Gruden wants to see Drew Lock run different types of offense
When Jon Gruden was coming up through the college and NFL coaching ranks in the 1990s, he would have had a hard time drafting a quarterback like Drew Lock.
The same thinking even would have applied for reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Despite both players having superb arm strength and the proper height for the position coming out of college, both lacked the statistical measurements popularized by then-Giants coach Bill Parcells, who in 1990 coached Lock’s father, Andy.
Parcells’ seven quarterback rules emphasized experience, completion percentage, starts and wins during an era in which Doug Flutie was the lone quarterback under 6 feet carving out an NFL pro career. But in 2006, Gruden started to think Parcells had it all wrong.
As Saints quarterback Drew Brees, also 6-foot tall, torched his Buccaneers’ defense, Gruden started to readjust his standards for drafting a quarterback.
“I am putting away all the prototypes that I once had,” Gruden, now the Raiders’ head coach, said in January at the Senior Bowl. “I once had a prototype for hand size, height, arm length all that stuff.
“We’re looking for guys that can play. They come in all shapes and sizes nowadays.”
The rest of the NFL has adjusted to Gruden’s stance, which will be on full display during Thursday’s NFL Draft.
Lock, who stands 6-4, is a projected top-20 pick despite beating just one ranked team in four years at Missouri and completing less than 60% of his career passes (56.9%).
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick despite standing 5-foot-10 and starting one full season.
Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is vying with Lock to be the second quarterback off the board, and started just 14 games for the Buckeyes.
Parcells’ criteria have become more outdated by the year, but Thursday could mark their end if all three quarterbacks are drafted in the top 10, marking the latest shift in NFL talent evaluators’ stances.
Former Dallas Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt said the NFL is in a position to draft more pro-ready quarterbacks, which makes it easier to look past size, resume and experience.
When Southern California coach Lane Kiffin took a commitment from 13-year-old quarterback David Sills in 2010, his early scholarship offer popularized his route, leading to early specialization at the position.
Sills never made it to USC and ended up at West Virginia, where he switched to wide receiver. He’s now one of the top wideout prospects heading into Thursday’s draft. Still, with many elite QB prospects enlisting the help of a private quarterback instructor well before college, they’re harnessing fundamentals at a younger age, allowing them to focus more on offensive concepts. Lock has worked privately with Shawnee Mission East football coach Justin Hoover since 2012, his sophomore year of high school.
“There’s a very elaborate identification and breeding system that’s been created,” said Leigh Steinberg, agent to Mahomes, the Chiefs quarterback who was drafted 10th overall in 2017. “That system produces many more players who are really ready to compete in the NFL.”
So if a lot of traits that used to be valued aren’t as crucial, what do NFL teams still care about?
Brandt and Steinberg said accuracy will always be the No. 1 trait.
“Without accuracy,” Steinberg said, “it’s over for a quarterback.”
Former Chiefs quarterback Trent Green said there’s a difference between accuracy and completion percentage, and that helps Lock. He completed better than 60% of his passes in just one season, but Lock had top receivers drop the ball during his final two years in college.
Both J’Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall struggled to come down with many of Lock’s deep balls on accurate throws. According to Sports Info Solutions, Lock leads all NFL quarterback prospects in on-target percentage over 26 yards, which measures yards traveled through air, at 71%. Teams take Hall and Moore into account when evaluating Lock, which is part of the reason why he’s ahead of quarterbacks such as Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, who was statistically more accurate (64.3% career completion rate).
While scouts are in love with Lock’s arm strength and his ability to effortlessly throw 60 yards, Green said intermediate passing is just as important. Lock’s issues with short passes were a major reason why the NFL Draft advisory board told him to return to MU for his senior season.
“If you can be accurate under 50, you’re going to have a long career,” Green told The Star. “They need you to make all the throws they need you to make.”
Green said hand size is a trait he thinks should carry more weight than height and certain statistics because it correlates to ball security, and football is played rain or shine. Lock’s hands measured at 9 inches, small for a quarterback, and a team like the Green Bay Packers, which routinely plays in bad weather, might weigh hand size more than other teams.
Steinberg and Green added that the ability to extend plays has become a more sought-after trait in quarterbacks in recent years, as teams have seen the damage a player like Mahomes can cause when forced to improvise. As a senior in 2018, Lock rushed for a career-high 175 yards and said at the NFL Combine that his ability to extend plays with his legs was overlooked.
Lock’s biggest hurdle in college was his 1-10 record against ranked teams, with the lone win coming Nov. 3 in an upset at No. 13 Florida. Mahomes and Rams quarterback Jared Goff both went winless against ranked teams in college, and Lock considers the statistic overplayed. It wasn’t a problem for the Chiefs when scouting Mahomes, and his ability on the whiteboard and mental approach ended up carrying more weight.
“(Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury) explained to me his situation there, and I came out of there not worried about that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said in November. “I guess what I’m saying is every situation is probably different. After looking at that, we felt comfortable enough to go up and get him with the things that we heard and saw.”
In November, Lock told The Star that athleticism, accuracy, arm strength and leadership are the main attributes he thinks NFL staffers look for in a quarterback. Those have been his biggest selling points to teams. Lock’s arm strength speaks for itself, while his leadership stems from suddenly becoming MU’s starter in 2015 after Maty Mauk’s suspension and helping lead the program through protests, a head coaching change and three offensive coordinators.
Lock has had predraft visits with the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, Giants and Washington going into Thursday. How much has his performance against ranked teams come up?
“To my knowledge,” Andy Lock told The Star, “there has been no word of it.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said throughout the draft process that there’s no “built-in consensus” for where Lock could go, partly because of how he stacks up compared to his peers. While Murray’s height is a bit of a worry, players such as Russell Wilson, Brees and Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in 2018, have quieted the concerns of taking a 5-foot-10 quarterback.
Haskins lacks the experience of Lock and Murray but won 13 games in his lone year as a starter while throwing for 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Lock’s arm is more impressive.
Brandt said breaking down specific traits for a quarterback is the easy part of the job. Rolling all the traits together and weighing them against each player is why the position’s evolution has only made it harder.
“There’s a multitude of things you have to try and put together,” he said. “And you hope you have the right answer.”