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05 Jan 2011

Cover-2: QBs of the 2011 Draft Part I

by Doug Farrar

Instead of the usual playoff previews and NFL wrap-ups, I thought Cover-2 from now through April might serve as an attempt to create a scouting library of the top draft prospects. We'll start with the quarterbacks -- two today and two more (Ryan Mallett and Blaine Gabbert) later this week. And after we go position-by-position on the marquee guys, we'll dig deeper to analyze some unsung talent.

Since I'm not a draft expert by any stretch of the imagination, I brought along a friend for this one: Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, whom I've known for the better part of a decade. I trust Rob's analysis on this subject as much I trust anyone's, and he's been kind enough to add his elevated take to my ruminations.

Also, we're including starts and completion percentage for each quarterback, for those interested in the Lewin Career Forecast. This isn't really a stat analysis piece, but the numbers are there to satisfy curiosity.

Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck
(Career: 19 starts, 64.4 completion percentage)

When talking about Andrew Luck, it's difficult to stay out of the realm of hyperbole. You're about to read Rang compare Luck to a player I never imagined I'd hear in the same breath as a redshirt sophomore. Trent Dilfer believes Luck to be the best quarterback prospect he's seen since John Elway -- not the best Stanford prospect since Elway, but the best overall since the great number 7.

Elway, who's now in charge of the Denver Broncos and would hold the chip with Luck's name on it should the Carolina Panthers pass with the first overall pick, recently gave his own assessment on his weekly radio show in Denver. "I'll tell you this," he said, "I think Andrew Luck is the best football player in the draft, without a doubt. If that were to happen, then you're going have to have some very serious conversations of exactly which direction you want to go, whether it's with Tim (Tebow) or take a guy like Andrew Luck. To me, barring injury, he's going to be very successful in the NFL."

And then there was the take of Jim Harbaugh, the former NFL quarterback and Luck's college coach: "Andrew is the real deal," Harbaugh told the Associated Press on Sunday. "He is the best player I've ever been around, and he's even a finer young man. There's nothing about him where I say I wish he could do this, or I wish he didn't do this. He is just like my wife: He is perfect. You wouldn't change a thing about him."

Like his Pac-10 counterpart Locker, Luck faced a Top 10 S&P+ pass defense in his postseason game when Stanford took on Virginia Tech eighth-ranked squad in the Orange Bowl. Unlike Locker, Luck put the defense he faced through the shredder.

It didn't start that way, though -- the Cardinal went four-and-out and three-and-out on their first two drives, and Luck showed less accuracy on the run that I would like to see. Rolling right on a three-linebacker blitz at the end of the second drive, Luck had an engraved invitation to hit his intermediate receiver in stride and threw a gopherball instead. However, when forced to roll left earlier in the drive, Luck tucked the ball in and ran instead. He's not going to force a lot of throws, though his future NFL quarterbacks coach will most likely ask him to find a balance that doesn't include running upright into defenders.

And for a big-armed guy, he doesn't have any trouble timing screens and swing passes -- that will put him ahead of the game at the next level. The safety near the end of the first quarter was a fluke play; the ball Luck was trying to throw away was deflected by a defender and flew back into the hands of a Stanford lineman (Side question for Ben Muth: You ever run a tackle eligible?) in his own end zone. But the play showed that Luck will use his physicality to extend passing windows beyond the point of defensive pressure.

On the second-quarter drive that produced Stanford's first passing touchdown of the day, Luck impressed me with his ability to take quick drops and fire short passes accurately into very tight windows. The more I watch him play, the more I feel that he will not be overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL. He'll have to adjust him timing on a few things, and the complexity of NFL coverages will throw him for a while, but Luck is comfortable on the field. You get the sense, that as much as anyone, he was born to do this.

The first touchdown was to tight end Zach Ertz on a post pattern of about 18 yards. Luck blazed the ball right to Ertz above the defender, proving his ability to make the longer stick throws crucial to NFL success. The second touchdown was to a wide open Coby Fleener downfield, but the throw did show Luck's ability to sell play action and throw deeper with touch and timing. No issues there. Touchdown No. 3, again to Fleener, was an up-and-out that had Luck again throwing deep with enviable touch.

The fourth and final passing score was another long pass to a wide-open Fleener -- a perfect combination of a two-back, three-tight end set formation lulling a defense into man under, and Luck's play action knocking that defense out. Again, great touch and accuracy downfield, though two of his four touchdowns were about as complicated as pre-game warm-ups due to coverage lapses.

Luck's touch with the long pass is where the Matt Ryan comparisons begin, though the similarities don't really line up for me. I think he could be that Manning type of player that Rang sees. Right now, he reminds me a lot of Rich Gannon -- a tough, mobile player who can do things in the pocket and wills things out of an offense that other quarterbacks may not.

It's very clear that Luck possesses the skills most important to quarterback success at the NFL level. He's comfortable in the pocket and in motion, he runs well while still keeping his eyes on his targets, he has the right kind of compact motion that won't require much tinkering, and he can clearly make all the throws he'll need to make.

But that's what the game tape tells. What has me looking forward to this NFL Combine more than any other I've attended is the buzz around Luck -- what he says and what others say about him. Once in a while, you get a player whose measurables and intangibles meet in perfect harmony. Luck's starting to look like that guy.

