How the Rams Can Set Up Their Rookie Quarterback For Success

37.8 percent of Nick Foles’ yards in 2015 came on throws where the ball didn’t travel further than two yards downfield. 25.5 percent of his attempts came on those plays. Nobody else had more than 33.5 percent of their yards come on those plays while only seven quarterbacks had a higher percentage of their attempts qualify.

Case Keenum is naturally more aggressive, but even he finished the year with 23.2 percent of his throws qualifying under those conditions.

That was the construct of the St. Louis Rams offense last year. They were overly reliant on screens and quick throws underneath because of their inability to run a functional downfield passing game. Not only did they lack the quarterback talent to push the ball downfield but they were also playing with a leaky offensive line and receivers who couldn’t separate or consistently win at the catch point. An over-reliance on Tavon Austin’s YAC naturally developed.

Neither Keenum are Foles are going to start for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. They will be replaced by Carson Wentz or Jared Goff, most likely Wentz, after the Rams traded up with the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the draft. Their new starter should be put into the same position that Foles and Keenum were. The Rams have given away all of their draft picks and didn’t invest in skill position or offensive line talent during free agency, so their personnel will remain the same.

Neither Wentz or Goff are on the level of Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston from last season, so being placed in a simplistic offense should actually favor them.

Even though the quarterback position typically takes away attention from those around them, that won’t be the case in Los Angeles. Todd Gurley is the focal point of the Rams offense. He will be the foundation of their success while the quarterback and the passing game are only asked to fill complementary roles.

The Rams won’t need to alter their offense much for either Wentz or Goff. Everything will be clearly defined with route combinations that attack specific areas of the field so that the quarterback doesn’t have to move his eyes or attack dangerous areas of the coverage.

Keenum

Nick Foles Layout

Above are Foles and Keenum’s pass charts. What immediately stands out is the lack of intermediate throws for Keenum and the lack of intermediate throws over the middle of the field for Foles. Intermediate throws over the middle of the field are more dangerous than any other because there are regularly linebackers and safeties tightening throwing windows or reading the eyes of the quarterback.

You not only need to be accurate and smart throwing the ball into coverage over the middle of the field, but you also have to be able to throw with controlled velocity, timing and touch.

On clearly defined deep shots off of play action, that kind of nuance is less of a concern. Screen throws are similarly simplistic in that there is no read to make and the throw is typically to a wide open receiver or running back at or behind the line of scrimmage. Not every play is as simple as this touchdown throw against the Green Bay Packers but the degree of difficulty for the quarterback is generally low.

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This was one of the Ram’s best plays of the 2015 season. It comes on Third-and-3, midway through the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers. Before even considering what happens once the ball is snapped, you have to consider what happened leading up to this point.

Up until this point of the game, the Rams had run the ball 35 times and thrown it 24 times. After half time, the Rams had run the ball 21 times to just five pass attempts. Those 21 attempts had gained 71 yards, including the seven from Tre Mason on the two plays that set up this manageable third down. This came after Todd Gurley had run in a 71-yard touchdown and Tavon Austin ran in a two-yard touchdown during the second quarter.

It’s not just that this down-and-distance allows for the Rams to run the ball, it’s that the Rams had been pounding the idea of running the ball into the minds of the 49ers defenders all game.

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Foles began the play in pistol, standing behind the center but not underneath him so he was catching the snap. This allows him to still sell play action without having to turn and move towards his running back. When Foles turns to face Benny Cunningham, he turns away from where Tavon Austin is on the field. Austin was lined up to the left, off the line of scrimmage tight to a teammate but not outside the numbers.

The alignment is hugely important. Furthermore, we should not that the 49ers were anticipating a running play by having seven defenders in the box. Seven defenders in the box doesn’t sound like a commitment to the run but it is when the offense has three receivers on the field. The alignments of both offense and defense are crucial for the space that the Rams are trying to attack.

When Foles turns towards Cunningham, the edge defender on the opposite side of the field and the linebacker closest to him both make aggressive moves away from Austin and towards the running back. Even though the ball has just been snapped, both are already out of the play.

