Futures: Winston, Hundley, Mariota, and Footwork
by Matt Waldman
More film analysis forthcoming at Futures, especially on the Big Uglies, the island inhabitants on the perimeter, and the rovers and enforcers of the defense. In the meantime, indulge me one more week on offensive skill players. After all, I finished a 220-page skill position draft guide yesterday afternoon that, including the supplementary evaluations and play-by-play notes, totals 1,414 pages.
It sounds insane. It looks insane, too. Trust me, I printed 2014's edition in December for a panel, and a brief moment of clarity washed over me as I stared at the four binders: There's something kooky about all this.
It reminded me of visiting folk artist Howard Fenster's Paradise Garden. As I experienced the four acres of this man's spiritual/religious vision, I was knocked off-kilter with awe and underlying terror.
The more I watch film for a large-scale project like the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, the more two body parts come heavily into play: the hips and the feet. The hips generate power, explosiveness, agility, and flexibility at every position. Most key techniques require something from the players' hips.
However, for quarterbacks, the feet are the window to the mind. If it weren't for Bill Walsh and his insistence that a quarterback's footwork is one of the most telling aspects of his overall game, this segment would seem like I was doing a podiatry variation of palmistry for quarterbacks.
Admittedly, I'm taking these thoughts further in that direction that Walsh might have. However, the connections are there to make -- just as they were last year with Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, and Johnny Manziel.
Jameis Winston's footwork is as off-balance and erratic as the Seminoles quarterback's behavior on and off the field. He's so charismatic that teammates would walk over hot coals for him on the field, but there are enough questions about maturity, self-awareness, and accountability in his everyday life that the team picking Winston would be idiots not to realize they've just strapped their organization into a roller coaster. What's so wild about Winston is that, like his footwork (which often appears one step ahead or behind the rest of his body and mind), once it gets aligned he's difficult to stop.
Winston has streaks where the term "ineptitude" would be too complimentary of his play. However, much like the bumblebee that doesn't know it shouldn't be able to fly, this lack of awareness can work in his favor. Winston doesn't dwell on his mistakes. He'll make three errors in a game that would put most quarterbacks in a funk, only to lead his team back from a deficit for the victory. Call it mental toughness, lack of conscience, or comfort in chaos. Whatever it is, Winston shares it with Russell Wilson, Brett Favre, and Eli Manning -- especially Manning, whose extremes of play are often maddening to fans.
Brett Hundley's feet are fluid and precise, but there's an underlying urgency. As my colleague Eric Stoner described, there's a build-up of kinetic energy in his legs. Of the top three quarterbacks in the eyes of draft media, Hundley is the most nitpicked. He's also the most hamstrung by his offense.
UCLA's line play was below average, and the coaching staff did not allow Hundley to call audibles -- not even a check to a run or a simple protection change when it was obvious the line was outnumbered pre-snap. The conventional analysis concludes that Hundley wasn't advanced enough as a player and UCLA couldn't give the quarterback that responsibility. Ever consider that the concern wasn't Hundley but the line?
Entertain this notion and that kinetic urgency from Hundley is a logical reaction of a player whose coaching staff decided We'll keep things simple on offense and if the play breaks down, we'll let our best player work his way out of it. It's not the only thing draft media might be overanalyzing about Hundley. I've watched enough games of the Bruins quarterback to conclude that there's way too much being made of his tendency to break the pocket too early. There are plays where he'll flush outside the pocket too fast, but there might not be a better pocket climber against interior and edge pressure in this class than Hundley.
He's an explosive player whose true potential, I think, has been bottled up by his own team. I expect Hundley's play in two or three years to leave draft media wondering why they overthought him.
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Winston and Hundley are creative players. Their teams expect them to make something happen when plays break down. Marcus Mariota is an analytical player whose offense is the creative entity, and he's the executor of its will.
Mariota's feet tell the story: deliberate, incremental, tiny steps. Watch him maneuver a pocket say the word "click" after each step, and the Oregon quarterback's footwork is almost robotic. It's the telltale characteristic of an analytical mind under center.
Robert Griffin, like Mariota, is a high-end athlete with an analytical style. The feet are similar. Give them offenses where the creativity is built-in and working well, and they're explosive triggermen. It doesn't mean they can't be creative on their own, but it's not their strength. Matt Ryan isn't as creative as he is precise with his execution of creative play calls.
Watching Steve Young's footwork after seeing Mariota's and there are a lot of similarities. Young mastered his offense and there's a little more fluidity to his movements, but I'm a believer that the longer you walk to one end of a spectrum, that line bends to meet the opposite end. Analytical players functioning at the highest level veer into intuitive/creative territory and vice versa.
Listen to Young talk about quarterbacking and there's a healthy dose of analytical thinking behind it. Young is a law school graduate, and his analytical mindset fits the training he got both in law and in the West Coast Offense. However, he was so off-the-charts skilled in his offense that he has developed a philosophical bent that borders on esoteric when he describes quarterbacking on television.
Mariota, like Young and Griffin, may need a specific offensive fit to thrive. When it happens, he can be a productive, dynamic player. It seems implausible after the trade for Sam Bradford, but I still wouldn't be surprised if we see a Chip Kelly-Mariota reunion in Philadelphia. Kelly seems attracted to players who are executors -- task-oriented players -- as opposed to creators. Teams must create schemes to maximize the skill of players like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. On the other hand, you can plug in a Jordan Matthews or DeMarco Murray like a cog into a machine, rather than build the machine to custom fit the part.
If my thoughts on each of these quarterback's footwork plays out as they look on the field today, Winston will have the wildest career of ups and downs, but his comfort with chaos makes him the most ready to play immediately. He's a boom-bust for his off-field concerns.
Mariota is the most scheme-dependent of the three, but if he's matched with a creative coach, he could have the best career. If not, he might be the most boom-bust of the trio on the field.
Hundley, like Winston, is a creative player who often makes great plays that compensate for the bad. He's a battler who doesn't overthink his mistakes and go into a shell. However, Hundley would benefit most from a year on the bench.
Truth be told, all three belong on the bench this year. Winston's not ready to assume a leadership role until his off-field life has more balance, but he'll be tested immediately. Mariota has the most technique to master in the shortest period of time if he's not dropped into a version of his Oregon offense. Hundley has to develop more scheme familiarity so he can make good decisions at the line of scrimmage.
Unfortunately , the NFL at its near-45 percent hit rate on first-round quarterbacks forgets that some of its most successful passers of the past 15 years sat or played limited time as rookies.
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Matt Waldman authors the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. available for download now. The guide covers over 140 prospects at the offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE). If you're a fantasy owner, the 50-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012-2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best of all, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (2006-2014) for just $9.95 apiece.