AJ McCarron Breakdown
The 2014 NFL Draft season is upon us. As this lengthy process goes on, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each prospect as seen through my eyes.
I’ve never been a fan of the blanket statement “all he does is win”. If that argument held water, McCarron would be the first overall pick. Here is my assessment on the former Alabama QB.
AJ is comfortable going through his progressions and has the ability to see the whole field. It’s a trait far too many quarterbacks lack.
He’s become surprisingly sneaky at avoiding pass rushers and extending plays. He’s most comfortable rolling out to the right and can throw on the run. He also has the ability to scramble to his left and does a good job of squaring up his shoulders before releasing the ball.
McCarron has understanding and control of zip passes and those requiring touch. Often times quarterback prospects come out and they remind me of that kid you grew up playing Madden with. They either always hold down the pass button with all their strength or just tap it every time. AJ knows when to tap and when to rifle it.
He also has a knack for back shoulder throws. If his target is covered up, he can still find the completion by allowing his receiver to adjust. While it’s not the most difficult pass, McCarron still has a natural feel and at ease with the quick slants.
AJ is another one of these college quarterbacks that has been spoiled by his line’s pass protection. The NFL pass rush should be a rude awakening. While he’s talented at avoiding a rusher or two, how will he react to a constant, immediate rush in his face?
What makes the protection an even bigger weakness for McCarron is the fact that he doesn’t have great feel for the blind pocket pressure.
My biggest issue with him has to do more with what you don’t see on film than what you do. After watching the better part of his career, I can’t recall one throw in which he impressed me by sticking the ball into an evaporating window. It’s okay to be a game manager when his team always has the lead and the most talented athletes, but what happens on an even playing field against the best players in the world when the game is on his shoulders?
I charted the passes over the last few games that I watched on McCarron and roughly 65% of his throws were inside of 10 yards and 90% were inside of 20 yards. He has a subpar arm and fights to get it 50-55 yards downfield. He has enough to get it outside the numbers, but in the NFL his money making throws will be inside 10 yards from sideline to sideline or on intermediate throws he’ll have to rely heavily on post and seam routes.
In my opinion McCarron is going to be best in a west coast offense. He can’t be asked to take much risk and if the game falls on him things could get ugly. He’s the bastard child of Alex Smith and Andy Dalton. Or if they were remaking “3 Men and a Baby” the three men that raised him and gave McCarron his quarterback traits would be Smith, Dalton, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitz would play Tom Selleck, but replace the 80’s mustache with the 2010’s neck beard.
Brett Smith Breakdown
I head out to Wyoming for the next evaluation. Who said nothing good happens in Wyoming?
I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw from Brett Smith when I started watching. Every year there are quarterbacks that no one is talking about and then I put on the film and I’m blown away. Brett Smith is that guy for 2014. He makes more NFL throws than all the other quarterback prospects combined. He completes passes that the others can’t or won’t.
Brett is fearless and has the ability to needle the ball into tight windows.
Smith has better complete command on his touch and velocity than any other prospect in this class. I’ve seen him drop in a 35 yard rainbow that attacked triple coverage and fell in the only angle that could be completed. Then I saw him split a safety and corner with a dime that could have been completed if the trajectory was any higher or lower or had a 10th of the speed dialed back.
Brett is almost impossible to bring down in the pocket as he’s an escape artist that will be a threat to run or get outside the pocket to create more time for his receivers to separate.
He has plenty of arm and delivers the ball from the far hash to the field sideline with velocity. This is one of the hardest throws to make and Smith attempts and completes it regularly.
When watching Smith as a sophomore I saw happy feet in the pocket and his risk throws were multiple and really devalued his stock as an NFL prospect. As a junior he showed tremendous growth in both areas and started making for calculated risk / reward plays. He’ll continue to grow and develop with an NFL coaching staff.
The big knock on Brett Smith will surround his undersized frame. He has to add bulk and prove that he can keep his elusiveness. Some teams may consider him a risk after seeing Robert Griffin III battle to stay on the field.
Smith will turn off other OCs, GMs, and head coaches by his delivery. He releases the ball at close to a 45% angle. Some will want to tinker with his delivery as they may fear that it’ll cause too many batted balls at the line. Colin Kaepernick had critics questions his delivery and frame when he was coming out of Nevada. I’d leave his throwing motion alone if I was a coaching staff.
