Written by Kip Earlywine
I’m gonna level with you guys, I’ve been a long time skeptic of searching for franchise quarterbacks with late round picks. I’ve seen numerous studies done, and they inevitably come to the same conclusion: Quarterbacks may be the riskiest 1st round picks, but the odds of getting a QB anywhere else is far worse. Here is a chart that tracks pro-bowl quarterbacks taken from 1995 to 2006:
So please understand, this series is not about convincing anyone that a late-round approach is guaranteed to find us the next franchise savior. However, our front office has to be prepared to do the best they can with the hand they are dealt. Going the late round route in 2012 is a far inferior option, but it might be the only one.
Now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, there is some reason for optimism using this approach. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, it should be abundantly clear that John Schneider knows a thing or two about identifying value in the later rounds, and Pete Carroll knows a thing or two about developing those players: Chancellor, Wright, Sherman, Browner, Baldwin and even Tate are among them. We’ve even seen some development with Tarvaris Jackson this year, and while its clear that Whitehurst is on his way out due to his not being very good, he did post the best preseason of his career this year after Carroll tailored a dumbed-down offense to cover Whitehurst’s substantial deficiencies (something he didn’t do for Whitehurst in the regular season, unfortunately).
Seattle is quickly becoming a good landing spot for a young quarterback. It has an improving offensive line. It has an improving running game. It has quality at receiver and tight end. And it has a serious up and coming defense. But perhaps best of all, it has a philosophy which asks precious little of it’s quarterback, the same philosophy that made a good starter out of Alex Smith of all people. In other words, Seattle does not even need to find a quarterback who was a world beater in college, it only needs a coachable player who can learn and has the tools to execute basic plays with ease.
Remember when Michael Vick was a bust who couldn’t throw the ball to save his life? That changed pretty quickly when he was introduced to Andy Reid’s version of the point guard role. Just because a guy makes lousy decisions in one offense or appears to have a limited grasp doesn’t mean he would in ours. Hence, it makes sense that Seattle has generally targeted quarterbacks with a lot of innate talent, but who lacked mental skill. While I think Jordan Jefferson is far from being a good quarterback, his pros and cons fit nicely with what this front office is trying to accomplish at the position.
Having such low requirements and a good quarterback environment not only increases Seattle’s odds of success, but it also widens the lens and allows Seattle to look at a very large number of potential quarterbacks, including some who may not get drafted by any other team at all, just like Josh Portis last year.
One comment from yesterday was almost incredulous that I seemed to be touting Keenum and Jefferson. Believe me, I’m not. The purpose of these posts is NOT to make you guys believe that there are dozens of franchise saviors out there for the taking dirt cheap. Rather, its to provide some basic information from a Seahawks perspective regarding this late round field of quarterbacks, so that hopefully, when Seattle drafts one (or two) of them next April, it won’t leave us all saying “Who?” That said, there are a few quarterbacks out there later on that I do actually find a little exciting. Today I’ll actually cover a couple of them (its not the first one).
So without any further ado:
Dominique Davis, E. Carolina. Size: 6’3″, 215. Class: Sr. Age: 22.
Yet another Conference-USA quarterback on this list. Davis is an athletic quarterback with size and build similar to Robert Griffin, though with perhaps a touch less speed.
Davis began his college career at Boston College as Matt Ryan’s backup. After losing the battle for the starters job the next season, and also failing to meet academic standards, he transferred to Fort Scott community college, where amazingly enough, he found himself in a playoff game later that year against Cam Newton, and would have won a shootout if not for his team surrendering an 84 yard punt return touchdown with 15 seconds left.
Unfortunately, for all the positives Davis possess, he is the definition of a project. Davis completed 67.6% of his passes, but also threw a whopping 19 interceptions this year. He has a great deep ball, but could only muster a 6.53 YPA. His 2010 numbers were similar. Its hard to say anything of substance regarding Davis since I don’t have access to game tape, but everything I read about him paints the picture of a quarterback with mental deficiencies. Davis fits the profile Seattle is seeking, but I don’t know if they would actually spend a draft pick on him. Josh Portis looks like the better 3rd quarterback between the two, and Seattle didn’t spend a pick on Portis. That said, would it shock me if Dominique Davis was a member of this roster next August? Not in the slightest.
Expected draft trajectory: Late rounds, possible UDFA.
Chandler Harnish, N. Illinois. Size: 6’2″, 220. Class: Sr. Age: 23.
While I am trying my best to not paint too positive a picture for any of these late round prospects, Harnish has presented maybe the greatest challenge so far. I haven’t seen much, but what I’ve seen, I like.
