NFC North: Colt McCoy

The Packers' Graham Harrell dilemma

August, 17, 2012
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Graham Harrell's underwhelming performance Thursday night as the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback merits a visit to Adam Schefter's weekly mailbag. Even before the Packers' 35-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Schefter suggested the Packers offer a fifth-round pick Insider to the Browns for backup Colt McCoy.

"Cleveland would be willing to deal McCoy for the right price, no matter what it says," wrote Schefter, "and the Packers could use McCoy as much as any team in the league right about now. He would be great insurance for [Aaron] Rodgers and give the Packers the type of backup they would need to sustain their playoff hopes in the event of an injury."

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Colt McCoy
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREColt McCoy's starting experience and knowledge of the West Coast offense might make him an ideal fit as Aaron Rodgers' backup.
McCoy has been displaced as the Browns' starter by rookie Brandon Weeden, but he has always been considered a good fit for the West Coast offense. As the theory goes, the Packers' well-respected quarterback trainers -- coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo among them -- could bring him up to speed relatively quickly. While McCoy won't remind anyone of Rodgers, he also won't draw many comparisons to Harrell at the moment.

In brief playing time this preseason, McCoy has completed 10 of 14 passes for 146 yards. Harrell has completed 27 of 51 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown along with two interceptions.

On the one hand, a fifth-round draft pick is a fair price for a backup quarterback with starting experience. While most teams would suffer if it lost its starter, the hope for a good backup is that he can keep a good team in playoff contention. Consider it the difference between Caleb Hanie of the 2011 Chicago Bears and, say, Gus Frerotte of the 2008 Minnesota Vikings. At the moment, McCoy appears more qualified to do so than Harrell.

On the other hand, the Packers have invested two full seasons in Harrell's development, via the practice squad, and wouldn't seem likely to give up on him midway through the preseason. He has not been as sharp as former backup Matt Flynn's eye-opening preseason, but it's only fair to spread the blame for some of his statistics to poor pass protection and, in at least one case, a receiver falling as the ball arrived.

In the end, however, part of the Packers' decision-making process must take into account the timing of acquiring an alternative. The Browns have some incentive for keeping McCoy on the roster, given the perceived short leash that president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur face under incoming owner Jimmy Haslam. And the nature of the position suggests that other teams could also be interested in McCoy.

Part of me refuses to get worked up about an unestablished backup quarterback. If that's your worst problem, you're doing OK. Harrell doesn't have to be McCoy or Flynn or Jason Campbell to qualify for this job.

But at some point, you want to see the kind of extended preseason success that suggests he would function competently should he be thrust into a regular-season game. We've yet to see that this summer. If the Packers need to address the situation, and can do so with a fifth-round draft pick, they should consider themselves fortunate.

Previewing Preseason Week 2, Part I

August, 16, 2012
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In which we look ahead to the Green Bay Packers' second preseason game, the first of four NFC North affairs over the next three days:

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Location: Lambeau Field

Day/Time: Thursday/8 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: The Packers have ruled out 17 players because of injuries, including running back James Starks (toe), receiver Greg Jennings (concussion), tight end Jermichael Finley (quadriceps), cornerback Sam Shields (elbow) and running back Brandon Saine (hamstring). … With newcomer Cedric Benson not ready to appear in a game and John Kuhn (ankle) doubtful as well, the Packers will be thin at running back. Starter Alex Green likely will have his snaps limited by continuing recovery from knee surgery, but the Packers only have two other healthy running backs behind him. … Rookie Casey Hayward will get the start at cornerback in place of the injured House and Starks. … The return of left tackle Marshall Newhouse (concussion) should give the Packers a better look at their first-team offense than the one they got last week against the San Diego Chargers.

