The Weekly Gut Check Vol. 179
Updated 11/18 by Matt Waldman, Exclusive for Footballguys.com
The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.
From November to April, my passion for football is channeled to film study. For those of you who nitpick my choice of words because I don't have coach's tape, I think my track record with my trusty TiVO and blank DVDs is just fine thank you very much.
If you don't know what I'm referring to then you haven't seen the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP). Here are links that will tell you all you need to know:
This month, I'm going to share some of the things I look for when studying each of the offensive skill positions for the RSP and provide film study excerpts of some potential 2010 NFL Draft prospects at each position.
This week the focus is quarterback, recognized as one of the toughest positions to evaluate in pro sports. I believe there are several reasons. Overall, there is a significant skill gap between what is required for successful quarterbacks in pro and college football. I categorize these skills into four broad categories: physical, mental, spatial, and emotional.
- Physical Skills: Arm strength, agility, speed, and strength or the lack thereof can help or hurt a player's pro potential. John Elway possessed all of these skills and he was a great quarterback. So did Heath Shuler and Tee Martin.
- Mental Skills: The difference between Elway and Shuler and Martin was that Elway eventually demonstrated the capacity to recognize and manipulate a defensive scheme and use his physical skills as tools to that end. Shuler and Martin were more liable to use their physical tools to react to a defense rather than make a defense react to them. Peyton Manning's superior mental knowledge of his teammates' tendencies, the tendencies of his opposition, and quick recognition of opportunities to exploit during the stress of a game makes up for his average strength and agility, above average arm, and below average speed.
- Spatial Skills: We all possess some sense of space and the ability to judge it outside ourselves. However, I believe most great quarterbacks possess highly attuned kinesthetic (our body in space in relationship to others, such as what's used to maneuver in the tight quarters of a pocket under pressure or judge how far to throw a football) and vestibular senses (balance and acceleration needed to time the release and arrival of a football to make an accurate throw in tight spaces). Drew Brees lacks great arm strength, but he throws with better accuracy than maybe any quarterback in history because with a high degree of skill he can anticipate when to throw a football and mechanically execute where to throw a football. Dan Marino was often credited for his ability to avoid sacks better than most QBs of his era (even the physical wunderkinds) and it was due to his ability to make small adjustments to what he saw on the periphery. These skills become much more important in the pro game than they are in college football because the physical skills and mental recognition of plays and tendencies are operating at a higher level in the pros. I also believe this is why some quarterbacks can do everything wrong from the standpoint of technique (Brett Favre) and still succeed while other quarterbacks can do everything technically perfect and fail. Rob Johnson was a technically pretty thrower, but he lacked what Doug Flutie had mentally and spatially. Combine both these QBs strengths and the Bills would have had a worthy successor to Jim Kelly in the late 90s. QB coaches try to develop these skills, but I'm beginning to believe it's very rare they can do much more than tweak them slightly. If the QB lacks these skills entering the NFL, then honing their technique won't make much difference.
- Emotional Skills: Intuition - or emotional intelligence - has its place in football. Joe Montana was a highly intuitive quarterback. So are most successful veterans who make it through the initial years of their pro careers and still have a starting job. Making the correct decision off a pre-snap read, knowing when to execute a pump fake or look off a defender, and understanding when to take a risk during the flow of the game are all intuitive skills. However, emotional resiliency is also necessary. Terry Bradshaw had it despite getting torn down by his coach and fans for five seasons before he began to fulfill his promise. Ryan Leaf didn't. Vince Young? It appears he might have more than we expected this time last year. Dealing with the pressure of succeeding in the eyes of teammates, coaches, media, and fans is probably as important as the other skill mentioned, but more difficult to evaluate. A loss in confidence can impact all the other skills. A player will high confidence and often make up for some of the skills above that he lacks.
This week, I'm going to discuss the merits and flaws of a college quarterback based on these four broad skill sets: Penn State's Darryll Clark.
Darryll Clark, 6-2, 231 lbs., Penn State
Clark's opponent was the USC Trojans in last year's Rose Bowl game. The Nittany Lions lost 38-24.
Clark has the physical skills to be an NFL quarterback. He demonstrated excellent zip on a 28-yard slant with 0:33 in the first quarter. Mechanically speaking, his release is very quick, and the ball flies off his arm. Once again, he flashed excellent arm strength on a 3rd and 5 with 9:00 in the third quarter. On this play he had to fade away from pressure while rolling right and deliver an on-time deep out to his WR. As Clark released this accurate throw, an OLB was hitting the QB in the hips. He also illustrated good arm strength and anticipation to drop back and hit his WR on a deep hitch at the left sideline 27 yards down field. This throw was made from the opposite hash and traveled 30 yards down field on a 1st and 10 with 1:37 in the 3rd QTR. The WR catching this pass (Deon Butler - now with the Seahawks) gained another 11 yards after the catch for a 38-yard gain He overthrew his WR on a streak down the right sideline by 10 yards with 11:51 left. The ball traveled 50 yards in the air and it was difficult to tell whether if the WR pulled up too early, or the ball was just significantly overthrown.
