Yesterday we looked at Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State) as a possible quarterback option beyond round one for the Seahawks. Today I’m going to look at Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden.
There’s a lengthy back story here. Weeden is a former all-state high-school pitcher and 2002 second round pick by the New York Yankees who also spent time with the LA Dodgers and Kansas City Royals. By 2006 he was out of Baseball due to a persistent shoulder injury, so he turned his hand to football knowing he was still eligible to play at the college level. Weeden walked onto Oklahoma State’s roster and redshirted in 2007 before making one start in 2008. A year later he took over the starting job, replacing former Seahawks scout team QB Zac Robinson. He took time to adapt to football and West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen – Weeden’s former offensive coordinator at OKSU – admitted that at first he was “too deliberate” and played like he was on the pitcher’s mound. He’s since developed into an established passer and an instantly familiar name within the college ranks.
In two years starting he’s thrown 68 touchdowns compared to just 25 interceptions, topped 4000 yards twice and this year completed 73% of his passes. If not for one bitterly disappointing defeat to Iowa State, Weeden would be preparing for the BCS Championship game right now. Instead, he has to make do with a Fiesta Bowl berth against Andrew Luck and Stanford.
There’s been a lot of talk about Weeden’s draft stock, with the age-factor always cropping up. There’s simply no getting away from the fact he’ll turn 29 in his rookie NFL season. Weeden is not going to be exempt from the same kind of learning curve experienced by most rookie quarterbacks. Oklahoma State runs a prolific passing game that basically asks the quarterback to start in the gun and still utilise a three, five or even seven step drop. By the time he’s throwing the ball, he’s often ten yards behind the LOS. This draws the pocket away from the original line creating a lot of space for underneath throws and passes to the sideline. By spreading out the receivers like they do, it almost doubles the size of the field and makes it hard to cover talented receivers like Justin Blackmon (and in the past, guys like Dez Bryant). It’s a scheme that relies on playmakers at the skill positions, good pass-protection and solid quarterback play. Over the last few years, OKSU have become quite the offensive force by mastering this way of business and Weeden has continued that tradition.
Being a mature 29-year-old adult who’s worked within pro-sports, you would expect Weeden to be comfortable competing against teenagers in college. I expect Weeden’s age will provide some smaller benefits when he enters the NFL too because he’ll not be overwhelmed by the situation. This is a guy who’s been drafted by the Yankees, so he won’t be fazed by the challenge of playing on the big stage. However, let’s not make the mistake of assuming he’ll be ’pro-ready’ just because he’s a little older. The system he works in at OKSU is very different and a lot less technical than anything he’ll experience in the NFL. When I’ve watched Oklahoma State – and I said the same thing when people asked about Zac Robinson – I see a scheme that scares me. In the same way that Weeden needed two years to get out of pitcher-mode, he may need the same amount of time to get up to speed with a NFL offense. He needs to learn to take snaps under center, make a quick and accurate read and deliver a pass into a crowded, tighter field. He needs to learn the concepts of play action. He needs to learn the footwork required playing within a pro-offense.
If it does take two years, suddenly you’re talking about a 31-year-old quarterback making his first start. That’s not the end of the world, but obviously it’s not ideal. Weeden has a live arm, as you’d expect from a former pitcher. He delivers the ball with good velocity and he can fit the ball into tight windows. However, he’s not the kind of player who can make up for inexperience or a lack of technical quality with brilliant physical plays. That’s another reason why I think he’d have to sit, because he’s not going to be able to ‘wing it’ early in his career.
A lot of questions raised so far would’ve limited his stock at any age. I’ve seen people argue Weeden would be a first round pick if he was in his early 20′s, but I disagree with that. Given everything I’ve discussed here I would expect a younger version to be graded solidly in round two or three with the potential to grow into a starter one day. I wouldn’t rule out Weeden being taken in round three anyway given the need for quarterbacks – if not sooner. He’s a polished quarterback in OKSU’s system, but he’ll be raw at the next level.
That said, he does make some pretty throws and the arm strength, as mentioned, is good. In the tape below from the game against Oklahoma, you’ll see a handful of quality passes. Even so, ask yourself about the situation and how the field is stretched in order to make those plays. How far behind the LOS is Weeden throwing and how has the coordinator spread his receivers?
A good example of this is at 0:32, where we see a 4WR set and one tailback split to the left. When Weeden sets to throw, he’s around 7-8 yards behind the LOS. The RB runs a checkdown route and the receiver to the left runs an inside slant to offer an underneath option. The two wide-outs to the far right just run go-routes to clear two defensive backs and Weeden looks for the slot receiver on a crossing route. It’s actually a throw that flashes his arm at it’s best – it’s quite a long-distance pass given his passing position and he shows perfect velocity even if it’s a relatively easy moving target under no pressure. However, you can see how much the field is stretched by witnessing the YAC from such a basic route. The pocket is at least six yards behind the LOS and with the 4WR set, everything is so spread out. Weeden is perfect for the system considering his arm strength and poise, but whether he can make the same plays under center in a much more compacted field is a big unknown.
Fast forward to 0:57 and you’ll see the same thing. Again it’s a 4WR set and again Weeden is taking 6-7 steps backwards despite being in the gun. The pocket moves backwards too, freeing up so much open space. He’s always got the underneath option – which he uses a lot – but he’s also got the arm strength to hit the other receivers who will consistently get open in this environment. He’s essentially a ‘fast-ball’ thrower. That may sound crude to some who expect to read a better review, but that’s how I judge the tape. In fairness, he does a good job mixing up his trajectory and he knows when he needs to put more air on the ball to find gaps. Having said that, I’m not a big fan of the way he often throws off his back foot and he could stand to add a bit more bulk to what appears a thin frame that lacks a lot of tone (he’s listed at 218lbs, but there’s room to get up to 230lbs and wear it well).
The way he currently works in the pocket could develop into something of a bad habbit. By nature, Weeden is going backwards as soon as he gets the ball. The system asks him to do it, because Robinson did the same thing from the gun. However, I wonder if Weeden’s instinct has turned into ‘move backwards’ at the sign of pressure? He drifts too much and at the next level, being a long way behind the LOS and with tighter coverage it’ll make life very difficult. There’s also a few times where I’ve noticed Weeden trusting his arm a little too much and throwing into a crowd. He often gets away with it because the arm is good enough, but there are times when he’s had multiple picks (three interceptions vs Lafayette & Iowa State).
Weeden’s arm intrigues me enough to take on the challenge, but it’s a challenge that will take time and coaching. Unfortunately, because of his age, time isn’t working in Weeden’s favor.