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Replacing Marino: The Dolphins Never-Ending Search For A QB

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

With Matt Flynn signing in Seattle, Robert Griffin III headed to Washington and Peyton Manning seemingly not interested, the Dolphins for the 13th season in a row are left wondering who their next franchise QB will be. In the 12 seasons since Marino retired, the Dolphins have struggled to find a merely average QB, let alone a true cornerstone player. They’ve trotted out a seemingly endless string of veteran retreads (Chad Pennington, Gus Frerotte), has-beens (Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green) and never were’s (Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese). A whopping 16 different QB’s have started for Miami since their Hall of Famer departed after the 1999 season. Take a look at the numbers:

Player GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate
Chad Pennington 20 373 552 67.6% 4085 20 9 94.5
Matt Moore 12 210 347 60.5% 2497 16 9 87.1
Daunte Culpepper 4 81 134 60.4% 929 2 3 77.0
Jay Fiedler 59 936 1603 58.4% 11040 66 63 76.8
Chad Henne 31 646 1065 60.7% 7114 31 37 75.7
Trent Green 5 85 141 60.3% 987 5 7 72.6
Cleo Lemon 8 211 377 56.0% 2185 8 7 72.2
Gus Frerotte 15 257 494 52.0% 2996 18 13 71.9
Ray Lucas 6 94 163 57.7% 1090 4 6 70.8
Brian Griese 5 74 130 56.9% 813 5 6 69.2
Sage Rosenfels 2 54 109 49.5% 776 6 6 68.4
Joey Harrington 11 223 388 57.5% 2236 12 15 68.2
Tyler Thigpen 1 37 70 52.9% 518 3 4 67.4
John Beck 4 60 107 56.1% 559 1 3 62.0
A.J. Feeley 8 191 356 53.7% 1893 11 15 61.7
Damon Huard 1 39 63 61.9% 318 1 3 60.2

Looking at it another way, take a look at the Dolphins team QB Rating in the last 12 seasons, compared to league average:

Only Chad Pennington in 2008 was significantly above average. Matt Moore, to his credit, did a pretty decent job last year – posting a QB Rating of 84.9, a little better than the 82.5 league average. To that end, Moore was statistically better than Michael Vick, Cam Newton Joe Flacco, Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler. The issue for the Dolphins is that Moore at his best doesn’t seem like the type of guy who can take a team deep in the playoffs without a great defense behind him. Of course it’s possible that he is a late bloomer and could continue to improve, but if you’re Miami, do you really want to put your future in the hands of Matt Moore? Probably not.

That said, Moore’s success in 2011 is a good reason to avoid Matt Flynn who is no sure bet to be any better than Moore and is only 10 months younger. That Flynn’s former offensive coordinator and current Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wasn’t willing to make a big play for Flynn (and it seems that Miami’s interest in him was tepid) says a lot about the Dolphins valuation of Moore vs. Flynn. While Flynn might end up the better player, it’s tough to blame Miami for not seeing him as a guy worth $19-24M.

Where the Dolphins do deserve some criticism though is not addressing the QB spot in the draft. They’ve wasted 2nd round picks on Pat White (2009), Chad Henne (2008) and John Beck (2007) and took a late round flier on Josh Heupel (6th round, 2001) but have otherwise ignored the position since Marino left.

Looking ahead, the Dolphins will have to decide whether or not they want to invest a high draft pick in a rookie QB. Ryan Tannehill is raw but has high upside and the Dolphins could easily sit him behind the reasonably competent Moore for a year. However, will Tannehill still be around when the Dolphins are on the clock? It seems likely, but there are still more teams in need of a QB than quality veterans available so it wouldn’t be a shock if someone jumps Miami to take Tannehill or perhaps the Browns pull the trigger at #4. The other option would be Brandon Weeden, but at soon-to-be 29 years old, is he really worth a high investment for a team with a mediocre 28 year old QB at the helm? Certainly not in the 1st round but will Weeden last until Miami’s 2nd round pick? What about 2nd tier guys like Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles or Brock Osweiler? Again, it’s tough to project any of those guys as a long term answer or even a better solution than Moore.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, unless Moore totally bombs they will not be in position for Matt Barkley next year so they might have to get aggressive with how they address the position. Either they will have to secure Tannehill (trading up if necessary) or they will have to be prepared to go hard for Barkley (or another franchise QB type) next year. Of course, if the Dolphins go with Moore + Cousins (or another 2nd/3rd tier QB) they will just be reliving the pattern of the last few years which has gotten them nowhere. At some point they have to make a splash at the position because they won’t hoist the Lombardi trophy without an upgrade from the Matt Moore’s of the world

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Goodbye 2011 Season. Combine Here We Come.

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:

1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.

2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.

3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.

4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.

5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.

6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).

All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.

2nd Tier (and beyond) QB Prospects

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

(originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

Most people who follow football know that Tom Brady is one of the all time late round draft steals – selected in the 6th round of the 2000 draft sixteen selections after Spergon Wynn and three spots before Todd Husak. He’s outlasted 10 the 11 other QB’s taken in 2000; only Chris Redman (3rd round) is also still active. More knowledgeable fans might also know that there are a few high-quality NFL QB’s who didn’t get much hype on draft day: Tony Romo (undrafted), Matt Hasselbeck (6th round), Matt Schaub (3rd round) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (7th round). These guys are often used as examples of how great QB’s can be found anywhere in the draft. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. Almost all successful NFL QB’s are found in the top 50 selections of the draft. However, that won’t stop NFL personnel men and general managers from trying to unearth the next Brady or Romo.

