Before I begin this week four review, I’d like to say a few words about an individual who decided to send me five abusive emails last night because Matt Barkley made a few mistakes against Arizona State. I won’t mention the guys name, but we’ll refer to him as ‘Glenn Close’. It’s a good job I don’t own a pet rabbit. The moment tracking the draft becomes that serious, Glenn, is the moment you need to sit down and take a moment to relax. Yes, Matt Barkley made some mistakes in the game. He needed to read Vontaze Burfict’s position on the first half pick. Maybe he shouldn’t try and force the throw that leads to the pick six?
Even so, he’s still a fine quarterback prospect and made several pro-level throws in the game that warrant high first-round consideration. He’s still a country mile ahead of every other draft eligible quarterback prospect not named Andrew Luck. If you don’t agree, Glenn, that is fine and I encourage debate in the comments section. But please don’t boil any pets because someone disagrees with your take on things.
Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia) vs LSU
This really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from the WVU quarterback. On the one hand his accuracy was patchy, he tried to force too many throws and he consistently failed to diagnose the LSU defense and back out of bad play calls. The best example of poor awareness came just before half time when the Mountaineers faced 3rd and a mile and just needed to accept the situation to get into half time at 20-7. Instead, a pass into the flats is called and promising Tigers defensive back Tyrann Mathieu (one to watch) is all over it. He positions himself at the LOS, Smith forces the pass to the left and it’s picked off for a huge gain to the one-yard line. Moments later, the half time score is 27-7 and there’s a mountain to climb.
Contrast that with one of the greatest throws you’ll see this season. With 3:29 left in the third quarter, WVU have the ball at their own ten yard line - Smith takes the snap and drops back to his own goal line. He makes two reads and throws an impossibly perfect 40-yard pass to Tavon Austin in behind two defensive backs – making a huge gain after the YAC. Touch, vision, awareness, timing and placement were all 100% perfect. It wasn’t the only example where Smith flashed – but given that he threw an incredible 65 times in the game (38 completions, 463 yards, two touchdowns, two picks) you’d expect to see some highlights.
I’ve been impressed with certain aspects of Smith’s play over the last two seasons and Dana Holgorsen’s offense is going to give him many opportunities to impress again in the future. LSU won the field position battle, played steady on both sides of the ball and had big plays at crucial moments to win 47-21 in a game that could easily have been much closer. Smith will face much weaker opponents this year and he’ll probably look more consistent. When he’s given time in the pocket he looks poised, he is capable of making a number of NFL throws and he’s tough to bring down. Even so, he is inconsistent and you couldn’t say overall accuracy is a plus. It’s OK making mind blowing throws some of the time if you maintain a decent level most of the time. He can’t afford to lurch between great and poor so strikingly.
There’s plenty for scouts to like and coaches to work with, but it’s times like this that you remember there’s only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Geno Smith, just like several quarterback prospect eligible for 2012, doesn’t stand out enough for you to invest faith that he’ll become one of those 32 on a long term scale which limits his stock. Even so, I think a grade in the rounds 4-5 range is fair and you’d take a chance on him working out as a possible back-up and longer term project. I suspect he’ll return to WVU next year if he gets a similar grade from the draft committee and maybe further seasoning in this offense will help boost that stock higher for 2013?
Matt Barkley (QB, USC) vs Arizona State
Due to scheduling issues and the over-running LSU vs WVU game I was unable to watch the first half of the USC vs Arizona State game. I will take a closer look at Brock Osweiler later this week, but for now I concentrated on the Trojans starting QB in his first road performance of the season. Overall it was a mixed second half – there was the usual dose of what I like about Barkley (technically very sound, accurate, masterful in play action, excellent placement/touch) but also a few crucial errors. Let’s spend a bit of time dissecting those mistakes.
Barkley threw two interceptions, the first coming in the first half although I’ve since seen numerous replays. He doesn’t diagnose Burfict as he goes through his progressions and makes the kind of throw he’ll know was a mistake the moment it leaves his hand. The linebacker steps across the route and makes the pick. It’s a bad decision by Barkley but also an excellent play by a linebacker who will be a first round pick next April. A little more patience in a clean pocket will allow that play to develop a split second longer and he can make the decision to look elsewhere or throw it away. I’d be more concerned about this mistake if I hadn’t seen hours of tape already showing Barkley to be possibly the best quarterback I’ve ever scouted in terms of running through progressions.
In the second half, USC were driving into the red-zone when Barkley fumbled the ball having pumped twice in the pocket. The commentary team slammed the error, stating he needed to get the ball out. I disagreed with that assertion, because you can clearly see in the wider view replay that all three Trojan receivers were well covered. Can we really criticise Barkley for trying to let the play develop just a little bit longer in order to try and get the touchdown? Do you want your QB to bail out after two reads, seeing nothing is on and throwing away? Rather than criticise him for not throwing, I felt a more accurate issue was the inability to buy a little more time by scrambling to the right, potentially affording a receiver time to get open. Yet it was such a crowded pocket, the protection was poor and I’m not sure such an option was available.
