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.
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.
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.