Thursday, March 27, 2014

2014 Cowboys Weekly Draft Notebook - Episode 10 - Quarterbacks

There is no position more vital to winning in the game of football, and therefore there is no position more discussed each draft year than the QB category each spring.  And rightfully so.

We spend plenty of time on each of these guys to see which we will still be talking about in 10 years. Because the draft has certainly demonstrated that the 10 year lifespan is what you are going for so that your franchise is safe and secure in this most important of all spots.  Can the guy ever be a starter in the NFL?  If so, can he work his way into that coveted group where we wonder whether he can be discussed amongst the top 15 QBs in the league (a better then average, top half of the league QB).  And if so, does he ever become the best of the best, where he is in the top 5-6 QB1s in the league - and people throw the most coveted of all labels around: Elite!

Let's look back just a bit before we grab this year's bunch.

In 2003, who were we talking about?  Well, according to our guy's at Ourlads scouting services, the Top 10 evaluated QB prospects in their guide to the NFL Draft were the following:  Byron Leftwich, Marshall - Carson Palmer, USC -Kyle Boller, California - Rex Grossman, Florida - Drew Henson, Michigan - Chris Simms, Texas - Dave Ragone, Louisville - Seneca Wallace, Iowa State - Brad Banks, Iowa - and, Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech.

How is that for a list of distinguished gentlemen?  The also-rans in that category included Eastern Illinois' standout, Tony Romo.  And I think we can all agree that he has achieved the greatest heights of this class, even though that was certainly not apparent to anyone in his draft year or even in his first several years in the league.

2004 was a different situation altogether.  That was the draft that featured 3 QBs that have been in the elite discussions for years, and with 4 Lombardi Trophies in their possession, they can compete with mostly every QB class.

Top 10 there?  Eli Manning, Mississippi - Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) - Philip Rivers, NC State - JP Losman, Tulane - Matt Schaub, Virginia - John Navarre, Michigan - Cody Pickett, Washington - Josh Harris, Bowling Green - Luke McCown, Louisiana Tech - Rod Rutherford, Pittsburgh.  The also-rans that year featured big Jared Lorenzen of Kentucky and BJ Symons of Texas Tech, but nothing that made an impact on the NFL.

And then, 10 drafts ago was 2005 (counting 2014) and that gave us another wonderful QB debate at the top of the draft that that year actually had Ourlads making it a 3-man race and their favorite QB was Charlie Frye from Akron.  Then, Aaron Rodgers, California - Alex Smith, Utah - Jason Campbell, Auburn - Kyle Orton, Purdue - Adrian McPherson, Florida State - David Greene, Georgia - Andrew Walter, Arizona State - Stefan Lefors, Louisville - Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard.  Oklahoma's Jason White, Chance Mock from Texas, and Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech were also in the group, but it was pretty top-heavy.

So, that was almost 40 names from 3 consecutive draft classes, and there were about 8 NFL starters in that group (guys who held the job for more than a cup of coffee) and I suppose half of that number would be in the mix for the elite discussion with Roethlisberger and Rodgers ever actually taken seriously in that "elite" talk league-wide.

That is simply to demonstrate what history has proven to us again and again.  There are a lot of "interesting kids" who play QB at a very high level in college football.  They take major universities to destinations of every alum's hopes and dreams and marry the cutest cheerleader.  But, when it comes time to do it on Sundays, even that group of accomplished QBs are still hitting on an absurdly low hit-rate.  40 names, easily 40 more QB prospects from 2003-05 that I did not name who were all college starters and successful at the next highest level of the sport and it just produced about a 10% yield for even just 4-year starters in the NFL.

So, as we look at these guys and try to find the next big-time starter, keep that in mind.  10 prospects, 1 guy will be in the mix in 10 years, and that could be Alex Smith or Matt Schaub.  If you want Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers, then your odds go to about 1 for every 40 prospects - regardless of round or paycheck.  On the other hand, if you are looking for Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Manning, Rivers, Smith, Schaub, Palmer, or Romo, you better remember that only Romo was not a 1st round pick in the entire group.

So, this idea of finding a guy who slips through the cracks - like Tom Brady or Tony Romo - just know that this doesn't happen much at all.  People want the Cowboys to get their "QB of the future" with a 3rd or 4th rounder.  If you start to put a list together of all of the teams that have actually found their guy who started at a high level for 5-6 years and found him in the 3rd or 4th round, the list would be very, very short.