The pick six ended the game, but again I’m less inclined to hammer Barkley in this situation. His team is trailing and he needs to make a play. The defensive end is being held, but still manages to stretch an arm out and get a handful of jersey. Barkley is falling backwards and tries to force a throw anyway, but he’s off balance and the pass goes high in to the air, over the running backs head and into the grateful arms of a linebacker. Sure, it looks bad because the play leads to an ASU touchdown. In reality, the game’s over one way or another because if he takes the sack they’re punting the ball away or going for an unlikely fourth down conversion. Some quarterbacks have made a living out of making impossible plays like that and one day Barkley will try it, he’ll get a first down and people will rave about the decision. Such is football at the highest level. It’s not like the pick showed up a technique issue, it was a forced play trying to keep the game alive.
The earlier turnovers cost USC and Barkley in particular and greater red zone efficiency could’ve made for a very different result. It’s the kind of game you want to see Barkley drag him team across the line. It’s the kind of performance that give critics (see: Glenn) plenty of ammo to be critical. I’m not going to back up every mistake Barkley makes or justify every turnover – but I feel like a sense of perspective is needed because even Andrew Luck turns the ball over and isn’t unbeatable. While he continues to make passes like the touchdown to start the second half (perfect touch, flight, placement) and while he continues to made reads like a pro, show plus accuracy and capable physical attributes I will maintain my high grade.
For me there’s Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and then a long pause until the rest. If you want a franchise quarterback next year early in the first round, I firmly believe you’re looking at a quota of two. I’ll have thoughts on Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler on the blog shortly but none of that trio – or Landry Jones – come close to the top two passers in my opinion. Today changes little.
Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) had another spectacular day, throwing five more touchdowns and running in a sixth during a 56-31 victory over Rice. Griffin went 29-33 for 338 yards, added 51 further yards on the ground and had no turnovers. After three games he’s throwing 85% completions, has 962 yards, 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also has a key-note victory against TCU. Although he has a lot of areas to work on - particularly footwork – such a positive start to the 2011 season will significantly boost Griffin’s stock.
Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) led the Golden Eagles to a big 30-24 win at Virginia. Davis passed for three touchdowns, no interceptions and 313 yards. This was a much more productive performance from a quarterback prospect I still believe is one to monitor. According to Chris Steuber, a Seahawks scout was present at the game.
Michigan State hammered Central Michigan 45-7, but I suspect Kirk Cousins’ stock will continue to sink. The MSU quarterback only managed 13-22 completions in a blow out, including a touchdown and an interception. Replacement Andrew Maxwell completed 7-8 passing for a touchdown. Like Geno Smith earlier, there are aspects of Cousins’ game that fit in the pro’s. However, it’s hard to imagine a starting role at the next level. He started the year a possible second round pick, but he could be sinking into the mid-round range or even later.
Bruce Irvin (DE, WVU) was a non-factor against LSU. It’s a disappointing start to the season for a player who was explosive in limited play last year. Unfortunately it appears any hopes of a high grade are dwindling fast. Raw athleticism is great, but a lack of size has been more of an issue in 2011 and he doesn’t look comfortable as an every down player. He was taken out of the action frequently as LSU dominated on offense.
Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State) is a nasty linebacker with playmaking qualities. He’s not the most outstanding athlete, but he finds a way to get involved. It’s four sacks, several tackles for a loss and now an interception for the 6-3, 250lbs player who looks an ideal fit at 3-4 MLB. In a year that looks very weak indeed on defense, Burfict should find a home in round one.
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) had three touchdown and two interceptions against Missouri as the Sooners won 38-28. He made 35-48 passing for 448 yards and added a further score on a QB sneak.
I’m still not convinced Alshon Jeffery (QB, South Carolina) warrants the kind of high grade many are dishing out. He’s a talented, big receiver – but he’s not a dominating player with great production. Yesterday he had just two catches for 34-yards as the passing game struggled for the Gamecocks in a mediocre 21-3 win over Vandebilt. Against Navy last week, Jeffery only managed two catches for 35-yards and he has one touchdown in four games. We need to see more, although I accept the South Carolina quarterbacks are not helping.
Quinton Coples (DE, UNC) went sackless for the third game in a row in a defeat to Georgia Tech. I have access to tape of this game and will take a look this week, but I’m becoming less convinced that Coples warrants a top-five grade like many project.
Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State) is my own personal sleeper – and he had another sack yesterday in a 48-24 win over Idaho. That’s 3.5 sacks to start the season after 10.5 last season. Keep an eye on this guy – nobody is talking about him and they should be.