Rob Rang: Andrew Luck has remarkably advanced technique for a redshirt sophomore. When dropping back, he shows good balance and fluidity, keeping his eyes downfield and quickly identifying the defense. He quickly scans the field and rarely forces the ball into coverage. Luck has an efficient over-the-top release, yet shows the ability to change his throwing slot, as needed. He possesses a strong arm, though it is not a rocket. Besides his ability to quickly decipher coverages, Luck's best attribute is his rare accuracy.

Where most quarterback prospects are content to hit their receivers in stride, Luck shows the remarkable ability to lead his receivers to the opening -- pushing wideouts upfield, turning them around when the safety is closing, placing the ball low or high so that his target has the best chance to make the reception. Like most passers, Luck's accuracy suffers when he's on the move, but he's shown the ability to square his shoulders and fire accurately while on the run. There is only one quarterback I've scouted with Luck's combination of intelligence, accuracy and size -- the previously incomparable Peyton Manning.

Washington Quarterback Jake Locker
(Career: 39 starts, 53.9 completion percentage)

Right now, Jake Locker is a beautiful mess. He's got as many raw tools as any draft prospect quarterback I've seen, but the in-game skills -- the arm, accuracy, and consistency -- are still underdeveloped. It's a bad place to be for a fifth-year senior, especially one who took a pass on the 2009 Draft, in which he would have been picked in the top five. Instead, he returned to Montlake to finish a commitment he made to head coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over for the historically inept Tyrone Willingham. It wasn't until Willingham finished out his 2008 season as the lame-duck face of an 0-12 team and Sarkisian was brought on board that Locker had a chance to do two things -- get an education in a pro-style offense, and win.

He's done the second thing first, helping (more than leading) the Huskies to a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska that stands as the pinnacle of a very impressive program turnaround. The move from a hybrid spread offense that had him using his wheels far more often to the birth of a pocket passer who could take off has taken more time. When Locker faced the Cornhuskers for the first time this season on September 18, he completed four passes in 20 attempts for 71 yards, a touchdown and two picks. Nebraska beat up on Washington, 56-21, and questions about Locker's pro-readiness continued.

Even in the rematch, he really didn't answer those questions. Against Nebraska's shutdown secondary (fifth in the nation in S&P+ pass defense), he was boxed in by a game plan that had his receivers giving away outside position on sideline routes, as opposed to the comebacks and crossing patterns that may have given the offense a better chance. (Then again, I'm still not convinced that Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse can beat press coverage.) As a result, he had to make some throws that, even if they were right on target, were going to be risky. And there were times when, even on short passes, his receivers were locked in zones and areas, and he had to throw the ball away. Locker also shook off a helmet-to-helmet hit from safety Austin Cassidy in the second quarter that, in Locker's words, looked worse than it was.

In the Holiday Bowl, Locker didn't complete a pass until early in the third quarter, when he got one off to D'Andre Goodwin for 26 yards out of an I-formation variant of the Pistol. Goodwin ran an out from the slot, finally got separation, and Locker's throw was right on target. One thing that saves Locker as a pro prospect is that his delivery and release are both basically pro-ready. He doesn't wind up, and he can get the ball out quickly. The back-door fade to Kearse in this year's Apple Cup showed what Locker can do as a pure passer.

The next play was a play action keeper in which Locker picked up a 25-yard touchdown run by pinballing through several Nebraska defenders. Here's where you see the combination of size and athleticism that once had Willingham wondering if Locker should be a safety instead (seriously -- never let this man coach again). The maturation that was expected to happen under Sarkisian never really did.

And as Rang writes below, that's what makes analyzing Locker's NFL prospects so frustrating. He's almost the inverse of the Colt Brennans, Graham Harrells and Timmy Changs of the world; the guys who put up stupid numbers in offenses designed for passing production with little thought to the next level. Running through the acid bath of the Willingham era, stuck with undraftable offensive teammates for the most part, and ultimately a victim of his own regression as a passer, Locker presents an NFL prospect in fits and starts. What Locker does have, and what I believe will have him zooming up the boards from the Senior Bowl to draft weekend, is -- and we're back to this again -- the stuff you can't see.

Generally speaking, it's tough to get me buying into the intangibles argument at the expense of more obvious measurables. I understand their importance, and I'm a big believer in those things, especially at the quarterback position (Exhibit A: Manning vs. Leaf), but it's always good to be watchful for those who use intangibles to forward flismier arguments.

Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy is not one of those people. In the interviews with Milloy that I've heard or conducted, I don't think he's ever talked another player to (and certainly never above) his actual skills. It's not denigration, but more the byproduct of the high standards that Milloy holds for himself. So, after the Holiday Bowl win, I figured I'd get the unvarnished truth, UW alum or not.

"I wish him the best," Milloy told me. "Obviously, he's going to have to fine-tune some things, especially in the passing category. But as far as leadership and athletic ability, he has everything it takes to be a successful NFL player for a lot of years. I definitely see all the intangibles there. Defenses are a lot more complicated (at the NFL level), and this offseason will be crucial for him, but that's one thing about him being under Sark (coach Sarkisian). Sark was tutored by Pete Carroll, and just the things he's done for the program, I know Jake's going to get the best preparation possible leading into the draft, and hopefully, he gets into the right situation."

