Before Christmas, Kip highlighted quarterback Chandler Harnish as a possible option for the Seahawks in April’s draft. I hadn’t had any access to Northern Illinois game tape, but having read Kip’s review I made sure to watch last night’s GoDaddy.Com Bowl between the Huskies and Arkansas State. It was an impressive performance from the quarterback and left me wanting to learn more. I’ve included game tape above which highlights every snap he took in a victory over Toledo, while I also referred to this video against Army.
There’s an awful lot to like here. Even at the collegiate level his drops backs are crisp and sharp – an underrated feature. It’s not so much the footwork either, which is good, but rather the way he scans the field while stepping back. There were several instances against Arkansas State, Toledo and Army where you can see Harnish looking downfield as he sets, switching from one option to another and making a completion. Although he’s a long way off the kind of technical qualities we see from Matt Barkley, he’s certainly a cut above the majority of college QB’s I’ve watched this year. Take a look at the touchdown pass at 0:50 in the video above. He looks initially to his left but doesn’t like the read, so comes back across to the middle. He rejects that secondary option and comes back to the left, scrambles to extend the play and then draws the defensive back before dumping a perfect pass into the end zone. That’s textbook quarterback play in several ways.
One of the other things that really impresses me about Harnish is the way he hangs in the pocket to the last possible second to deliver a throw. He’s not flustered by pressure at all. Look at 2:19 because it happened three times in the Arkansas State game too. Harnish will know the defensive end is approaching, but he doesn’t bail on the play call. He’s athletic, so he could’ve scrambled and lost the passing window. There’s perhaps an even better example at 4:23 where he takes a huge hit but still finds his receiver in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It’s a difficult throw into a tight window – a NFL throw. This is almost an unteachable skill for quarterbacks.
His accuracy overall was very good – in the two full games I’ve watched in the last 24 hours I barely saw one throw he’d like to have back. Ball placement is excellent. Unlike a prospect like Ryan Lindley - who has a lot of similar qualities – there weren’t any plays where the quarterback has risked a bad turnover or just failed to execute. He has a low number of turnovers for his career (only five interceptions in the 2011 regular season) and the one pick he had against Arkansas State was all on the receiver who allowed the ball to be taken out of his hands. Look at the play at 5:20 where he steps up into the pocket, has a little pump and hits a receiver despite excellent coverage and three defensive backs in the zone. Again, it’s a NFL throw. The pass to win the game at 6:39 is equally impressive.
Harnish is a fluid and effective runner with the football. He looks a real threat on run-option and while that won’t be a big part of his game at the next level, he has above average running ability for the position and will be able to make first downs and break off gains. Not surprisingly it also translates to an ability to extend plays, run bootlegs and throw effectively on the run on developing routes – all key within the Seahawks offense. A good example of his running ability comes at 4:09 but there are a number of examples in the video above.
He understands touch and knows when to take pace off the throw. Harnish has a decent arm but he doesn’t pass at one speed or rely on arm strength to make difficult throws. You can see at 0:35 his poise on fourth down to take the snap, set and deliver a nice controlled pass for the first down completion. Technically it’s an easy pass, but the circumstances cloud things slightly and he kept his cool in the pocket to deliver the correct throw. I also like the way he throws to the touchline and particularly his work on the inside slant. The play at 1:45 is a good example – nice pop on the pass, good delivery and allows the receiver to make a play.
On the downside, his height concerns me and he’s listed at – and looks - 6-1.5. He currently takes the snap almost in the crouching position and in some of the All-22 replays he’s clearly shorter than the lineman making it difficult to scan the field. Against Arkansas State I saw on more than one occassion a pass that was a little flat where he just didn’t have the angle to throw over the linebacker and one instance almost led to a turnover. At the same time, I haven’t seen a lot of tipped passes and his release point is high rather than a slingy action. But the height is a shame, because it’s really the only major knock and otherwise he’d have legitimate early round potential. This could put teams off, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Although he has decent arm strength, it could be even better if he learns to transfer the weight onto his front foot throwing downfield. You can see at 2:07 how he leans back and delivers the ball off the back-foot and although he makes the completion, he won’t have that kind of window in the NFL. Of course, the receiver was so open he may just have been ‘playing it safe’. At the next level he needs to force that play a little more and step into the throw, getting it out in front of the receiver and giving him a chance to get the ball in stride.
There are also some concerns about the level of competition he’s faced in the MAC because he had a marginal impact against Wisconsin in a 49-7 defeat (14-24 passing, 164 yards and no scores). The tape above highlights his best performance of the season and really to make a proper judgement you’d have to compare it to the Wisconsin game to make a proper judgement. Based on the evidence I’ve seen so far though, he’s a definite sleeper for the Seahawks and could go earlier than a lot of people expect.