Rookie Film Study: QBs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

My first love was college football.  Like every long-term relationship, college football and I have had our ebbs and flows throughout the years.  Recently we’ve been in a lull due to the fact that I have Rutgers season tickets and I typically spend 6-8 hours at the stadium on a game day.  Factor in an annual away game (Ann Arbor here I come again this year) and I’m missing about 8 weeks of college football action each season.  Thankfully, playing on RSO has helped me refocus and concentrate on the incoming rookies and starting with today’s piece my writing on RSO will be devoted to rookies and the college game.  Check back throughout the offseason for more rookie-centric research, film study and mock drafts.  First up, let’s take a look at the top of the 2017 rookie QB class.

Mitch Trubisky, UNC

By many accounts, Mitch Trubisky will be the first quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft and much ink will be spilled discussing him.

Trubisky is a Junior who is coming out after just one full season as a starter.  The only game in which he had significant reps as a Sophomore came against FCS Delaware when he filled in for injured starter Marquise Williams.  In 2016 he totaled 3,748 passing  yards, 30 TDs and 6 INTs.  He also added decent production on the ground with eight games of either 30+ yards or a rushing TD.  Trubisky’s best outing was against #12 FSU where he completed 31 of 38 passes for 453 yards and 3 TDs; he also added a rushing TD.  His worst outing undoubtedly came against #25 Virginia Tech when he went 13-33 for just 58 yards, zero TDs and 2 INTs.

I watched Trubisky’s film against Duke and Stanford.  One of the first things I noticed about him is that his feet never stop moving in the pocket.  He is always poised to throw but is equally able to evade the rush and escape the pocket.  Twice in the 3rd quarter against Duke, Trubisky fled the rush and turned a sack into positive yardage (one of them into a first down actually).  He did the same a number of times against Stanford and their Top 5 prospect DE Solomon Thomas.  Unfortunately a last second two point conversion attempt to tie the game was one example of the pressure getting home and Trubisky being unable to escape.  Against Stanford he also threw two bad INTs which ended possessions the Tar Heels desperately needed late in the game.

The second half of the game against Stanford perfectly encapsulates Trubisky’s draft prospects.  In the 3rd quarter, on 2nd & 11, Trubisky eludes the pressure and throws a flat-footed pass 40 yards for a first down.  In the 4th quarter, 3rd & Goal, down 8 points with 30 seconds left, Trubisky rolls right toward the boundary but is pressured.  He circles back towards the field, quickly sets his feet and throws a dart from the opposite hash for a touchdown (he threw a similar TD pass from the opposite hash in the 1st quarter of the Duke game).  The next play was the aforementioned two point conversion sack that essentially ended the game.

He certainly has the arm strength and athleticism to make it in the NFL but he’s just a step short.  Will he be the first quarterback drafted?  I think so and somebody will likely take him in the Top 10 but that is too rich for me.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

Kizer will be over-drafted because of his size, plain and simple.  He is 6’4″ and 230lb which should peg him as the biggest quarterback prospect other than Davis Webb who will be drafted significantly later.  He certainly won’t be drafted for the stats he put up at Notre Dame.  He had a horrendous completion percentage of 58.7% in 2016 and did not break 3,000 passing yards in either 2015 or 2016.  He does have some “boom” capability though so be careful which tape you watch – he went off for 5 TDs and 0 INTs twice, once in 2016 against Texas and once in 2015 against Pitt.  What makes his size so tantalizing is the speed that goes with it – he’s tough to bring down in traffic and if he gets into the open field, he’s gone.

When I watched Kizer’s film, I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked under pressure which I thought might be a strength given his athleticism and speed.  Kizer often seems to forget about the rush once it gets behind him and gets sacked from behind rather than stepping up and out of the pocket.  Against Stanford, I counted four sacks like this; two of which came on the last drive when the Irish were down 7 points.  I was not impressed with his accuracy or arm strength when rolling out.  I also question his attention to detail: between the two games I watched, Duke being the other, Kizer dropped two snaps and botched a handoff.  Lastly, his awareness of game situation and field position worries me.  Of all of the film I have watched so far of the rookie QBs, Kizer has by far the worst throw.  Let me set the stage… it’s 35-35 against Duke with just 5 minutes left, Notre Dame has the ball in the shadow of their own goal posts and it’s 3rd & 20.  Kizer drops back to pass, into his own endzone, shuffles left and throws a duck without setting his feet.  The pass is easily intercepted at the Notre Dame 45 yard line.  The announcer basically says, “no big deal, they would have punted anyway” but that is asinine.  If Kizer was able to gain even 5 yards to give his punter some room, they could have ensured that Duke at least got the ball back in their own half instead of plus territory.  Duke took over, killed 4+ minutes and kicked a 19 yard field goal that ended up being the game winner.