Focal point: The Packers believe that backup quarterback Graham Harrell will continue to improve with game-like repetitions, so expect Harrell to have another long stint against the Browns. Despite continued public discussion about the possibility of trading for the Browns' Colt McCoy, the Packers want to make it work with Harrell.
When ESPN's Ron Jaworski named Drew Brees the No. 2 quarterback in the NFL, most of you made the logical leap that Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers would finish this exercise at No. 1. (Barring, as @unwantedopinion opined on Twitter, an unexpected finish by the Cleveland Browns' Colt McCoy.)

Indeed and hurrah, Rodgers did in fact finish on top. You might remember that in the spring, we couldn't gain traction for Rodgers as even the NFL's second-best quarterback in our ESPN.com positional power rankings, but an MVP season tends to elevate a guy in the national reckoning.

Below are some excerpts of what Jaworski said a few moments ago on SportsCenter. (Many thanks to Bill Hofheimer of ESPN Communications for providing transcripts.)
"Very few quarterbacks in NFL history have had Rodgers’ exceptional combination of velocity and accuracy, elite arm strength and pin-point ball location. …

One critical measure of high-level play is the ability to execute versus the blitz. Rodgers' rating in 2011 was 136, easily the best in the NFL. He was outstanding beating the man coverage that you primarily see with blitz. Again, a function of his accuracy, or as I've said many times, ball location.

"Rodgers also defeated the blitz with his movement and his extraordinary ability to throw on the run. No quarterback delivers on the move as well as Rodgers -- velocity and accuracy.

"There's a larger, more significant issue that speaks to Rodgers' greatness. He can beat the defense even when the defense wins, whether it's blitz or a three-man pressure with eight in coverage. … Again, the ability to drive the ball on the move down the field, that’s a rare trait.

"Add running ability to Rodgers’ special throwing skill set and you have the most physically-gifted quarterback in the league. Numerous times last season, I saw Rodgers defeat a predominant NFL coverage, man-under, two-deep, with his recognition and running. The man coverage undercut the routes and there was help over the top. The coverage won. A perfectly-executed coverage concept still resulted in an explosive 25-yard run.

"Aaron Rodgers is my No. 1 quarterback. He has all the attributes that I love: accuracy, velocity, movement, toughness. Those attributes lead to elite play and wins. He's won two out of every three starts and a Super Bowl championship."

Of all the praise Rodgers has received in the past year, I'm not sure if anyone has referred to him as the "most physically gifted quarterback" in the NFL. But obviously Jaworski is not referring to 40 time, although Rodgers is quick, or brute strength. It's the elite nature of the physical skills required to make every throw. It's yet another way to think of our reigning MVP.

Earlier: Jaworski ranked Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler No. 8, the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford No. 14 and Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings) No. 28.

Air and Space: McNabb outside the pocket

September, 22, 2011
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Donovan McNabbSteven Bisig/US PresswireDonovan McNabb has completed nearly 73 percent of his throws made outside of the pocket.
The young season has already brought some interesting developments within the Air and Space division. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is part of the early MVP discussion after throwing for 599 yards and seven touchdowns while not taking a sack. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, meanwhile, has been a human shock absorber, and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is off to the best two-game start from a yardage perspective (620 yards) of his career.

What I have found particularly interesting, however, is the way the Minnesota Vikings have used new starter Donovan McNabb. Watching the Vikings from an anecdotal perspective, McNabb has seemingly made every throw off some variation of the bootleg that gets him out of the pocket and creates a natural short-range opening for a receiver. The reality, ESPN Stats & Information tells us, isn't that far off.

As the chart shows, McNabb has thrown 11 of his 45 passes this season from outside of the pocket, including his sole touchdown pass, a 3-yard strike to receiver Michael Jenkins in Week 1. Only Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns has thrown a higher percentage of his total passes from outside of the pocket, and McCoy is nine years younger than McNabb and more prone to unplanned scrambles.

