:

On this play Ball State’s Riley Neal throws a hitch route to his X-receiver, who is facing off coverage. In addition to the quick timing and the anticipation on this throw, look where Neal places it: Toward the boundary, away from the coverage. This is a well-placed throw that enables his receiver to secure the catch, spin upfield, and pick up additional yardage after the reception.

These might seem like minor details, but when you’re evaluating quarterbacks, nothing is too minor.

Summertime Plans

I get questions like this a lot, likely because I’ve somehow convinced everyone that I actually know what I’m talking about when, in all reality, my college offensive coordinator was right and I “literally have no idea what I’m doing out here….”

Sorry, flashbacks…

Anyway, I do like getting questions like that because the continual quest for deeper knowledge should be a part of any professional’s process, regardless of station in life and vocation. For those of us inflicted with the football illness, summer is a perfect time to get to reading.

I’ve come to the realization that the vast expanse of what I don’t know about defenses is approximately the size of Yellowstone. So in response to John’s question above, I responded that my main goal for this summer is to build up my knowledge of defenses, coverages, fronts, and the like. It is selfish, in a way, because it will literally save me time when writing or creating content, because I won’t be forced into re-reading Matt Bowen’s old coverage primers at Bleacher Report fifteen times a week. If anyone reading this works at B/R, you can probably tell the editors over there that yeah, I’m the one still clicking on those, because they are incredible and such a great example of what film pieces can be. Filled with knowledge, and timeless.

So there’s some homework, in a sense, for everyone. Take June (or July) and learn something new. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Helping One Another

Last week was, by any stretch, a difficult week for many. What began with news that Kate Spade had taken her own life ended with the news that Anthony Bourdain had done the same while on location in France shooting a new episode of his acclaimed “Parts Unknown.”

As expected, tributes are pouring in for both individuals, along with the usual calls to action and awareness.

These two incidents, however, shed light on an increasing number of suicides here in the United States. In 2016 alone, 45,000 people took their own life, and suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Among those in the 10-34 age bracket? Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death. Suicides were double the number of homicides in 2016 here in the US.

I’ve been open about my own struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in the past, both on Twitter and on a number of shows. Because, to a lesser extent of course, my own story is another example of how people like Spade and Bourdain, who seemingly have everything life could offer, can struggle. Inner demons do not discriminate. But I remember clearly the thought of ending it all. Sitting at a subway station, counting down the minutes until the next train was coming, and then…somehow not throwing myself in front of it.

My career change, from the practice of law to now writing about football, has given me a rebirth of sorts. It is terrifying, of course, to begin a new path in life in your forties. Perhaps that’s why Bourdain was an inspiration to many, myself included. But in my case the change likely extended my life, if not outright saved it. So the least I can do is to try and be there for others, the way many were there for me.

My call to action is two-fold.

First, if you’re reading this and you are struggling, I am here. Always. My DMs on Twitter are always open. My e-mail address is in my Twitter profile. Reach out. I may not have all the answers but I have been there, I have lived this, I have stared into the abyss and come out of the other side. I want to help.

Second, it’s easy to offer a hand, but it is also important to remember that one of the suffocating aspects of anxiety and depression is the isolation. That feeling that no one wants to help, that no one can help, that all is already lost. So it is incumbent upon us to reach out to them, to extend our hands often, to check in with them. A phone call, a text, a quick e-mail conversation. If a family member or friend or loved one has struggled, or seems to be struggling, make the first step.

Maybe invite them to a meal, and share some food with them. If Anthony Bourdain taught us anything, it was that the simple act of sharing a meal can build bridges.

Life is a struggle, and it can be very, very hard at times. But you only get one shot at it, one drive in this thing we call life. Don’t punt. Call a time-out, talk things over as much as you need to, and call the next play. Let’s win this together.

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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