Some quarterback desperate team will inevitably take Kizer in the Top 15 due to his physical tools but I wouldn’t want my team making that mistake – he will need time to develop and he won’t get that if he’s taken in the top half of the first round.

DeShaun Watson, Clemson

DeShaun Watson will be the name that most casual fans will be familiar with and the one that I am most worried about RSO owners reaching for.  Watson has played in two National Championship games, one of which he won, has finished in the Top 3 of Heisman voting twice and has more than 10,000 career passing yards.  Watson certainly has a championship pedigree but can he turn that into success in the NFL?  Not unless he can stop throwing interceptions.

Without even watching any film of Watson, you can quickly determine his biggest negative… he throws way too many INTs.  In 2016 he threw 17 and in 2015 he threw 13.  Does this sound familiar?  Okay you’re right I ragged on Watson for his interceptions in the lead up to January’s championship game, so I’ll move on.

When I started watching film of Watson, I had a preconceived notion that his interception problems were caused by his limited reading of the field.  After watching 2016 outings against Auburn and Ohio State, I still believe that.  Against Auburn, the first game of the season, you will find very few throws when Watson looks away from his primary receiver.  Against Ohio State, in the semi-finals, he was improved but still not what you would hope for from a franchise quarterback.  Going back to the Auburn game, I also noticed three times when Watson’s throw was deflected at the line of scrimmage.  Depending where you look he is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’2″ – I would not be surprised if his height becomes a problem come combine.

Watson is obviously supremely talented and I think that his field vision issues could be helped by the right coach (whether that means giving him half-field reads or actually helping him improve) so I’d be willing to give him a shot in the late 1st round.

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

If there is one quarterback in the first round that I would be targeting it would be Mahomes.  Many draft resources have him listed as the 4th prospect behind Trubisky, Kizer and Watson but I believe he should be right up there with Trubisky.  Given the difference in draft pick needed to nab the two, Mahomes would be my pick.

It’s easy not to give any credence to the numbers that Mahomes (and past air raid quarterbacks) put up but let’s just take a quick look because they are insane.  He threw for over 11,000 total passing yards in his career and 93 TDs.  In 2016 he had six games of 400+ yards, three games of 500+ and one of 700+.  Add in 22 career rushing TDs and you have an all-around prolific quarterback.  All of Mahomes’ stats (yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, interceptions, etc) improved year over year from 2014 to 2016.

Watching film of Mahomes is a bit misleading due to how many attempts he has each game, but it was sill instructive – anybody could find pros and cons when you have 50+ attempts.  You will notice immediately that his footwork needs improvement – he throws off one foot often – but he has the arm strength to overcome.  To my eye, he looked most comfortable when rolling out of the pocket and only had half of the field to read.  When on the run, he throws accurately.  Like Kizer, he seems to struggle with stepping up and out of the pocket, oftentimes he just stepped right into a sack.  Two things that I loved when watching Mahomes play against Arizona State… First, he drew two offsides and turned one of those into a touchdown on a free play.  That is something you see in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers anybody?  Just kidding) and not so often in college.  Second, he executed this one play perfectly a few times, once going for a touchdown, where he has a long fake at the mesh point and then fires a quick bullet to a slanting TE.  He was knocked out of the game against Kansas but it was not a serious injury.

Mahomes, like the other three profiled here, is not perfect but I think his trajectory is pointing in the right direction and he is worth a pick by a fringe playoff team around 20th overall.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

NFL Free Agency: Running Backs

Updated: April 21st 2015

Since the dawn of time, Running Back has always been the most important position in traditional fantasy leagues. The fantasy points delta from the top starter in the league (RB1) to the bottom (RB20-24) has always been high. Today, premier Running Backs receiving 20+ carries per game are more rare than ever and a fantasy luxury that few can afford, especially in contract terms.

