[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Now that the 2018 NFL draft has commenced, and the dust settled from the scrutiny of New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s process, smart minds can take the time to see what the Giants actually picked. Gettleman’s chiding of various “new school” doctrines like analytics aside, some of his choices show a real thoroughness previous Giant administrations have lacked. Fourth round pick Kyle Lauletta is one of those examples.
Initial reactions to the selection ranged from questioning to shocking (myself), not because of the young Richmond QB, but because the Giants failed to address critical needs like right tackle. Chatter then moved to the obvious differences between Lauletta and 2017 3rd round project Davis Webb, who spent a year on the shelf behind Manning despite the team going 3-13. My initial goal was to provide clear analysis as to the differences between Lauletta and Webb, and paint the picture of an open Giants offensive brain trust that wanted diverse options for the future. As the tape rolled, however, the differences between the two were so apparent that a compare/contrast exercise is too simplistic. Lauletta played for four different offensive coordinators with wide ranging schemes and Webb came from the Air Raid schools of Texas Tech and University of California. Great minds at Inside the Pylon and elsewhere say clearly; scout the player, not the helmet and so the more effective evaluation can be done on Lauletta. This piece will show how his traits around play action transfer directly into head coach Pat Shurmur’s style of offense – making the backup QB spot, quite frankly, his to lose.
As we harped about in the first installment of the NYG offensive preview here, Minnesota last year (with Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator) ran play action 26% of the time (2nd most in the league) while gaining 8.7 yards per play (6th in the league). Ex-Vikings quarterback Case Keenum had a passer rating of 111.8 while throwing off play action, 4th in the league. Many of those snaps came from under center, with the quarterback faking the hand off with appropriate deception, continuing the drop and wheeling his head around to the defense. This whole process is a learned trait that may not seem so difficult, but only masters at the NFL level survive defenses that disguise their looks at speeds that reach ludicrous levels. Please see the below example of Vikings quarterback Case Keenum executing a sideline throw with good timing to his primary read:
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While at Richmond, Kyle Lauletta had four offensive coordinators during his total 5 year stint there. For more in depth overview of his college career, check out the Ringer’s article from last week. In the below clip from the 2016 season opener against the University of Virginia, Lauletta throws a crisp comeback (or out route, hard to see) after a quick play action fake from under center and what looks to be a 5 step drop. That year the offensive coordinator was Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett‘s brother John, and they ran many pro concepts (like the one below, which is almost a modified Mills Concept, particularly the West Coast version).
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Most draft analysts, however, focused on the recent film from 2017 (Jeff Durden was offensive coordinator, spread-style scheme), where Lauletta was very productive but in shotgun often. He possesses solid roll out skills, though, and throws well on the run. This is not abnormal, but draft analyst’s recency bias hid one of the better parts of Lauletta’s play action game from under center from the football public. Here you have to look back to 2015 (his first real season) while under the tutelage of Charlie Fisher, ex-QB coach for Penn State on Bill O’Brien‘s staff. Fisher brought with him mostly elements of the Patriot‘s pro style system (Erhardt-Perkins), and with it came a plethora of 12 and 21 personnel. Play action played a crucial element to this offense, with both straight drop backs and many variations of bootlegs as well.
In 2015, the Spiders enjoyed a successful season where they made it to the semifinal for the FCS Championship, falling to the North Dakota State Bison (now Philadelphia Eagle Carson Wentz was injured for that game). Although it was a very lopsided loss for the Spiders, the film showed many promising examples of Lauletta’s skill set. The first example is from later in the 2nd quarter of that game, with Richmond already trailing by 20 points. Notice right away the split zone play action with the quarterback quickly pulled in the opposite direction of the fake. Lauletta rolled right to the field side, and while he was perhaps a bit stuck on his first read, he ultimately made the right safe choice for an easy completion. See video below and note that all of the game’s breakdowns were recorded at .75 times speed:
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Side note, the Vikings last year in the Divisional Playoff game against the Saints ran an almost identical concept from 13 personnel, with tight end Kyle Rudolph split to the left. This play action was buck sweep-ish blocking instead of split zone, and replaced the pivot route with a chip block and an out route from tight end David Morgan. Keenum gets wide enough in the boot leg for a clear and decisive throw to the primary comeback route. Notice too how Keenum runs to his target, ensuring his shoulders square and provide a stable base.