New

The first receiver who lined up tight to Austin acts as a shield. He’s not running a route. He’s just holding his position and doing everything he can to stay between the defensive back and Austin. Meanwhile, the Rams have two offensive linemen releasing cleanly into space before Foles has even released the ball. They can comfortably get out in front to act as lead blockers because the linebackers have so badly bought the run fake and because Austin didn’t line up wide of the numbers.

On the other side of the field, the receiver releases to the sideline so the cornerback’s eyes are taken away from the play as he is in man coverage. Foles now has a simple throw to execute to Austin.

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Because of the threat of the run, the game situation and the play design, Austin has a huge amount of space when he catches the ball. He can fall forward for a first down and relatively easily run 66 yards for a touchdown with his speed. Not every screen is going to gain 66 yards obviously, but this is the type of play the Rams relied on to move the chains and create explosive plays last year. It’s a play design that asks next-to-nothing from the quarterback.

He doesn’t have to make a post-snap read, he doesn’t have to throw under pressure, his window to throw is as wide as could be and there is no need to lead the receiver or throw with anticipation.

As prospects, Wentz is the better fit for what the Rams do because he is more comfortable moving in space and has a bigger arm to push the ball downfield. Goff is more likely to be effective on short and intermediate routes on the next level. Taking shots downfield in the Rams offense is a must because they can’t consistently find intermediate routes to gain first downs. They need big plays to complement the run-heavy approach.

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Last year, the Rams showed off a lot of creativity to give their quarterback clearly-defined reads on downfield shots. They ran four verts often but those weren’t the plays that stood out for the quarterback position. In the above image, we can see a play from an early game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Todd Gurley is in the backfield and Foles is under center. This image comes from just before the snap.

The yellow lines on the image are the receivers’ routes. Tavon Austin is alone at the bottom of the screen. He is going to run a deep crossing route where he must draw the attention of the cornerback covering him but also the deep safety. The tight end just inside of him, Jared Cook, is running a shallower crossing route to entertain the attention of the underneath coverage.

Both of those routes will go completely against the grain of the play action as Foles will turn over his left shoulder and extend the ball towards Gurley.

Foles’ movement can be seen on the blue line. He works back to Gurley at an angle before making a sharp cut towards the far sideline. Gurley and his blockers move laterally, aggressively pushing the defensive front towards the left sideline, away from Foles. Foles has no pressure close to him as he turns to read the coverage downfield, however his two receiving options are severely outnumbers. That’s okay because this is a designed throwback towards the other side of the field.

Lance Kendricks had lined up as a tight end to the right side of the formation initially. He moved with his fellow blockers initially before bending into a route down the left seam. He was running to wide open space as the two crossing routes and pulled all of the defenders to the other side of the field.

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James Harrison does an excellent job of recognizing Kendricks releasing into his route after initially biting on the play fake. The play fake had drawn him far enough out of position that the linebacker had no chance of catching Kendricks though. Foles throws a good pass, not a perfect one but an accurate one. He had a huge amount of space to lead the tight end into which would have made his catch easier even though Kendricks should have caught the ball regardless.

This is the kind of play that doesn’t require a great understanding of coverages or a quick process. Such an aggressive play design distorts the structure of the coverage and gives Foles a simple either/or situation.

Distorting coverages is the easiest way to simplify an offense for a quarterback. If you can manipulate the defensive backs with play action or route combinations while keeping receiving options in the same line of vision the quarterback doesn’t need to possess an impressive mental process to be effective. These are the types of plays Wentz was asked to make at NDSU.

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In Gurley and Austin, the Rams have two players who defenses will always be wary of. Play fakes to either player aren’t your standard play fakes, they come with a greater treat because of Gurley’s overall ability and Austin’s usage. On this play, the Rams combined play fakes to Gurley and Austin while using route combinations downfield that allowed Foles to focus on one area of the field.

The play fakes come with a six-man protection, seven if you include Gurley’s chip block. Those numbers in pass protection combined with pulling the defensive front from left to right make it almost impossible for the Vikings to get timely pressure on Foles in the pocket. When Foles looks downfield, his intermediate crossing route is in line with his deep post route. He can view both receivers without moving his eyes from one side of the field to the other.

