Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Jimmy Clausen debate... part 2

Yesterday I was quite critical of Jimmy Clausen's prospects in the NFL. However, I think it's only fair to offer the objective angle at the same time. Clearly this is a debate that will rage on throughout the remaining weeks leading up to the draft. It only takes one team to fall in love with the Notre Dame quarterback to make him a top pick - and this is something I have to consider even if, after consulting hours of tape, I have difficulty projecting him in the top ten myself.

Let's look at the counter arguments to the issues I've raised:

Side arm release
I've been very critical of the release point when Clausen throws. He has a slingy side arm release which mean the ball is projected out a lower starting point. This has led to balls being tipped at the line of scrimmage, he even had a throw hit his own center directly in the back of the head.

However, there are quarterbacks with a similar action who are currently succeeding in the NFL. Tony Romo and Philip Rivers could meet in the Super Bowl. Both own a similar slingy throwing action to Jimmy Clausen and haven't experienced major issues. Although scouts would prefer to see a higher, more traditional release point - it won't necessarily stop Clausen being a success.

Lack of passing range
Clausen, as I reported yesterday, throws a lot of high percentage passes. In the game against Stanford, 13 of his 30 passing attempts were short range outside slants. He completed just two passes down the middle of the field - a check down and a 20 yard attempt. He threw just three deep corner routes. If he can't make a range of passes, he runs the risk of becoming predictable. A pro-defense won't have much difficulty cutting off the outside slant and forcing him down the field, where his accuracy can be patchy.

On the plus side, it could be that Clausen found a way to best maximise his two top receivers - Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Getting the ball out quickly to the outside put them in one-on-one situations and Tate in particular is best with the ball in the open field. His four interceptions on the year suggest he's used the high percentage throw to protect possession and behind a bad offensive line, getting the ball out quickly would be recommended.

Arm strength
Due to his slingy, low release it appears he tries to compensate throwing downfield by getting plenty of air on the ball. As a result, his deep passes tend to float and often lack velocity. Clausen regularly throws off his back foot. A lot of passes tend to be 'thrown up for grabs' or underthrown. His arm strength is passable, but he doesn't own a genuine field stretching cannon.

But then, how many quarterbacks do? A case could be made for suggesting teams have become too infatuated with arm strength. Being able to launch the ball downfield hasn't helped JaMarcus Russell much. Matt Ryan was never known for launching it long, but he was an intelligent, accurate thrower. Arm strength can be a weapon, but some quarterbacks will rely on it too much under pressure - that's something Matt Stafford has to deal with.

Is he really that tall?
Clausen is listed at 6'3" by Notre Dame. When you watch the tape, he doesn't look that big. If he's a bit shorter than advertised, that will only increase concerns about his slingy, low release point. Quarterbacks generally need to be in the 6'2"+ range to see and be able to project the ball over the line.

When I watched Clausen against Stanford, he stood next to center Eric Olsen and safety Kyle McCarthy for the coin toss. Olsen is listed at 6'5" whilst McCarthy comes in at 6'1". Clausen stood between them and looked a solid 6'3". It's a bit of an optical illusion because certainly when you watch tape, he doesn't look that big. However, if Clausen attends the combine for interviews and measurements, I think there's a good chance his height will be confirmed as listed. If so, it will ease concerns about his release.

Conclusion
Clausen's 2009 statistics are impressive. Nobody can deny that. When you throw 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions, you're having a good year. He threw to two of the best wide outs in college football and an above average tight end, but he played behind a suspect offensive line. Notre Dame's defense was even worse and on a number of occasions, Clausen's passing attack kept the Irish in a game.

There are concerns - release, personality, passing range. There are also positives - experience in a pro-style offense, impressive 2009 numbers and he's used to the attention associated to a starting NFL quarterback. I still think he could fall on draft day - it's possible. But it'd be foolish to rule out his presence in the top ten also.

7 comments:

Neil Christensen said...

Rob, this kind of pro/con listing is really valuable as we try to assess the potential draftees for the 2010 Carroll lead Seahawks. I think its too easy to get really high or low on a guy so objectivity is key. I'd love to see this kind of break down on C.J. Spiller & Derrick Morgan. I like their upsides, but I'd like to hear a bit more on the negatives as you did with Clausen. Spiller fumbled twice to my recollection in the Music City Bowl and Morgan was almost a non-factor in his bowl game. I know we don't want to judge on one game, but bowl games are traditionally a time for prospects to shine and I think we have to take into account the opposition. Thoughts?

Rob Staton said...

Absolutely Neil, it's a great suggestion and something I'll definitely do.

I don't remember Spiller fumbling in the bowl game, but I'll go back and watch the tape again over the next couple of days and do a pro/con piece like this one. Likewise for Morgan. I'll try to do it for as many prospects as possible.

Blitz1856 said...

Rob, just found your blog last week and already think it is a good one -- as someone commented on yesterday's Clausen post, I'm also really looking forward to your breakdown of Canfield. John Morgan talks about two stats that seem to translate well to the NFL -- completion % and sack rate. Other than the pitiful Bowl Game where the whole team just went through the motions, his completion % was stellar and to my eye, seemed to make good reads all year. He started slow but got comfortable after the first few games.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rob, I know some other readers asked you about John Skelton from Fordham but his tape will be very difficult to come by.

Well, the East-West shrine game is coming up and Skelton will be playing in it. It'll be a good chance for anyone to watch him, and he'll be playing against other top prospects.

Rob Staton said...

Annonymous - thanks for the tip off. I'll make sure I record the tape.

Blitz - thanks for the kind words. Spread the word! I've got a few games of Canfield saved so I'll do a full report soon. From watching his leisurely this year, I think he'd be a good fit in Denver or New England and the schemes they run.

Anonymous said...

Rob,

This portion was much better than yesterdays. Yesterdays was all cons, and I replied with cons as the final comment. It all depends on the coaches now. As for fa, if we get an ot (evans/mcneil), og (lutui), de (edwards) and maybe rb (white) that would cover some of our biggest needs. With these fa, what about a draft like this:

6 bryant (wr)
14 spiller (rb)
40 mcdaniel (s)

E in F

Rob Staton said...

Free agency is going to be completely different this year so it's hard to try and project who will be available or not. My understanding is teams will have two franchise tags, a lot of prospects will be restricted instead of unrestricted free agents and the teams left in the divisional playoffs cannot sign free agents unless they lose players themselves.

I'm expecting marginal movement in free agency, at least on the kind of eye catching rate we've seen in recent years (eg, Haynesworth last year).

However, this might mean we see more trades. Any teams that feel they need to make some moves will more than likely review the possibility of trades when they might otherwise not have done previously.

I expect the Seahawks to concentrate mainly on the draft to try and get things moving in the right direction.