Is there a hidden gem to be found in 2012? Well, by now, most NFL draft watchers know the top QB prospects: Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Griffin III. As we move into the Bowl season and pre-draft workouts, those five guys will get the bulk of the hype (assuming they declare for the draft) – and deservedly so. However, there are a few other guys that will go later on who could find success in the NFL as starters.

Before taking a look at some of the less known (or less hyped) QB prospects for 2012, it should be noted that the chances for success of any QB taken outside of the top 50 picks are remote. While Brady, Romo, Hasselbeck, Fitzpatrick and Schaub were great finds, they are the only non Top-50 QB’s in the top 20 for passer rating:

Top_20_medium

As you can see, 9 of the top QB’s by passer rating were top 10 picks with Cutler and Roethlisberger both going 11th overall. It should be noted that of the five aforementioned¬† non-Top 50 QB’s, only Romo and Brady found success with the team that drafted them.

How unlikely is it to find a good QB once you get beyond the middle of the 2nd round? Check out these facts:

QB’s drafted after pick #50 since 1995: 148

# of those who have attempted 1000 or more passes: 15

# who have been/were full time starters for 5+ years: 9

# of undrafted QB’s since 1995 to throw 1000+ passes – 5

# of undrafted QB’s since 1995 to start for 5+ years – 4
It probably goes without saying, but if your favorite team needs a “QB Of The Future” come April, 2012, they should take one early. If they decide to try to get lucky later on, here are four guys who could beat the (daunting) odds and carve out a long-term starting spot in the pros:

Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) – Based on talent alone, Weeden could be a top 50 pick in the 2012 draft. Unfortunately, he’s already 28 years old (which makes him a month or so older than Aaron Rodgers). He’s the prototypical pocket passer with the size (6’4 220) that NFL scouts love. His accuracy on short and intermediate routes is excellent, although his deep ball is somewhat lacking compared to the top QB prospects. He plays in a shotgun offense in college, which can make for a tough adjustment for some QB’s. His awareness is above average and while he’s not athletic, he’s got good enough feet to escape the rush moving outside of the picket. In order for Weeden to succeed, he will need to go to a team which can quickly work him into their offense (probably a team that runs an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s). Over-aged QB prospects have not fared well in the pros (Chris Weinke, John Beck) but Weeden has the tools to overcome the odds if he lands in the right city. I expect Weeden to go somewhere in the Top 100 picks, as too many teams need a QB to let him drop too far. In the right environment, Weeden could be a 5-7 year starter.

Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) – As we run up to the draft, Cousins will get labeled with two of my least favorite (and over used) terms: “game manager” and “has intangibles”. Those types of labels are often applied to guys who get it done in college, but lack an elite attribute (e.g. arm strength, mobility, etc). When I watch Cousins I see a guy who has a well rounded, but definitely flawed, skill set: he’s got good arm strength, his accuracy at times is very good and his mobility – while not especially noteworthy – is good enough to allow him to make the occasional play.¬† He comes from a run heavy team, which has allowed him to develop his playaction ability which is as good as any prospect in this draft. What I don’t like is that he sometimes (too often for a top prospect) seems confused by opposing defenses and has a tendency to lock onto his first read. His mechanics are sloppy and he will need a good QB coach to clean them up if he is to succeed in the pros. It’s tough to predict where Cousins will go – he needs a lot of work but he’s the type of guy which teams tend to fall in love with. I like him as a 3rd rounder but he could sneak into the middle of round, possibly even earlier.

Ryan Lindley (San Diego State) – Lindley will draw a lot of attention at the combine and in his Pro Day due to his excellent arm strength but he’s definitely a raw prospect. While he can get the ball deep, he often gets the ball too deep – overthrowing his targets far too often. His short range accuracy is a bit better although still lacking. His struggles could be partially a result of overcompensating for a bad receiving corps (even more so since Vincent Brown has graduated). In an effort to avoid interceptions, he tries to put the ball where only his receivers can make a play and he lacks the finesse to do so with regularity. His mechanics tend to fall apart completely under pressure and he will need a lot of coaching before getting into an NFL game. That said, he’s got an NFL caliber arm, has shown improvement every year in college and possesses a lot of untapped potential. His rawness will probably drop him down the board a bit and he’ll almost certainly have to wait til the 3rd or 4th round before he gets drafted.

Aaron Corp (Richmond) – A small school sleeper, Corp will probably have to wait until the 6th or 7th round to hear his name called (if he is drafted at all) but there is some reason to think Corp could find a home in the NFL. He does a pretty good job at reading opposing defenses and finding the open man. His arm strength isn’t great, but he’s got enough to succeed in the NFL (especially with the proliferation of the spread offense and short passing game). When he’s able to set his feet in the pocket, his accuracy is very good – he recently set the FCS all time record for single game completion percentage. Unfortunately for Corp, his O-Line is awful which has led to him getting knocked around and chased around a lot. As a result, his accuracy and decision making have been inconsistent at times. He’ll need a few years to develop, but he has some good tools with which to work.

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