The rise of the spread offense in college has had a far-reaching effect on football.
On the college level, offenses are as explosive as ever. But fewer and fewer programs are asking their quarterbacks to make NFL-style read progressions, which makes it tougher for NFL decision-makers to find quarterbacks who can operate their offense.
During a recent conference call, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called this current quarterback class “poor,” and Seattle general manager John Schneider admitted that the entire process of evaluating quarterbacks’ on-field decision making is getting harder and harder.
“When you watch college football, you see those guys looking to the sideline,” Schneider said. “You may question the guy’s decision-making. You may value it higher, his intellectual level or what a good football guy he is, but you don’t truly know because they are looking at the sidelines at cards.”
Schneider said scouts are now left to investigate how well quarterbacks process information and, essentially, hope for the best.
“Can he get the information? Can he express it to his teammates? Can he read a defense? What those guys do ... I mean, that’s pretty intense stuff,” Schneider said. “It’s like learning a whole language. Just to think of the things those guys have to go through and as fast as that goes down for him, I’m just saying it’s hard.
“It’s hard to evaluate those players at the college level when you look over at the sidelines … and you know, they are looking at cards with like colors and turtles and stuff. You have no idea what they are doing, as opposed to watching guys line up under center, read a defense, check out of a play.”
Florida State’s Jameis Winston has experience doing the latter, which is a reason why he’s widely considered to be odds-on favorite to go No. 1 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over fellow quarterback Marcus Mariota, who operated out of a zone-read scheme with some pro-style concepts but was, unlike Winston, rarely asked to make throws with anticipation (an NFL staple).
There aren’t many pro-style quarterbacks in this draft like Winston, either. Of the players widely expected to be drafted, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion are the other two who were regularly asked to make pro-style reads.
Other draftable quarterbacks — such as UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty — come from no-huddle spread offenses similar to Mariota’s.
And while several NFL team — including Philadelphia, Schneider’s Seahawks and yes, the Chiefs (albeit to a lesser degree) — have started to incorporate some of these concepts into their offense, by and large, NFL teams still ask their quarterbacks to make pro-style throws with anticipation.
Hundley and Petty are confident they can make the conversion.
“If the time needs be where I need to be in the pocket and make all the throws, then I will do that,” Hundley said. “In our offense, sometimes the situation dictated (that) if I didn’t see something, I’m taking off running.
“But … you can watch tape, there’s times I sat in the pocket and made throws and I feel I did that consistently in college.”
Petty, to his credit, actually participated in the Senior Bowl in January and put his warts on display, as he was asked to operate from under center and do some things he wasn’t used to at Baylor.
“It’s a learning curve, a little bit, going from what we were doing at Baylor to where we are now,” said Petty, who was happy with the progress he made that week. “But it’s all part of the process, so you’ve got to enjoy it. You’ve got to love it, really, and I do love it.”
For the work that he, and the other spread quarterbacks in this draft, might need to put in to become starting NFL quarterbacks, that’s a good attitude to have as they look to prove that this year’s quarterback class isn’t as shaky as many seem to think.
“We’re going to have to prove them wrong,” Hundley said. “Obviously me, Jameis, Mariota, Petty, Grayson, make up a great quarterback class. I think not only myself, but we’re all ready to show the nation that we’re better than maybe people think us to be.”
Inside the 2015 NFL Draft: quarterbacks
What the Chiefs look for: The ideal quarterback for the West Coast Offense makes good decisions and is accurate, especially on short-to-intermediate routes. Good footwork and mobility is a plus. Great arm strength is a plus but not a must.
Chiefs' needs: The Chiefs signed Alex Smith to a long-term extension last fall, so he isn't going anywhere any time soon. Besides, he's generally been a good steward for Andy Reid's offense, as he's taken care of the football and managed games efficiently. Meanwhile, Chase Daniel is a nice backup option and 2014 fifth-round pick Aaron Murray is also in the mix. The Chiefs are going to give Terrelle Pryor a chance, as well. Another developmental quarterback, Tyler Bray, tore his ACL this offseason.
Sleeper: There isn't much to choose from in this quarterback class — it's not a great group — but Garrett Grayson of Colorado State might have a chance to be a decent quarterback in the West Coast offense. He is a tad undersized but has good arm strength, throws with an anticipation and played in a pro-style system in college..