Written by Kip Earlywine
Something I’ve noticed in doing this series is that you have two types of late round quarterbacks. You have underdeveloped and unconventional players with great size and tools, and then you have more polished players who are undersized. Josh Portis is the closest thing to an undersized quarterback this regime has grabbed so far, and he’s 6’3″ (6027) and 210 lbs, which is still bigger than a lot of the late round options this year. The Seahawks spoke with Russell Wilson at the Senior Bowl. I don’t want to make too much of that, but then again, Pete Carroll and John Schneider are not exactly known for misdirection. If the team has some legitimate interest in a guy who’s 5’10”, you can probably assume the team has no ironclad rules about size with a late round quarterback pick. I hope that’s the case, because I’m finding that the best looking late round quarterbacks this year are consistently undersized.
Ultimately, the actions taken by the Seahawks before the draft could have a big influence on the quarterback they pull the trigger on. Pete Carroll has stated openly that he wants competition for the starting quarterback job in 2012. The best way to do that is to add a veteran roughly of the same caliber as Tarvaris Jackson. There are a few free agents out there who could fit the bill, and both Rob and I have dangled the idea that Palmer or Sanchez could make some sense to fill this role and either one could conceivably be moved for a reasonable price. However, if Seattle enters the 2012 draft without having added a quarterback to create competition, that is probably going to affect their quarterback focus. You wouldn’t draft a guy like Dominique Davis and expect him to compete as a starter right away. If Seattle wanted a real competition, they’d need to draft a guy like Cousins or perhaps Weeden to make that concept plausible. Conversely, adding a veteran quarterback before the draft could free up Seattle to draft more of a project later on, someone who would compete with Josh Portis for the 3rd quarterback roster spot.
With that in mind, here are three more quarterbacks who could make some late round sense for the Seattle Seahawks:
Darron Thomas, Oregon. Size: 6’3″, 215. Class: Jr. Age: 21
To me- without question- the most underrated quarterback in the 2012 draft is Darron Thomas. His size, statistics, athleticism, and natural talent level are all fairly close to that of Ryan Tannehill, and Thomas is actually the more experienced of the two despite only being a junior. Ryan Tannehill is getting “top 15 pick” hype among many scouts and NFL columnists. And yet its a highly common opinion that Darron Thomas is never going to be an NFL quarterback, and that he may even go undrafted. I’m not an Oregon Ducks fan, but as someone that lives near Portland and has watched many of Thomas’ games, I find those ideas completely at odds with one another. Unlike Rob, I actually like Ryan Tannehill, but it appears that many people have chosen to focus exclusively on Tannehill’s upside, while refusing to apply that same sense of imagination with Thomas. Brock Osweiler is seeing his stock rise too, despite being outplayed by Thomas in the same conference.
Even some Oregon fans aren’t believers in Darron Thomas. A common assertion is that Thomas left because he wouldn’t have kept his starting job over backup Bryan Bennett. Bennett is a 185 pound quarterback who many Oregon fans hope can be their version of Washington’s Keith Price. Price also finished last season at 185 pounds (according to a January interview) and outshined RG3 in the Alamo Bowl with a phenomenal performance. I say this without any intention of disrespect to Bennett, who I think will be a pretty good quarterback next year, but I personally think the notion of Bennett beating out a senior Darron Thomas would be unlikely. Thomas is already one of the most efficient quarterbacks in Oregon history, and would have been entering his senior season with a chance to take the next step in his development as a senior. JTLight, the head writer for SBNation’s Oregon Ducks fansite Addicted to Quack seems to agree with me. When the topic arose of Thomas leaving because his job was already gone to Bennett, JTLight’s response was this: “Do people seriously believe that?”
All of this seems especially ironic, given the incredible RG3 love-fest that has taken a life of its own this draft season. A year ago, Robert Griffin was still an athlete playing quarterback who was efficient, but wasn’t a winner and didn’t have the kind of polish and skills you look for in a franchise player. His college passer ratings before 2011? 142. 143. 144. Pretty good, but not elite. You know what Thomas’ ratings look like the last two years? 151. 159. Thomas and RG3 are identical in terms of size and while Thomas isn’t the freak athlete Griffin is, he’s solidly above average. I actually prefer Thomas’ mechanics and footwork to Griffin’s, although I’d give RG3 an edge in intelligence and accuracy. A couple months back, I was actually planning to highlight Thomas as a guy who could be next year’s RG3 before he made the surprising choice to turn pro.