Harnish is very close to prototypical NFL height and size. Coming from the MAC, Harnish didn’t exactly play the world’s toughest schedule, but he did lead his team to eight straight regular season victories to end is NIU career. His 2011 stat line was very impressive: 62.9% completion rate, 8.45 YPA, and 26/5 TD/INT, and his 2010 stat-line was almost identical. Harnish also had a Kaepernick-esque 1,382 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns last year. In 2010, he had 836 rushing yards and 7 rushing scores.
In the link above, there is a compilation video from his game against Army. Unfortunately, its not comprehensive and only includes positive plays, but its enough to see the kind of ability Harnish has.
Harnish has been accused of having an “average arm,” but I don’t see it that way. Harnish is capable of making some great downfield throws with zip, but often deliberately chooses to take a lot off the ball to ensure accuracy and touch on certain throws. Keith Price had the same “problem” early on in 2011, but as the season went along, he learned how to blend touch and zip to perfection. As I recall, Tarvaris Jackson had a bit of a touch/zip balancing issue in the preseason and for years with the Vikings before ironing out the creases during the regular season this year. Harnish hardly looks like a weakling either, as you might have guessed based on his weight/height. With his pads off, he almost looks like a lesser Jake Locker in terms of bulk. From what I’ve seen, I’d “sell” any notion that Harnish doesn’t have a good arm.
His dropback is pretty seemless, and his footwork is above average. His release point could be better, but its not horrible, and the ball gets out of his hand very quickly- except when he’s lofting to add touch. He executes plays in a crisp manner. He doesn’t appear to make a ton of reads, but based on the front office’s history, that probably won’t be a sticking point- especially for a late rounder. I can’t be definitive from so little data, but it does appear that he has above average pocket awareness and is highly elusive. Its not surprising that he’s only been sacked 9 times this year. And obviously, he possesses impressive mobility, like a shiftier Ryan Tannehill.
Another positive for Harnish is as a multi-sport player and great athlete, he could contribute at another position if he doesn’t make it at quarterback.
We’ll get a better look at Harnish when he plays in the GoDaddy Bowl (January 8th) against Arkansas State.
Expected draft trajectory: Mid-to-Late rounds.
Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. Size: 5’11″, 201. Class: Sr. Age: 23.
Note: Some sites list Wilson’s height as 5’10″.
Russell Wilson probably deserves a writeup all to himself, but for now just let me say that Wilson’s college career was so tantalizing that its causing me to rethink my stance on sub-six-foot quarterbacks. If you follow college football even a little, you probably already know what Wilson has done at Wisconsin this year, which is dominate one of the better conferences in college football and help Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl berth. Wisconsin lost on the road to two tough teams by margins of six and four points (and one of those losses was successfully avenged in the conference championship game), but won every other game by an average margin of 33.5 points. That’s some seriously dominant football.
Wilson was (yet another) transfer quarterback, having been a star at NC State before transferring to Wisconsin just this year. The recent success of transfer quarterbacks is slowly changing the way major programs look at recruiting the quarterback position, and Wilson is just the latest example of that.
A very common comparison for Wilson is Troy Smith, who was roughly the same height and also dominated while playing in the same conference. Troy Smith won a Heisman, but he never had a season quite like the one Wilson is having this year. Consider these unreal numbers and remember that Wilson wasn’t playing a cakewalk schedule: 72.5% completion rate, 10.14 YPA, 31 TD, 3 INT. Obviously, stats never tell the whole story for evaluating college prospects, but HOLY CRAP! In 2011, Russell Wilson was basically a five foot eleven inch version of Cam Newton (albeit less explosive). If Russell were the exact same player in a 6’3″ body (assuming weight scaled with his height), he’d be a serious candidate to go #1 overall in most drafts. He’s that good (not to mention, a perfect fit in the point guard quarterback role).
Wilson has a great throwing motion. The ball gets out fast enough and comes out very high. Its enough to make me legitimately wonder if he can overcome his height issue in the NFL because I just don’t see a lot of batted balls with that throwing motion. Sure, he’s going to have trouble seeing targets on 3 step drops, but on 5 step drops, 7 step drops, and shotgun snaps, I have yet to see him “tiptoe” before making a pass. His mobility is not elite but scores as solidly above average. His dropbacks are smooth and his footwork is solid with some room for further improvement. As you might expect for a short and mobile quarterback, Wilson really shines on rollouts and bootlegs. He executes plays well, is extremely accurate, and has a pretty deep ball. He’s also a great leader on the field and gives good interviews off of it. There is so much to like about this guy.
But alas, height is a major sticking point for NFL front offices, and durability could be a big concern as well (he’s barely 200 lbs without much room for growth). If Wilson becomes a dominant NFL quarterback, it wouldn’t just be an amazing achievement, he’d literally be the first great quarterback of his kind. Still, if there ever is a sub-six-foot quarterback who can pull it off some day, I can hardly imagine that player being any better of a college quarterback than Russell Wilson.
Expected draft trajectory: Late rounds / UDFA.
To be continued…