But the Vikings are purposely getting McNabb outside. They are attempting to capitalize on his career-long success throwing on the move and also want to monetize the respect opponents are showing for tailback Adrian Peterson. It's also worth noting that a bootleg to McNabb's right gets him away from any backside pass rush potentially allowed by new left tackle Charlie Johnson.

To little surprise, McNabb's performance has been dramatically better on those plays than when he has remained in the pocket. He said this week that he's "willing to do whatever it takes to win" and hopes the early threat of a bootleg will soften defensive reactions to Peterson's every move.

"Teams are going to pursue to try to stop him from getting that big run," McNabb said, "which is going to open up lanes outside on the nakeds and boots to get the ball to our receivers on the outside. That's going to happen all throughout the course of the year and we just have to capitalize on the play-action game and get the ball down 15, 20, 25 yards to create some more explosive plays."

To this point, McNabb's eight completed passes on the outside have netted a total of 67 yards. But even if they start netting more yardage, it's difficult to imagine an NFL team winning consistently when its best (and only) passing play is a bootleg. The chances for producing a big play are smaller, and frequency can become predictable.

Like any offense, the Vikings will have to find at least some success via traditional pocket passing. To this point, McNabb has the fewest number of completions on passes thrown from the pocket (17) than any starter in the NFL. For comparison's sake, NFL leader Tom Brady of the New England Patriots has about four times as many.

McNabb accurately noted that the Vikings are finding alternate ways to make explosive plays, noting a 42-yard screen play last Sunday to tailback Toby Gerhart. Ultimately, however, the bootlegs and screens will have to be part of a bigger picture that includes at least the potential to score quickly on traditional downfield passes rather than at the end of long drives.

"I think people are seeing teams throwing deep balls for 60, 70-yard touchdowns," McNabb said. "And that's going to come. But you have to methodically move the ball downfield and move the chains and we [are] able to do that."

BBAO: Reviewing preseason Week 4

September, 3, 2010
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In lieu of our usual Black and Blue All Over format, we'll put a bow on Week 4 of the preseason on this fine Friday morning:

Cleveland Browns 13, Chicago Bears 10
Preseason record:
0-4
Of interest: The Bears finished the preseason winless for the first time since 1998 and only the second time in the past 33 years. Their offense scored 46 points, their special teams got three punts and a field goal blocked and their defense was almost unrecognizable from its heyday. Good thing the preseason doesn't matter, huh? Thursday night, the defense recovered a fumbled snap on its first play but then went on to allow Cleveland starter Colt McCoy to complete all 13 of his passes for 131 yards. If anything positive emerged, it was that veteran quarterback Todd Collins has caught up enough to be Jay Cutler's Week 1 backup. Collins started in place of Cutler and completed 10 of 15 passes for 139 yards, including a 15-yard scoring strike to tight end Greg Olsen.
Local coverage: Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said there has been some "frustration" but "it's not like we're defeatist," reports Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times on the Bears' pass defense this preseason: "Outside of poor pass protection, the most alarming trend has been the poor play of a battered secondary that has served up a steady diet of cushion coverage and nondescript play." Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com thinks linebacker Brian Iwuh is solid insurance behind Lance Briggs. Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com: "But is there enough time? And can they flip the proverbial switch?"
Next: Sept. 12 vs. Detroit Lions*

Detroit Lions 28, Buffalo Bills 23
Preseason record:
3-1
Of interest: A majority of first-team players started the game, including quarterback Matthew Stafford. But Stafford threw his worst pass of the preseason on the third play, a telegraphed sideline pass to receiver Calvin Johnson that Drayton Florence intercepted and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. The Lions were down 16-0 in this game before No. 3 quarterback Drew Stanton led a fourth-quarter rally. Of the Lions' bubble players, I thought running back DeDe Dorsey made two plays that will make him a difficult cut. The first was a 25-yard scoring scamper off a short pass from Stanton in the third quarter; the second was a difficult 34-yard reception along the sideline in the fourth quarter.
Local coverage: Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press has seen enough to write: "For the first time in at least three years, the Lions have actual, genuine strengths. ... There are still too many holes to expect greatness, or even goodness, but they have an excellent chance at OKness." Dorsey could still be a victim of the numbers game, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News. The true quality of the Lions' secondary is unknown because of so many preseason injuries, writes Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com. Safeties Louis Delmas and C.C. Brown both sat out Thursday night, while cornerback Jonathan Wade played with a cast on his hand.
Next: Sept. 12 at Chicago Bears*

