Sam Bradford vs. Teddy Bridgewater: The Battle for Minnesota

It’s a surreal time to be a Vikings fan.

Following franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating leg injury that kept him out for all of the 2016 season, the Vikings traded for temporary franchise quarterback Sam Bradford from the Eagles in order to stay competitive for the year. While they failed to make the playoffs for a 2nd year in a row (meaning they didn’t make it like they did in 2015), Bradford helped guide the team to an 8-8 record despite constant injuries and arguably the worst offensive line in the league. He threw 20 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions and his 71.2 completion percentage is an NFL record.

Following the 2017 season, the team will face a tough decision regarding the quarterback position. Earlier this year, the Vikings declined to pickup Bridgewater’s 5th year option, and he’ll most likely miss the 2017 season as well. When 2018 comes, will they return to Bridgewater or continue to roll with Bradford?

Debates between these two quarterbacks can get intense in the state of Minnesota. One side feels Teddy is the true franchise quarterback, while the other feels the team should continue to roll with the healthier quarterback in Bradford.

My take is that I think both quarterbacks are really good and undeserving of the scrutiny they’ve gotten outside of Minnesota. So for this article, I’ll do a comparison between both quarterbacks, highlighting what areas they play their best in and which is better in certain areas.

Without further delay, let’s compare both of the quarterbacks in selective traits.

 

Decision Making

Sam Bradford

  GIF

Bradford is a poised passer despite his reputation as a checkdown machine. The reason he’s like that is due to the lack of quality of the offensive lines he’s been behind, making it impossible for the routes to develop in time for him to get rid of the ball. This forces him to check it down to get the most amount of yards possible.

#8 is a smart decision maker though. Unlike Teddy, though, he’s put in an offense that requires him to make quick decisions, and in 2016 he succeeded on that end. On the play above, Bradford looks off his receiver (#82), causing the defender guarding him to move along Bradford’s eyes. Once the QB sees this, in the snap of a finger he turns back to his receiver, plants his feet, and fires a strike that allows to ball to be delivered safely.

  GIF

Above, Bradford immediately turns to his left after the snap after noticing a receiver creating separation downfield. His quickness processing the play and his vision allow him to throw a dime outside the numbers. He is exceptionally quick when throwing outside the numbers, making it easier for the Vikings to run vertical routes even if the offensive line can’t hold up.

Teddy Bridgewater

  GIF

In stark contrast to Bradford’s quick decision making, Bridgewater has played in a offense that allows him to be more patient. This is partly due to his advanced athleticism in comparison to Bradford. His movement in the pocket is more nimble and fluid, allowing him to make decisions on the fly.

On the play above, Bridgewater sees that none of his routes are open, so he moves around the pocket in an attempt to find an open receiver. This instead creates an open gap at the middle, which Teddy sees and takes advantage of. This allows him to hurdle his way into the end zone for the touchdown, showing off his patience in the process.

With this said, Teddy has shown some plays where he releases the ball quickly.

  GIF

On the play above, Bridgewater makes an aggressive move firing this pass into a tight window. The closest Lions’ defender at the catch point isn’t looking, and Teddy knows this beforehand (he’s too busy guarding another receiver) and fires a perfect pass to his receiver. He does an excellent job of diagnosing the coverage and finding his receiver.

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater

Both Bridgewater and Bradford are excellent decision makers, but while Bradford is able to make quicker decisions downfield, Bridgewater is able to make more decisions on the fly, so he barely gets the edge in this category.

 

Arm Strength

Sam Bradford

  GIF

I’ve talked a lot about arm strength recently, so this is redundant, but still needs to be said.

Sam Bradford’s arm strength is phenomenal. He is capable firing rockets and throwing from any angle/position of the field, and is also capable of processing the long ball throws quickly. The above play is a perfect example. With anticipation, Bradford fires an absolute laser that is right on the money to his receiver.

A decent amount of quarterbacks could make that throw, but can’t do it as consistently or as accurately as Bradford.

  GIF

Bradford is an anticipation thrower. He usually does a great job of finding the open receiver and locking on to a spot where he can catch the ball without interference, and for a QB with limited mobility, that’s crucial.

This throw combined with the arm strength is unreal. He notices one of his receivers has an angle in traffic, and Bradford uses that to his advantage. He’s able to direct his receiver away from said traffic by placing it only where he can make the catch. The pass rockets through the tight window and is right into the hands of the intended target. It’s a beautiful throw and a perfect example of Bradford’s arm talent.

Teddy Bridgewater

  GIF

Bridgewater’s arm strength doesn’t make him a big downfield passing threat, but from time to time he does have enough zip on his passes. On the play above, for example, he shows he’s capable of executing a strike on the run with this first down completion. His arm strength isn’t great, but it is quite good, and it has decent control on all aspects of the field.

