Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Jimmy Clausen debate

No sooner had Pete Carroll just completed his introductory press conference that the discussion quickly moved on to how the Seahawks plan to use their two first round picks in the 2010 NFL draft. I noticed this interesting article by John Morgan over at Field Gulls which suggests Carroll could consider drafting Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Morgan points out that Clausen was heavily recruited by USC before making the decision to join the Irish:

"Clausen is the one that got away. Instead of drifting through easy success at USC, he took the hard path: playing catch up for the consistently talent poor Fighting Irish. Let's forgo the scouting report just yet. Like any young quarterback, opinions about Clausen range from damning to sanctifying. He is the top quarterback prospect in his class and he will most likely be available at six."
- John Morgan, Field Gulls

Indeed, Clausen has his admirers. Walter Cherepinsky consistently projects him as the #1 overall pick in his mock drafts. Mel Kiper has him at four on his big board. In a sample of twelve mock drafts I located on the internet, eight had Clausen as the top pick in the draft, with the other four preferring Ndamukong Suh. Three of those four mocks had Clausen only dropping as far as Washington at #4, with the other suggesting he'd go to Seattle with the #6 pick.

There are those who aren't convinced. ESPN's Todd McShay admits he'd struggle to place Clausen in the top ten and sees him as a borderline first rounder. I've been as critical as anyone, I haven't put Clausen in round one of my last two mock drafts and voiced serious concerns having watch game tape from the 2009 season.

However, we know new regimes often mean new quarterbacks. It's entirely plausible that Pete Carroll and his staff will seriously consider drafting a rookie quarterback for the future. Matt Hasselbeck is approaching the final of year of his contract - he'll be 35 by the time the 2010 season is over. As former GM Tim Ruskell admitted last year (before passing on Mark Sanchez), the Seahawks are "in the zone" with regard to finding a long term answer at the position. If indeed Carrol was enamoured by Clausen's skills in high school he may wish to create a working relationship in the NFL.

Taking this into account, I decided to go back and watch some tape. I put on Notre Dame's 45-38 defeat at Stanford, Clausen's best game statistically during the 2009 season (23/30, 340 yards 5 TD's). I'd already gone through this footage before New Year, but I wanted to really break it down and study the quarterback's performance.

Matt McGuire at Walterfootball.com wrote a piece that compared Clausen's junior year statistically to former college quarterbacks now featuring in the NFL (Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan etc). His touchdown to interception ratio is ridiculously better than the others at a staggering 7:1 ratio. Peyton Manning's in comparison is at 1.7:1. Clausen also came out top in completion percentage (68%) and passing yards (3722).

Clearly these are impressive numbers. However, I have a theory that puts some context to the matter. Amongst my previous concerns with Clausen has been his lack of range in the passing game. Against Stanford, he registered thirty pass attempts. Of these, thirteen were short slants to the left or right to one of Michael Floyd or Golden Tate. Two were shovel passes and two were check down's through the middle. Clausen threw five screen passes.

The remaining eight attempts were a combination of a failed hail mary to end the game, three deep corner routes, a pass thrown away, an end around trick, a fade left and a 20 yard attempt down the middle.

I've noticed that a lot of throws made by Clausen are outside slants to Floyd or Tate. Although Clausen doesn't play behind the greatest offensive line, he did throw to two of the best receivers in college football who simply outclassed the Stanford defensive backs in this game (they scored all five passing TD's). Nearly 50% of his passes were this high percentage outside slant, quickly thrown off the snap to one of the talented receivers in a lot of space. 73% of his throws were ten yards or shorter. The stats for the year are very good, but when you're throwing a lot of high percentage throws for short yardage in a quick hitting offense - it's no surprise. You're going to complete passes, you're not going to throw interceptions.

But of more concern is that Clausen will become predictable and easy to gameplan if he can't make 'all the throws'. A top ten quarterback needs to be able to get the ball downfield as well as show great short range accuracy.

Before I go onto discussing his deep passes, I want to briefly talk about mechanics. Clausen's throwing action is quite slingy with a low side arm release. Clausen is listed at 6'3". He doesn't look 6'3" on tape, but watching him stood next to 6'5" center Eric Olsen and 6'1" safety Kyle McCarthy for the coin toss - I think it's accurate. However, the ball is being released at around shoulder height. Compare this to Ryan Mallett, who at 6'7" releases the ball well over his head. The advantage of this is you avoid a lot of tipped passes. Mark Sanchez had a similar issue with a slingy release (although not as exaggerated as Clausen) and he made a big effort to show he'd corrected this at the USC pro-day last year.

In one Notre Dame game, I actually watched Clausen throw the ball into the back of his own center's helmet. He has a lot of passes tipped because the ball struggles to get over the scrum of lineman in front of him. Against Stanford, he again had a tipped pass loop into the air - fortunately an offensive lineman scooped it up before the interception could be completed.