On this occasion he takes the deep shot and finds Kenny Britt with an accurate pass. Britt pulled the ball in for a 55-yard gain.

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The Rams sacrifice three of their eligible receivers so that they aren’t running routes past the line of scrimmage. One is in pass protection and the other two were used to manipulate pass protection. They are comfortable doing this because they are attacking one specific defender in the secondary. Foles is reading deep safety Harrison Smith. The intermediate crossing route runs beneath him while the post route runs behind him.

When Foles recognizes that Smith is running forward, something he is slow to process, he knows that Britt has to be his choice. Once again, he is in a situation where the read is clearly defined and it’s an either/or situation because the defense’s play design has been distorted by the offense’s play design.

Foles still had to make a precise throw because he was late releasing the ball and Britt isn’t a fast deep threat. This is the kind of throw the Rams will hope Wentz is capable of making with his big arm.

The Rams aren’t a quarterback away from competing in the NFC. Their roster isn’t as stacked as it once was, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the offensive line is still a work in progress and the receivers all come with limitations. Despite that, they do have the pieces to manage the expectations for their quarterback in 2016. You can afford to have a limited passing game when you’re expecting to win games by running the ball and playing good defense.

How many games the Rams can win remains an uncertainty. With a rookie starter, Jeff Fisher’s usual seven or eight would be an impressive achievement.

The Philadelphia Eagles Best Direction in the 2016 NFL Draft

This is an important offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Moving on from Chip Kelly after one bad season puts the franchise back at a crossroads. They have to decide if it’s time to hit the reset button and focus on the long term or if they can compete for a playoff spot with a foundation that was built by a head coach they lost faith in. By re-signing Sam Bradford and retaining most of the pieces from last year’s roster, the Eagles are apparently focused on competing right now.

There has been some talk about the Eagles trading up for Carson Wentz but that seems unlikely. Instead of adding a successor for Bradford, it makes more sense for the Eagles to try and build around him.

Arguably the biggest issue the Eagles had last year was their inability to catch the ball. The Eagles receivers were one of, if not the worst unit in the NFL last year. Miles Austin played way too many snaps, as did Riley Cooper. Jordan Matthews couldn’t catch the ball while Nelson Agholor didn’t appear certain of his assignment all the time during his rookie season. Agholor should get better in his second year and Matthews will hopefully improve also, but the Eagles should still look at Josh Doctson if he is available when they pick in the first round.

Doctson should be available. He’s not regularly mocked to the Eagles nor is he regularly mocked in the top 10 of drafts. He would immediately be the Eagles’ best receiver, creating a complementary partnership with Agholor on the outside.

Most mock drafts expect the Eagles to take Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott is the best running back in this class. He is explosive in space, comfortable in pass protection and diverse as a receiver. The problem with the Eagles taking Elliott is that they already have Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles on the roster. While neither player is a star, both are quality contributors who could combine to make Elliott an unnecessary addition. Furthermore, Elliott isn’t Todd Gurley. He’s not going to be an Adrian Peterson type of back in the NFL so the long-term outlook doesn’t justify the price.

What makes Elliott more a more likely selection is head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson is coming from the Kansas City Chiefs offense, Andy Reid’s offense, where Jamaal Charles was the focal point. Charles tore his ACL for the second time in 2016 but the Chiefs relied on him more than most teams relied on singular backs when he was healthy during the previous years. It wasn’t just when Charles was touching the ball. His threat played a big role in the misdirection that Reid relied on to create easier throws for quarterback Alex Smith.

This is a good running back class. It’s got talent at the top and depth through the first three, maybe even four rounds. Passing on Elliott in the first round doesn’t mean passing on the only running back who could make an impact early on before acting as a foundational piece later.

Defensively, the Eagles should be looking to add a cornerback at some point. Taking one in the first round is a definite possibility. Vernon Hargreaves is a smaller cornerback so he could fall as far as the eighth pick, maybe even further, but he shouldn’t. Hargreaves is a very impressive prospect who would immediately start across from Eric Rowe for the Eagles. He and Mackenzie Alexander are the two most likely first round picks, both would good value picks and immediate starters.