In 2003, thirteen Running Backs received 300 or more. From 2011-2013, only nine Running Backs received more than 300 carries. Twice, in those three seasons (2011 and 2013), only two Running Backs got 300+ (there were five in 2012).

nfl-running-backs

During that same time period, the average number of carries for the NFL’s top 10 rushing leaders declined from 344.8 (2003) to 284.2 (2013).

nfl-rb-free-agents

Today, there are a lot more two and three back systems in the NFL than there once were. The average age of the league’s leading rushers have remained remarkably consistent during that time period, ranging from 26.8 (2003) to 25.1 (2009), and was 26.6 in 2013. Running Backs really only get one crack at a big contract. Typically, a back would be entering his contract year between the ages of 24 and 27, but most of the time, either (a) teams convince the good ones to sign an extension before reaching Free Agency, or (b) the players and agents demand new contracts before reaching the expiration of the deal. In both scenarios, someone makes the players realize the very real risk of injury and the chance that they’ll never get their big pay day.

During Free Agency in 2008, Michael Turner received a 6-year deal from the Falcons, but he was Ladanian Tomlinson’s backup in San Diego. In 2007, 28-year old Jamal Lewis, who had carried the ball over 1,800 times for 7,800 yards during six seasons with the Ravens, received a 1-year deal from the Browns. The last really big splash for a Running Back in Free Agency? You have to go all the way back to 2006, when the Cardinals gave Edgerrin James a four-year, $30 million contract.

I don’t expect anybody to break the bank in Free Agency this year, but there is an interesting crop of young players with a lot of upside.

1. Ben Tate

Ben TateBefore the 2011 CBA, first-round picks received 5- or 6-year contracts, and everybody selected after the first round received 3- or 4-year contracts (almost always depends on team preference). Tate hits Free Agency a year earlier than his 2010 Round 1 counterparts, C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews (recently retired Jahvid Best was also taken in the first round that year), and is the top available back almost unanimously. The Texans have to pay Arian Foster handsomely for three more seasons, and are unlikely to try to retain Tate. Several teams are in need of a feature back and I expect Tate to be a starter in week 1.
Best Fit: Cardinals, Packers, Browns, Jets
Most Likely: Cardinals, Packers, Browns, Jets, Jaguars, Raiders, Dolphins

2. LeGarrette Blount

darren-mcfaddenI, personally, am a big LeGarrete Blount fan. Jeff Fisher admitted to making a mistake when he cut Blount in hopes of placing him on the Titans Practice Squad in 2010. The Buccaneers claimed Blount off waivers. Blount had 1,000 yards during his Rookie season with the Buccaneers in 2010. He received fewer carries in 2011, but still had a productive season, gaining 781 yards on 184 carries. In 2012, Blount fell victim to the regime change in Tampa. Greg Schiano replaced Raheem Morris and the team drafted Doug Martin in the first round. In 2013, Bill Belichick traded for Blount, sending track star Jeff Demps and a first rounder to Tampa. Blount fought his way through a crowded and talented backfield, averaging 5.3 yards per carry from week 3-17. Relative to his production, Blount hasn’t made much money in his NFL career, so I expect him to take the biggest payday he can get, regardless of fit.
Best Fit: Jets, Rams, 49ers
Most Likely: Jets, Patriots, Raiders, Rams, 49ers

3. Knowshon Moreno

knowshon-morenoMoreno, the first Running Back selected in 2009, had his first thousand yard season in 2013, his fifth season as a pro. Moreno struggled as a Rookie, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and notably struggling to pick up the offense. In 2010, Moreno was part of Josh McDaniel’s Tim Tebow experiment. In 2011 and 2012 Willis McGahee took the majority of the carries. Then, in 2013, the team drafted Montee Ball in the second round. Moreno held off Ball and Ronnie Hillman during a breakout season in which he gained nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage. So, why isn’t Moreno at the top of the list? In 8 games, Moreno rushed for less than 50 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. His 2013 statistics may be misleading, as his performance may very well be attributed to defenses respecting Manning and his aerial weapons. I see Moreno ending up in a timeshare. The place where he ends up (likely the place he’ll receive the most touches), may not be the best fit.
Best Fit: Broncos, Chargers, Cardinals, Browns, Falcons, Patriots, Colts
Most Likely: Broncos, Chargers, Cardinals, Browns