I think that's the key for Locker. Had he come out as the first overall pick last year (and I don't think that would have happened -- the Rams would have taken Sam Bradford either way), it would have been an unmitigated disaster. He's nowhere near the scheme-transcendent quarterback Bradford was. If Mike Shanahan had taken him with the fourth overall pick, with everything that's gone on this year in that Redskins disaster, Locker would probably be in the fetal position by now.

If he gets with a team good enough and with depth at the quarterback to groom him as the project player he is (or present him in a limited Tebow-style package), there may be something special on the other side. What intrigues about Locker, and what makes that development idea worth the gamble, is the occasional glimpse into the future.

Someone's just going to have to take a multi-million-dollar shot on the fact that the other assets will arrive over time. Right now, that's all we've got.

Rob Rang: Jake Locker is the most frustrating quarterback prospect I've scouted in more than 10 years in the profession. Physically, he has the skills to warrant a Top 10 selection. Locker is experienced in the pro-style offense, demonstrating the quick feet and balance necessary in dropping back from center. He has a over-the-top release and a very strong arm. Locker's accuracy is maddeningly inconsistent, however. He's developed some bad habits running for cover behind a porous Washington offensive line, panicking when his first reads are covered and throwing off his back foot. Surprisingly for a four-year starter, Locker doesn't read defenses as well as scouts would like, too often putting the ball up for grabs.

For all of his faults, however, Locker has made some of his most impressive throws in critical situations, coming through with clutch passes in upsets over USC, Cal, and most recently against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. Throws like those have forced scouts to wonder how successful he might be if surrounded by more talent. Of course, Locker's most impressive physical attributes are his speed and power as a runner. Besides his rare running ability, Locker's toughness and leadership are the kind NFL decision-makers fall in love with during interviews. He reminds me of Donovan McNabb.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 05 Jan 2011

80 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2011, 12:12pm by Misfit74

Comments

1
by Southern Philly :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:05pm

"Trent Dilfer believes Luck to be the best quarterback prospect he's seen since John Elway"

Trent Dilfer was 11 when John Elway was drafted.

4
by joepinion :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:40pm

Awesome.

5
by Zack :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:42pm

I think "The best prospect since John Elway" basically means "he's the best QB prospect I've ever seen, but I must acknowledge another I didn't get a chance to see but is generally agreed to be the best football prospect of any position of all time, and he happened to become a hall of fame QB."

The phrase is used all the time by many people who have never seen Elway in college. Don't forget Mel Kiper using it for JaMarcus Russell.

15
by ABW (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:21pm

Mel Kiper is rodeo clown of the draft.

29
by RickD :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:18pm

Your point being?

59
by Southern Philly :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 3:01am

That Dilfer's statement is a whole bunch of hyperbole. He wasn't watching tape on John Elway when he was 11.

61
by hbh_uk :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 6:24am

In Dilfer's defence:

He gives a much fuller explanation of his statement on Luck on the BS Report, talking about his own 'project' to watch tape on QBs since about 1983, identify the common threads between the successes and failures. And he acknowledged that he might have gone too far, but said that he is definitely the most complete prospect in that time, Elway included.

67
by Southern Philly :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 11:45am

There's extreme bias in doing that though. It's so much easier to evaluate successful players as college players after they've become successful, and to identify why a player wasn't successful after he's busted out of the league. It's nice that he's going back and doing his research, I commend him for that, but all the mystery is removed when you go into the movie knowing the ending.

77
by SFC B (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 4:32pm

I still enjoyed "Memento".

78
by Southern Philly :: Fri, 01/07/2011 - 2:56am

Well played sir, well played.

2
by NJBammer :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:06pm

The older I get, the more it amazes me that so many of these kids actually have the maturity to make it as an NFL QB. When I was 21, 22, and someone handed my millions of dollars and fame, along with the serious pressure and physical threats that go with being a big time QB prospect, I would have freaked out to such an extent it would make Ricky Williams seem like a mormon. I no longer shake my head when one physically talented kid crumbles under pressure, I shake my head in amazement when one doesn't! Good luck to both of these guys, they're gonna need it.

26
by Podge (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:00pm

But presumably these kids have been playing football REALLY competitively at least since they were 13/14/15/16 (I'm English, I have no clue when football gets really competitive for guys who are pro prospects), and have since they were 18 basically been devoting maybe half of all their time to it, working towards getting to the pros. Guys who are putting all that in so that they can get their $30m and get smashed on it - fair enough, they've earnt it. Or maybe not. But I think players who are going to be high draft picks and successful pros have essentially spent enough time being professional (in the sense of professionalism) without actually getting paid. Or only getting paid a little bit anyway.

28
by dbostedo :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:11pm

"When I was 21, 22, and someone handed my millions of dollars and fame, along with the serious pressure and physical threats that go with being a big time QB prospect, I would have freaked out"

But you wouldn't have gone through what they have : some amount of fame in high school then often even more in college, and lots of big games where you felt a ton of pressure as the leader of the team.

The fame and pressure don't suddenly come overnight - sure it takes a huge jump with the NFL, but a lot of these guys are stars to a certain extent already.