Winner: Sam Bradford

Bridgewater simply can’t compete in this area. Bradford’s arm talent is one of the strongest in the NFL and is far advanced in comparison to Teddy’s. This additionally makes him a superior downfield passer as well.

 

Play Under Pressure

Sam Bradford

  GIF

Sam Bradford has a reputation for being a “deer in the headlights” in the pocket. This is strange, because in 2016, I thought he showed extreme awareness in the pocket, and what better time to show awareness than when under pressure? The Vikings offensive line is perfect practice for pressure plays.

In spite of his limited mobility, Bradford is great under pressure. The collapsing protection doesn’t affect his mechanics, as he’s able to concentrate and stay disciplined on the play. The throw above is electrifying. Bradford’s footwork makes a slight adjustment when he sees pressure, without the awkwardness or stumble. Unless you’re a deadly accurate quarterback, you cannot backpedal in these situations, because it will affect the accuracy of the throw.

This throw is fantastic not just because Bradford gets hit the second after releasing, but because of the placement as well (more on that later). It’s well out of reach of the defender’s hands and far enough that Stefon Diggs can make a play on it. It’s an awesome, awesome play under pressure.

  GIF

On this play, a linebacker goes undetected and rushes up the middle to drill Bradford. The QB sees a player open cutting across the field on a shallow crossing route. He uses his eye movement to direct traffic away from the spot he’s throwing to and side arms it to his receiver just as he gets hit. The pass is perfect, and proves that Bradford is a wizard under pressure. With an offensive line that doesn’t give him any time to react, his reaction is a lot better than it’s given credit for.

Teddy Bridgewater

  GIF

Bridgewater is also a master under pressure. His advanced mobility allows him to create plays under pressure, like Bradford helping to make the offensive line look so much better. On the above play, Bridgewater doesn’t waste any time stepping up in the pocket, as he recognizes pressure immediately. The space he’s in becomes more and more condensed as he climbs up, yet he’s somehow able to get the pass off to an open receiver. It’s an excellent play made even more impressive considering this was his first career game.

  GIF

This might be the most impressive play of Bridgewater’s career, and it’s similar to the throw Andrew Luck made in the 2014 wild card game against the Bengals. He climbs up the pocket once the protection collapses, scrambling before finding a receiver to throw to. Despite being tackled to the ground as he’s throwing, he doesn’t lose his concentration, and is able to get a breathtaking throw off before his knees hit the ground.

Winner: Both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater

Both quarterbacks play really well under pressure in their own ways, so this time this category results in a tie.

 

Accuracy

  GIF

Bradford’s league leading completion percentage last year was not a fluke. He is one of the most deadly accurate passers in the NFL, and shows precision from any range whether the window to throw is tight or wide. In the 2016-17 edition of the Deep Ball Project, he was the most accurate downfield passer on all throws of 16+ air yards, and inside the top 5 on throws of 20+.

On this throw, Bradford attacks a tight window with the same degree of anticipation he’s always had in his career. The window is tight but Bradford’s strength and early release under pressure allow for a perfect pass.

  GIF

This throw has Bradford leading his receiver in stride away from a potential interception. It’s thrown with enough velocity and early enough that all 3 defenders around the ball can’t make a play on it. The ball makes it safely as the receiver runs out of bounds.

Teddy Bridgewater

  GIF

Bridgewater is also a really accurate quarterback. He is able to display near flawless accuracy on all types of short and intermediate passes.

On the pass above, Bridgewater throws right as his receiver is about to turn the corner on his route. Doing this allows the pass to be delivered perfectly in stride so that the defender can’t reach it. Had he released the ball later, the receiver may have caught it out of bounds, so his timing succeeds here.

  GIF

The accuracy on this throw is insane. Bridgewater understands the degree of difficulty the completion of the pass would take, so he lofts it just high enough so that his receiver can make a play without screwing him over, and high enough that the defender can’t lay a finger on it. It’s a terrific throw.

Winner: Sam Bradford

Bridgewater may be a monster at the short and intermediate level, but Bradford combines that with much better downfield accuracy, so he takes this category.

 

Movement

Sam Bradford

  GIF

Bradford’s mobility is extremely limited, but he is capable of making small movements in the pocket to help better position himself. With that said, he has shown a couple of moments where his mobility suddenly becomes like Bridgewater’s, such as the spin move above. Here, he is able to extend the play and fires right when he needs to a receiver on the sideline. The pass is tight but perfectly thrown.

Teddy Bridgewater

  GIF

When he was on the field, Teddy Bridgewater was one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. He can consistently juke out defenders and play aggressive from outside the pocket.