The Value of Cardale Jones

This is a bad quarterback class.

Ever heard that one before? If not, you must be new to the NFL and its annual draft.

Most quarterback classes are bad. At least, they’re called bad because everyone wants to poke holes in them. Take last year’s class as an example. It was a two quarterback class, only Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota projected as quality starters in the NFL. The class lacked depth, so it was a bad class. Of course, there are plenty of classes that have depth but no stars, those classes are also bad because they don’t have stars.

Most quarterback classes are bad because most quarterbacks are bad. It’s a matter of how you measure it. Last year’s class wasn’t actually bad, it was really good. Whenever you can get two quality prospects, it’s a good class. The importance of depth is overstated because an overwhelming majority of quarterbacks picked outside the first round don’t become more than bad backups. (Calling a backup quarterback bad is probably redundant at this point save for a few exceptions)

Whenever you draft a quarterback, you’re chasing the exception at the position. The NFL itself only has a handful of great players, the guys who can mask the limitations of their offensive lines while throwing receivers open with consistency. Surpassed them, you’re lucky if you have a quarterback who is talented enough to excel and is consistent enough to make his positives outweigh his negatives.

The desperation for talent at the position will always force quarterbacks to be picked earlier than they should be on draft day. It’s happening this year as Carson Wentz’s height and arm strength have been enough to draw comparisons to Andrew Luck.

Wentz is only being talked about as a first-round pick at this point, a top-10 or even top-five pick by most people. Yet, it’s hard to separate his skill set from some of his peers.

None of the quarterbacks in this class should be taken in the top five, there’s no question that the more talented players at other positions offer greater value to their prospective teams. Vernon Adams should go in the first round to a team who can set him up for success, but that won’t happen because of the NFL’s fixation on the size of the quarterback rather than the ability of the quarterback. A few players will creep into the first round even if their skill sets suggest they should be taken later than that.

Paxton Lynch, Jared Goff, Wentz, Connor Cook, Cardale Jones and Christian Hackenberg could all be gone off the board before the end of the second round. From that group, the most intriguing prospect is Jones.

Jones is intriguing because of where he is likely to go in the draft against where Wentz goes. Why compare the two? Because both show off major flaws while possessing the arm strength and size that NFL teams covet. The differences between the two are tough to see, so it’s hard to decipher the discrepancy between their expectations. What makes it really interesting is that Jones shows off positive traits that Wentz doesn’t, traits that should matter a lot in the NFL.

Wentz

A lot of Wentz’s plays are largely useless for evaluation. A lot of them look like this play. Wentz is able to stand still in the pocket without any semblance of pressure around him. He has a wide open receiver who he doesn’t have to throw open, that receiver was his first read on a simple play design also. Wentz doesn’t have to deliver the ball against pressure and he doesn’t have to move his feet at all in the pocket.

Even though Jones didn’t play in a complex offense either, he was put in more situations that allowed us to explore his skill set.

Best play

The biggest difference between Wentz and Jones falls in Jones’ favor. Wentz has heavy feet. He doesn’t make subtle movements to set and reset in the pocket or adjust to arriving pressure. When he holds the ball in the pocket he plants both feet firmly in the ground, suggesting that he isn’t naturally able to adjust. That is hugely important in the NFL because the pockets tighten behind even the best of offensive lines.

In the above play, we can see Jones set and reset his feet while reading the defense before delivering the ball as the pocket around him collapses. Jones has to deliver the ball over an arriving defensive lineman while still fitting it into a relatively tight window.

Feet + Deep Ball

It’s not that Jones is as graceful as Marcus Mariota or as nimble as Drew Brees, it’s that he exhibits enough precision and quickness in his feet to suggest that he will be able to manage NFL pockets. Precision and quickness that just isn’t seen in Wentz. Furthermore, Jones does this while maintaining his eye-level downfield. He isn’t an impatient quarterback nor does he panic when his first read isn’t open.

On this play, Jones recognizes that his flat route is double covered. He isn’t exceptionally quick to come off that read but when he does he shows off the poise in the pocket to adjust to the arriving pressure behind him. Jones slides forwards and to the right before delivering a perfect pass from an established base.