Brett didn’t do much, if any work under center at Wyoming. This may cause a red flag in more than one area. As previously mentioned, the throwing motion could cause more issues if he’s asked to play in an offense with 3 step drops from center. Also, some coaches will question how quick he’ll pick up a pro-style offense and the comfort level / adjustment from turning his back to the defense.
On big plays he has a tendency to occasionally take off velocity and add too much touch to ensure a completion. This tendency to play it safe could backfire in the NFL if he allows the faster, bigger defensive backs more time to break on passes.
In my opinion, Brett Smith should be the first Wyoming player drafted in the first round since 2 went in the 1976 first round (Lawrence Gaines and Aaron Kyle).
Brett Smith is a better downfield passer than Teddy Bridgewater, has the ability to escape like Johnny Manziel, corrected the mental collapses that Blake Bortles still struggles with and can deliver in tight windows like Derek Carr. While Smith may still have some concerns, I’d name him as the #1 quarterback prospect in this class. NOTE: I rank my prospects based on who I think will have the best NFL career.
Zach Mettenberger Breakdown
Time to evaluate what sounds like a New York baseball fan’s afternoon activities (Mets and burgers). Zach Mettenberger now enters the hot seat.
Zach has great size and a big arm that can make any throw that he’s asked to. He’s especially talented with throws outside the numbers with anticipation to boot (Pun for my Louisiana people) P.S. – Not a very good pun, apologies.
Mettenberger took a lot of reps from under center at LSU and he’s more than comfortable with his back to the defense. He also ran quite a bit of playaction and bootlegs, despite only being decent on the rollout.
He has good ball location on sideline routes from 20-45 yards. Usually he places it on the outside shoulder with enough green between the numbers and out of bounds for the receiver to maneuver.
Zach shows the ability to progress thru his reads and scan partial to the full field.
Mettenberger showed tremendous growth from 2012 to 2013. I think the offense held him back early on and as he was allowed to grow he developed into a more confident passer. The trend should continue as a pro.
He shows the knack to understand the blueprint of closing windows and how to fit the ball in those disappearing windows, like Neo from the Matrix, if you will.
Zach also has control with touch or velocity. His touch is especially accurate, for the majority of his throws in the red zone.
LSU is such a dominant defense and has a great power running game that I’m not sold on Mettenberger as a closer. I watched several games where he made crucial mistakes that either directly cost the Tigers the game or helped lead them down that inevitable path.
Oddly enough, he has moments where he has unexplainable inaccuracies on simple slants. These passes come out of nowhere and are troublesome to digest.
Maybe my biggest issue is with his pocket awareness. It’s so tremendously lacking that at times I’d expect Ray Charles to see the pressure quicker and react better. That leads me into his lack of pocket mobility. He takes unnecessary sacks and doesn’t use his size well enough to create more time.
Mettenberger struggles at times when he’s rolling out to his left and throwing. They are hit and miss, even inside of 10 yards when he squares his shoulders.
Zach can and has made all the throws, but he does have to tighten up his accuracy. He has a tendency to throw the ball a tad too far, behind, high, or low too often. These have led to turnovers in college that will only increase if not rectified in the NFL.
I realize that Zach Mettenberger tore his ACL not too long ago, but it’s not like the guy was a track star and an NFL team will fear him losing a step. I few Mettenberger as a much stronger armed, Matt Schaub.
Aaron Murray Breakdown
This next QB evaluation takes a look at Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a.k.a. Aaron Murray.
Murray is best summed up as a tale of two quarterbacks. When he’s not forced off the point and allowed to scan his reads in a timely manner, he throws with velocity, anticipation and accuracy.
A team could really fall in love with his positive tape and the above average floor. He started so many games in college against tough competition that his adjustment period in the pros could be a lot smoother than most prospects. A team could fall in love with his highs and have the security of felling that at worst they have a very solid backup.
Aaron goes through his progressions well and has the ability to make throws with anticipation. The anticipation throws helps him overcome arm issues when they arise at times.
He’s semi-athletic and can move the chains with his feet or extend plays by getting outside the pocket and making accurate throws on the run.
He’s a smart quarterback that can win when he lets his mind take over the game. Aaron has a ton of experience from under center or in shotgun. It’s another phase of his game that will help him adjust to the NFL game easier.