Kansas City Chiefs 17, Green Bay Packers 13
Preseason record:
2-2
Of interest: In a bit of a surprise, Packers coach Mike McCarthy sat a number of key veterans, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and removed the rest of his starters after one series. The move helped the Chiefs win their first preseason game in two years. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn started in Rodgers' place and threw for 304 yards, although I'm still trying to figure out how his 77-yard pass to a wide-open Brett Swain didn't go for a touchdown; probably a combination of a short throw and Swain's less-than-devastating speed. The Packers worked tailback Kregg Lumpkin hard (11 carries, 36 yards) to give him a final chance to make the roster. Kick returner Jason Chery probably didn't win much confidence after a fumble and no returns longer than 17 yards.
Local coverage: Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thought Swain and Lumpkin "looked the most like NFLers among a medley of soon-to-be practice squad and indoor football players Thursday night at New Arrowhead Stadium." The Packers are entertaining trade offers for offensive lineman Jason Spitz, the Journal Sentinel reports. Chery "probably did just enough to stay in contention for a roster spot, depending in part on the shaky health of Will Blackmon," reports Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Long-snapper Brett Goode's departure after a big hit left it difficult to measure the Packers' punting competition, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
Next:
Sept. 12 at Philadelphia Eagles*

Minnesota Vikings 31, Denver Broncos 24
Preseason record:
3-1
Of interest: The Vikings started 20 backups, including quarterback Tarvaris Jackson -- who concluded a worrisome preseason with a terrible outing. His accuracy-challenged 2-for-8 performance brought his preseason numbers to 12-of-26 for 60 yards. No. 3 quarterback Sage Rosenfels didn’t do much better, completing 1 of 4 passes, but you have to wonder how coach Brad Childress remains so committed to Jackson. Brett Favre hasn’t missed a start in 19 previous seasons, but there have been occasions when he’s left competitive games due to injury. At this point, would you trust Jackson even for a half? Rookie Joe Webb continued to show raw potential, dashing 41 yards against a blitz on one play and tossing a 63-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Javon Walker. With two touchdowns in two preseason appearances, you wonder if Walker hasn’t made the team.
Local coverage: Jackson was booed off the field by the Metrodome crowd, reports Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But Childress said Jackson will remain the No. 2 quarterback “as it stands right now.” Cornerback Lito Sheppard said “I don't see why not” when asked if he will be a Week 1 starter, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Safety Tyrell Johnson took advantage of extended playing time to likely win the strong safety job, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
Next: Thursday at New Orleans Saints*

*And it counts!

Video: Delhomme, Browns beat Packers

August, 15, 2010
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Jake Delhomme was strong in his Cleveland debut while rookie quarterback Colt McCoy tossed two interceptions and left the game with an injury in a Browns 27-24 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Daily mailbag: Whither Clausen?

April, 23, 2010
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I was in Minnesota for less than a minute Friday when a media pal called with the question Vikings fans are asking in abundance: What about Jimmy Clausen?

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIf the Vikings wanted Jimmy Clausen, they likely would have drafted him at No. 30.
My response: What about him?

If you are hoping the Vikings will use the No. 34 overall pick Friday evening to draft the Notre Dame quarterback, I can’t help you. Stranger things have happened, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of interest from the Vikings. Josh of Minnesota asks:
Why are the Vikings so hesitant on Clausen? Everything went perfectly and he fell right to [them]. He's got a perfect year to work under Brett Favre. He's not going to start so I don't know why it would anger Favre like all the analysts said. It just seems like a no brainer to me, best available, position of need.