3
by BlueStarDude :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:35pm

Doug, I always appreciate your articles and enjoy your content on this site, but Locker was not going to be a top pick in last year's draft. I keep hearing this repeated (a lot on ESPN) and I don't know where it's coming from: yes, many draftniks had him as the top QB last year, but by all accounts that matter (sources from the NFL personnel ranks) he was going to carry a 2nd round grade. Probably that would have been enough to get him taken in the latter part of round 1 last year ("falling" on national TV a la Aaron Rodgers or Brady Quinn) but no way top five or top ten. I agree with the basic point that he hurt his stock with his play this year and he'll likely go lower than he would have last year, but that latter point will have as much to do with Luck and Gabbert declaring, and therefore pushing Locker clearly into round two, than anything Locker himself could control.

10
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:07pm

Right, I totally agree. As I said in the article, I never believed he was going #1 overall. There's just no way any reputable GM could look at Bradford and Locker and take Locker first. But I don't think there's any question that he would have been taken far, far above Clausen, and I've heard from multiple people I trust that Mike Shanahan was throwing a serious mancrush Locker's way.

6
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:45pm

I'd love the niners to get Luck, but I just can't see the Panthers trading that pick. If they do trade it they'll get a fortune in return.

No look at Cam Newton?

44
by GO PATS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 5:48pm

Karl,

Given that he "could" be awsome under the right circumstances, why shouldn't the niners give up a fortune. You alreay have the makings of a good to great OL, some good pieces on defense led by patrick willis, stud in the making TE, WR and top 10 RB. I say go for it, give the panthers the next 3 or 4 number 1's. Guys like him dont come along all the time.

46
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 7:01pm

I agree with what you're saying, I do think the 49ers should be willing to give up a hell of a lot to climb six spots to the top of the draft, especially if they can land Harbaugh. However, the Panthers say they want him and if they want to discount future picks then the niners could end up having to top both the deals the Bears gave to the Broncos for Cutler and the deal the Giants gave the Chargers for Eli. So it will be more than this year's No 1 and No 2, plus next year's one and other picks at the very least.

There are also quite a few qb prospects in this draft so maybe the niners should just sit still and take the best pass rusher or cornerback available and come back for a qb later. Newton in particular intrigues me, he's an incredible physical specimen with a quicker release than Tebow and he's bigger than Vick and so can see over the offensive line and is less likely to get banged up. I do think he's much more likely to succeed in a spread offense, his footwork is a bit too slow for a conventional offense. I was thinking that the 49ers should have considered hiring Rob Ryan as head coach and getting McDaniels as offensive coordinator then making a play for Newton.

52
by GO PATS (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 10:23pm

Karl,

I do not follow the college game so have no idea about how good luck really else except what i hear and read. But by all accounts he is "considered" far ahead of all the other guys. It also depends on who the new coach is. I do not know much about Harbaugh. Being a niners and pats fan I would really love to see McDaniels as OC, especially with a guy like Luck. He was over his head in Denver but is a great offensive mind and will one day make a great HC.

55
by JonFrum :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 11:50pm

"Newton in particular intrigues me, he's an incredible physical specimen with a quicker release than Tebow and he's bigger than Vick "

Sounds like those car ads: "It gets better mileage than the Mercedes and has a bigger trunk than the Volvo!" Accurate, but not particularly useful. Tebow has a terrible release and Vick is tiny.

58
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:27am

OK, I'll expand on Newton's release: he has a quick release, he flicks the ball out with a slight pushing motion that would be a liability to a player who wasn't so strong but he doesn't suffer. With his height he could suffer with a more correct motion as he could end up with a Leftwichesque slow wind up.

As for the height, Vick still can't see what's going on in the middle of the field, that's a big part of the reason that the eagles have him dropping 12 yards deep, it allows him to see more of the field (and he can do it, plus his arm is strong enough that he doesn't miss being closer to the line when he throws deep). Newton is taller.

I hope that is worthy of your approval.

66
by Loadser :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 11:37am

Newton reminds me a lot of Vince Young when he came out of Texas. Big imposing physical specimen with a linebacker's body. He has baggage and its uncertain whether he will be able to convert to the pro game from the spread style that he ran at Auburn. I think that any team that takes him will have to do what the Broncos are doing with Tebow and making him a work in progress and be careful with him otherwise he will end up a moody headcase that gets benched for an aging backup.

72
by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 1:26pm

After Luck, all the QBs draw unhappy comparisons. Mallett is Drew Bledsoe light, Newton is a more athletic McNabb with a crappy work ethic, Devlin is a less-polished (!) Flacco, Gabbert is any number of spread quarterbacks who haven't panned out. It's easy to dismiss players with those kind of comparisons, but I guess my point is that none of them are drawing any great enthusiasm.

Still, is it worth trading, say, two #1s and two #2s to trade up with Carolina, assuming they'd even be willing? That's a lot of draft meat.

73
by Eddo :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 2:54pm

If you told a team that if they drafted Mallett or Newton they'd get production equal to that of Drew Bledsoe and Donovan McNabb, respectively, they'd draft them in a heartbeat.

7
by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:49pm

I will probably ask Doug to do a third piece on Newton and another mobile quarterback down the line -- I'm mostly waiting to see whether Pryor is coming out before we plan that.