Clark displayed good quickness and pad level on a nine-yard QB sneak for a score with 0:06 in the first quarter. He did a good job of sidestepping a defender shooting for his feet, and actually ran out of a glancing blow to his left knee to get within the five-yard line, which was a show of good balance. Nice job getting the ball high and tight against his chest while carrying the ball under his sideline arm when breaking the pocket towards the left sideline with 9:45 in the third quarter. Clark's toughness in the pocket and powerful running style reminds me a little of Steve McNair, but I'm not sure he's really that dynamic of a runner.
Overall, Clark demonstrated he has the arm strength and agility to make high velocity throws on the move and the strength and balance to produce despite frequent physical contact either as a runner or passer. Since he already has the size and weight to fit within the physical prototype NFL scouts track, Clark will not have any trouble remaining on their radar from this standpoint.
Clark did a good job reading his progressions on his first third down pass of the game. He looked left while taking his five-step drop, and then changed his focus to a crossing route moving from left to right before the deeper square in-cut from the right came open. When Clark delivered the ball to the in-cut, the LB in shallow coverage deflected the pass. Clark either did not see the LB or he didn't place enough arc on the ball to loft it over the LB. Despite this issue, Clark did show he is capable of reading the field.
One thing that is common with most quarterbacks in college that is correctable at the next level is his tendency to stare down his routes. Defenders in this game were able jump his routes and this is what happened on two of the three deflected passes in the first half. With 0:26 in the half Clark rolled left and the CB jumped the route in the flat to deflect the pass.
However Clark also showed he could look off a defensive back. Although he overthrew a pass by 10 yards with 11:50 I the game, he did a good job of looking left before coming back to his right to make the deep throw.
Again, this skill area is where quarterbacks may show potential in the college but need the most development in the pros. So Clark's skills seem average for an NFL prospect. Much of his success will depend on how fast he can improve these tools at the pro level. Penn State's offense lacks sophistication, so it will be understandable if NFL personnel evaluators aren't enamored with his immediate prospects and see Clark as more of a project if he doesn't wow them in other areas of his game.
Clark's second throw of the game was a 3rd and 7 pass from a four-receiver set and despite a good 5-step drop and sound delivery on an square-in 18 yards downfield, the LB playing zone about eight yards in front of the WR was able to leap and deflect the pass. However, this might have been a better athletic play by the LB than poor touch by Clark. The QB followed up with good accuracy and touch on a drag route to his TE in the right flat despite Clark having an LB in his face with 4:09 in the first quarter. The pass got over the LB and hit the TE at eye level near his back shoulder, and this ball placement allowed the TE to turn and run for an eight-yard gain.
Although called back due a holding penalty, Clark hit his WR Deon Butler on a go route 20 yards down field with great touch, arcing the ball over the WR's head in stride for a 45-yard gain. Clark once again demonstrated very good anticipation and accuracy to deliver a deep slant to his WR 28 yards in stride down field with 0:32 in the first quarter. He was on time with a corner route on 1st and 10 with 7:00 in the half, but the CB was penalized for holding and delayed the WR's route.
On 3rd and 10, Clark's RB got open in the flat with coverage trailing him, but Clark threw the ball too far behind his teammate, forcing the back to turn and wait on the ball rather than catch it in stride. This closed the RB's separation from his coverage and prevented a potential first down. Sometimes short passes to backs are the most difficult to throw.
Clark again showed good accuracy to squeeze the ball between two defenders on a square-in about 25 yards downfield on a 2nd and 7 with 0:25 in the third quarter. He threw the ball to the WR's back shoulder, to lessen the impending lick from the safety over top. However the hit forced the WR to drop the ball, but the safety was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the play.
Clark's TD pass with 13:40 in the game was a designed roll to the left. When he saw the shallow defender fall down in the flat and his WR come open, he flipped the ball 5 yards downfield and into the WR's chest for the score. Later, he overthrew his TE on a corner route with 8:44 in the game. The TE was wide open and a simple pitch and catch would have done the trick. He was able squeezed the ball between three defenders in the zone to his WR running a slant for a 9-yard score.
Overall, Clark has some promising spatial skills. He repeatedly demonstrated the ability to hit a receiver in stride more than 15 yards down field, fit the ball between multiple defenders, and place the pass in a favorable position for the receiver. However, he was much better throwing the ball in the middle of the field than he was making accurate passes on the perimeter at just about every range. His perimeter throws were inconsistent and spelled the difference between a minimal gain and a game-changing throw. Still, he's ahead of a few more celebrated college quarterbacks in terms of his accuracy - especially under pressure.
