The "Ross Tucker Football Podcast" had an excellent interview with Greg Cosell, executive producer of the "NFL Matchup" show. I found it very interesting as we are all debating who or if the Browns should take a QB with the fourth pick in May. I thought Greg had some fascinating insights into all the prospects and the NFL QB position in general. I have often wondered about the question of starting QB's immediately as rookies. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but what can't be known is what would be the path of those QB's that don't thrive as rookies. Would they have been good QB's if they had 3 years to sit and learn like Aaron Rodgers? What would Aaron Rodgers career path have looked like if he had started as a rookie? Maybe he would have been done by year three like Weeden and Gabbert. These questions are not knowable but endlessly fun to debate.
Cosell's comments about developing a pocket presence are also fascinating. Andrew Luck came into the NFL with an amazing pocket presence and his career will be something to watch. You have to believe that his father was teaching him the nuances of being a pocket passer from a very early age and this along with his size and athleticism as well as great intellect may help make him the greatest QB of our generation. Would Tebow have been able to be that good if he had an NFL QB that was coaching him, not letting him develop bad habits for 20 years before he entered the league?
I have been thinking for some time that I would like the Browns to pass on a QB at 4 if Bridgewater is not available (I am not in favor of a trade up either). We badly need a QB but the opportunity cost to take a real impact player like Clowney or Watkins or a steady pro bowl type player like Greg Robinson has consequences. Maybe taking a Garropolo or Derek Carr and developing them for a couple of years so that they have a chance to succeed is the best choice. I don't have the answers but I sure hope Ray Farmer does.
I transcribed the relevant portions of the Q and A for your reading enjoyment.
Q: Whats your take on the QB class overall?
Cosell: "I would say overall, first of all I've probably watched 12 or 13 pretty hard and I would say overall it's not a great class at all. I think the reason it's being viewed as such, as a better class than it is, because so many teams in the top 8 picks I believe there is 5 you could easily make an argument need a quarterback. It's being viewed as better than it is but if you just look at the players and again i just came back from the combine and that was pretty much the consensus as well that this is not a great quarterback class by any means. . . . You have to remember one thing, I was at an event last year the night before the draft in New York City at which there were probably 20 plus agents and to a man I was told that Geno Smith would be a top ten pick the next night. My point in saying that is the mock drafts are an awful lot of fun but at this point the mock drafts really don't mean anything . . . because of the free agency part of the league process. Many times NFL coaches don't even see these players until the combine. Thats the first time they lay eyes on college players for some NFL coaches."
Q: What are the translatable traits that you are looking for?
Cosell: "I believe and I think most people in the league still believe this, that you must start in the pocket. There are many traits that go into playing the position well in the pocket and many of them are finely detailed subtle nuance traits that my guess is, many people don't really think about when they watch games. Simple things like when you take the snap dropping straight back not drifting to one side or the other. If you drift to one side or the other you break down your protection, you break down the integrity of your pass protection. You must be able to step into your throws properly with weight transfer. I'm sure a lot of people don't look at that because that dictates the velocity of and it has a major impact on arm strength. There are many college quarterbacks that play in these spread, one step passing offenses that don't transfer their weight when they throw the football. Then when they do have to make NFL type throws where they have to drive the ball a little bit more down the field they are incapable of doing it because they haven't grown up throwing a football like that so those passes lose velocity on the back end. You must be able to navigate the pocket. If there's a little bit of pressure, I'm not talking about where you're forced to run because there is a free rusher but if there is a little bit of pressure the pocket starts to close down a little bit. You've got to be able to navigate the pocket, move around a little bit without losing your downfield focus, find a more quiet place as it were to throw the football. These are all things that go into analysis and breakdown of quarterbacks . . . Those are the kind of things you try to look for. You get a feel for routes and route concepts so you can get a feel for if the quarterback is throwing the ball where he should at the right time within the context of his offense. He may be taught a brand new offense in the NFL but you want to try to understand how he executed his offense in college."
"Accuracy is critical. I usually use the term ball location or ball placement because as you know in the NFL the windows are tighter the man to man coverage is better you really need to really place the ball in smaller areas."
Q: Have you altered the traits you look for based on the success of mobile QB's in the NFL?
Cosell: "I think certainly you now look at more things, obviously now you have potentially the option elements in any given offense. Now the issue is for myself for evaluators is the balance. Where do you fall on the debit/credit sheet? Where do you fall when you look at traits? There are some who do believe that the game is truly moving towards more option elements, more mobility then you might weigh those traits more heavily. If you still believe that ultimately you have to throw it from the pocket then those traits may not be as important. Keep one thing in my mind and I'm not sure there has ever been a player like this, very rarely has there ever been a Quarterback that is a runner per se, a truly mobile guy who has also been a master of pocket subtlety. What you need to do to master the pocket, guys who are great runners from the time they are young, they never get that far in their development because they have always been able to rely on their movement to bail them out. Usually those two things don't go together."
Q: Who do you like the most of this years QB class in terms of skills that translate to the next level?
Cosell: "I think the player that i would probably say with all the factors involved that could probably be a good NFL quarterback is Blake Bortles. You start with the size. The size is an attribute. At the combine he was over 6'4" and weighed 230. He certainly has things he has to work on, lower body mechanics. He has footwork and balance issues in the pocket. . . . I think he has a good arm not a great arm but I think it is probably stronger than you see on film because I hink it will become stronger if he can correct those flawed lower body mechanics. Again, a really great example he doesn't really drive the ball because of that. I think he does give you some read option and option elements if thats something you're interested in. He's a big kid. There were examples where I watched him on tape where he was able to shed blockers and maintain his downfield focus and throw the ball. Those are important things as you project him to the NFL. I would say he is more of a finesse thrower than a true power thrower at this point but I think there is a lot to work with in Bortles. Ultimately, he is a pocket passer that can execute boot action. He can extend plays and run effectively if thats what you want to do. I think that he is someone I would look to as someone, given time, could be a quality NFL starter."
