Today I want to look at a position that I do not consider a need as much as I consider it a want. The quarterback position is well taken care of by Kyle Orton and though I am not yet convinced he is the long term answer, I think he he performed well in 2009. I am more than willing to reserve final judgement on his long term future until after next season.
I will not lie, I am leaning towards him not being the answer. I think Orton is a solid quarterback, but I just don't know if he was what it takes to become a Super Bowl winning quarterback.
That said, I also am not high on drafting a big time quarterback either. Rather, I am looking for a sleeper. A Tom Brady or Terrell Davis of 2010. In my narrow view of the world, a sleeper in the draft is strictly defined as a player who is graded at 6th round or later.
I have selected my three most favorite quarterback sleepers. I will start with #3 and work down to my #1 sleeper of the draft.
Matt Nichols, QB, Eastern Washington
I really like this kid. Not so much because he shares the same last name as one of our renowned staffers, but because he hails from the same high school I graduated from. West Valley High School when I attended back in the late 1990's had one of the worst football programs in the area, but they apparently go better after I left.
Nichols went on to excel at the small program school of Eastern Washington. Though, he didn't begin to crack the draft boards until the Pro Scouts saw him in action at the East-West practices. He outperformed many of the other quarterbacks from "big name" schools, but little came of that as he was not invited to the all-mighty NFL Combine.
Whichever team lands Nichols will likely find a very solid backup, if not future starter.
It does not appear that this prospect has NFL starter talent, but I think he has the ability to be a solid backup. Nichols has proved he has the arm strength, accuracy, and intelligence to be a professional football player. I would like to see him picked up if we somehow miss out on the other two late rounders I covered today.
According to CBS Sports again, Nichols' West Valley High School coach thinks that the Oakland Raiders might pick him up as a CFA.
I take issue with that simply because that guy is likley a Raider fan being a Northern Californian. I speak from experience as just under half the people up there are Raider fans and just under half are 49er fans. Then there are the pariahs like myself who go against the grain.
I tried to find a good short highlight reel, but all I could find is this ten minute EWU team highlight video. Luckily, the QB appears in most of it!
John Skelton, QB, Fordham
6'5", 244 lbs
I've seen Skelton's name many times in various mock drafts, but I am still not 100% sold on this kids ability.
One thing is certain, I may have been foolish to grade him out so late in the draft. His size and ball velocity will likely attract some team to nab him in the 4th or 5th rounds(Al Davis).
If he is available in the 6th round, then I really think he would be a steal at that point. He still has a ways to go before he even has a chance to become the next "Tom Brady", but if a team has patience and is willing to develop Skelton, then it could just pay off with a solid starting professional quarterback.
Again, with CBS Sports:
Accuracy: Accurate enough to give his receiver a chance to make a play after the catch whether on a quick screen, out route, slant, fade or throw down the seam. Leads his man on slants and deep throws. Will aim the ball and feather it in instead of letting it loose.
What a breath of fresh air reading this was for a former Cutler apologist like myself. If there was anything I will be looking for in a QB from now on it would be the above quote! If Skelton is able to develop into a starting quarterback it will be because of his accuracy and smarts.
Arm Strength: Throws 45-50-yard passes with little effort, but he rarely takes full advantage of his arm strength. Ball gets from hash to opposite sideline in a hurry when he steps into the throw. Good trajectory on deep passes, and the ball doesn't hang up. Inconsistent spiral, though the ball still has fair pace when it wobbles.
This makes me feel like he needs help on his mechanics. It is my understanding that consistency in the deep throw is almost always about a quarterbacks mechanics and footwork. Hopefully that is something that can be taught. Not every player is open to changing their bad habits(cough, Cutler, cough).
Setup/Release: Prototypical size and stands tall in the pocket. Waits patiently for routes to develop. Mostly in the shotgun when passing but will go under center on run plays and the occasional play-action. Release speed is not an issue whether in the pocket or on the run. Relies on his arm strength too much; will throw off back foot and into traffic. Throws from different arm angles and usually well-balanced. Could sell the ball fake more in play-action.