Mr. Hyde shows up on film when teams continuously put him under pressure with speed. He becomes inadequate and unreliable. The speed rush throws off his timing and rhythm that he’s so comfortable with. It’s at these times that his arm strength does become a concern.
It’s few and far between, but when Murray begins to press, he stares down routes and tips his hand.
Murray subpar blindside, pocket awareness. He has momentum killing sacks that can stack up quick when his rhythm is knocked off.
Aaron struggles with talented players in disguised zone defenses. This includes a rangy safety that can close from centerfield, dropping defensive linemen, and false blitzes that back off the line at the snap and enter close into quick passing lanes.
Logan Thomas Breakdown
It’s time to go evaluate something called a Hokie. Logan Thomas enters the quarterback evaluation conversation, but I’m not sure that’s the right category for him.
He’s obviously got a great frame to take the physical demand of the quarterback position. His 6’6 250 pound frame makes him hard to bring down in the pocket.
Logan is athletically gifted with great speed and agility for his size. Combining athleticism with his size makes for a talented runner, whether designed or acting off script.
Obviously, he’s a big armed quarterback that has the strength to sling the ball well over 60+ yards and get in the vicinity with all required throws.
He’s easily the most inaccurate quarterback in this class. While size, arm strength, velocity, and touch are all great to have, they’re worthless if the ball doesn’t go where it needs to.
Thomas doesn’t show in depth understanding of coverages, he’s a bad decision maker, and for the majority of throws he’s ineffective at an unacceptable rate on passes over 10 yards. Even inside of 10 yards, his struggles with accuracies show themselves.
There’s no point to go further in detail as he projects best as a tight end. If a team really wants to get creative, they could draft him as a TE/QB in hopes that he still has good hands and runs solid routes. This would also buy them time to try and place him with a quality QB coach and see if there is any gold worth mining for inside that big frame. The more logical decision is to just use his athleticism and frame as a receiving tight end. After all he hasn’t shown a ton of growth as a passer since first showing up at VA Tech.
After watching only 5 games, I had enough and couldn’t watch any more of him as a quarterback. The good news is, I finally figured out what a Hokie was. Hokie: A tight end that plays 3 years as a quarterback just because he has a live arm and is very athletic. Now that’s hokie.
Tajh Boyd Breakdown
The next quarterback stepping up to the evaluation table is none other than Tajh Boyd. Clemson doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. Will Boyd be the exception?
As a runner Tajh is very physical and deceptively quick. He’s able to lay the wood on poor defensive backs if he can make it to the third level.
Boyd can rifle the ball through the elements. He’s shown time and time again that his arm is dialed up for maximum velocity.
While Tajh doesn’t struggle with making the stick throws, dialing it back has been a concern. Boyd doesn’t show much touch, unless his speedy receivers have a 5 yard cushion on deeper routes. I’ve seen a multitude of throws in which he’s throwing 40-50 yards downfield on a rope when the defensive back was in tight. It allows the back the opportunity to make a play.
Boyd is a one read and fire the ball, type of quarterback. He’ll even stare down the receiver to where the passes are batted at the line or the route is jumped by the defenders in coverage. When he doesn’t force the ball to this read, he usually tucks and run immediately.
This lack of experience with progressing through his receivers has caused him to lack a natural feel for pocket pressure. He’ll struggle to adapt as a quarterback that is asked to stand in the pocket, not run, and look for the open receiver.
When the pressure is on against good defenses he starts to play tight. Passes bounce to their targets, he makes poor decisions, or he looks for his feet to bail him out.
Boyd hasn’t displayed the ability to read the underneath linebackers in coverage on intermediate posts or slants. What’s more is that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
While he seems to be a leader when everything is going well, he’s repeatedly sulked opening on the sidelines when the chips have been stacked against him.
Tajh played in a creative, dynamic offense where he had at least 4 NFL wide receivers on the roster (Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, and Jaron Brown). The bulk of his throws were screens where motion was used to hesitate the defenders and allow his speedsters to create. Then he would take the occasional deep throw to catch them off guard.
David Fales Breakdown
My quarterback adventure takes me to San Jose State. David Fales will attempt to prove skeptics wrong during this draft season.
David Fales has shown a knack of completing passes to covered up receivers by routinely targeting their back shoulders.
