"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.