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Senior Bowl 2019: Scouting the quarterbacks, and ranking them

An in-depth look at quarterbacks playing in this upcoming draft showcase game

Draft season gets into full gear next week as the football world descends upon Mobile Alabama Reese’s Senior Bowl. In addition to sampling the local cuisine, enjoying the Mobile nightlife and basking in some warmer weather, those in attendance next week will also go about evaluating the large number of players looking to showcase themselves in front of potential employers. Think of it as a full contact job fair. While every position and every player will be under a microscope, the eyes tend to gravitate toward the quarterbacks. This season’s crop contains two passers projected to be first round picks, as well as a deep group of players who might all hear their name called by the time the draft concludes.

Let’s look at these quarterbacks. For each quarterback I’ll be listing the games studied, their strengths or “where they win,” the things I want to look for down in Mobile in terms of improvement, as well as a potential scheme fit. Then we will put together some preliminary rankings, which may change due to final tape study and what takes place down in Mobile.

The North Squad

This is the group that might get the most attention next week, as both Drew Lock from Missouri and Daniel Jones from Duke, two rumored first rounders, will be on display. But do not ignore some of the other passers in this group, including one player who leaves his school as perhaps a living legend.

Ryan Finley, North Carolina State

Games Studied

North Carolina (2016), Vanderbilt (2016), Florida State (2017), Arizona State (2017), Syracuse (2018), Clemson (2018), Florida State (2018)

At His Best

Finley is a very clean passer mechanically, with a crisp release and throwing motion. He does a very good job of identifying leverage advantages and alignment advantages in the secondary pre-snap and then exploiting them during the play. He can move and freeze safeties with his eyes. He is pretty accurate in the short areas of the field, and can make anticipation Throws, although largely to the boundary and outside of the numbers. Against Arizona State in 2017 he had a few impressive deep throws, some of which were made from crowded pockets and/or with trash at his feet. He shows good processing speed at times, an example is a touchdown pass against Syracuse that came on a second and two in the first quarter on a Mills Concept, when he saw the free safety bite down on the inside dig and the threw the post route over the top. He is proficient on timing and rhythm throws, particularly when he can exploit off coverage looks on the outside. He can identify late safety rotation right before or at the snap, the Syracuse game is a good study as they rotated their safeties a great deal. Loves to run a Post/Wheel/Out concept, plenty of examples of him making a rhythm throw on the out route to the number three receiver against Florida State in both 2017 and 2018.

What I’ll Be Looking For

Finley’s accuracy can be spotty at times, particularly the deeper he gets down the field. There are times when he gets panicky in the pocket, and needs to improve on his pocket presence. Play speed is an issue, there are times when he needs to get the ball out of his hands faster. In 2018 he made some very curious decisions and/or no throw decisions. A prime example is a four verticals concept he had against Clemson and a Tampa 2 coverage look. The seam route in the middle of the field was open but he threw it late and failed to place the throw properly, and it was intercepted.

Scheme Fit

With his proficiency on timing and rhythm throws, I think Finley projects best to a system like New England’s offense, that is a blend of West Coast and Erhardt-Perkins concepts and styles.

Georgia Tech v DukePhoto by Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones, Duke University

Games Studied

Army (2017), Georgia Tech (2017), Army (2018), Georgia Tech (2018), Virginia (2018)

At His Best

Jones moves well in the pocket and shows sufficient velocity on throws to the short and intermediate areas of the field. He can stand tall in the pocket in the face of the blitz and is not afraid to take a hit if necessary. He shows good processing speed (best on West Coast concepts) and even does so in the face of pressure. He adds something as a runner, and Duke used him as a runner on designed roll-outs and quarterback draws. Jones displayed at times the ability to click and climb the pocket. Very proficient at using hard counts/cadence to disrupt a defensive front, perhaps almost too proficient, as he drew his own linemen offsides at times. Processing speed best on quick game concepts, such as a third-and-5 Stick concept against Virginia when he read the late middle linebacker drop/rotation perfectly. His ball placement in the short area and on quick concepts is also impressive at times, and he puts receivers in good position for yardage after the catch. A great play of his to study is a touchdown throw against Virginia that came on a third-and-3 in the third quarter. The Blue Devils run an Ohio (go/flat) concept to the left, and Jones wants to throw the flat route to the slot receiver. But the Cavaliers run a Cover 2 trap and the cornerback peels off the vertical route and traps the out route. Jones sees this and on the fly gets to his second read, the vertical, and makes a perfect hole shot throw for the TD.