As we look at the class of 2014, it is best to just keep those numbers in mind.  There are QB prospects I like and others I don't, but in the end, when they are all passing their 30th birthdays, the odds tell us that most of these guys will be high school football coaches or running an insurance company rather than starting an NFL game in 2022.


Blake Bortles - Central Florida 

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Blake Bortles6'52324.90/1.7532 7/89 3/8

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INT/INT%YPA 
3765.7%56 / 6.3%19 / 2.1%8.53

I want it to be noted right away that none of these QBs are perfect.  I am looking for flaws in their games when I am watching them and trying to pick out 3 big opponents so that those flaws stick out.  That doesn't mean they are bad QBs, it means they are QBs.  All Quarterbacks have a weakness.  And the Bortles weakness is that he will lock on to a guy and his eyes betray him at times.

So much of QB play at the top level is not allowing your eyes to give you away.  You must look off the safeties because they are using all sorts of "tells" to figure out where you are going with the ball.  Lock on to a guy and you are asking for trouble and a Pick 6.

This guy is so big and so agile with his feet that you have a real hard time not falling for him and what he could be at the next level.  So many of the best QBs today are able to run on 3rd and 8 when you go into man coverage and your defensive backs have their backs turned to the play.  This extends drives and causes frustration from the defense.  Bortles should be able to do that a ton and have the build to not take on too much damage when he risks a hit.  He will be a tough guy to tackle downfield.

Without saying he has a massive arm that can make all of the throws, you can still see that he can do it all with his arm and his feet.  He is able to assist your OL because of his movement skills and his build that allows him to avoid a few arm sacks.  He will throw it in coverage, but he also will want the ball right back to go make things right.

He stands tall and throws strong and is able to throw guys open.  I don't love the fact that he appears to be vulnerable to coverage in a way that LSU's Mettenberger has a better feel for manipulating safeties, but Mettenberger cannot show any of the feet skills that Bortles does that might more than make up the difference.

When looking for a QB to lead your franchise for what you hope is the next decade, it often becomes a game of seeing who scares you the least.  For most in this draft, Bortles is the one who is left standing when you play that game, and I would not disagree with that consensus.  He seems the one you would vote most likely to succeed.

Johnny Manziel - Texas AM

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Johnny Manziel5'112074.64/1.6531 3/89 7/8

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
2668.9%63 / 7.3%22 / 2.5%9.06

What I said above about Bortles doesn't mean he is who I would go get if I am on the clock in the draft.  I recognize that Bortles has less to be concerned about and is a safer, more logical conclusion.

But, when preparing for this draft, I was going to attempt to forget that I had seen pretty much every snap of Johnny Manziel's college career and watch him again with eyes that were critical and finding reasons why he cannot succeed at the next level.

And yes, his bone-headed throws into coverage will lose games at the next level.  There is simply no way that a guy who makes those decisions will ever have that fully coached out of him, because any true gun slinger is ok with a few bad throws if it leads to 10 good ones.  And, to take those instinct decisions away from him would destroy the whole appeal of taking a guy like him in the first place.  What makes Manziel great is that while he is a strong QB in the first 3 seconds of every play, he is even better - and maybe among the historical greats - when the play breaks down in the next 3-5 seconds and he defies the Xs and Os as he is going along.

Further, when you look at his Int%, you will see that while 2.5% is higher than most of the rest of the prospects on this list, it is not significantly higher.  To hear some talk about his interception rate, you would think it would have to be double the field, and it isn't even close.  He is making mistakes, but in the SEC against the best competition that you can find at the college level, he still was lighting them up at a 3/1 TD/Int rate.

He also has a major league arm (I don't know how people can watch him play and question his arm strength as he delivers a lot of frozen ropes) and also has the best completion percentage of any of these Tier 1 guys.  He seems to have no problems finding guys and hitting them to move the chains.

Then, his next-best trait, which is his ability to almost never get hit hard when on the move.  He runs like a RB and that is not just something Barry Switzer said.  It is true.  He ran for over 2,000 yards in 2 seasons as a QB and a yards per carry of 6.3 - again, in the SEC against NFL-ready defenders.

But, more than anything, he seems to have the knack of competitive drive that is really clear through the screen.  He wants the ball and demands your attention and will not go down without a battle on his hands.  I know this is very difficult to measure and count on at the next level, but enough NFL people are saying that this is the closest to Favre we have seen since Favre that you are willing to at least give it all a chance.