I like everything in this analysis except for the throwing off the back foot. His ability in the spread formation really intrigues me as that is likely to remain one of McDaniels' staple formations. He doesn't appear to be a knucklehead, so hopefully his habits of throwing into traffic and off his back foot will be minimized by browbeating coaches.
Reading Defenses: Knows the second and third progression, and is willing to throw underneath route if deep receiver is covered up. Will pick apart a defense if given time. Looks to the quick screen before checking out deep throw. Will not look off the safety or creeping corner consistently, resulting in interceptions. Trusts his receivers too much, throwing jump balls when unnecessary.
I like that he follows his progressions, but this entire statement appears to be the equivalent of an analytical double negative. The analysis starts off by saying Skelton checks his progressions and picks apart defenses, but then ends with Skelton forcing the ball and locking into his receivers. Which is he? I'm guessing that if he is under duress too often he tends to make stupid mistakes.
To me, that is a red flag, negating any desire I have to select Skelton earlier than our 6th round spot. For all of the criticism Orton gets, I have only seen him truly rattled during one game last season. And Orton spent a lot of time in less than desirable passing situations.
On the Move: Mobile for his size and able to throw accurately on the run in either direction. Squares his shoulders when throwing on the run. Will evade sacks from FCS defenders, but unclear whether he'll do so against better competition. Doesn't always get his eyes downfield when pressured in the pocket but does when outside. Mobility leads him to leave the pocket too quickly at times. Agile enough to get first downs when scrambling or running the read option, but not quick enough to run for more than a few yards and lacks elusiveness in the open field. Lowers his head for a first down if sideline isn't available and can slide if possible. Good size for the sneak.
I am not too fond of his mobility. Sure he can move out of the pocket and throw on the run, but our new offense is completely geared towards a pocket passer. The more I see from this kid the more I wonder if he is truly a good fit for the McDaniels offense. I am sure he can be coached up and the Elway fan in me always loves to see a quarterback make something out of nothing. For now, I guess I'll overlook any of his concerns in this section.
Intangibles: Two-year captain who leads his offense on and off the field. Quiet with the media but vocal on the field. Has the work ethic and intelligence to become an NFL starter.
I have no doubt Skelton has what it takes to be an NFL starter, but for what kind of team? For the Rams or for the Broncos? I will maintain my belief that he will be gone by the 6th round, but if he isn't, we should pick him up without hesitation.
Mike Kafka, QB, Northwestern
6'3", 216 lbs
This is my favorite sleeper prospect thus far. Kafka was great in the final minutes of the East-West game and proved he had the moxie to be an NFL caliber quarterback.
His size is more prototypical than a guy like Skelton and most of his experience is out of the shotgun, which bodes well for the offense the Broncos currently run. The switchover shouldn't be all that hard.
For a guy like Kafka, I'd be willing to spend upwards of a late 5th rounder on him. I think he's got that much to offer as a backup now and possibly a starter down the road.
Here is what CBS Sports has to say:
Accuracy: Generally puts the ball on his targets within 10-12 yards, and can throw the medium out, but is not deadly accurate. Gives his receiver a chance to make a play after the catch when on the move but not when receivers sit in zones. Good touch on screen passes and fades. With time and space in the pocket, he lays the ball in on sideline patterns or down the seam as far as 45-50 yards.
Obviously this kid is raw, but he has shown flashes of ability that a good quarterbacks coach can mold into a solid starter. Trial by fire would probably speed up his learning process even more, but I'd prefer to see him sit on the bench for a year(two if there is a lockout). Tom Brady did much of the same thing before taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe.
I'm not saying this kid will ever be as great as Brady, but if we end up nabbing him then I will certainly hope he turns out to be as good as Brady!
Arm Strength: Only adequate arm strength despite his size. Good zip on the many short passes against zones, enough to at times fit the ball in between defenders. Most deep balls either lack trajectory or float. Cross-field throws take too long getting to the opposite sideline. Little strength on his passes throwing off his back foot or when unable to step up into a big pocket.