What I’ll Be Looking For

If you are a fan of clinical footwork in the pocket and on drops, Jones might leave you underwhelmed. His drops lack structure. He underthrows some vertical routes in the deep passing game. His pocket presence can be lacking at times, there are moments when he slides or rolls into pressure. His accuracy and ball placement on set/reset throws can dip. Over the past season or so he developed a bit of a hitch and/or loop to his throwing motion, which upsets the timing on some route concepts. Accuracy on anticipation throws to all levels and areas of the field can be lacking. Boundary blitzes can get him at times. He saw this multiple times against Georgia Tech in 2018 with mixed results.

Scheme Fit

If you run a West Coast offense, Jones might be your ideal guy. From his placement on shorter throws to his processing on these designs, Jones could be the perfect West Coast QB.

Drew Lock, University of Missouri

Games Studied

Arkansas (2016), South Carolina (2016), South Carolina (2017), Missouri State (2017), Florida (2018), Wyoming (2018), Kentucky (2018)

At His Best

Easy arm talent and velocity. Lock has the kind of arm that will get NFL scouts and fans alike excited. He shows very good processing speed on run/pass option plays and does a very good job of manipulating the linebacker on these plays. (Check a first quarter play against Wyoming on a first and ten situation for a perfect example). He throws some boundary routes with good anticipation, such as hitches and comeback routes. He is pretty good at making reads post-snap, particularly on middle of field open and middle of field close (MOFO/MOCO) designs. Very good vertical thrower of the football. Against Florida this season he made some good reads and throws against blitzes, a third-and-3 play late in that game is a prime example of him diagnosing the blitz and replacing it with the football. Can manipulate free safeties in the vertical passing game, a touchdown throw he had against Florida on a Yankee concept is a good example.

What I’ll Be Looking For

Early in his collegiate career Lock was operating a very Baylor-esque offense, with lots of smoke routes, hitch routes, slant routes and vertical routes, with virtually nothing between the hashmarks or even between the numbers. With the influence of Derek Dooley this past season he has shown more grown in attacking all areas of the field, but still I would like to see even more development in this area, otherwise he’ll face the Bryce Petty 2.0 concerns. He stares down his primary read from time to time, and needs to get more consistency in using his eyes to scan through reads. Even with Dooley in place, the offense featured a lot of one-read plays and/or isolation routes. One of Missouri’s most-used designs was a two-receiver concept with a hitch route to one side and a go route to the other, and Lock would pick his best look based on the coverage or which hashmark the football was on. He can be very slow at times and there are moments when he pauses/hitches an extra beat or two, which leads to potential big plays going the other way. He can make those anticipation throws to the boundary as discussed, but can it do it consistently to other areas of the field. His mechanics are questionable, as he throws from a wide base at times and his release point is inconsistent. He will back foot throw/fadeaway throw some routes when he does not need to. A play to watch is a second-and-10 against Wyoming early in the third quarter. The Tigers run what looks to be a “Gotti” (option/go) route combination to the right. Missouri catches the Cowboys in a Cover 2 look and the go route on the outside is open, but Lock comes to it late and the safety almost makes the interception. The WR makes the catch, but the QB needs to pull the trigger quicker on this play.

Scheme Fit

Lock is an Air Coryell passer, and if put into a vertical-based offense he’ll be able to develop nicely.

Trace McSorley, Penn State University

Games Studied

Purdue (2016), Ohio State (2016), Ohio State (2017), Maryland (2017), Indiana - Live/In Person (2018), Appalachian State (2018), Michigan State (2018), Ohio State (2018)

At His Best

After taking over for Christian Hackenberg, McSorley leaves a storied career behind him at Penn State and leaves campus as a beloved player. One of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard from a football coach came at the 2017 Big Ten Media Days, when Indiana head coach Tom Allen told me that a defense facing Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki “needed to stop number nine first.” McSorley shows good processing speed on RPO designs. His footwork is also best on RPO concepts. He can influence underneath defenders with his eyes, most often on RPO concepts. He moves well in the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield. In 2018 he flashed some impressive throws on corner routes when running the Smash concept, his game against Appalachian State is a prime example. He has crisp mechanics and a quick release, and does a good job of using his left arm and upper body to generate torque on throws. You can also see the mental approach with him, as his tape is filled with plays and decisions that come against rotated safeties or rolled coverage looks, and he diagnoses the defense immediately and knows where to go with the football.