To compensate for the low release point, when Clausen throws deep he tries to put a lot of air on the ball. In the Stanford game, of the three deep corner routes thrown by Clausen - two were under thrown and one had to be batted down by Michael Floyd to avoid an interception. The ball looped up high into the air in a floaty manner, with little zip or torque. This is either evidence of a lack of arm strength or a technique problem, or possibly a combination of both. During the year, a lot of his deep passes are 'up for grabs' because of this. I just don't see a great passing range when I scout Jimmy Clausen. A lot of high percentage short throws - which he does well throwing to good receivers. When he's asked to throw downfield or be a little bit creative, he's just not shown he can do it at a NFL level.

When I take all this into account, I ask myself not whether I think Pete Carroll and the Seahawks would take him, but where I think a prospect with his skill set should go in the draft. My answer would be - second round. Late first round maximum. In a good team with good receivers and a running game, he could have some success quickly. He doesn't, however, look like the type of prospect who will single handed lead the St. Louis Rams out of the wilderness as a first overall pick.

Whilst new regimes do tend to favor new quarterbacks - I'm just not sure Carroll would want to attach his own personal success to a rookie quarterback this soon into his tenure. That way, if Clausen fails - the new regime does too. There's no quick fix, the Seahawks aren't a rookie quarterback away from the playoffs. It's always nice to groom a successor and introduce them slowly, but that opportunity isn't always afforded in the modern NFL.

But even if I'm completely wrong with the above paragraph - when I watch the tape of Clausen I just have a hard time seeing him going in the top 10-15 at all, let alone to the Seahawks. Although the USC production machine might have been interested in making him the natural successor to Matt Leinart, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll want him to be the natural successor to Matt Hasselbeck.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Rob, as usual. I would be very interested in your opinion of Sean Canfield. I watched two Oregon State games and was pretty impressed with his accuracy and poise. Not real athletic, but neither is Hasselbeck. I do think Carroll will target a QB, the question is which one and in what round. It will also be interesting to see Carroll's opinion of Teel.

Rob Staton said...

I've watched tape of Canfield - three games. I've got some notes that I'll put into a blog post, I might go back and watch a couple of the games again. One was against USC - might be best to check that one out. I think he'd be best served working in a system like Josh McDaniels' uses in Denver.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I think you've crushed your analysis of Clausen and you really put my impressions of the guy into form. When I watched him play, he didn't look anything like a stud QB prospect and I didn't realize it until you said it, but he never attacks the middle of the field. He does look small too, I saw him standing next to Golden Tate in a picture and he only looked about 3 or 4 inches taller and Tate is probably about 5'10.

Another thing about Clausen that bothers me is his inability to win important games. People blame his defense and offensive lines, Rivers and Roethlisberger had far less talent to work with than he did and they still won games. Is Sean Canfield's surrounding talent any worse? How about Lockers? Even he beat USC. I could be wrong, but I don't think Clausen ever beat a single top 25 opponent in his career. To me, that's just unacceptable for a guy being discussed as the top QB in the class.

All in all, I think Clausen is a lot closer to Colt McCoy as a prospect than he is to where Jake Locker was grading out. I can't for the life of me understand why McCoy takes so much heat as a prospect while Clausen is universally loved. They seem like remarkably similar prospects with the main difference that McCoy actually won a lot.

myjackrebel said...

what about this toe injury he played through all season? Wouldn't that effect his ability to plant and throw? I think we need to see his pro day before we start saying he cant make all the throws.

Kuya said...

Hi Rob, great post as always. Thanks for doing the homework. I understand the need for a QB for a new regime and also for the future replacement of Hasselbeck, but I don't see a QB that would be the "face" of this franchise for years to come.

I was wondering if you can scout John Skelton out of Fordham. He's a big guy 6'5" 260 with a cannon and intangibles. Have you heard anything about this guy? Thanks.

Rob Staton said...

Myjackrebel - Clausen had the injury, but certainly wasn't playing in any pain. You can only go off what you have on tape and I didn't see any evidence that a toe was stopping him getting the ball downfield with greater velocity.

Kuya - I'll try and get some tape on Fordham and get some information to you.

Anonymous said...

ummm, what "intangibles" does John Skelton have, besides looking like his leg is about to fall off at any moment?

Anonymous said...

John Morgan over at field gulls had a piece about him. Could have inspired some interest in the guy. Gl getting tape though!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with everything you wrote in this post, nicely said! You are doing a great keep it up!

Oh, you should write a piece on Jason Pierre-Paul, I'm so amazed by him. At a lean 260 pounds, he is so strong at the point of attack. Well keep going man!

-MC

Rob Staton said...

Thanks MC - I made some notes on JPP when I watches USF earlier in the year. I've put a link to that below, but it's in an article mainly talking about Tony Pike:

http://seahawksdraft.blogspot.com/2009/10/notes-on-cincinnati-vs-usf.html

As we get closer to the draft I'll be doing a lot of work on the defensive ends available in the draft as this is an area I expect the Seahawks to explore in round one.

nightwulf said...