13
by Splattered :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:16pm

But... but... he *promised*! *giggle*

16
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:25pm

Depending on who comes out, there could even be enough for a 4th. Granted now you're talking about a lot of time and effort at one position, but this could be the deepest QB class ever (rounds 1-3) if enough juniors come out. It's not impossible to see 10 QBs with those grades.

Pat Devlin is the guy I'm really curious to hear about most - just because as fans we don't get to watch too many Delaware games. But he was good enough to commit to Miami, change his mind when Coker got fired, and end up Penn State, so the physical tools were there. Curious to see how the scouts think he's developed.

18
by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:31pm

" if enough juniors come out."

I just don't see why people think a ton of Juniors are going to come out. Its only to their advantage to come out before hard slotting if they're going in the first round.

If you fall outside the first, I would think you'd want to stay till next year just to avoid the possible work stoppage.

I would have to think that a QB that gets drafted this year (especially after the 1st) and sits a year doing nothing is going to be a lot less likely to do well then a guy who comes out next year.

24
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:53pm

Why would a junior come out?

Money. An unfathomable amount (unless you went to Ohio State, in which case you'd be taking a pay cut) now or another unfathomable amount a year from now.

Luck, Newton, Pryor and Gabbert can all convince themselves that they will be top 5 picks (or first overall in Luck's case). They won't all be, of course, but it's easy to envision a scenario where any of those QBs has a good combine, a couple good workouts, and suddenly they're top 5 guys.

Even a guy like Mallet won't fall out of the first round if he comes out.

Now add seniors Locker and Devlin to the mix. Even guys like Nathan Endrele and Ricky Stanzi and possibly even Christain Ponder could conceivably go as high as the 3rd round. It's a deep, deep draft for QBs.

8
by jklps :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 2:52pm

Accuracy and ability to read defenses is #1 to me...then arm strength. Accuracy can improve, but I honestly feel there is a ceiling to guys who aren't.

9
by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:06pm

Completely agree.

I feel like its a lot easier to increase a guy's strenght in the weight room than it is to get him to make correct decisions faster, and get him to be more accurate.

If a guy has inconsistent mechanics, fixing them will lead to better accuracy, but for most of these guys, its not a mechanics issue.

30
by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:21pm

I doubly agree. Accuracy to me is like rolling your tongue. You can either do it or you can't. Has anyone here ever played with a guy that used to not be accurate, but now is? I mean, I have seen chemistry develop with receivers and patterns through repetition, but throw another receiver in there and you are somewhat starting all over again.

Not even sure decision making can really improve after a point. Think you can get yourself in a scheme that's a better fit for the way your neuro-pathways are set--but that's an external, not an internal change.

34
by Joe T. :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:35pm

I agree with your point, but I can't help but mention Michael Vick as an example of someone who improved in accuracy and decision making. Of course, it took nearly a decade for him after leaving college, not to mention a spell in the clink. I don't think its just scheme that's boosting his #s.

39
by tuluse :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:48pm

Eli Manning too had a jump in completion percentage. Although he's still obviously not Joe Montana.

48
by dmb :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 8:49pm

Part of KC Joyner's charting is coding passes that he marks as "bad decisions" -- basically, plays where the QB clearly reads the play differently from the receiver (which, obviously, could be the receiver's fault), makes an unrealistic attempt into coverage, etc. I don't know exactly how useful / accurate / consistent his charting is, but for what it's worth, Vick's 2010 bad decision percentage (through about a month ago) was very much in the same range (moderately high) as it was during his ATL days. Then again, by FO's charting numbers, Vick has had almost exactly league-average luck when it comes to dropped/tipped INTs (and, obviously, a very low INT%), so there's certainly some evidence that he's improved.

As mentioned below, Eli Manning is the guy who strikes me as someone who dramatically improved his accuracy much later in his career than is the norm. He still has a tendency to place it a little high, but he now rarely throws one of those random wounded ducks out to nowhere, and his CMP% made a significant jump between his fourth and fifth seasons -- and has subsequently stayed at that higher level.

27
by drobviousso :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:08pm

NM - missread

11
by matu_72 :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:08pm

Rang makes an interesting comparison. That's the 2nd time I've seen a draft analyst compare Jake Locker to Donovan McNabb. Nolan Nawrocki over at Pro Football Weekly also made the comparison and I feel Nawrocki is one of the few really good analysts out there. McNabb was taken with a top 10 pick and you can make the argument that he was worth it. Still, having watched him in the Holiday Bowl, looking at his numbers and reading some of these scouting reports, I still find myself unsure if he is worth taking that high or if he should fall as far as the 2nd or 3rd round. It will be interesting to see what happens during the combine.

12
by dmb :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:15pm

Before I actually arrived at Rang's section on Locker, I actually thought of McNabb as the QB I've seen with a solid career whose strengths/weaknesses best matched Doug's description. Based on what I read here, I would be a bit surprised if Locker turned out as well as McNabb, but it seems like a reasonable comparison for a "best-case" scenario.

(Of course, I really don't know college players well at all; I think I watched one half of Locker's play this year, against BYU...)

14
by Southern Philly :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:21pm

"McNabb was taken with a top 10 pick and you can make the argument that he was worth it."

I'd like to see the argument that he was not worth it.

17
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:28pm

The Top 10 pick was 2nd overall.