What I’ll Be Looking For

McSorley will stare down his primary read often, and needs to get better at coming off that first read and getting through his progressions. He missed some vertical throws this season, early and often against Appalachian State. He could be described as a “taskmaster.” On some designs he will force throws even if there is an adjustment by the defense that will take it away, because the design of the play and the coverage look indicates that on paper it is the right read. For example, on an RPO play against Appalachian State McSorley meets the running back at the mesh point and sees the read linebacker drop down, indicating that he should pull and throw. But when he does, a defensive lineman drops into the throwing lane. McSorley sees it, but insists on throwing the route anyway, and it is nearly intercepted. Also, while the mental approach is there with McSorley, there is sometimes an execution issue. He had a play against Michigan State where the defense was in a Cover 2/MOFO look, and he wanted to throw the post route. He looked to do this with anticipation, but the ball never got there, as it slipped out of his hands, perhaps because he tried to pull the ball down.

Scheme Fit

McSorley projects best to an offense that will blend West Coast and Air Raid concepts in a spread system, using RPO designs from time to time to give him some defined reads.

The South Squad

This group got a boost recently as Jim Nagy announced that Tyree Jackson, the quarterback from the University of Buffalo who was rumored to be entering the transfer portal, would be added to the group, That gives the North team five quarterbacks, and as you are about to see one of the quarterbacks I’m most excited to see.

Will Grier, West Virginia University

Games Studied

Mississippi (2015), Iowa State (2017), Kansas (2017), Tennessee (2018), Baylor (2018), Kansas (2018)

At His Best

Grier might be a bit of a wild card, and could be almost too aggressive at times. That being said, there are some thing he does really well as a passer. He shows tremendous ability in scramble drill situations and can create outside of the pocket and off structure. He is good against the blitz, and will remain calm in the pocket and in the face of pressure. He displays good touch and downfield throwing ability. He has a quick, violent throwing motion that generates velocity through the creation of torque in the upper body. Grier can throw from a variety of platforms and arm angles, and is reminiscent of Trevone Boykin in how he can quickly snap off throws to his left or right depending on the route design or the defensive pressure. He shows good processing speed on a variety of route concepts, and can click and climb the pocket. A great play to study from him is an early throw against Kansas where he opened to the left side to work a Sail concept, but seeing it covered he climbed the pocket in the face of pressure and worked through his reads, getting to a curl route late in the play on his right to move the chains. He shows anticipation and aggression in the middle of the field, something that other passers in this group lack.

What I’ll Be Looking For

Ball carriage and ball security are an issue with him. He tends to hold the football down near his waist when moving around the pocket, which can delay his ability to transition from mover to passer in the blink of an eye. When he takes off with the football, which he does from time to time, he needs to do a better job of securing the football. He is not a technically sound quarterback, and odds are high school coaches are not using him as teaching tape. His mechanics can be flawed and he has a bit of a loop and draw to his throwing motion. He makes some assumptions at times, such as the bad interception he threw on the goal line against Kansas when he assumed the inside/slot cornerback was going to do one thing, but he did something else. There is some vertical inconsistency with his ball placement, but that might get to a scheme issue more than anything else.

Scheme Fit

Grier projects very well to a modern West Coast offense that incorporates some spread and Air Raid elements. Some of the plays he was running last year are designs you saw from teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans.

Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo

Games Studied

Florida Atlantic (2017), Army (2017), Rutgers (2018), Eastern Michigan (2018), Kent State (2018)

At His Best

Jackson might be the ultimate lottery ticket in this draft class. If he gets into the right spot and has a chance to develop, he could be the ultimate boom prospect. But there is a lot of work that needs to be done with him. He is the Mad Bomber, and Daryle Lamonica would love to watch him play. He has never met a vertical throw or a 9 route that he doesn’t like. HIs mechanics are all over the place - as we will get to - but he has the ability to drop his arm angle and make throws from a variety of arm slots. He has very impressive arm talent, and despite his mechanical flaws he manages to dial up very good velocity to all levels of the field. He is also athletic, even explosive, as a ball carrier. He can make some anticipation throws, usually along the boundary, but that is a more of a work in progress. He is an aggressive passer, who will challenge some throwing windows and make some risky throws, even when he has a better/easier option available to him. Study his game against Army and you will see some examples of him throwing the deep route on Smash concepts even though the hitch underneath is wide open. He made some very impressive throws against Eastern Michigan moving to his left, and uncorking some 9 balls or vertical routes even when moving away from his throwing hand.