Just say NO to pickle boy...for that matter, as much as I'd like to start grooming Matt's replacement ASAP, I just don't see ANY of the QB's coming out this year as being worthy of one of our first 3 picks (6,14,38).

There are some very good defensive prospects in this draft, (Suh, Morgan, McCoy, Hayden) all of whom fit a need for this team. I've listed 4, and we're picking 6th...odds are good that one or more of them will be available.

Better to get a good player than to reach and hope for the best...

Kuya said...

Rob, no need to find tape - I think it would be hard to find. I guess my biggest question is "What type of offense does Fordham use?" I searched all over wikipedia, google and bing and came up lost.

My argument is this: It is very rare for a spread offense QB to be successful in the League. QBs tend to have deficiencies in reading coverages, and rely on quick screens and check downs.

I really do hope that Derrick Morgan falls to us in the 6th pick. He's my favorite player that entered the draft because of his 5 techniques and relentless pursuit of the QB. Great person to have opposite of Jackson.

I also hope that Spiller goes to us with the 14th pick. Spiller would open up our offense and have DCoordinators plan for him. Special player.

With the 2nd Rounder, I'm hoping that Charles Brown falls to us due to his size/weight. I can see him fitting well with the Seahawks.

Ralphy said...

Well said as always Rob. I do have a trade question for you. I'm reading that AJ Hawk won't be with the Packers next year. Any chance they could be a trade partner for the Hawks if they're looking to trade up for a McClain or a Spikes and if so what kind of return could the Hawks get on that?

germpod said...

I would be very upset if we take a QB from a spread offense. They are a total crapshoot.

I do not understand why highly recruited kids go to those colleges, Grahm Harrel had an amazing career at VT and it did not do him any good on draft day. When no matter how good you do, you are just going to be seen as a product of a system, it seems that you would stay away.

Rob Staton said...

Ralphy - Spikes will likely be available when the Packers pick in the 20's, he's probably going to drop into round two at best. They might have to trade into the top five to get McClain - he's a perfect fit for Kansas City's 3-4 defense and he would fill a big need for them. I think the Packers are a good enough team to not have to trade up dramatically to take a linebacker - they'll have options at ILB later on. I expect they'll target an offensive lineman or a secondary addition.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the Clausen overview. The slant is what makes all qb's successful. Do you think Brady or Manning throw 20+ yds down the field every time. NO. As for the deep balls, Rivers, Brady etc... all put the ball up for the wr to make a play. The best qb's have wr's who fight for the ball. TO, a lazy Moss that stop on routes make qb's look bad. Rivers has a side arm throw, does that stop him from being a good qb. Clausen has alot of great qualities you want in a qb (is he perfect, no), and I think he will be a really good nfl qb.

That being said, I still think we sould draft:

6 berry/morgan/haden
14 spiller/iupati/bulaga
40 johnson/brown/mcdaniel

E in F

Miika said...

Thanks for the great analysis! What's your take on Sam Bradford? How do you rank him?

Anonymous said...

Clausen will Rok the Hox, book it!

Anonymous said...

I don't see if any person posted an answer to what offense does Fordham use. They implement a spread offense. John Skelton is very good at Fordham and has the abilities to play in the NFL but I would be a bit skeptical of taking him in a high round.

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berensma said...

Your post was well-expressed Rob, but I believe you placed too much emphasis on arm strength and speed at the position and not enough on game smarts. The importance of the latter is amplified in the NFL, where for every Elway or Favre there have been 5x as many equally successful Kurt Warners or Aaron Rogers.

Even Jon Kitna won in Cincinnati, and Chad Pennington (who never possessed average velocity) remained a winner even when his arm was falling off. All Chad had was smarts and discipline.

The most reliable predictor of future success in the NFL for college QBs has been their completion percentage (check it out if you doubt). The fact that Clausen's % increased every year in college speaks volumes to pro scouts, and his football IQ is high.

Your comments about his technique are dead-on. His motion goes horizontal for stretches. But so did Phillip Rivers' and Matt Schaub's.

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LOVEBOATSHOPADULT said...

Wow, you are being a little harsh on Clausen, you make him out to be a scrub. Ive seen every home game the guy has played and I can tell you right now, he can play. The vast majority of ND fans would tell you that even though Brady Quinn had the better career, Clausen was the better player. Give Clausen Brady Quinn's team and Clausen would have won more games too. Also, to say that his turf toe injury had no affect on his play sounds crazy. You can clearly see that in the Nevada and Michigan game he had an extra pep in his step. He injured his foot against MSU and you could clearly see that it hindered his ability to be the best player he could be. It required surgery for Christ's Sake. Do you know what Weis' pro style offense was? Throw it to Tate and Floyd. The running game was never a threat in Clausen's career at ND. You make it seem as if throwing a quick slant very accurately is a bad thing. Peyton Manning got picked off in the Superbowl to clinch the game on a quick slant. The entire team rested on his decision making every game, ND had to score on every possession it seemed. Knowing that you have to take chances yet still play safe and only still throw 4 ints is crazy.

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