McNabb also didn't have nearly as bad a completion percentage in college as people might think. He actually held the Big East record for completion percentage when he came out.

19
by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:40pm

For the 4 years he was:

61.8
54.9
54.7
62.5

for 58.5

Locker was
47.3
53.8
58.2
55.4

for 53.9

Which is quite a bit worse, but Locker also threw quite a bit more passes than McNabb (about 350 per healthy year, vs Mcnabb's 210), so the argument could be made that McNabb benefitted more from the "change of pace" than Locker did. Locker also threw a ton more INTs than McNabb.

50
by dmb :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 8:58pm

I don't think the point is that Locker's career exactly mirrored McNabbs', but rather that they might have similar relative strengths and weaknesses. You make a good point that McNabb has been a rare QB whose INT% has remained consistently low, something that seems to be an unlikely outcome with Locker. But I don't think McNabb's consistently higher COMP% negates the Locker/McNabb comparisons; the point is neither that McNabb and Locker had identical college careers (sure sounds like they didn't), nor that they will have identical pro careers (they almost certainly won't). Rather, it's a very quick and useful way to give a reasonably accurate picture of what a players' relative strengths and weaknesses are. It sounds like Locker's accuracy is one of the weaker components of his skill set, just as it has been for McNabb.

32
by Harris :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:31pm

(sigh) Clearly, you do not live in Philadelphia.

Hail Hydra!

36
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:42pm

Haven't for some time. But I've seen Donovan one-hop just as many as you have. I remember Na Brown. That's exactly why I made the point and phrased it as I did. A decade in that crucible and we forget, sometimes, the reality isn't nearly as good or as bad as the pro and anti Donovan factions would have had us believe.

19
by NJBammer :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:40pm

+ 1,000 this.

21
by Kal :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:41pm

On Locker - he really seems like a Leaf kind of guy. The Pac-10 isn't exactly brimming with top defenses, yet he continues to play poorly against them. Spread offenses tend to increase completion % (as you throw a lot of screens, smoke passes and short ins and crossing routes) but his was pretty horrible. Worse yet, his completion % actually got worse in the second season of the program despite having a better running game.

I just can't imagine that a player who makes bad decisions in college is somehow going to make good decisions in the pros. Cutler got away with it in Vanderbilt because of his ability to physically beat other players with his arm strength - and even Cutler had above a 60% completion rate.

At some point, physical skills for a QB should wisely get trumped by intelligence and poise, and I just don't see that in Locker.

22
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:47pm

The big knock on Leaf was always the immaturity. In that regard, the inevitable Leaf comparisons this year are going to be directed towards Ryan Mallet, not Jake Locker. Really, the only thing Locker and Leaf have as comparisons are where they came from.

23
by tuluse :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:51pm

Sounds like Kyle Boller might be a good comp?

25
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 3:56pm

Not really. He's another guy who completed under 60%, but Boller was a Jeff Tedford QB.

McNabb is probably the best comparison. Or, if you want a guy who didn't succeed, maybe Tim Couch?

33
by William Lloyd Garrision III (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:35pm

No way on Couch. He's the poster child for the Lewin Forecaster gone wrong; high completion percentage, not a low one like Locker.

35
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:40pm

The problem is trying to prepackage all these kids as "the next so-and-so." It's a bad shortcut. Yes, it's easy, but it's never accurate. Instead of looking at a kid and trying to create a picture in your minds eye of someone else who played the same and put up similar numbers, we should be looking at the kid and seeing him as himself and trying to project HIM as a pro.

38
by Kal :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:44pm

McNabb isn't a good comparison either; McNabb had far better completion %s in college and was far more instrumental in the team's success.

40
by Dean :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:48pm

Again - there isn't really a good comparison. He is himself. He's not the reincarnation of a conveniently high profile athlete from a previous era.

Oliver Luck is not John Elway. Jake Locker is not Donovan McNabb. Ryan Mallet is not Ryan Leaf. Pat Devlin is not Joe Flacco. Cam Newton is not Vince Young. Etc.

I'll step off the soap box now - especially since I'm just as guilty as anyone else of taking this shortcut and probably shouldn't be throwing stones.

62
by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 7:26am

It can be a handy shortcut if used properly though. If a QB is generally fairly accurate, but prone to a few bad misses a game, and is a threat to run with the ball Donovan McNabb is a decent comparator. Although McNabb's game has changed enough from the start of his career to now that you really need to specify which McNabb you mean.

If a DE is compared to say Dwight Freeney, you can easily expect it as not a run defender, but expected to be a good pass rusher. It only really works in comparison with players with well known strengths and weaknesses though. There's little point using it for O-linemen or positions like that IMO. If a lineman is compared to say Joe Thomas, all I'm going to think is "Oh, so he's supposed to be good. But he's supposed to be drafted in the top 5, so I knew that." I'm not going to think "Oh, so he's great at using his hand to stop a rusher's first move, but is susceptible to an inside spin" or something like that.

41
by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 5:12pm

McNabb's completion percentage was 5% higher than Locker's, and his interception rate was half what locker's is. They're not really comparable.

31
by matu_72 :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:29pm

"Spread offenses tend to increase completion % (as you throw a lot of screens, smoke passes and short ins and crossing routes) but his was pretty horrible. Worse yet, his completion % actually got worse in the second season of the program despite having a better running game."