Some like to compare Thomas to one of his Oregon predecessors, Dennis Dixon. One difference though is that Dixon returned to Oregon for his senior season, in which he experienced a big leap forward. His passer rating that year jumped from 121 to 161. Even still, that big senior leap put Dixon only two rating points above Darron Thomas’ junior year number.
Of course, evaluating a quarterback for the NFL is never as simple as looking at statistics. And yes, I can understand why a majority of people look at Darron Thomas and instantly dismiss him. The NFL is a league dominated by franchise quarterbacks. Every team and every fan is looking for the next guy who’s 6’5″ 230 lbs, throws the ball a mile and with perfect mechanical efficiency. A guy with elite accuracy and elite decision making. A guy who’s biggest question mark is how goofy he’s going to look in advertisements over the next ten years from all the mega endorsement deals he’ll be getting. To many of us, its not a question of “can he be good enough?” nor a question of “could the team make it work?” For many, it simply boils down to one thing: he’s either good enough or he isn’t.
And certainly when judged by that latter standard, Thomas falls far short of the surefire franchise quarterback label. I have nothing against that kind of thinking- who doesn’t want a surefire franchise quarterback? I’m sure this front office has nothing against drafting a perfect prospect either. No sane person would be against it. But let’s remember Pete Carroll’s own words regarding quarterbacks in the draft this year. He mentioned that John Schneider identified some players that could be had later, and that they’d be “good enough.”
Great general managers identify and exploit market inefficiencies to their benefit, even though doing so often means violating conventional wisdom and bringing about ridicule. Some people laughed at the Seahawks for signing NFL dropout and CFL star Brandon Browner. Many people didn’t even seriously expect Browner to make the final 53 man roster that year. How’d that turn out? The NFL is every bit as applicable to the concepts put forward in Moneyball as Major League Baseball is. There are players out there who’s actual value is far better than their reputations. Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons were essentially castoffs before 2010, and yet they combined for 20 sacks that year. Browner, Clemons, and Brock probably wouldn’t have produced like that for just any team, because Seattle identified useful attributes in each one and created a role for them that helped mask their weaknesses.
Darron Thomas is not a student of the game who will be an offensive coordinator on the field. But neither is RG3 and neither was Cam Newton. Thomas is often criticized for his accuracy, but he still posted good completion rates. Thomas will suffer if his receivers in the NFL have alligator arms, because he does force his targets to catch a lot of passes outside of the body area. Thankfully the Seahawks have built up a pretty deep group of quality receivers and tight ends so this could be less of an issue. Thomas doesn’t throw as well on the move as Ryan Tannehill, but I think he does better than Tannehill throwing from the pocket. Thomas has a pretty good arm and his mobility is solidly above average. He took a decent number of snaps from under center (for a non-pro style) and his dropback is more fluid than not. His physical measurables are on the lower end of the NFL franchise quarterback spectrum, and better than pretty much every other late round 2012 point guard quarterback prospect.
My biggest worry about Thomas is that he doesn’t have a lot of consistency game to game, and while I haven’t figured out a cause yet, my hypothesis is that Thomas struggles when defenses put him under a lot of pressure. He’s not as deliberate as T-jack, but its fair to say that Thomas is a guy who likes to take his time setting up a play. Comfort matters to Thomas, and many defenses over the last two years found ways to put Thomas off his game.
I guess what separates my opinion of Thomas from many others is that I don’t view Thomas as a huge project. Thomas is many things, but he’s not a wooden quarterback like Tarvaris Jackson that is prone to a brainfart every 5th play. Thomas is a natural quarterback who can progress through multiple reads, calmly make smart decisions and avoid mistakes without much if any signs of mental awkwardness. I think its impressive that Thomas does not at all shy away from tight throws, and yet he only threw 7 picks in 339 attempts last year. I don’t think that Thomas could compete with T-Jack as a rookie. But at the same time, I don’t see a guy that needs to fix a laundry list of problems before he could work in Pete Carroll’s style of offense.