Now, the very clear negative is his build.  He does take a beating in the pocket and he is not 6 feet tall, nor overly muscular.  We saw Michael Vick take beatings and miss time in an awful lot of seasons despite being elusive.  We also saw Duke knock Manziel senseless during the bowl game and I can tell you that the NFL has athletes that Duke doesn't have.  There have been many a folk hero carried off on a stretcher on Sundays and that is really going to be the entire game with this guy.

Highest ceiling?  Absolutely.  In fact, if you need a QB and don't take him, you better be ready to explain that to your fan base for the next decade if he is what we think he might be.  But, he is surely a guy who comes with a fair amount of risks and of course, the possibility of some headaches, too.

Will he be a diva at the next level?  We would be silly to say it is impossible.

I would bet on Manziel, but I would also not tell you it is a sure thing.

Teddy Bridgewater - Louisville

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Teddy Bridgewater6'22144.78 (Pro Day)339 1/4

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
3968.4%72 / 6.3%24 / 2.1%8.60

Unlike other positions and even other sports, QB is definitely one where we try to measure a player's ability when the odds are stacked against the boys and even though we know that every snap and every possession is important, some inevitably are more important than others.  Is there a player who seems to play his best football at the most important time of the game?

Well, that is Teddy Bridgewater's appeal.  Not to mention that in an offseason of people watching Manziel's party tour, we saw Bridgewater's TV appearances where he wore a suit and conducted himself as a distinguished gentlemen who was an alternative to the Frank the Tank persona of Mr Manziel.

That scholarly approach delighted the media and before long, he was the #1 pick on most people's boards.  I would watch him play in the fall and while I liked his overall package, I got the sense that the media narrative machine had propped him up a bit higher than he belongs as their way of taking the shine off the Heisman winner in College Station.

But, with a fresh set of eyes on 3 of his games from last fall, I tried to forget all of the noise that really doesn't matter and just zero in on his skills as a QB prospect.  Is this the type of guy who we will still be raving about in 5 or 7 years as a stud starter at the next level?

He, unlike Derek Carr, saved his best for last and finished his college career with a clinical dismantling of Miami in a Bowl game that was stunning.  He has a nice quick trigger and gets the ball out quickly.  His underneath accuracy is a bit troubling at times, but he obviously puts it where it needs to go most of the time.

He has a good decision clock and can manipulate safeties like a veteran QB to create spots to throw the ball down the middle deep.  I do think his arm looks a little off on the NFL throw - sidelines, frozen rope, 18 yards downfield.  But, he does a ton of damage in the middle of the field and on the shallow flanks - which of course is the place most college QBs are going over and over again.

He had a few games where he looked in accurate, and the Cincinnati game in particular was not something to champion, as well as a number of games where his accuracy was certainly affected relative to the amount of pressure he was under.

For me, with his slight build and some inconsistency in his play, I have him 3rd on my list.  I just don't see this #1 overall business, but then again, I don't spend time with these prospects like NFL teams do, and it seems like that is where he dazzles people with his convincing interviews that tell you he is all football all the time.

Derek Carr - Fresno State

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Derek Carr6'22144.69/1.6431 1/29 1/8

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
4466.7%113 / 6.9%24 / 1.5%7.88

When you compare a QB to another QB, you wish they would run similar systems so it would seem to be apples to apples a bit more.  But, that is not the case, so you have to try to imagine what a guy can do and what he won't be able to do if he is not in that exact environment.

Fresno State, as far as I could tell from watching the USC, SD State, and SJ State, Fresno is in the shotgun at all times, spreads you out, and then generally makes sure that they are stretching you from sideline to sideline and then throws a number of 3x1 or even 4x1 attacks (with 4 WRs to one side in the diamond from Varsity Blues) and bubble screens you into a slow death.

Now, this is a very attractive strategy to make a defense want a vacation, but as far as showing off what your QB can do, it hides that pretty well.  He throws a ton, but he makes throws that you would expect the Southlake QB to be able to make in a similar fashion.

He throws the ball beautifully and it looks effortless and he is clearly the little brother of David Carr.  Unfortunately, many of the beautiful balls downfield were missing their marks, and against USC in his final game in college, he picked a poor time to put his worst work out on the field.  That day, with an amazingly low 4 yards per attempt, he looked as ordinary as he could possibly look.

