Russell Wilson fell to the third round of the 2012 draft because of his size and the way he played the position. Tyrod Taylor fell to the sixth round of the 2011 draft because of his size and the way he played the position.
How far Vernon Adams will fall in the 2016 draft will highlight how much Wilson and Taylor’s success has impacted the perceptions that NFL teams carry.
Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are considered the top two quarterbacks in this class. One of them is most likely going to be the second-overall pick for the Cleveland Browns or the seventh-overall pick for the San Francisco 49ers. Both could even go in the top 10. Neither should though.
Goff and Wentz are both closer to the perception of what makes a good NFL starter inside the league, but Adams is the better prospect. On first viewing, Goff appeared to be the best prospect. It’s easy to fall into that trap. Adams is shorter and plays in that Oregon system so the first viewing of his skill set can be misleading.
When you go through his play with a fine-tooth comb, it’s easier to focus on his specific traits and the overall value of his skill set.
During the lead-up to last year’s draft, Marcus Mariota received widespread skepticism for playing in Oregon’s offense. The main complaint was that he never had to fit the ball into tight windows. A big reason for this was how well Mariota executed the offense, consistently showing off NFL traits with his process in the pocket,
Even though Mariota was often throwing to open receivers, it was still possible to gauge his accuracy, arm talent and ability to throw with anticipation. Projecting Mariota as someone who would be able to fit the ball into tight windows wasn’t difficult, it was obvious.
Adams’ arm is very impressive. He doesn’t throw with anticipation as consistently as Mariota did, but he has a similarly quick release with sustained velocity to every level of the field.
Adams’ arm talent is very impressive. He consistently gets the most out of that arm talent by timing his throws and setting his feet. In the above play, Adams rolls out of the pocket by design. His first read in the flat is covered so Adams brings his eyes back to the middle of the field where he has an intermediate crossing route moving in the same direction.
In one movement, Adams stops his feet before instantly setting them so he is squared off to his target. He rifles the ball past the middle linebacker who was reading his eyes while trying to reverse his momentum and stretch back for the pass.
Comparisons between Mariota and Adams shouldn’t go much further past the teams they played for. They are very different prospects.
The most obvious difference between the two is their respective abilities throwing the ball deep downfield. Mariota struggles to throw with precision past 25 yards downfield. Adams has no such issues. His passes sustain velocity long past 25 yards and he can place the ball comfortably whether throwing from a standing position in the pocket or while moving outside of the pocket.
In the above play, Adams lingers on his first read before pressure arrives in his face. He reacts just in time, turning away from the immediate defender but running into another. This is where Adams’ awareness and athleticism stands out. Despite turning into the defender in a tight space, Adams is able to jump cut away from the defender and escape into the flat.
One of the traits that Wilson and Taylor share is their eye-level. When they break the pocket, they don’t immediately look to run. They keep their eyes downfield to give their receivers every chance to make a play. Adams shows off similar poise here, keeping his eyes downfield and delivering the ball just a linebacker arrives.
Adams drops an accurate pass over the trailing defensive back down the right sideline.
On this play, Adams once again lingers on his first read before resetting in the pocket to adjust to arriving pressure. He shows off fleet footwork and mechanical discipline to find space and deliver the ball unimpeded. Adams’ pass floats slightly but it is a good throw that finds his receiver in the endzone.
Adams can deliver the ball from the pocket, rolling to his right and rolling to his left. He can deliver the ball accurately downfield off his back-foot against pressure and still lead receivers to space against tight coverage. This is the type of throw that few quarterbacks in the NFL can make once, Adams makes these types of throws consistently.
Every quarterback in the NFL needs to be able to throw from the pocket to be effective. That should always be at the forefront of any quarterback evaluation. However, we’ve reached a point where the emphasis on that has almost made being able to throw from outside of the pocket a negative. A stigma has developed around the creative players at the position.
Too often creative is construed with reckless. Adams, like Wilson and Taylor, is a quarterback who is risk averse.
Risk averse quarterbacks are problematic when they have to function from the pocket. They get to a point within the design of each play where they have passed up on the right option because the right option came with some risk. At that point, they are more likely to take a sack or throw the ball away because they don’t have the skill set to extend the play.
If you have a risk-averse quarterback with an abundance of physical talent and enough awareness to use that talent in the right ways, you probably have a quality NFL starter.
Adams doesn’t lose his discipline against pressure. His instinct isn’t to run and drop his eyes when a defender gets close to him or when his first read isn’t open. His instinct is to hold the ball and work to find an open option downfield. When he is given time in the pocket he will use it and while there are examples of him being oblivious to back-side pressure, it wasn’t a major issue.