I think this issue has more to due with his mechanics than with a "lack of arm strength despite his size". A good coach will work on his footwork and mechanics. He'll be driving the ball with force before you know it. Anyone notice how Kyle Orton went from a noodle arm to "he's throwing it too hard". How many of you would attribute the change to good coaching? I'm guessing most would. Kyle Orton's "noodle arm" was just piss poor quarterback coaching in Chicago. How many interceptions did Cutler throw last year again?
Setup/Release: Almost exclusively lines up in the shotgun, limiting his drops to three steps or less. Throws many timing passes underneath. Adequately quick over-the-top release but leans quite a bit to his left on the throw, which lowers the release point. Gets happy feet under pressure. Good ball fake on read option, their form of play-action. Fakes the pass after a hand-off at times, much like Brett Favre.
We can never fully escape the Brett Favre mention can we? I like that he is comfortable in the shotgun as the Broncos tend to run quite a few plays out of that formation. Obviously he will need to get more comfortable from under center, but I'm confident he will adjust. Everything else mentioned (the bad anyway) can be coached. The more I learn the more I hope we draft this guy.
Reading Defenses: Intelligent player who manages a game well. Typically looks and throws to first read, but will look off safety before going to his target if going downfield. Throws too many interceptions by bird-dogging his primary receiver and overestimating his ability to fit the ball into tight spaces. Throws the ball away when needed, but sometimes too soon. Could be called for intentional grounding more often than he is, and must make throws under duress to make it in the NFL. Gets plays and audibles from the sideline after defense is set.
SCCRREEAAACCH...Please do not telegraph your throws - ever. I was developing such a fine man crush on this kid too. At least he looks off the safety, but checking down is a must in the NFL. Unless, that is, you enjoy throwing interceptions. My biggest hope is that he isn't afraid of being hit as playing well while under duress is a must for any NFL quarterback. If you lack coolness under pressure, you will make far too many mistakes.
On the Move: Although not overly quick, he can pull the ball down and make some yards with his feet. Willing to go through the middle and lower his head for a first down. Only adequate awareness in the pocket, steps up a bit late and does not avoid as many sacks as you'd think with his mobility. Accuracy is lacking while running to either side. Good size for quarterback sneaks in short-yardage situations.
Well, it's time to lower the grade for whoever coaches the quarterbacks at Northwestern. Mike Kafka will be a raw project when he enters the league. A team must be patient with him and develop him slowly. The tools are there, but its going to take some good coaching. Luckily for us Bronco fans, we have both patience(Kyle Orton) and good coaching.
Intangibles: Intelligent player capable of understanding and running a pro-style offense. Confident, but considers himself a conduit to getting the ball to playmakers. Plays tough, taking hits on sacks and running plays but bouncing up.
I like this analysis very much. He sounds like a quiet leader whose sacrifices on the field will only inspire his teammates to play harder for him. John Elway had that quality about him. He would take hit after hit, but for only to make that one play. Elway's teammates fought for every inch, every personal battle just to give him a chance to save the day.
Not sure if Kafka will have the same impact on his future teammates, as in retrospect, it was obvious early on that Elway was destined for greatness, while Kafka's fate has yet to be determined.
Within the confines of the late round projections, these three quarterbacks seemed best suited to the offensive scheme run by the Denver Broncos. All three are raw and would need at least a year on the bench to learn and maybe even longer. Aaron Rodgers sat on the bench for four seasons before showing he had what it took to be an NFL starter.
My point is simple, we have Kyle Orton. Love him or hate him, he has managed the offense well. Our offensive woes were not due to him at all. The problems existed solely on the offensive line and in the play calling itself.
I think we have more pressing needs that should be addressed in the first four or five rounds of this years draft, but looking for a diamond in the rough in the later rounds could pay huge dividends. It is a low risk, high reward kind of deal. If none of these quarterbacks works out in the NFL, all we did was lose out on a 6th or 7th round draft pick - no big deal.
It hurts far worse to miss in the first through third rounds...just ask Mike Shanahan.