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Just The Sports: 2010-03-21

Just The Sports

Friday, March 26, 2010

NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Colt McCoy

Colt McCoy is everything that Tim Tebow is not. While Tebow failed to set himself apart from another quarterback (Alex Smith) coached by Urban Meyer in the same offensive scheme, McCoy blew out every other quarterback who ever suited him for the University of Texas's offensive coordinator, Greg Davis. Davis followed head coach Mack Brown from the University of North Carolina following the 1997 season and since 1998 has mainly developed Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young, and the aforementioned Colt McCoy. Of these four quarterbacks, two, Simms and Young, were drafted; yet, since play in college is the best indicator of how a quarterback will perform in the NFL, it is McCoy, who if given a fair chance, will end up with the best career.

Accuracy, which is the most important characteristic a quarterback can have in today's NFL, is an attribute McCoy has in abundance, setting him far above the three other Greg Davis-coached quarterbacks. Over his career, Colt McCoy completed 70.2% of his passes, giving him a statistically significant advantage over the rest of the quarterbacks; his 8.0 yards per pass attempt are in line with the rest of the quarterbacks, but yards per pass attempt do not translate to the NFL the way that completion percentage does. Even Vince Young, who received way too much credit as a quarterback for what he did in leading the University of Texas to a BCS championship, did not come close to matching Colt McCoy's spectacular accuracy, completing 62.9% of his passes in games where he played a significant amount of time. That completion percentage is nothing for him to be ashamed of for a pro-style quarterback, but for the kind of spread offense Davis had Young running, it is simply not elite.

The other two quarterbacks barely warrant a mention, but I will do so anyway in the spirit of full disclosure. It is no surprise Applewhite was not drafted due to his abysmal 57.8% completion percentage and it is no surprise Chris Simms did not ever succeed in the NFL with a 58.8% completion percentage while playing for the Longhorns. Only the fact his last name is Simms could explain why such a mediocre college quarterback was given a chance to start for an NFL franchise. When looking for quarterbacks, NFL teams should only look at the ones with elite numbers, not someone who wows a person with arm strength or any other immaterial attribute scouts salivate over.

Another reason I back McCoy to succeed in the NFL concerns why I am hesitant over the future of Clausen's career. Like Clausen, McCoy had a giant leap in his completion percentage between his sophomore and junior seasons; McCoy's completion percentage increased from 65.1% to 76.7%. Fortunately, McCoy came back for his senior year and while he understandably regressed to the mean with a completion percentage of 70.5%, he showed that even when he is not at his best, he is still an elite quarterback.

What makes McCoy's statistics even more remarkable is the fact he was putting up those numbers with a rapidly disappearing running game. Over his tenure as offensive coordinator, Greg Davis seemingly forgot that he was still allowed to run the ball to give his offense enough balance to keep defenses from simply keying on the pass. Even with the lion's share of the offensive load squarely on McCoy's shoulders, he did not falter and managed to cement his status as the best of all the quarterbacks Greg Davis has coached.

NFL teams need not use a first round draft pick on McCoy; all they need to do is give him a real chance to quarterback a team. That means allowing him to work through any rough patches he might have at first since they have confidence he will work through them and become a very good quarterback. If no team does, they will be missing out on a fine player.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Tim Tebow

The only way to truly understand Tim Tebow's future as an NFL quarterback is to examine the context of what he accomplished in college football for the University of Florida. Forget forever his leadership, work ethic, poor mechanics, Heisman trophy, and BCS Championship. None of those things are important and will certainly not be taken into consideration in this post. What is important is Alex Smith's career as a quarterback for the University of Utah. How Alex Smith relates to Tim Tebow is pretty simple.

Both Smith and Tebow played for Urban Meyer in his option-run based offensive system. By now, most college football observers should be able to recognize that Meyer's unique offense is a bit of a gimmicky one, meaning that the system is far more important than the quarterback who is playing in it. As I have explained before when discussing Mike Leach's quarterbacks or Hawaii's quarterbacks under June Jones or BYU quarterbacks John Beck and Max Hall, for multiple quarterbacks who play under the same unique offensive system to be considered special, they must vastly outperform the other quarterbacks. Putting up similar numbers only indicates the quarterback is secondary to the gimmicky offense. Unfortunately for Tim Tebow, he did not significantly outperform Alex Smith. Since Alex Smith himself has struggled so mightily in the NFL, one can make a pretty safe prediction that Tebow will fare no better.

