The quarterback class for the 2015 NFL Draft is weak. It’s weak today, it’s going to be weak tomorrow, and no matter how many “this guy could be a sleeper” comments are made between now and the draft, this QB class will be weak on the weekend of April 30, too.
But weak is also a relative term.
It boggles my mind why more NFL teams aren’t flexible when it comes to the quarterback position. If they know the vast majority of signal-callers coming out of college are running “college systems” (which ostensibly is a catch-all term used for any offense that isn’t pro-style), then why don’t more teams take a step back and re-evaluate what they’re doing as opposed to complaining about what these quarterbacks can’t do?
After all, if NFL coaches are under the gun to succeed right away (most of them only get three years and one shot working with a young quarterback before they’re out the door), why not work with the personnel that is at their disposal?
Last week I upset people when I wrote about how UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley wasn’t a fit for the Rams because of his skill set. While an intriguing dual-threat athlete with ideal size and arm strength, Hundley doesn’t have experience with pro-style passing concepts, didn’t have to read defenses in college and thus would be a project for the majority of NFL teams. People can get upset with me all they want, but it’s the truth: If asked to run a pro-style system Day 1 in the NFL, Hundley would struggle immensely.
That said, if Hundley winds up running Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, his learning curve will decrease significantly. That’s due to Kelly’s use of tempo and “packaged plays,” which isn’t unfamiliar to prospects like Hundley, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, while not elite, could also find success in Kelly’s offense.
Some people believe that since I have questions about how Hundley and Petty’s games will transfer to the pros, that I don’t think they’ll be good quarterbacks down the road. That’s not entirely true. No, I don’t think they’ll have success (at least not immediate success) running the majority of NFL offenses. How could I? Unlike Jameis Winston at Florida State, they weren’t asked to diagnose defenses the same way pre and post-snap. They weren’t forced to cycle through the same progressions as Winston before he was able to get the ball out of his hand and thus, they don’t have the same understanding of timing, anticipation and ball placement, which are vital in pro-style passing concepts. I wouldn’t expect that they’d be able to run Mike McCarthy’s offense right away, just as I wouldn’t expect a pre-med student to perform bypass surgery in their first years of schooling.
Can Hundley and Petty learn a pro-style offense over time? It’s hard to tell, which is why I have questions. I like certain aspects of their game, but they’ll have a major leap to make in a few months if they’re drafted by the Rams or any other team that runs pro-style concepts.
The real question is, why aren’t more teams willing to play to the strengths of prospects that clearly have the talent, but aren’t ready to take over an NFL offense? When you look at the success that some teams are having around the league, it’s perplexing why more coaches aren’t willing to simplify things instead of trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
In three seasons running Darrell Bevell’s offense, Russell Wilson has lead the Seahawks to the playoffs three times with two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. In Philadelphia, Kelly has his critics but the Eagles have won 20 games in his first two seasons despite having to cycle through three different quarterbacks during that span (Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez).
Jim Harbaugh allowed Colin Kaepernick to run plenty of read-option when he replaced the injured Alex Smith in 2013 and the 49ers went to the Super Bowl. Kyle Shanahan simplified his offense for Robert Griffin III and he took the Redskins to the playoffs as a rookie (which, unsurprisingly, was the last time RGIII had success). In Miami, Ryan Tannehill has yet to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs but he’s coming off his best statistical season after new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (Kelly’s former QB coach in Philly) installed more run options for Tannehill. Cam Newton also had plenty of success with zone-read concepts in Carolina and two years ago the Panthers won the NFC South before getting bounced from the playoffs by Kaepernick’s 49ers.
The mother of all examples is what John Fox and Mike McCoy did in 2011 when they changed the offense to fit Tim Tebow’s strengths. Granted, that offense wound up being too limited, as evidence of Tebow’s nightmarish game in New England during the 2012 playoffs. But the point remains.
All of these examples of success and yet teams try to make quarterbacks something that they’re not. Kaepernick struggled the more Harbaugh and Greg Roman started to worry about him getting hurt. RGIII hasn’t been the same since the Redskins (or RGIII himself) put more of an emphasis on him being a pocket passer. Bevell has been consistent with his offense and the Seahawks were the first team to appear in back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots accomplished the feat a decade ago. Bevell continues to play to Wilson’s strengths, and the Seahawks continue to have success coupled with a great defense and running game.
As been discussed ad nauseam, the Rams are in a difficult spot when it comes to their quarterback position and they aren’t the only ones. If Winston and Mariota are off the board at No. 10, can they really take a risk in the second or third round on a project such as Hundley when they only have five picks to address other needs? Not if they’re unwilling to adjust their offense to highlight Hundley’s (or Petty, for that matter) strengths. It’ll just be a waste of a pick and it wouldn’t be fair to Hundley.
So that means the Rams will likely pass on a quarterback altogether, or draft another Garrett Gilbert, who would need years of seasoning before he could run an NFL offense. That will also mean that the Rams will need Bradford to stay healthy or else Shaun Hill (or another Shaun Hill-type) will be forced into action for the third straight year.
The majority of NFL teams aren’t bold, flexible or desperate enough to try something different. That’s why we continue to see the same recycled coaches and quarterbacks year after year. It’s the same notion when it comes to quarterback prospects: We’re willing to reach on you in the draft, but we’re not willing to try something different in order to play to your strengths. Thus, you’ll bust out, and our search for a quarterback will continue.
There will always be certain traits that signal-callers must have in order to succeed in the NFL. If a quarterback isn’t accurate then he’ll have trouble sticking in the league. Excellent footwork, throwing mechanics and the ability to complete the 20-yard out (a measure of arm strength) are vital, too. Quarterbacks that don’t have drive, work ethic, mental fortitude or competitiveness will suffer a quick death as well.
Bottom line, not every quarterback that played in college has the talent to be a NFL starter. And even if they do, they still need plenty around them to succeed at the highest level.
But with the amount of first-round busts that have come through the league in recent years, it makes you wonder if NFL organizations are spending too much time trying to fit quarterbacks into their system instead of designing a system that fits the quarterback.