Feet

Active feet and active eyes allow a quarterback to keep the timing of a more complex passing game. Simpler systems will allow the quarterback to lock onto one area of the field and hold the ball until he can see someone come open. If you want to attack every area of the field and every level of the defense, you need your quarterback to execute more difficult reads. In the above play, you can see Jones is constantly moving his feet without losing his balance while shifting his eyes to survey the defense.

Jones is inconsistent reading coverages. He can show off a slow process but he will also scan the field from sideline-to-sideline quickly without losing any of his composure.

Scans field

This play is a good example of Jones scanning the field from left to right. It’s third down and he throws short of the first-down line but that was the only option available to him. The defense had called the perfect coverage to sit on each route, something that can be seen if you take your eyes off the ball and watch the receivers as they flutter in and out of the shot.

Moving comfortably in the pocket while reading coverages downfield is an important trait for any NFL quarterback prospect. When paired with an ability to deliver the ball against big hits, there is a foundation for a coaching staff to build on.

Deliver as Hit


Take hit

Jones is the size of a defensive end. He officially measured 6’5″ and 253 lbs at the combine. He used that size as a runner in college, showing off the power to run through defensive tackles even. Being that big and that strong doesn’t guarantee toughness, but Jones showed off plenty when delivering the ball against pressure at Ohio State. He won’t shy away from contact or drop his eyes when pressured.

In the above plays, Jones is hit in his line of sight during the first clip and hit from his blindside in the second. He’s not impacted by either blow, standing tall and delivering the ball before absorbing the contact.

Feet plus delivery

That all comes with an often-impressive deep ball.

So what is it about Jones that makes him a bad prospect overall? The quarterback has major accuracy issues. He is reminiscent of Zach Mettenberger with his placement. Mettenberger doesn’t throw with any precision, he can’t lead receivers to space or place the ball so they can make comfortable catches when open. This lack of nuance as a passer can work in specific systems at the college level, but the problems it creates are multiplied in the NFL.

Braxton miss

Take this play for example. Jones turns a 50+ yard touchdown into a 30-yard gain because he slightly overthrows Braxton Miller. It’s only a slight overthrow, but it’s a slight overthrow from a completely clean pocket to a receiver who is in a vast amount of space.

Accuracy


Accuracyee


Wild Miss

Missing wide open throws is something that will happen to even the best of quarterbacks. It only happens once or twice in a season though. Problems arise when a quarterback has a consistent strain of inaccuracy in everything he does. Jones will miss wide open throws downfield, he’ll miss wide open throws over the middle of the field, fitting the ball into tight windows can be a major problem while throwing receivers open with touch is an adventure at all times.

Accuracy issues should be majorly problematic in the NFL in theory, but it’s something that many speak about as something that can be corrected. Mechanically a quarterback can be taught how to better set himself up to be accurate, but there is still very much a mental aspect to throwing the ball to a spot that is more natural than developmental.

The question with Jones is less about his ability to be a pocket passer, his understanding of coverages or his toughness to stand in the pocket and more about how much of his inaccuracy can be traced back to his footwork or throwing motion.

Jones will probably be a late second or early third-round pick in the 2016 draft. He will be much better value than Carson Wentz because Wentz has ball placement concerns of his own, even if not as significant, without exhibiting the same pocket traits that Jones does.

Neither Jones or Wentz should be expected to star on the next level. If you were forced to pick between the two (I’m not sure who could force you in this scenario), Jones quite comfortably offers greater value as a second or third round pick against Wentz going in the top 10.

The Warts of Carson Wentz

What should we value in an NFL quarterback prospect? Every year quarterbacks cause the greatest rifts at draft time because of that question. Not only does everyone see different things when they watch players, but they also value different things, so it’s extremely difficult to find two people who fully agree on anything. Quarterback is obviously a more complex position than any other so there are more ways to divide opinion.

If you look at the skill sets of the quarterbacks who have sustained success in the NFL over the past decade, there are a few key traits that stand out.

Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger don’t share similar athletic profiles. Drew Brees is barely tall enough to see over his offensive line, whereas Ben Roethlisberger has regularly cast a shadow over the defensive ends trying to tackle him in the pocket throughout his career. Tom Brady’s most athletic act is thrusting the football forward for one-yard touchdowns while Peyton Manning’s movement was mostly confined to the pocket. Rodgers is the best athlete of the five listed players, but he wasn’t celebrated for his arm strength when he entered the NFL.

When you talk about the greatness of these quarterbacks, you don’t lose yourself in mellifluous sonnets about arm strength and physical measurements, you’re more likely to be discussing their efficiency, accuracy and intelligence. That doesn’t mean that physical talent can’t help you be a great quarterback, that’s definitely not the case. Physical talent is important but only if it’s accompanied by consistency, precision and intelligence.

Cam Newton isn’t a great quarterback because he can run people over. It helps but he wouldn’t have been the MVP last year if he wasn’t so impressive manipulating the pocket and finding his receivers at every level of the field.

Even though frame measurements and arm strength are threshold traits, traits where you need to hit a certain point or you need to have a skill set that can work around the limitations that come when you don’t hit that point, they are often amongst the most common terms mentioned during draft time. This year’s salesman for frame measurement and arm strength is North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.

Wentz is going to go in the top 10 of the draft. Every credible media member is talking about him as a top 10 pick, and while there can be a lot of misinformation at draft time this kind of widespread surge is rarely unveiled like a Scooby Doo villain at the last moment. Mr. Anonymous Source is a big fan of Wentz, he has pontificated about Wentz possibly being the answer to the Cleveland Browns’ permanent question at the quarterback position, but he has also suggested that a team could trade up with the Tennessee Titans to take him first overall.

If you have any familiarity with the draft process, it only takes a few plays to see why Wentz is a popular prospect.

Accurate deep


Stafford Arm


Accuracy Seam

Wentz can make the spectacular throw. Against FCS defenses last year, he had enough throws to fill a pre-draft youtube highlight reel from the most fanatical of Bison alumni. At that level, his arm strength was reminiscent of what Matthew Stafford’s looks like against NFL defenders. If you are the type of draft analyst who likes to use the ‘He can make every throw’ cliche, Wentz will fill up your quota quickly.

At draft time, deep accuracy isn’t something anyone cares too much about. Arm strength takes precedence because accuracy can be worked on. Players typically don’t change all that much in terms of how accurate they are once they get to the NFL. You can tweak their mechanics or emphasize different elements of the offense to get good results from an average passer, but you’re not going to turn an inaccurate quarterback into a precision passer.

That is because physically throwing the ball is only part of the equation.

Wild miss, should be INT

You can help a quarterback get better at putting the ball in a specific spot, but throwing the ball with precision is still more of a natural than taught trait. That is because the quarterback has to break down coverages at speed and understand how to lead his receivers to space. It’s more of a mental task than a physical one. Despite his ability to make spectacular throws, Wentz doesn’t show off an understanding of how to be a precise passer to any level of the field.

On this play, Wentz does a good job to evade the immediate pressure in his face. He resets and makes a decisive movement to arrive in space in the pocket. Once there, he can cleanly deliver the ball downfield.

This is the type of throw where Wentz has to understand the coverage to complete the pass because his receiver isn’t wide open. He is open if Wentz leads him correctly. Leading him correctly requires pushing the ball over the safety playing the middle of the field so the ball arrives between the goalposts. Instead, Wentz is too focused on where the receiver is at the time he releases the ball and shows off his arm strength by flinging the ball too far outside.

The receiver has no chance of making a play on this ball and the defensive back is an inch away from coming up with an interception. Although that’s not an easy throw to make, it’s reflective of how wild a passer Wentz can be. He didn’t just miss, he missed wildly.

Deeeep

On this play, Wentz is able to step up away from pressure in the pocket. He never settles again to establish his feet and throw from a comfortable base. This hurts his accuracy and causes the ball to arrive outside of the defensive back as his receiver runs inside of him down the seam. It’s unlikely that this was just a mechanical miss because of how badly Wentz missed. The overall lack of control was reflected by his inability to place the ball in a spot that led his receiver to space, away from the defensive back.