If Seattle adds a veteran before the draft, Thomas is a nice gamble in the mid to late rounds. He’s got NFL sized measurables with an underrated amount of natural ability, and he’s a great fit for the role the Seahawks are seeking on offense. While the rest of the NFL is coming around to the idea that Newton and RG3 as the new breed of NFL quarterbacks, the Seahawks can take it one step further, and identify the next Newton/RG3 the year before he explodes onto the scene. I’d love to see the Seahawks take that approach, and I think they just might. It would hardly be the first time this front office has bravely charted an unconventional course and come out winners.
Expected draft trajectory: Mid to Late round pick.
GJ Kinne, Tulsa. 6’1″, 235. Class: Sr. Age: 23
Fieldgulls did a recent draft podcast series with Davis Hsu and Derek Stevens. Stevens has apparently been in contact with Rob Rang and been shown the ropes on how to scout, and it shows in his analysis. I highly recommend listening to his podcast on quarterback options. One quarterback he especially gushed about was GJ Kinne. Finding any kind of decent footage on Kinne is difficult, which is strange since he plays in the same conference as Austin Davis, Dominique Davis, and Case Keenum. I searched for hours and found minutes of footage. I’ve hardly seen enough to form an endorsement, but I also saw enough to understand Stevens excitement about Kinne.
2012 is the year of the short quarterback, and Kinne continues that trend. I’ve seen some measurements that have him at 6005, or six foot and one half inch tall. Despite his lack of height, Kinne weighs in at a rather amazing weight of 235 lbs, tying him with Andrew Luck and BJ Coleman as the third heaviest quarterback in the draft. Its all good weight too, and it doesn’t seem to interfere at all with Kinne’s athleticism. His arm puts good velocity on the ball, and his general composure on the field looks compatible with a point guard quarterback role.
Kinne doesn’t have the highest release, which is pretty worrisome given how short he is. But then again, I’m basing that off of just a few throws.
Like Russell Wilson, Dominique Davis, and BJ Coleman, Kinne is a player who transferred schools. He was initially a quarterback with Texas before transferring to Tulsa in 2008.
Expected draft trajectory: Late round pick / UDFA.
Bo Levi Mitchell, EWU. Size: 6’1″, 210. Class: Sr. Age: 22
Bo Levi Mitchell played for Eastern Washington the last two seasons after transferring from Southern Methodist (SMU). Eastern Washington is part of a lower tier of college football, known as the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). You can kind of think of it as being the tier between Division II and a non-BCS conference like Conference USA or the WAC. Anyway, in 2010, Mitchell’s very first season at Eastern Washington, he led the Eagles to a FCS national championship. In 2011, he threw for over 4000 yards and led the FCS in four different passing categories, ultimately earning the Walter Payton award by seasons end, which is the FCS equivalent of a league MVP award. Notable Walter Payton Award winners include Jon Friesz, Doug Nussmeier, Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook, and Tony Romo.
I had a chance to watch Mitchell when his EWU Eagles rolled into Husky stadium last September. I was actually looking forward to scouting Keith Price in that game, but it was Mitchell who I came away impressed with. Mitchell displayed extremely impressive pocket presence and pocket mobility while keeping his eyes downfield. His accuracy overall was very impressive, particularly on one incredible deep touchdown pass he threw late in the game. His size, pocket savvy, quickness, and good mechanics reminded me of Drew Brees. You can see some of those throws in a highlights video from that game.
Overall, his 473 yard, 3 touchdown performance was very impressive and if not for a great play by Washington DB Desmond Trufant with seconds remaining, Mitchell may have completed a huge upset that afternoon. I haven’t seen anything from Mitchell since then, but I could tell at that moment that he was in for a special year and I was hardly surprised to find that he finished with huge statistics. If the Seahawks acquired Mitchell with a late round pick, I’d be pretty excited about it. He’s a got some talent, and he took two big steps forward in 2010 and 2011.
Expected draft trajectory: late round pick / UDFA.