Instead, Adams regularly exhibited outstanding improvisational skills against pressure.
On this play, the Oregon right guard is beaten so badly that he can barely touch the defensive tackle as he sweeps past his outside shoulder. This put Adams in an extremely difficult situation. He has to drop his eyes initially to square up to the defender confronting him in the pocket. The defender is coming at the perfect angle to close off Adams’ escape route to his right, but the quarterback has the athletic ability to override that angle.
Adams evades the tackler and immediately squares himself back to the line of scrimmage while climbing up and away from the incoming edge pressure. Despite working the pocket, he is keeping his eyes downfield at all times. He has to keep moving forward as he delivers the ball deep down the left sideline.
His pass isn’t perfect, it leads the receiver out of bounds, but considering the rest of the play it is an impressive one.
The plays that Adams makes against pressure are simply spectacular. He uses his athleticism and moves his feet but he does so subtly while keeping his eyes downfield.
Foot frequency is a huge part of Adams’ success.
He is a smart quarterback with the awareness and poise to mitigate pressure in the pocket. Like Mariota, he regularly played in spacious pockets at Oregon. Also like Mariota, he was a big reason for that. Adams routinely positioned himself in the perfect spot in the pocket, giving his offensive linemen better leverage in their assignments. He made decisive movements when he had to and that was valuable for creating big plays downfield, but the shorter, subtler movements and the intelligence of them are what suggests he can be developed into a quality starter in the NFL.
On this play, Adams’ protection is initially good. He holds the ball while focusing on his first read. Even though he is locked onto one side of the field with his eyes, he is still aware of what is happening around him in the pocket. His interior protection is collapsing and the pressure is arriving to the left side of the offensive lineman in front of him.
Adams uses the positioning of the defensive linemen and his offensive linemen to manipulate the incoming penetration. He uses one hard step to force the pressure wider. That allows his pass protector to reset between the defender and him. Adams can then deliver the ball unopposed in the pocket.
For a shorter quarterback, this kind of movement is important for negating pressure but also for creating throwing lanes. Adams gave himself a clean route to the deep curl route for a first down on Third-and-10.
Compensating for size is important. It’s something that Russell Wilson struggles with for long stretches, closing off the middle of the field. Adams’ approach is closer to that of Drew Brees. His awareness and footwork allows him to adjust to whatever scenario presents itself in front of him.
In the above play, Adams’ movement in the pocket is perfect so that he is equidistant and in line with all of his blockers. He has also broken down the coverage correctly while moving in the pocket, so he knows that he needs to get the ball to his shallow crossing route underneath. To make sure the ball arrives at the right time and reaches its intended target Adams leaves his feet as he releases the ball, flipping it over the defensive lineman in his throwing lane.
There weren’t many opportunities to see Adams release the ball instantly against blitzes, but when defenses tried to bait him into beating himself by only rushing three, he showed off no signs of panicking.
Many, many starting quarterbacks in the NFL will drop their eyes and run when they have to hold the ball for this long in the pocket. The majority of those that don’t only don’t because they have already forced a throw into coverage, playing into the design of the defense’s play call.
Adams’ willingness to hold onto the ball, his awareness of how to move in the pocket and his intelligence to break down coverages allow him to excel against passive play calls.
It would be understandable if Adams was tempted to run in these situations. It would be understandable if he was tempted to run in any situation because he is elusive in the open field and an impressive athlete. Quarterbacks who have success running the ball often narrow their line of thinking and only consider the potential gains they can create with their feet.
The exceptional quarterbacks who can run don’t run unecessarily. They are reluctant runners because they understand that the smartest way to attack any defense is by keeping all your options open. Running is only the preferred option when it is the best option.
Wide skill set players make for better developmental quarterbacks. They’re especially more valuable on teams that can manage their responsibilities with a strong supporting cast.
If Adams lands in the right situation, he could be a quality starter from the first game of his rookie season. A team such as the Los Angeles Rams could make him a complementary piece on a run-first offense on a team with a defensive identity. In that role, the Rams could simplify his responsibilities early on while Adams’ ability to create big plays would mask the impact of his mistakes.
Adams has some inconsistency in his play, but he also dealt with injuries while moving to a new scheme and playing against a greater caliber of opponent last year. Overlooking the traits he repeatedly showed off to fixate on his size or the way in which he plays the position would be a massive mistake.
The 23-year old is the whole package, a quarterback who deserves to go in the first round of this year’s draft.