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Disclaimer, the objective here is not to find exact plays that both the Vikings and Richmond Spiders have run in the past and declare Lauletta to instantly be a “Shurmur guy.” Many college and NFL offenses have overlapping route concepts (especially now), and as shown above Lauletta has room for improvement. The goal is to shed light on the traits that Lauletta currently has to start workouts with the Giant this offseason. So Lauletta threw comfortably not only in bootleg but also from the pocket and when facing pressure. Earlier in the North Dakota State game, coordinator Fisher dialed up play action from 21 personnel i-formation with his quarterback taking a 5 step drop against substantial front side pressure.
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He took a pretty good shot at the very end of that cut up, and give him credit for hanging for timing the in and out concept well despite the front side pressure. Some analysts have tagged him as having issues with pressure, but that does not present itself in this game. It was clear, however, that last year in the spread offense under coordinator Durden, that there were not multiple reads in his progression partly because their offensive line simply could not give him the time. Another criticism has been a lack of throwing to the interior of the field after play action. Mentally, if you combine the two criticisms its easy to envision a passer who is uncomfortable being uncomfortable after a throw. That simply is not the case with Lauletta.
This became very clear back in the Bison game in 2015 on a 2nd and 6 on an quick post route thrown downfield. Coordinator Fisher dialed up 12 personnel again, this time calling for a crossing route from the outside receiver after motioning to an offset stack twins formation.
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The call was perfect against Cover 2, and Lauletta kept his head and shoulders square to the middle of the field (keeping both safeties honest), then unleashed really his best deep throw of the game to the Turkey Hole weakness of the coverage. At the very end he took a minor shot to the upper half, not a huge hit but he stepped into throw with solid foundation despite the oncoming pressure.
Readers may say that Lauletta identified the probable Cover 2 pre-snap (with the pressed corners and 2 deep safeties), so that confirmation was all that was needed post snap. Despite this probability, the young quarterbacks quick recognition was on display outside the pocket late in the 2nd quarter. He found himself in shotgun, again with front side pressure flushing him to his right. But this time the clear Cover 2 pre-snap had a slight wrinkle of the Mike linebacker retreating into the deep middle of the field to aid in the coverage of the seam route.
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As Lauletta rolled he not only recognized this but with good foundation and a quick hitch turned the linebacker around, ensuring the middle was open for the dig route coming across. Many quarterbacks when flushed will lock into the route they know they can throw, and lose their body discipline in the process, making it easy for the defense to react. He does ignore the corner route from the front side X wide receiver who was also wide open in the Turkey Hole. But the decisiveness and patience to execute the details really stand out when out of play structure, or really in this case extending the play structure.
Lauletta’s skill set is not polished by any means, no quarterback in this class is fully developed. The Giants upcoming offseason schedule will feature two young competitors vying for a position behind an aging Eli Manning. To me, the winner of that position is going to be the one who can complete the below sail concept consistently, in the same scenario Keenum found himself in against the Saints: coming off of play action and needing to put the throw on a dime against tight coverage.
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Play action is an element that is often characterized incorrectly by NFL pundits. Too often in the wake of a loss, main stream media calls for a “return to the running game to set up play action.” The truth is defensive players are taught to read their keys whether the offense is an effective rushing team or not. Even if a linebacker does not react to a pulling guard, this movement still catches his attention, which in turn delays processing speed giving the offense more opportunity.
Proper execution of play action is a detailed process that can be tedious yet very rewarding when done correctly. Kyle Lauletta possesses the attention to detail, footwork, accuracy and arm talent to execute these throws within Shurmur’s offense. Maybe Dave Gettleman drafted him as he claimed afterward, “[because] there was something there.” There’s more than something there.