I will agree with Josh on one point: I don’t think Favre would give two flips if the Vikings draft Clausen -- or, for that matter, Texas’ Colt McCoy. Neither would be a threat to his status as the 2010 starter. I could be underestimating Favre’s sensitivity, but I can’t believe he would feel slighted to have a rookie quarterback on the roster as he approaches his 41st birthday.

At the same time, it would be a real stunner if Clausen ends up in that role. I know he spent his career in a version of the West Coast offense at Notre Dame, conceivably making him more prepared for the Vikings’ scheme.

But we’ve already noted that Minnesota all but boycotted his personal throwing session earlier this month. To me, the latest evidence of their ambivalence toward him came Friday evening, when they passed on the opportunity to draft him at No. 30 overall.

If you believe a player can be your quarterback of the future, I think you take him at No. 30 even if his market value dictates that he might be available later. Quarterbacks are a different species when it comes to draft etiquette. There’s no reason to get cute and move down four spots as the Vikings did Thursday night. As it stands now, St. Louis is entertaining offers for the No. 33 pick and could trade it to a team who wants Clausen.

If I had to guess, I would say it’s far more likely the Vikings will trade out of the No. 34 pick -- perhaps to another team hoping to grab Clausen -- than it is that they take him themselves.

Wrapping up the first round

April, 23, 2010
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As I fly the friendly skies, let's consider some final thoughts on the first round of the 2010 NFL draft:

  • On many other nights, Green Bay's fortuitous positioning might have led our NFC North coverage. Leaving the first round with a legitimate left tackle of the future in Bryan Bulaga, without giving up extra draft choices to move up, had to be the Packers' best-case scenario. This is about the most you'll get in affirmation from Packers general manager Ted Thompson: "We were a little surprised that Bryan was still available, and we felt like it was a very good value pick for us." Bulaga will wear No. 75 and could be a starter by the end of 2010.
  • We focused much of our Jahvid Best coverage on the intra-division nature of his acquisition. There are several other important aspects, including why the Lions thought they couldn't wait until No. 34 overall to draft him. Here's general manager Martin Mayhew on that topic: "Our concern was that with a night to sleep on it and this guy's ability being what it was, that either somebody would move up in the bottom of the first and take him, or somebody would move up to the St. Louis' pick [at No. 33 overall] and take him, or we thought he might be a good selection for St. Louis. We wanted to get up there and get him."
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Best a "human highlight film" and said he expects him to be a "home run hitter." More than once, Schwartz brought up Tennessee running back Chris Johnson in comparison.
  • Had Best not suffered a frightening concussion last November, he almost certainly would have been off the board at No. 30. Best said he is suffering no ill effects. "I got checked out by the best doctors in the world and they said I was cleared," he said. "So that's not even on my mind anymore."
  • It would have been difficult to find two more players with impact at No. 2 and No. 30 than Ndamukong Suh and Best, respectively. "We were aggressive," Schwartz said. "We weren't bargain-hunting. We were going after players that we consider blue-chip players that we can build around."
  • The Lions had almost no pre-draft contact with Best. Asked if he was intentionally playing possum, Mayhew said: "You know ... yes. ... We felt the smart thing to do was not say too much about him."
  • I guess we'll never find out if Minnesota would have drafted Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who went to Denver at No. 25 overall. But we might soon find out if they have interest in Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen or Texas' Colt McCoy, both of whom remain available. During our NFL DraftCast on Thursday, I suggested I would fall out of my chair if the Vikings draft Clausen. I'm not backing off.
  • The Vikings have a total of nine picks now. Green Bay has seven remaining. Detroit has four. Chicago has 'em all.