Alex Smith played under Urban Meyer from 2003-04 and was very prolific under Meyer's tutelage as it seems that most quarterbacks will be. For his career under Meyer, Smith completed 66.3% of his passes for 8.9 yards per pass attempt; Tebow completed 66.6% of his passes for 9.4 yards per pass attempt. The statistics of the two quarterbacks are so similar the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Meyer is running a quarterback-friendly system where any decent quarterback who plays for him will put up astounding numbers.

The only reason Smith was able to turn his college career into a #1 overall draft selection is the same reason why Tim Couch was able to do so; they were the first really famous quarterbacks under offensive geniuses. Smith played under Urban Meyer and Couch played under Mike Leach. Now that we know better, or at least we should know better, we should no longer overrate Meyer quarterbacks just like we no longer overrate quarterbacks who played under Mike Leach.

Yet, despite the fact of how simple it is to understand context when it comes to unique offenses, there are many who still fail to do so. One of the most recent examples of a failure to comprehend what makes a college quarterback into a good NFL one is's Kerry J. Byrne.

The first mistake Byrne makes in the premise of his article is to fail to understand the way in which Meyer's offensive system inflates quarterbacks' numbers; therefore, the only quarterback Tebow can be compared to is someone who also played in a similar offense. Otherwise, his numbers look incredibly more prolific than they already are. The second analytical crime Byrne makes is to compare him to, outside of Peyton Manning, quarterbacks who never deserved to be #1 overall draft picks to begin with. No great talent need exist for Tebow to be better than some of the most overrated quarterbacks to ever be drafted. Once again, Byrne shows his limited understanding of context.

Nothing Tim Tebow does between now and the draft will change the fact he is just the latest run-of-the-mill Meyer quarterback. As the seasons go along and future quarterbacks continue to churn out passing numbers equal to what Tim Tebow put up, it will finally be recognized that Meyer's offense made Tebow and not the other way around. Until then, I am certain an NFL team will imagine itself smarter than everyone else, draft Tebow, and end up disappointed.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NFL Quarterback Draft Prospect: Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen's decision to declare early for the NFL draft, foregoing his senior season of college football at the University of Notre Dame, was a no-brainer. Not only did the only head coach he had ever known arrogantly coach himself out of a job, but Clausen is coming off his best season as a collegian where he completed an astounding 68.0% of his passes for 8.8 yards per pass attempt. Due to his 2009 season, his draft stock will never be higher and he has basically assured himself of being drafted in the first round and becoming an instant multi-millionaire. However, simply because Clausen will be drafted in the first round does not mean he deserves to be.

Actually, NFL teams should be very wary of drafting Clausen too high and then having to invest so much money in him. Of course, NFL teams will not be wary at all because even though it is 2010 and franchises should understand what actually makes a quarterback good, they instead choose to draft quarterbacks based on the same outdated criteria as always even when it has been proven over and over not to work. Even knowing NFL franchises will never learn their lesson, I am still going to humor myself and explain why Jimmy Clausen is not the safe bet many would have you believe.

My hesitation stems from the gargantuan leap Clausen made in completion percentage from his sophomore to junior seasons (60.9% to 68.0%); whenever there arises a better judge of how well a college quarterback will transition to the life of an NFL quarterback than completion percentage, I will use it. Whenever ones sees an increase like that in productivity, alarm bells should be ringing and questions should be asked. The number one question that needs to be posed is who is the real Jimmy Clausen. Since he only completed 58.0% of his pass attempts as a freshman, it is safe to say, he is not really going to be a 68.0% passer as a pro, but just how far is he going to regress to his mean. For selfish purposes, I would have liked to see Clausen stay for his senior season to get a more complete picture of who he is as a passer. Without a follow-up season to see how well he can duplicate his 68.0% completion percentage, I have developed reservations about how good he can be and how quickly.

In the same way that the College Board red flags students who have a large increase in their SAT scores and makes them undergo repeat testing, NFL teams should be red flagging Clausen. The best way to treat Clausen would be to draft him in the second or third rounds, thereby removing any pressure to force him into playing before he has truly learned the system and is completely ready. It is as unlikely that NFL teams will actually do that as it is that I will wake up tomorrow and be able to teleport, but for the future of Clausen, allowing him to fully develop as a quarterback is the best option. Right now, there are simply not enough data to know which Clausen is being drafted.

As much as I was amazed by Clausen's junior season of college football, there are no guarantees surrounding it. The elite level of play could as easily be a career year or a perfect storm of quarterback play as it could be the quarterback he really is; one should not forget Brady Quinn under Charlie Weis had a similar jump from one season to the next (54.1% to 64.9% from his sophomore to junior seasons) before falling back to earth in his senior year (61.9%). Since there is simply no way of being sure, Clausen should be drafted with hesitation. Sadly, he will not be.