What I’ll Be Looking For

Mechanics are a huge work in progress. He is a tall quarterback, which leads to an issue we see with taller QBs as outlined by Steve Axman in his book “Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics.”

..the front step is not a big step. Although each quarterback’s front step will differ in length due [to] physical differences, it must be short enough to force the upper torso to actually roll, or fall, over the ball of the planted front foot. Too big a front sep forces the upper torso to position its weight toward the back foot, causing a “break” of the body at the hips. In essence, the hips and lower body are left behind as the upper torso snaps forward from the hips. This action either causes a release that is too high, thereby forcing the football to take off high, or a situation which the football is pulled down low, thereby causing a substantial loss of torque and power and a low throw. Straight-legged stepping, often associated both with overstepping and tall quarterbacks, produces the same negative pass-action results. Coaching Quarterback Passing Mechanics pp 44-45

With Jackson, it is a straight-leg issue. On all of his throws that front leg is locked straight in front of him, which causes that break with the hips and lower body, and it makes him more of an arm thrower. He also needs to work on accuracy and ball placement. Yes, his completion percentage is sub 60 percent, but there are also examples of completed throws being placed poorly. He is slow with his reads at times and most often he simply locks onto the first read and throws the football to that receiver. He can diagnose rolled coverages, but needs to take the next developmental step and exploit them. For example against Kent State on a first and 10 play in the first quarter the Bulls run a mirrored Hoss (hitch/seam) concept. The defense shows Cover 2 before the play but rotates it at the snap to a Cover 3 look. Jackson sees it and comes off his first read, the hitch on the outside. That is great, but he needs the second step, which would be to throw the seam into the soft spot of the Cover 3. He doesn’t, and tries to create with his legs by rolling to the left, and misses this opportunity.

Scheme Fit

Jackson projects best to a downfield passing offense. Get him to Tampa as some Jameis WInston insurance and give him a year to learn from Bruce Arians, and see what happens next. (As an aside, I’ve been trying to predict an Arians QB for years, and I’m not stopping now).

Gardner Minshew, Washington State University

Games Studied

California (2018), Arizona (2018), Washington (2018), Utah (2018)

At His Best

In an age of Instagram “influencers,” Minshew is an influencer on the field. He is a master of manipulation, using pump fakes, shoulder shrugs and his eyes to move defenders and create opportunities in the passing game. He is a capable anticipation throws, and not just to the boundaries but also in the middle of the field. On a second-and-10 play in the first quarter against California he gets blitzed but makes an anticipation throw over the middle to replace the blitz. The linebacker widens to cover a swing route from the running back and Minshew throws the dig behind him with anticipation, using good velocity and placement. His footwork in the pocket is fluid and always in synch with the route designs, and as he works through his full field progression reads his feet are always moving with him, sliding from read to read in concert with his eyes and his mind. He shows very good processing speed, particularly on Air Raid concepts such as Mesh, Y-Cross and 966 (Double-Dig). His arm is sufficient and there are isolated examples of “NFL throws,” such as the deep out/comeback he threw on a third-and-11 against the Utes. He is also proficient in scramble drill situations. But I keep coming back to his ability as a manipulator, such as the touchdown he threw on a Divide concept in the second quarter against Utah. His shoulder fake on the corner route is timed perfectly with the route, getting the safety to bite and enabling him to throw the post for a TD.

What I’ll Be Looking For

Minshew needs to cut down on the chaos plays, whether those he creates or those he forces. A good example is a near interception he threw against California, when he fumbled the shotgun snap and then tried to do too much, forcing a throw late that was nearly intercepted. His accuracy, or more specifically his ball placement, has been inconsistent at times to all levels. Against California he threw a deep over route late in the game on a critical touchdown drive, but the throw was low and behind the wide receiver who was forced to make a difficult adjustment for the catch. HIs footwork is great, as outlined, but at times accuracy dips when he tries to make throws after quickly resetting his feet.

Scheme Fit

Minshew fits well in a spread based offense working with Air Raid and West Coast concepts.

Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University

Games Studied

Georgia Southern (2017), Georgia (2017), UCF (2017) Mississippi State (2018), LSU (2018), Washington (2018), Alabama (2018)

At His Best

I was someone who was hoping Stidham would make the kind of developmental leap in 2018 that could propel him into the first round. Working off his 2017 tape you saw some very good things from him, albeit in an offense that did not task him with doing much. He showed the ability to slide and move in the pocket, to throw on the move, to make some bucket throws, to make some anticipation throws and full-field progression reads, and to make some off-platform throws with velocity. However, 2018 was a step back. He still shows good footwork on his drops and in the pocket, and shows some good arm talent on long comeback routes (585 concept against Mississippi State in the first quarter). He also displays the ability to make timing and rhythm throws, such as he did on consecutive throws against LSU, first on a comeback route and next on a post route attacking a MOFO coverage.

What I’ll Be Looking For

First, I want to see him outside of the Auburn offense, which might have hampered him somewhat over the past two seasons. Stidham was late on a ton of throws in 2018. He opened both the Mississippi State and the LSU game running the same play, a sprint Smash concept, and on both throws he was much too late with his decision. The LSU play was intercepted, the Mississippi State play should have been. He also missed some deep shots this season, such as a trick play against Mississippi State that should have been a touchdown as the receiver was wide open with no one within 10 yards of him. But Stidham overthrew the receiver by about ten yards. His hesitation gets him into trouble at times, as on a pick six he threw against UCF in their bowl game last season, when he was too late to get the ball out. He also has a draw and loop to his throwing motion, which is something to watch.

Scheme Fit

I also want to see him in Mobile to answer this question. Before the start of the 2018 season I thought he would be a pretty scheme diverse quarterback. Now, I just do not know what system he projects best to.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Missouri v Oklahoma StatePhoto by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Drew Lock

Preliminary Rankings

These are my pre-Mobile rankings for these quarterbacks, which will be refined over the next few months as work is completed. But right now, this is how I would stack these guys.

1. Will Grier - Yes, there are some mistakes and some head-scratching decisions, but I like his combination of aggression and his willingness to challenge throwing lanes all over the field. I think he is a good fit for how NFL offenses are trending and I could see any number of teams inserting him into their offenses in the next year or two.

2. Drew Lock - I have my concerns about him, from an offensive system perspective to his continued hesitation on some reads and throws. But I think in the right system (a vertical based one) he can flourish.

3. Gardner Minshew - As you can tell from the “Games Studied,” 2018 was my first exposure to Minshew. He was a joy to watch. I love his ability as a manipulator, and I think what he does pairs well with the recent story about how Alex Smith aided Patrick Mahomes, and the importance of manipulation in playing quarterback. He’ll get the “system quarterback” tag I’m sure, but I’m really excited to see him in Mobile.

4. Daniel Jones - Jones seems to be a perfect West Coast quarterback and he might end up drafted in the first round. His mechanics, his inconsistency throwing deeper downfield and his processing speed on non-West Coast designs have me slotting him here for now.

5. Tyree Jackson - Perhaps the ultimate lottery pick. His upside might be the best out of any of these quarterbacks, but the NFL landscape is filled with developmental quarterbacks who never get the chance to flourish.

6. Ryan Finley - Finley might have a very decent floor as a quarterback, as his ability on timing and rhythm throws and his processing speed makes him project as at least a long-term backup. Something tells me the New England Patriots might take a long, hard look at him down in Alabama.

7. Clayton Thorson - Thorson’s ability to make some anticipation throws in the middle of the field, plus his ability to click and climb the pocket at times against edge pressure, are things that you want to see from quarterbacks coming out of school. There’s potential here.

8. Jarrett Stidham - I’ll admit that I was hoping for more from him this season, but things down in Auburn seemed off all year, and not just for Stidham. I do agree with Joe Marino of The Draft Network in that if there is one passer that could rise this week, it is Stidham, as I think he’ll look great in 7-on-7 drills and in a different offense. I’ll still have concerns even if he does have a good week, but the potential for a draft season rise is present.

9. Trace McSorley - Tom Allen’s words stick with me, and I wouldn’t totally bet against a guy that a defensive head coach looked to stop instead of Barkley and others. He might face the longest path out of any of these quarterbacks to an NFL gig, but with his competitive toughness and his athleticism, there might just be a home for him in the new NFL.



This post first appeared on Big Blue View, A New York Giants Community, please read the originial post: here

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Senior Bowl 2019: Scouting the quarterbacks, and ranking them

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