Explaining the mock draft

April, 19, 2010
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So you've had a few hours to ruminate over the NFL Blog Network's 2010 mock draft. I'm glad to see the comments are flowing over on the NFL Nation blog as well. Now it's time for me to justify, make excuses for and/or weakly defend my choices for Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota.

Detroit Lions
Position:
No. 2 overall
Pick: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh
Justification: We've been through so many angles on this pick that we forget what should be the Lions' top priority: Choosing the best player available. There is some debate about whether Suh will be a better pro than Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, but there is no doubt (in my mind) that Suh was the better and more productive college player. Ultimately, I sided with past history over future projection.

Green Bay Packers
Position:
No. 23 overall
Pick: USC tackle Charles Brown
Making excuses: Esteemed NFC East baron Matt Mosley immediately took a shot at this decision, calling Brown a "project" whose selection allowed Philadelphia to grab Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson. I found myself in the no-man's land we first discussed last month. The top four tackles were off the board, as was Idaho guard Mike Iupati. Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle went at No. 22. I gave some thought to Texas Christian linebacker Jerry Hughes, but I decided I would rather have the next-best left tackle rather than the next-best pass-rusher. Packers general manager Ted Thompson has taken "project" players before (defensive tackle Justin Harrell). And there is no indication the Packers are looking for an immediate starter at left tackle considering the contract they gave Chad Clifton.

Minnesota Vikings
Position:
No. 30 overall
Pick: Florida guard/center Maurkice Pouncey
Weakly defending: I know a quarterback would have been the more interesting choice, but my decision was not to use the No. 30 overall pick on Florida's Tim Tebow or Texas' Colt McCoy. The Vikings could probably trade back into the top or possibly middle of the second round and still get either player if that were the case. Minnesota's roster is such that it can pick for value at every spot in the draft. When I looked at the remaining players on the board, I thought Pouncey was the best. The Vikings might have their board stacked differently, but I think they'll take their highest-rated player here. In the short-term, Pouncey would put some pressure on center John Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera.

Gruden's 'QB Camp': Awesome TV

April, 16, 2010
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Hopefully you took Thursday's suggestion to catch Jon Gruden's "QB Camp." I thought it really gave viewers an inside look at how NFL coaches evaluate quarterbacks, and Gruden deserves credit for attacking some of negatives pertaining to each player.

It seems unlikely that Oklahoma's Sam Bradford will enter the NFC North this season, but we've discussed the possibilities for Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow. So in case you missed the show Thursday night, below I’ve embedded a clip of Gruden's particularly entertaining interview with McCoy. Here are links to the video for Clausen and Tebow.

Clausen, McCoy and Tebow all seem a bit nervous at first, reactions that reveal them for what they are: college kids on an extended job interview. Gruden hammers McCoy on his Texas accent, puts Tebow through a drill designed to test his release speed and chastises Clausen after he sells out a receiver for busting a play.

Enjoy. I sure did.video

Gruden's 'QB Camp' airs tonight

April, 15, 2010
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Those of you who have followed our discussion on the 2010 quarterback class should tune in to Jon Gruden's "QB Camp" special Thursday night on ESPN (7 p.m. ET).

Gruden spent time with four of the draft's top quarterbacks -- Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow. Gruden wrote his evaluations here, where you can also watch video of each player. Here are some excerpts:

Gruden on Bradford: "The guy he reminds me of talent-wise is Vinny Testaverde -- and maybe it's because they wear the same number. Testaverde was a No. 1 overall pick and I saw him play when he came out of the University of Miami. They both have the ability to get the ball out quickly with velocity and to throw on the move. Bradford has a similar stature and he had dominant results much like Testaverde did in college."

Gruden on McCoy: "I tried to watch as much Drew Brees film with McCoy as I could because their overall physical size is very similar (Brees is 6-0, 209 pounds; McCoy is 6-2, 210 pounds). Offensive guards in the NFL are 6-5 today and some of the defensive ends and tackles are also, so he's going to have to create passing lanes at times."