4. Darren McFadden

lagarette-blountAlmost universally pegged as injury plagued, McFadden hasn’t played more than 13 games in any of his six NFL seasons. He’s only played in 29 games over the last three seasons. However, the fourth overall pick in 2008 is still only 26-years old and hasn’t exactly played behind a stellar line or high-power offense. He could be a great addition for a team in a non-feature role, provided he doesn’t see himself as an every-down back. The Raiders are not likely to retain McFadden, and are just now starting to unearth themselves from years of Salary Cap disaster. As an aside, from 2006-2010 the Raiders selected five players in the top 10; they traded their 2011 first round pick to New England for Richard Seymour; they traded their 2012 first round pick to the Bengals for Carson Palmer. Out of those seven players, Darren McFadden was the only one who played for the Raiders in 2013. Reggie McKenzie continues to have his work cut out for him.
Best Fit: Jets, Cowboys, 49ers, Ravens
Most Likely: Jets, Cowboys, 49ers, Jaguars

5. Toby Gerhart

toby-gerhartIn four years with the Vikings, Gerhart received 10+ carries only nine times. It’s no surprise that Gerhart wants to leave Minnesota, in search of a better opportunity. Players are expected to make the most of their touches, but it’s very difficult to get in the flow of a game carrying the ball only once or twice. Gerhart played very well in three of his last four games, against Seattle, Green Bay, and Baltimore (he only received two carries in the overtime win vs. CHI). There will be a market for Gerhart. He only has 276 career carries, and is only 26 years old, but I can’t place him any higher on the list because of the sample size. I very much expect Gerhart to be part of a Stanford reunion in Free Agency, the only question for me is whether it will be in San Francisco, with Jim Harbaugh, or in Indianapolis, with Andrew Luck.
Best Fit: 49ers, Colts, Jets, Ravens
Most Likely: 49ers, Colts

Other Top Free Agent Running Backs:

6. Andre Brown – When healthy, Brown has shown some flashes of brilliance in the last two seasons. He’s reaching Free Agency at an interesting time, since the Giants have only David Wilson and Michael Cox under contract (Brandon Jacobs retired and Peyton Hillis is further down on the list). It’ll be interesting to see if the Giants make a run at someone higher up on this list, or try to resign Brown.

7. Ahmad Bradshaw – A hard, one-cut, downhill runner, Bradshaw has always been somewhat underappreciated, and he’s still only 27. His career yards per carry average is 4.6, and he only had one season (2011) where it was less than 4.5. Bradshaw, who signed with the Colts late in Free Agency because of a foot injury, only played three games with the Colts before suffering a season ending neck injury. I would not be surprised to see the Colts resign Bradshaw, given the uncertainty of Trent Richardson’s stardom (or mediocrity). I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradshaw end up back with Big Blue.

8. Maurice Jones-Drew – After eight seasons with the Jaguars, MJD is reaching Free Agency for the first time. He’ll be 29 later this month, and is coming off two rough seasons, one in which he missed 10 games, both in an abysmal offense. Jones-Drew can still be an effective runner in a role where he doesn’t have to carry the ball 300 times per year. Look for him to return home to Oakland, or nearby San Francisco.

9. Rashad Jennings – I really liked Jennings coming out of Liberty in 2009. He backed up MJD during the height of his power, and did not get his first real opportunity until 2012 after MJD was injured. Unfortunately for Jennings, that opportunity was within the NFL’s least talented offense, and he did not have much chance for success. He had several good games for the Raiders in 2013, and found his most success in the games which he received 10+ touches. Jennings may be back in Oakland, but I believe he’ll be able to do better than 1-year deal he signed with the Raiders in 2013.

10. Donald Brown – Much like his 2009 first-round counterpart on this list, Brown did not have much success until 2013. He was thrust into a bigger role than the team had planned for him, after Ahmad Bradshaw was injured and Trent Richardson struggled. I believe that Brown would make a solid third down back for several teams, and there should be a market for his services.

11. Rashard Mendenhall – Bruce Arians sure seemed determined to keep the reigns on rising star Andre Ellington. Mendenhall received the bulk of the teams carries in every game which he played, despite never rushing for more than 76 yards, and never averaging more than 4.7 yards per carry. If Mendenhall doesn’t resign with the Cardinals, he’s likely to end up in a secondary role somewhere. His days as a starter are over.

12. Anthony Dixon – Dixon won’t remain in SF, but he’ll latch on somewhere as a short yardage back.

13. Peyton Hillis – From Madden cover to out of the league in less than 2 years, Hillis eventually landed with the Giants in 2013, and played well enough to earn himself another year in the league.

14. James Starks – He gradually saw his role reduced after a 20 carry, 132-yard game in week 2. I don’t see him returning to the Packers, and he may struggle to find a home early in Free Agency.

15. Bernard Scott – only played in two games for the Ravens in 2014. He’ll be on a roster this summer but may not be able to survive camp cuts.