Missing slightly on this throw would give the receiver a chance to adjust. Missing badly would have given the defensive back a chance to catch the ball. Wentz missed so badly that the ball was even out of reach from the defensive back, only just though. This was when his receivers were left alone in vast amounts of space. Wentz didn’t need to thread the ball through the eye of a needle.

Wentz over sideline

Despite having time and space in the pocket on this play, Wentz forces the ball down the right sideline. His pass is uncatchable no matter where the receiver positioned himself because it arrived too high before crossing the sideline. It looked like his receiver would have had a chance to play the ball in the air if Wentz had led him down the sideline rather than attempted to rocket it into his backshoulder, that is a tougher judgment to make without a second angle though.

Throwing receivers open isn’t something Wentz does. He didn’t need to do it against the defenses he faced in college. Wentz would try to fit the ball over defenders, but was still rifling the ball rather than throwing with controlled elevation.

Every pass is rifled

Against FCS opponents and in the structure of the the North Dakota State offense, Wentz didn’t have to anticipate tight windows regularly or try to hit them with precision passes to run the offense. NFL defensive backs are some of the best athletes in the whole world. They close space extremely quickly so quarterbacks at the highest level can’t afford to be sloppy with their accuracy. A throw such as the one above would be easy for a defender to deflect or even give himself a chance for an interception.

deep INT

Watching Wentz was often like watching A.J. McCarron at Alabama. Wentz was regularly throwing to receivers in space from completely clean pockets. He didn’t need to be precise or function against pressure to be effective. On this play, Wentz has loads of time and space to deliver the ball but throws the ball to the receiver instead of leading him downfield. His pass is underthrown as he failed to put controlled elevation on it to get it over the defensive back.

Being a better deep passer will be important for Wentz in the NFL because he’s likely going to be reliant on big plays. He has been compared to Blake Bortles, which makes sense, because like Bortles he lacks the precision to run an efficient offense. Bortles is able to rely on his big-play receivers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, to create big plays but also makes too many mistakes and lacks accuracy to every level of the field.

Behind Slant


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Wentz doesn’t wildly overthrow his receivers, instead he struggles to place the ball inside or outside for specific routes. He repeatedly throws the ball to where he sees the receiver rather than where the receiver is going. This can be seen on out-breaking and in-breaking routes such as slants, out routes or comebacks. Both of the above throws could very easily have been intercepted because of where the quarterback put the ball.

Teaching a quarterback to make those throws is very difficult. If Wentz is struggling to do it against FCS opponents throwing from clean pockets, it’s unrealistic to think he can improve against NFL-caliber defenses.

Expecting Wentz to consistently complete short and intermediate throws that require timing and precision would be expecting too much. Unless he is throwing screens or clearly defined route concepts that scheme receivers open, he will struggle.

Wentz way wide

On this play, Wentz rolls out of the pocket by design. His underneath option is covered so he is immediately zoning in on his outside receiver. As was often the case, Wentz had plenty of time and space in the pocket to function. He had the time to stop his feet and establish a foundation to throw from, but instead rushed his throw and threw the ball with one foot in the air. As his intended target outside turned around to find the football, he could only watch on as it flew out over the sideline, wide of its intended target.

This is the type of play where coaching could have a big impact. If the team that drafts Wentz is able to train him to set his feet then he could be make this throw routinely. However, for him to take that coaching he would need to show off more poise and awareness than he did in college.

Wentz has heavy feet. He can’t make subtle movements in the pocket so when he does try to adjust to pressure he makes decisive, wider movements that limit his comfort and ability to see the field.

No Poise, slot WR

Mistakes at the quarterback position are often measured solely by interceptions. A quarterback can make a lot of costly mistakes that don’t result in interceptions though. That’s not just throws where the defender drops a pass that should have been intercepted, though those are significant, it’s also plays that push the offense off track or leave big plays on the field. The yards you miss are just as important as the yards you make.

In the above gif, Wentz panics when his first read isn’t obvious in front of him. He only needs to anticipate the route combinations against the coverage to see his slot receiver come open. Had he held the ball for a split second longer, he could have had a simple throw for a first down. Instead, he drops his eyes to turn and run towards the opposite side of the field. Wentz is forced to throw the ball away, giving the defense a down they didn’t earn.