Gruden on Clausen: "When I look at quarterbacks and see how they play when they are tied or behind in the fourth quarter, that tells me a lot about them. Clausen excelled at crunch time. The statistics speak for themselves and he has shown dramatic improvement every year. He's a polished, confident kid and I like his upside. I think he's really going to work at it and continue to get stronger."

Gruden on Tebow: "I think Tebow is going to be a tremendous pro. He must continue to work on some of his mechanics, and he might not be a starter right away, but in a very short period of time he's going to be an excellent NFL player."

Clausen's scheme advantage

April, 9, 2010
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In researching this week's post on Minnesota's dilemma at quarterback, I reached out to Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. Steve went over a number of the top draft prospects, and his evaluation of Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen was telling.

"Maybe his top attribute," Muench said, "is that he played in a pro-style offense."

It wasn't so much a shot as it was an acknowledgment that Clausen will enter the NFL with far more experience than some of his contemporaries in operating the type of scheme he must master before getting on the field. That background is becoming increasingly rare as more college teams move to a version of the spread offense.

At Notre Dame, Clausen played in a pseudo-West Coast scheme under former coach Charlie Weis. The Vikings are among many NFL teams that run a similar style.

Teams looking to get a first-round quarterback on the field within a year or two will without question take that background into consideration. Perhaps that's why Clausen's private throwing session, scheduled for Friday in South Bend, Ind., hasn't drawn the attention of some other high-profile quarterbacks. His game tape probably gives a much more accurate depiction of his NFL aptitude, one way or the other.

ESPN's Stats & Information put together some numbers that illustrate the dichotomy of Clausen's background compared to that of some other top prospects. In the chart to your right, you see Clausen's 2009 breakdown in throwing from the shotgun and when he lined up under center.

While more than half of his throws came from the shotgun, the figures are still much more balanced than those of Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow. Here are the total number of passes each of those quarterbacks threw last season after lining up behind center, according to the same research:

McCoy: 12 (5-for-12, 27 yards)
Bradford: 1 (0-1)
Tebow: 1 (1-1, 16 yards)

It's not as if Bradford, McCoy and Tebow won't be able to make the adjustment to a more traditional dropback passing. But it is a different perspective and takes time to re-acquaint with after a college career in the spread system. That's why the focus of Clausen's throwing session will be to test his healing toe more than it will be to judge his ability to throw NFL-style passes.



Jimmy Clausen will work out for scouts at Notre Dame's pro day
Clausen/McCoyUS PresswireQuarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy are two options the Vikings could consider to be the long-term replacement for Brett Favre.
I posed the question before FavreWatch II started. We started discussing it prior to the Donovan McNabb trade saga, one that Minnesota ultimately sat out. And now we're approaching, one way or another, the exciting conclusion.

The Vikings have staked their 2010 season on the hope that a 40-year-old quarterback (and new grandfather) will give them one more year at the position. But no matter what Brett Favre decides, the Vikings will still have the same long-term hole at the most important position in sports. Now seems a perfect time to identify their quarterback of the future, give him at least one year's cushion on the bench, and close a 20-year gap in their team-building process.

But when you cross-reference the Vikings' draft position with the list of elite prospects, you have to wonder if a realistic pairing exists. Only two quarterbacks are considered sure-fire first-round material, and both Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) should be off the board by the time Minnesota picks at No. 30 overall. That leaves the Vikings to determine whether they should trade up for Clausen or if Colt McCoy (Texas) is worthy of their top pick.

Among media analysts, at least, there is significant debate on the latter issue. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks McCoy as the No. 21 overall prospect in the draft, while Scouts Inc. gave him a third-round grade. Vikings vice president Rick Spielman attended Texas' pro day, but to my knowledge coach Brad Childress did not. If there were substantive interest there, you would think an offensive-minded head coach who prefers the West Coast scheme would be heavily involved.