He’s also been able to drop the ball in quite successfully on seams, corners and go routes.
His throwing motion is less than desirable and at times he adds an even larger hitch in it when staring down a longer route.
He lacks arm strength and anticipation and it’s highlighted on hitch throws and outs, outside the numbers.
While he can move the ball downfield, the opposing secondary doesn’t have to respect him past 30 yards. Even his strength of throwing back shoulder, seams, corners, and go routes, are nowhere close to as effective on throws of 30+ yards.
Jimmy Garoppolo Breakdown
The QB evaluations take us to Eastern Illinois, born and raised, on the playground is where Jimmy Garoppolo spent most of his days.
Jimmy has one of the quickest releases I’ve seen. He could benefit from running an offense with a lot of 3 step drops and asked to make his read and get the ball out quickly.
What helps Garoppolo with his quick release is how quickly his body / arm react to what his vision sees. He makes his read and immediately the ball is out.
Jimmy does a great job of getting through his progressions and making his decision. He could go to an offense that has playmakers that can beat the jam or create separation immediately and Garoppolo will find them and get the ball out before the defense can react.
Jimmy does throw a good seam route and go ball usually +/- 1 yard. This will help him keep defenses on their heels and create the quick strikes underneath.
Garoppolo has decent touch and accuracy, but he should have been better due to the level of competition he played and the massive windows that he had the opportunity to throw in to, especially with his protection.
In college he depended heavily on playaction fakes and quick hitting slants or skinny posts. He’s mobile, but not evasive enough to have NFL defenses bite hard on these ball fakes or get out of their lanes.
He lacks great pocket mobility and awareness. At times he buries his head down when pressure comes like a turtle inside of its shell. His semi-athletic moment skills don’t allow him to create on the run or make a ton of exceptional throws out of the pocket.
Jimmy will have an adjustment period when he’s asked to take a ton of reps from under center as he isn’t comfortable with his back to the defense.
His arm strength is between subpar to par and he will struggle with some throws. What magnifies this weakness is the fact that he doesn’t throw with anticipation. The lack of anticipation partnered with a B- arm will lead to a lot of jumped routes in the NFL. He’ll struggle with the intermediate to deep hitches and outs and safeties will key on his post routes between the hashes.
Connor Shaw Breakdown
Let’s go to the Palmetto state to check out Connor Shaw. This under the radar signal caller deserves his moment in the spotlight.
I was surprised initially by Connor’s arm strength and velocity in which he gets off passes. While he doesn’t have the most powerful arm in the class, he does show time and time again that he has enough to stretch defenses and to make any throw that could be asked of him.
What makes the first point magnified for Shaw is the fact that he’s a great deep ball thrower. He does throw these mostly with velocity and I’d like to see him do more with touch, but regardless he usually puts the ball right on the receiver. It doesn’t matter who the target is, he has a valued talent to instantly read their speed, angle, and route.
He has good, but not great accuracy. Shaw can pick a defense apart from inside the hashes to the far boundaries.
Another way that Shaw frustrates opposing defenses is by his mobility. He causes pass rushers to miss him and he’s faster that what most expect. While he’s hit or miss when rolling out of the pocket, defenses have to honor his arm and his legs due to his playmaking abilities.
I keep hearing the Johnny Manziel comparisons to Russell Wilson, but honestly, Shaw is cut more in the mold of Wilson and Manziel’s attributes run more parallel to Mike Vick’s.
Some may wonder why I would compare Shaw more favorably to Russell Wilson than Johnny Manziel, but then rank Shaw behind Manziel in my quarterback rankings. One of the major reasons is due to decision making. Connor throws into tight double coverage and blanketed receivers too often. Despite only throwing 1 interception his last season with the Gamecocks.
Another reason is due to me questioning his durability. He’s been banged up more than a few times. While the SEC is physical, it’s still a non-comparison to the brutality of the NFL on a weekly basis.
Shaw had a few muffed snaps, costly fumbles and other plays on film that made me question his hand size. I don’t actually have the measurements, but judging by film I’d guess that they will come in a little less than desired for the NFL game.
His mobility is definitely a weapon, but there is some inconsistency in his accuracy when rolling out. He also tends to lock unto a read or turn and run too early on a designed pass play when the first read isn’t open.