In watching the Holiday Bowl, Washington didn't run any of that kind of stuff. I wouldn't think a coach would abandon all of their concepts in one game no matter what team they're facing. Granted, tv broadcasts don't give good angles to see what routes are being run. But in watching the game, Washington didn't seem like a team that runs a pass heavy spread scheme. And Washington's receivers really didn't look any good.

37
by Kal :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 4:43pm

Sorry, I wasn't clear. In the first two years of his career Locker was doing spread-like offensive stuff, where he did option reads and ran a lot. He had a 47% completion rating the first year and a 53% the second. That was surprising to me - that in a system that doesn't do a lot of downfield passing he was still pretty raw and inaccurate.

In the pro system in his third year (and the first under Sarkasian) he had a 58% completion rating - but he actually went down to 55% in his last year and almost was as bad in his final year as his second year.

Nebraska's a bad game to judge in that they are amazingly good against the pass - and Locker did improve somewhat against them (not that that's hard, given that he was 4/20 with ints the first time). Still, it's somewhat telling that Washington's game plan was essentially take the ball away from Locker in order to win. That's what they did to win the last few games, actually; focus on their running game and Polk and let Locker do occasional easy play action routes. If Locker was their best athlete and best option, I would have expected a lot more of him. Instead, they reduced his load.

The comparison to Leaf is mostly in decision making, not intangibles. Leaf had that rare collection of bad intangibles and bad decision making combined with physical skills. Locker doesn't have the bad intangible stuff, but his decision making is really meh and he doesn't seem to be able to learn particularly well. As sad as it makes me to make this comparison, probably the closest comparison is to someone like Joey Harrington, though even he had a better completion% and threw more (and won more games) than Locker did.

42
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 5:17pm

I can't put together a reasonable NFL comp to Locker right now -- there just isn't enough NFL-quality play to see.

As far as the comps for Luck and others, I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that a draft prospect reminds you of this or that NFL player -- I saw Luck and immediately thought of Rich Gannon in his release, his stance, his specific mobility, etc. It's a good thumbnail description style for people who love pro football and don't get immersed in the skill sets of college players until the draft process begins.

79
by Misfit74 :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 12:10pm

I agree. I'm a big fan of College-NFL player 'comparisons'. Mainly, because I watch infinitely more Pro football.

I've thought of Jaquizz Rodgers looking similar to Ahmad Bradshaw with the power in a small body running style and good agility/lateral quickness (for example).

On the Locker/McNabb debate; when McNabb was in school I watched a lot more college ball. I didn't think McNabb could pass the ball all that well, but he was a dynamite runner. No way did I expect him to be drafted where he was, and look how that turned out. I can see the same thing happening with Locker. Too much upside and physical tools to not take a chance on him. I expect Locker to go in the top-15.

80
by Misfit74 :: Thu, 01/20/2011 - 12:12pm

I agree. I'm a big fan of College-NFL player 'comparisons'. Mainly, because I watch infinitely more Pro football.

I've thought of Jaquizz Rodgers looking similar to Ahmad Bradshaw with the power in a small body running style and good agility/lateral quickness (for example).

On the Locker/McNabb debate; when McNabb was in school I watched a lot more college ball. I didn't think McNabb could pass the ball all that well, but he was a dynamite runner. No way did I expect him to be drafted where he was, and look how that turned out. I can see the same thing happening with Locker. Too much upside and to too many valuable physical tools for a team not to take a chance on him early. I expect Locker to go in the top-15.

43
by Michael K (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 5:32pm

One thing about Locker, and I'm sure the scouts who wrote this know it, but I see some people talking about how they don't know much about CFB: the Washington teams around him were awful. It's hard to comprehend how bad Ty Willingham-coached teams can be if you haven't watched them play. It sometimes literally looks like he pulled 22 guys off the streets and threw them in pads. I don't know if Locker's going to be worth a damn in the pros, but the teams around have just been reprehensible and that has to have had some impact on his shoddy numbers.

45
by Kal :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 6:50pm

Some, but not all. He still makes really, really bad decisions at times, he still gets very confused by defenses doing simple things, he still has poor pocket presence quite often. His receivers didn't often do him a lot of favors, but you don't go 4/20 against Nebraska just because the rest of your team sucks.

47
by Ben Muth :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 8:28pm

I ran a tackle eligible in the spring game before my senior year. The ball was deflected and I couldn't adjust. I was ridiculed in meetings for the next four months. I try not to think about my brush with glory.

49
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 8:54pm

Ha! Thanks. I was really hoping you had.

51
by stcronin (not verified) :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 9:02pm

What about Rick Mirer as a comp for Locker? I watch a lot of college football, and some NFL, but I have a real hard time remembering anybody that Locker reminds me of.

I didn't see Gannon play in college, but he seems like a good comp for Luck.

53
by stephenbawesome :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 10:57pm

Worst case scenario for Locker could be Bobby Douglass?

One undervalued aspect of Luck's game is his cadence. He was drawing defenders offsides as a RS Freshman. He has veteran nuances to his game.

54
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 01/05/2011 - 11:29pm

So, to go back to the same era, might the best case scenario be Greg Landry?

56
by JonFrum :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:00am

If Locker was three inches shorter, would we be talking about him? Or does he get attention because he LOOKS like an NFL QB?