For a quarterback who lacks the precision and timing to consistently find short and intermediate routes, missing on the uncontested throws is a fatal flaw.

Three man, cuts field, OOBs for 1 yd

One of the things that stood out from Vernon Adams’ tape was his willingness to hold the ball in the pocket when given time. Adams rarely bailed from the pocket unnecessarily, instead understanding that he was a bigger threat to the defense if he stayed in the pocket. Staying in the pocket forces the defense to cover the whole field. Dropping your eyes and running into the flat turns the space in the defense’s favor, not to mention it prevents you from throwing the ball comfortably.

In the above play, the defense only rushes three players after the quarterback. Wentz waits at the top of his drop, but doesn’t recognize that he is facing a three-man rush when the first hint of pressure comes. He should step forward, through the pocket and re-establish his foundation to continue to survey the field. He doesn’t do that. He immediately bails, cutting down a field that is already squashed by eight defenders so that his receivers have even less space to work in.

Wentz is eventually forced to run out of bounds for a one-yard gain.

Runs out of pocket

Running out of clean pockets isn’t something that will draw ire from fanbases because it’s not an eye-catching play but as offenses in the NFL become more and more efficient, giving away downs becomes a bigger problem. You can’t expect to keep pace with other offenses across the league if your quarterback is constantly spooked in the pocket. It’s not just that Wentz runs out of clean pockets either, he doesn’t feel pressure around him unless it arrives in his line of sight.

Pocket Awareness Zero

This is a shockingly bad play for any quarterback. It’s especially startling when you consider where Wentz is projected to go in this draft. It’s a simple concept for Wentz to read. His eyes stay on the left side of the field, never considering the crossing route who appears to be hitting a window behind the linebackers because of the play fake. The defense blitzed from Wentz’s blindside, so as he holds the ball he has to feel out the pressure behind him.

Fortunately for the quarterback, his pursuer slips after being redirected by the attempted block of the center.

A few things happen on this play that are majorly problematic. Firstly, Wentz’s eyes stay on the left side of the field and he drops to his checkdown after his first read even though there are two defenders waiting on him. Once he has turned his head and realized that his checkdown is covered, Wentz can’t simply turn his head again, he has to move his feet. With less space in front of him than usual, this means Wentz turns his feet backwards. He turns and runs into the defender who is lying on the ground.

It’s a panic-stricken play that reflects the complete absence of poise in Wentz’s play. It also highlights how limited he is in reading coverages.

Not smart


Off First Read

Wentz primarily gets rid of the ball to his first read. He’s not exceptionally efficient doing this but he is better the quicker he gets rid of the ball. When he holds onto the ball and moves his eyes from one side of the field to the other, his play becomes looser. This is a prime example of him not seeing the field and throwing a reckless ball into double coverage. Wentz never sees the safety coming across the field and is fortunate to not be intercepted.

Because of the way he plays the game, you don’t see Wentz standing to deliver the ball against arriving pressure too often. This is typically one of the toughest parts of playing quarterback.

Poise?

Having a big frame and a big arm doesn’t guarantee that you will react to pressure well. Wentz has the size to see over arriving defensive linemen, but only if he stands tall and doesn’t lose discipline. Otherwise his frame will be reduced to solely an aesthetic. Having the ability to see over the defensive line is one thing, having the poise to break down the coverage behind it and deliver the ball cleanly against contact is another.

Wentz doesn’t show off fear of delivering the ball against contact but expecting him to break down coverages properly when standing in a completely clean pocket is irrational, never mind when he is facing pressure.

You can point to the negative plays of Jameis Winston from last year’s draft to come to the defense of Wentz but the comparison isn’t valid. Winston had significant flaws and offered up plenty of examples of horrible plays, but his skill set was much more advanced in terms of managing the pocket, reading coverages and throwing receivers open. If Winston was 80 percent of where he needed to be to excel in the NFL, Wentz is closer to 30.

He’s more like the first stage of build-a-bear.