But, we try to watch a lot of games so that we don't just see him on a bad day or in a bad matchup.  And, to his credit, if you want to find him in his best form, the trip to San Jose State to play David Fales head to head was an instant classic that should be found.  That day he threw for 6 Touchdowns, 500 yards, 10 YPA, and still lost by 10 points.  But, on that day, he was all over it with a great pocket presence and with his great receiver DeVante Adams (also a top prospect in this draft), they put on a show that we won't soon forget.

He gets bumped up in his grades for being a fantastic athlete who can certainly run for a first down when he needs to and has blazing speed that is close to Manziel.  He throws the fade with ease and does so repeatedly.

But, for me, the accuracy is an issue and so is the way that he just never seemed to have to throw the ball downfield as his bread and butter.  Screens are nice, but they don't tell you much about his game, and unfortunately, that was the majority of his diet from the games I watched.

I like him, but I might like the guy below him here even more.

David Fales - San Jose State

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
David Foles6'12125.03/1.7231 3/49 1/4

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
2568.1%66 / 7.0%22 / 2.3%8.94

OK, I have read plenty about Fales and with the Senior Bowl week, he definitely was one of the QBs who was exposed to scrutiny for months now.  He runs an offense that certainly loves to sling it around, but in a much, much more vertical fashion.

Fales fires the ball all over the field and he does it very, very well.  In a few of the games I watched (Minnesota and Colorado State) he absolutely put on a clinic with accuracy.  Not every ball was completed, but as a QB, he did everything he could to place every throw right between the numbers of his targets.  He is really accurate.  In fact, that might be the #1 trait for this QB, and I will tell you, that can take you a long ways in the NFL.  Accuracy has made some QBs - Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, and it has taken others down over the years, as well.  So, if you had to choose, you might take the slightly less arm, but higher accuracy prospect.  And if so, you would be on Fales.

He also seems to have a real good feel within the pocket.  He can buy himself some time with his feet, although he is surely not a guy looking to run for the first down.  He is moving to make a throw.

Now, the knock on him is that his arm may not have the gun that you wish he has.  And in the NFL that is an issue at times, so I watched quite a few of his games and tried to look specifically for laboring to make a throw.  Again, does he have the ability to throw a 30 yard pass on a frozen rope?  Maybe not, but he does make throws all over the field, with most of them down the field and stressing a secondary.  And his throws are finding their marks and he is throwing guys open.

He battles and looks like he is running his huddle and scratching and clawing to move the team at crunch time.

I don't want to tell you he is going to be Drew Brees, because that sort of thing is just silly.  But, he has the things I value in a QB and I came away liking Fales way more than I expected.  I would think he would be a consideration for the Cowboys if he makes it to them in Round 2.  But, that may not come close to happening.

Zach Mettenberger - LSU

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Zach Mettenberger 6'5224
32 3/89 3/4

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
3061.8%35 / 5.3%15 / 2.3%8.78

Mettenberger certainly has a story that makes his total profile a bit more of a work for a football department that wants to make sure they know everything about him before they allow him to run their team.  He was kicked out of Georgia back in 2010 for a bar incident that derailed his football career rather abruptly.  He also just suffered an ACL injury to end his season in November against Arkansas that has kept him out of the combine and the normal spring activities that get people all fired up about a prospect.

But, make no mistake - this guy is very good.  In fact, if we were looking for a stand-up, stand-tall in the pocket QB prospect with a cannon for an arm, I believe I would be tempted to claim this LSU prospect might be the most impressive of the whole bunch in that regard, but at least right there with Bortles.

LSU's offense also makes him run what most NFL offenses call a normal set, rather than so many of the prospects running 100% shotgun and extremely pass-heavy offenses that are growing on everyone.  Mettenberger has the ability to make all of the NFL throws and make them with ease.  His accuracy is not a 10 out of 10, as he will miss some throws, but I wouldn't count it an issue more than just something to be aware that he isn't as accurate as David Fales.

But, he is a very impressive big man who can run on the rollouts with his eyes down the field.  He can make those strong throws and put them where they have to be.  His 2013 had a YPA at 10.4 which is really insane.

However, the point that distinguishes his from many of his counterparts is that I think his decision making might be at the top of the list.  He makes very clear and decisive reads and looks the safety to one target and then picks the more appropriate place to put the ball.  He also reloads well when he is looking somewhere and then realizes he can't throw it there safely, so reload and find #2 or #3.  His reads are solid in the games I watched.