Q: You said "Given time".
Cosell: "That's the problem because I said I believe there are 5 of the top 8 teams need a quarterback. If you hand a card to Roger Goodell and its a QB then the way it is now is he's your starting QB. Everybody has a plan for a starting QB. Let's say you're Minnesota and you draft a QB. Here is what you're thinking; I have AP, the best back in the game. I've got a good OLine. I've got a defense that is pretty good and you're Mke Zimmer so you can make it better. You think, you know that I can massage my QB into becoming a good player because we can run the football. We can limit his risk as it were but here is the problem you face. Let's say for whatever reason you start out 0-3. Maybe its a flukey play, maybe its a blocked punt, for whatever reason you start 0-3. Now you want to win a football game. Then you start asking your QB to do some things that he's probably not yet capable of doing because you realize you want to win. You're trying to create explosive chunk plays in the passing game because everybody wants that. So, very often, the plan that you may have for developing, massaging, manipulating your QB so that he can develop goes out the window because you're trying to win football games."
Q: What is your impression of Teddy Bridgewater?
Cosell: "I like Bridgewater and I think you could easily make the point watching him on film (that he is the best prospect). There is a great rhythm and tempo to his movement and overall play. He's a composed, comfortable kid. I think he does understand a lot of the subtleties of the position: how to manipulate safeties, how to move coverage. I think that his experience in a true pro style offense has helped him tremendously. They asked him to do a lot at the line of scrimmage: he knows how to read fronts, he knows how to read coverage before the snap. He has the instincts of a pocket player. The only problem you face with him and again I know everyone is going to mention Russell Wilson but that is a bit of a distinct case because he had a top 3 run game and the best defense in the league. Leave that aside for the moment, the issue with Bridgewater is he is very slight. He's not a big body. He's got a good arm not a great arm. Theoretically he can make every throw but making every throw when you have a clean pocket is different that making every throw when you don't. He doesnt really drive the ball he's a bit of a short armer. I like Teddy Bridgewater but he bulked up to 214 for the combine. I've spoken to people who said that late in the year at Louisville he weighed 188. He probably bulked up for the combine just so the number would be good. Thats something that you have to think about. He's not a big kid he's a slight kid."
Q: He's got unbelievable completion percentage are those numbers real?
Cosell: "To a certain extent they are because of the nature of his offense. He's not throwing a lot of bubble screens. He's not making a lot of easy throws. He's running an NFL offense. He's got quick and light feet, he's accurate. I like Teddy Bridgewater. I think at the end of the day it comes down to where he goes, what team. He's not a big physical specimen. He's not Andrew Luck in that sense that he can put a team on his back that essentially Luck has done behind what is not a great Oline and an up and down defense in Indianapolis the last two years. He's not at that level of physical talent but I think that he has many of the attributes and traits that you look for. The question is how much does he need around him to be an effective player."
Q: So are you saying the only thing you like more about Bortles than Bridgewater is the size?
Cosell: "Well, he's a bigger kid so physically he's a better talent. Now again, many people have different opinions on what is needed in the NFL. I think many people would say accuracy, ball placement, decision making are key traits and Bridgewater has that. I guess its hard for me . . and others will have different points of view. If he is going to be a guy that is ultimately 190-195, if thats what he is going to be I think that is small. Just because Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl I think we have to be careful of assuming that having size and height is unimportant, I don't think we can say that. Seattle is a unique team because of how good they are in all areas."
Q: Ron Jaworski was quoted as saying he would not take Johnny Manziel in the first 3 rounds, what do you think of Johnny Football?
Cosell: "He's a great example of how you try to predict a transition from college to the NFL. I try to think of it this way; what are you hanging you're hat on with Johnny Manziel? When you watch him play, what stands out about Johnny Manziel? Making plays outside of structure. So, the question becomes for NFL people, you are the OC, you are the QB coach. You spend all week breaking down the opposing defense, you spend all week putting together a game plan. If your QB goes out and does not execute that and steps outside of structure when he does not need to and that is the critical point. That is what you see when you watch Johnny Manziel on tape is how many balls he does not throw to open receivers. In fact, I would make a reel of those and show him, if I was a team, and have him explain the plays to me. When you don't do that and you step outside of structure when you don't need to, if that's the basis on why you believe he will be a great NFL QB, based on my experience is all I'm giving you here, I would struggle with that as a reason for a guy being a great NFL QB. I think it is very hard in the NFL to live on the edge when you don't need to live on the edge. If you live on the edge too often you will fall off a cliff in my view in the NFL. . . . There is a real balance here to this question. Its not a mathematical equation. I think there is a balance between this idea that you have to be mobile to play in the NFL, which by the way has some validity with defenses and the pressure concepts. I think we all understand that, no one is saying that movement is a negative in a player but it is when do you move, how do you move. I think Russell Wilson is a great example of someone who's movement is almost structured and I think that might sound contradictory but when its third and 6 and Russell Wilson sees he can run for 8 yards and get a first down he just runs for 8 yards and gets out of bounds. There is a purpose to his movement. Now, I'm interpreting Johnny Manziel on film but, quite frankly, when he moves I see a guy who moves and then tries to figure it out and I'm not sure that works in the NFL."
The "Ross Tucker Football Podcast" can be found here or downloaded on iTunes. Ross is a former NFL lineman with the Bills, Patriots, Redskins and Cowboys (he also was a Cleveland Brown for about a hot minute). Cosell will be the guest on Wednesdays breaking down this years draft prospects. I encourage you guys to check it out, it's good stuff.