This was as big a game Clark had at this point in his career. He faced a USC defense loaded with pro caliber talent and did enough to keep the game from getting out of hand despite constantly facing pressure in his face. Clark accounted for 21 of Penn State's 24 points in this game and he didn't fold despite throwing two interceptions, taking a sack, and having three balls deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Clark has potential to develop into a borderline starting QB. He will stand in the pocket to deliver the ball with pressure in his face. He did this repeatedly in this game. Clark's intermediate accuracy in the middle of the field is good, and he possesses one of the better releases I've seen this year. He has very good arm strength and he buys time effectively in the pocket when rolling right. Clark also has enough strength and speed to make some plays down field when he breaks the pocket. Physically and spatially, the potential is there.
However, Clark was inconsistent with his accuracy in the short, intermediate, and long game when it comes to timing routes on the perimeter. He needs more work with his drops and release in terms of footwork and distribution of his weight and he needs to work on moving away to his left. Penn State is not known for a sophisticated offensive scheme and the biggest question he'll need to answer is whether he can demonstrate to the NFL that he has the mental and emotional talents to learn quickly in the classroom and on the field with the bullets flying while maintaining the toughness to lead and stay confident.
Personally, I think Clark has David Garrard-Steve McNair potential if he answers these questions in the best possible way. However, he probably has a longer way to go and I expect he'll be a fourth or fifth round pick earmarked as a future No. 2 QB.
Week 10 Progress
Here's a quick update:
- Footballguys IDP Staff League: 10-0 after a barnburner with Anthony Borbely who had Randy Moss to my Tom Brady on Sunday night. Fortunately, I had Ray Rice to his Shaun Rogers Monday night. Despite such a great start, John Norton's 9-1 team is breathing down my neck for the division lead. My receivers are beginning to worry me a bit, too.
- AAFFL: I dropped my second straight to fall to 6-4 despite a huge game from Randy Moss. If I played David Garrard over Carson Palmer and the Ravens defense over the Vikings unit, I might have come closer. Nothing like watching a team squander a gargantuan night from a receiver like Moss. However, karma might be swing back in my favor. At least three times in the 15 years of this league's existence I have traded away a player I shouldn't have to the eventual champion - the same owner in fact. Last week I tried to get Vernon Davis and had to settle for Visanthe Shiancoe in exchange for Dwayne Bowe. With the KC receiver suspended for four games, maybe this is a good omen. I do face the division leader this weekend in a rematch that could help me significantly.
- FESL Bravo: Marc Levin put my team back in its place, ending a two-game streak and dropping me to 5-5 despite having Randy Moss. I can do the usual complaint that my squad has the most points scored against it compared to the rest of the teams, but I just figure that means I'm due for less prolific performances from my opposition down the stretch.
- HAFAX-II: I led the league in points scored this week thanks to my addition of Robert Meachem and my strong defensive unit. Brian Orakpo once again sat on my bench, but not sure I could have started him over my current LBs - glad he's under a long-term contract. Although I hate to see Brian Westbrook hurt again, Donovan McNabb is my QB and that might mean more 400-yard games OK, maybe more 300-yard games (let a guy dream, will ya?). Now at 5-5, my chances at a playoff spot are still good.
- HyperActive Dynasty League: A very rough week with Julius Jones getting knocked out of the game that dropped me to 6-4, but I'm still tied for first place in the division. If Cedric Benson can't go, I can use my rookie draft pick Bernard Scott as a flex option and feel pretty good about it.
- Ironman 3 IDP Dynasty League: Two poor lineup decisions on defense and I'm on a three-game skid at 5-5. I should have won this game, but I'm still in second place and my squad did get to the championship round from the wild card spot last year. However, losing Brian Westbrook and Dwayne Bowe hurts, and I'll need Ricky Williams to keep showing what the power of yoga can do.
- WCOFF $300 Satellite League: A huge, huge week with nearly 180 points thanks to Chris Johnson and Randy Moss, vaulting to me to No. 3 overall among 588 players in total points. It's also nice to be 8-2 in the division. It's fun to watch this team's progress despite knowing how I finish counts more than this great start.
- SOFA Auction League: I'm toast in this league at 2-8 and Ronnie Brown and Westbrook are two of my three backs. I do have McCoy, but I'm not counting on much. This team was a disaster. However, I do take solace that I knew who to pick. I just didn't execute well enough on insuring I would get them in this auction league.
- Rapid Draft: I landed Justin Forsett and Le'Ron McClain, but started McClain and this cost me the game. I'm still in the hunt for the playoffs with a 7-3 record.
- Footballguys Subscriber Contest: A 141-point week just kept me in it (thanks Ray Rice and Randy Moss). With Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Steve Smith back from the bye week, I still have a chance at a strong showing here.