So, huge arm, good brain, and great physique.  But, ACL, not great running skills even with good knees, and a bit of a spotty record off the field.

I think he is one of my favorite QB prospects of them all and I wouldn't be shocked to see him go in the 1st round.  And, if he is there when the Cowboys pick in the 2nd round, you better believe I would be pounding the table on this one.

Very impressive.

Jimmy Garoppolo - Eastern Illinois

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    
Jimmy Garoppolo6'22264.98/1.78319 1/4

GamesComp %  TDs/TD% INTs/INT%YPA 
4562.8%118 / 7.1%51 / 3.1%7.89

Here is a guy who has been the darling of many draft experts on the NFL Network and elsewhere, so I was hoping to like him more than I did.  Also, we cannot get past the fact that he went to Eastern Illinois, set passing records, and won the Walter Payton award, all just like Tony Romo did a decade earlier.  In fact, he smashed quite a few of Romo's records.

When I watch Garoppolo, it is clear that he throws under, under, under, and then play action over the top for an impressive score.  That certainly works and I am not trying to belittle that in any way, but the horizontal passing game that he was a part of at Eastern Illinois makes him a fine candidate for Nick Foles' job, but otherwise, is not what I am looking for in the NFL as far as the ability to throw into tight spots down the field.

He does some things very well, in fact, as far as those deceptive play-action fakes that can freeze a linebacker and open a passing lane window so he can fire a pass through it, he might be the best in this entire bunch.  He also, has a very Romo-like ability to feel rushers and move around to extend a play with eyes in the back of his head sometimes that is certainly not a learned trait for most QBs.

He has a strong arm and can do some nice things, but the thing that chased me off him a bit was that he had a bit too much gunslinger in his DNA for my liking.  Now, that might conflict with my previously stated thoughts on Manziel, and for clarity, allow me to say that gunslinging is an art that is completely governed based on the upside.  With Manziel - and Favre before him - the upside was so amazingly high that you took the boneheaded throws on occasion as collateral damage for the 4 or 5 great ones.  But, that ratio is a very important balance and if it ever gets too close in the other way, you are playing the wrong QB.

Now, Garoppolo's ratio was not in question this season with a crazy 53 TDs/9 INTs, but I am telling you that if you watch his games - Northern Illinois was the big one for me - he threw a couple and threw a couple more that were dropped INTs.  He throws into coverage way too much.  He doesn't make safe throws and this could be a product of over-confidence and even cockiness at that level, but it scares the heck out of me for someone who has to make such a jump to the NFL level and those windows are so much smaller and the schemes so much more complex to confuse you.

On the upside, he gets the ball out quick.  Quick motion, quick decisions, and he usually takes the smart throws underneath.  I bet he would be a real candidate for the spread that works the horizontal match ups hard.  But, man, when he gets the rush of blood to his head, he seems to lose his mind a bit and that is why I would put him at the bottom of this group.

My summary is this:  Bortles is the pick if you want to sleep easy.  Manziel is the pick if you like to gamble.  Bridgewater is a tier down.  In fact, Mettenberger might be better than Bridgewater, were it not for the ACL concerns.  Then, David Fales is a guy I really like at the right price.  I have not seen the Derek Carr fascination that some have, but I admit I champion the downfield gunner more than most.  Then, Garoppolo is 7th out of 7, and there might be a few guys who belong in his class that I did not profile in this batch.

That is how I see it.

Past Draft Profiles:

Weekly Notebook - Offensive Guards - Episode 9 - David Yankey, Xavier Sua Filo, Gabe Jackson, Cyril Richardson, Brandon Thomas, Dakota Dozier

Weekly Notebook - Offensive Tackles - Episode 8 - Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, Cyrus Kouandijo, Antonio Richardson, Jack Mewhort, Morgan Moses, Billy Turner

Weekly Notebook - Linebackers - Episode 7 - Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy, CJ Mosley, Telvin Smith, Jeremiah Attaochu, Carl Bradford 

Weekly Notebook - Defensive Ends - Episode 4 - Dee Ford, Kony Ealy, Jackson Jeffcoat, Scott Crichton, Stephen Tuitt, Trent Murphy, Chris Smith

We have profiled 50 players now (which was my original goal of looking at the Top 50 with heavy leanings on Cowboys' positions of interest), but now I think we will build our first board with the positions we have done for next week.

Then, in April, we can still do WRs, CBs, and at least browse the RBs and TEs and we will be ready to go.

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