To me, it appears the Vikings are caught in no-man's land for this year's quarterback class. They would have to expend dramatic firepower to grab Clausen and McCoy might not be worthy of a No. 1 pick. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench said McCoy could make sense with the Vikings' second-round pick, the No. 62 overall. But in today's quarterback-obsessed climate, a late-second round pick is hardly considered a likely long-term starter.

Meanwhile, the list behind McCoy -- Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan), Tony Pike (Cincinnati) and Tim Tebow (Florida) -- all have their deficiencies as well.

"It's a bad quarterback class this year as far as the top guys go," Muench said. "Keeping that in mind, they might be better served waiting. ... We think McCoy is great in terms of leadership and presence, but I have my concerns about him ever developing into a starting quarterback on an NFL level. He does not have a very strong arm and he's 6-foot-1. That's an issue when you're talking about pro-style offenses."

Speaking earlier this offseason, Childress said he would prefer long-term certainty at the position. "No question," he said. But Childress also made clear he didn't want to force a decision based on potential future need.

"You don't want a round peg in a square hole," he said, noting the unpredictability of availability at the No. 30 spot.

Spielman didn't sound much more optimistic while speaking to reporters at the scouting combine. Referring to the quarterback class in general, he said: "I don't know if it's as heavy at the top as it has been, but there may be some value as you go down through the rounds."

(Read full post)

DraftWatch: Suh and the Lions

December, 10, 2009
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I imagine some Detroit fans who watched last Saturday’s Big 12 championship game wondered whether Ndamukong Suh could possibly fall to the Lions in the 2010 draft.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireNdamukong Suh finished third in the nation with 12 sacks.
That’s right. The Lions would have the No. 4 overall pick if the season ended today. But after Suh’s dominating performance against Texas -- 4.5 sacks among his 12 tackles -- he is atop the boards of many draft prognosticators. It’s absurd to start projecting picks in December, but Suh is as much of a consensus No. 1 as you can have at this point.

Assuming they don’t have the No. 1 pick, could Suh still be available when the Lions do pick? Here’s what ESPN analyst Mel Kiper wrote this week about his December draft board:

"It'll be hard to drop Suh. His tape is stunningly strong evidence. That said, many players will rise and fall as the senior all-star games -- that'll be the first chance for many pro scouts to see guys like Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow under center -- bowl season, the combine, and pro days take place. Again, this isn't yet about draft position. That changes everything, because of need. This is a raw ranking of the top NFL prospects, with juniors not in the mix unless they are in the top 15 or 20."

Indeed, at this early date, the best the Lions can hope is that the teams above want to draft a franchise quarterback. That would elevate at least one player -- McCoy, Tebow, Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, Washington’s Jake Locker or Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford -- ahead of Suh.

You might blanch at the thought that one of those quarterbacks could be a No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. But when it comes to quarterbacks, normal draft rules and practices are cast aside.

Below are the teams with the eight worst records in the NFL. Much is left to be decided, but I think it represents a good working list of the teams that will be around the Lions’ draft position this April.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-11)
2. St. Louis Rams (1-11)
3. Cleveland Browns (1-11)
4. Detroit Lions (2-10)
5. Washington Redskins (3-9)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (3-9)
7. Oakland Raiders (4-8)
8. Buffalo Bills (4-8)

In addition to the Lions, I see two teams in that group that almost certainly won’t look to draft a quarterback high in the first round: Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Browns have former first-rounder Brady Quinn on their roster, but uncertainty in their front office makes them hard to predict. The same goes for Washington, which seemingly is set with Jason Campbell.

This might be the best December scenario for the Lions to draft Suh: Getting the No. 2 overall pick behind St. Louis. The Rams could certainly use Suh, but Marc Bulger’s injury problems and their own home attendance woes might motivate them to consider a quarterback at No. 1 overall.

This is all funny talk until the draft season really begins with next month’s all-star games. But we’re allowed some fun, right?

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