57
by tuluse :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:09am

If Dwight Howard was 3 inches shorter, would he be DPOY? Height is important to a QB.

60
by Mike Y :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 5:52am

Don't we hear about a "can't miss" QB prospect almost every year? Best QB prospect since John Elway? Didn't we hear the same things about Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf, Michael Vick, David Carr, Tim Couch, Drew Bledsoe, and Vinny Testaverde? I have a hard time believing a college sophomore is a "can't miss" prospect. Maybe his weaknesses haven't been uncovered yet.

64
by Kal :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 11:07am

Of the folks you named only Leaf, Carr and Couch were huge busts. And there were question marks about all three at the time - they were only touted as sure things by some people. The Mannings have both worked out (though only one is amazing), Vick was great by most measures, Palmer had multiple great years before injury caused some issue, Bledsoe the same.

Put it this way - Luck is good in the way JaMarcus Russell is not. He's good in the way that Carr (who played against bad defenses most of the time) is not. He's good in the way Leaf (who had bad intangibles AND a poor completion%) is not.

65
by Mike Y :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 11:29am

What I meant was that we hear about a "Best QB prospect since Elway" (or similar words) almost every year. How is the hype surrounding Luck any different from, say, the hype surrounding Carson Palmer?

74
by Kal :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 3:17pm

I don't see the issue with Carson Palmer, honestly. Before he got hurt he was very, very good - and his injury was pretty freakish. You can't really judge a player's success on whether or not some freak injury essentially reduced them to a fraction of what they were.

Carson Palmer really did live up to the hype in any reasonable measure. Even injured he's still much better than many other QBs playing in the NFL.

75
by Dean :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 3:51pm

Agreed. He was already one of the top handful of QBs in the league - arguably top 3 - and still ascending - when he got hurt. He hasn't been the same since Kimo low-bridged him.

63
by Bobby Wommack (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 10:07am

Has anyone actually watched Locker this year? He's been horrible at times.

68
by Samson 151 (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:09pm

I don't know how you'd evaluate Cam Newton as a pro quarterback without knowing a lot about the scheme he would be going to. His role in the Auburn offense is most similar to what Tebow did at Florida, with a lot of designed running plays. Conventional wisdom is that if you try that as a steady diet in the pros, you wind up on IR. Certainly there are LBs and safeties out there who'd like nothing better than to text Cam in the hospital.

I'd argue he's a bigger talent than Tim, but then Tim should have gone somewhere between late 2nd and early 4th.

There are three more reliable QBs in front of him in this class, and Locker isn't one of them.

69
by jmaron :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 12:35pm

As a Viking fan I'm very interested in QB prospects. I don't anything about college QB's. Which are the 3 you think are ahead of Newton and Locker.

70
by Otis Taylor89 :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 1:11pm

I have to say that of all the QBs that could be coming out this year, Ryan Mallett is the most interesting. Live arm, stationary accurate, tall.
Locker just seems to be too hit or miss to be a good NFL QB.

71
by SirKev (not verified) :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 1:12pm

A couple of comments. I've been impressed watching Luck all year. As someone living in North CA, it's clear that Luck is up there with Aaron Rodgers in recent Stanford/Cal qb's. What I love is the aggressiveness that both he and Harbaugh have displayed this year and I think that trait will bode well for him in the NFL.

As to Cam Newton, what about a different comparison? Would the ceiling for him be Ben Rothelisberger? A qb who harnesses his size and strength to shake off defenders and extend plays? I can see this is he continues to improve his accuracy and pocket presence. Otherwise the physical comparisons are there with the only difference in Newton's speed.

76
by stephenbawesome :: Thu, 01/06/2011 - 3:51pm

Andrew Luck is more refined than even the most accomplished Seniors. While we're dealing with hyperbole every draft season, he's a different sort of prospect than Bradford. Bradford was uncanny for his accuracy. Luck, while accurate, is more highly regarded for the polish and nuance to his game. He also played in a pro-style offense, so scouts and coaches have a better knowledge of how he'd adjust to the next level.

While the Bobby Douglass comparison was tongue-in-cheek, it's not that far off for Locker. He is physically gifted but very raw. When he was an underclassman, he had been compared to Tebow, just without the surrounding talent and better speed. They weren't unfounded back when Locker was in more of a zone-read style offense, but I think the experience under Sarkisian was helpful. But as the article states, there's no real way to tell where his porous line and unpolished receivers should be given the blame, and where we can point towards a fault in Locker's game. He's not terribly accurate coming out of college, but neither was Jay Cutler. The situations coming out are similar even if the players aren't: Lack of team success, lack of surrounding talent, lower than preferred completion percentage... Locker is a project, but the upside will entice someone. Hopefully it's someone who will give him a year or two to improve.

My guess on the inevitable Mallet comparison would be an early career Drew Bledsoe. Big cannon-armed quarterbacks, though I think Mallet is a little better moving within the pocket. Mallet has more of the confidence that young Bledsoe had, when he thought he could match Marino. Not sure if it's good confidence or hubris, but it seems like a lot of people's complaints about Mallet is that he is kind of a douche. So maybe it's somewhere in between.

I can keep going on the other quarterbacks, but I'll save some of it for their cover two features...