Above, Teddy shows off the spin move as new Panther tackle Matt Kalil displays his lack of protection. He senses the pressure and spins at the last moment, surveying downfield to find a target that can escape coverage. He extends the play until he’s at the line of scrimmage, where every defender is far enough for him to throw safely to a receiver.

  GIF

This is also a great play. Bridgewater rushes out of a clean pocket, but in a rare exception it’s excused because he is able to detect an open target. He rolls out of the pocket and makes a comfortable sideline throw on the run, where his target is able to make the catch. A great throw rolling out.

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater

Bridgewater wins this one easily, as he is much more mobile than Bradford is, who is limited to subtle movements inside the pocket for the most part.

 

Health

Before Minnesota, Bradford’s previous 3 seasons saw him struggle to stay on the field. He didn’t even play in 2014 due to an injury suffered against the Browns in the preseason. So seeing him play every game he was assigned (He didn’t play in week 1 because the coaching staff didn’t want to rush him as he was recently traded to the Vikings) under the worst line he’s played behind was of course completely unexpected.

With Bridgewater still recovering from his leg injury, this one is easy.

Winner: Sam Bradford

 

Conclusion

Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater are both really good quarterbacks in my opinion, and have much more to their skill sets than people will give them any credit for. Only being able to choose one quarterback to keep is extremely tough, and the Vikings will eventually have to answer that question after the 2017 season, providing that both quarterbacks are healthy by then.

Ultimately, I have to give the nod to Sam Bradford. Bridgewater is the superior quarterback on broken plays, but Bradford provides a better fit for the vertical style of offense the Vikings want to run. His arm strength and quick decision making allow him to process reads further downfield, and unlike Teddy, he’s healthy for a change.

Again, coming to this opinion was difficult for me to do. Both quarterbacks are great under pressure, at decision making, and at accuracy. But Bradford provides the better skill set for downfield throws as well as durability, and it’s unclear if Bridgewater will ever be the same quarterback he was when he comes back.

Right now, this is Bradford’s job to lose, and if his 2016 season is of any indication, and as long as he stays healthy, it will be nearly inconceivable for him to lose it.

 

Featured image via startribune.com

Marcus Mariota Is The Best Young Quarterback In the NFL

It’s been heavily debated as to who the best young quarterback in the league is, with Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, and Dak Prescott generally are in these debates. With so many different answers, no one’s really agreed on who the top dog is.

You’ve already seen my answer by clicking this article.

Marcus Mariota is a sensation. Through two years in the NFL, he’s evolved into one of the game’s great quarterbacks, becoming someone who has not only met his potential, but exceeded it. Though his 2016 season ended like the last with an injury, Mariota established himself as one of the league’s young stars, and because of him many have predicted that the Tennessee Titans would clinch the AFC South in 2017.

At 23 years of age, few quarterbacks in the league have progressed as quickly as Mariota has. He has traits that future Hall of Fame veterans have in just two years of experience, and is ahead of the curve against his peers.

For this article, I will explain what makes Marcus Mariota stand out as the game’s best young quarterback, then explain why I think he has the edge over Winston, Carr, and Prescott. So let’s get this started.

 

What Makes Marcus Mariota Stand Out

Mariota’s 61.6 career completion percentage is misleading. He plays in a vertical offense that doesn’t fit his skill set, calling for many downfield passes instead of a heavy focus on the short/intermediate range, which is where he’s truly dangerous.

Mariota is the one of the most accurate passers in the league. He’s capable of threading the needle into tight windows with relative ease, and he expanded upon this in his sophomore year.

  GIF

Mariota’s arm talent does not stand out, but to make up for it, he has a quick, smooth release that has the ball seemingly out of his hand as soon as he plans to throw it. On this throw, Mariota does so as soon as he sees an opening. He is comfortable with throwing receivers open and doesn’t need them to create openings for him to release the ball, making him a master of controlling traffic.

  GIF

Of any quarterback I’ve ever watched, Marcus Mariota goes through his reads the quickest. His process in this stage is not human, as he’ll cycle through his reads at lightspeed until he finds the most comfortable route. On the above play after moving out of the pocket, Mariota cycles through his reads in just 2 seconds before finding a guy he consider open. He makes a perfect throw without breaking a sweat. It’s like how Tom Brady is able to pick apart the open receiver with the flip of a switch, though Mariota has more athleticism and can do this on the fly.

  GIF

Mariota also has the ability of Philip Rivers to manage the pocket under pressure. He’s often stereotyped as a scrambling quarterback when he’s the exact opposite, and that comes from playing in a “spread offense” in Oregon. Sure, he had plenty of running plays, but also show cased in that offense that he was a pocket passer with a cool, collective poise.

Like Rivers, Mariota has a quick throwing motion and can handle pressure without altering his mechanics. Above, the Titans’ offensive line doesn’t pick up pressure, and the QB is surrounded by swarming defenders. An experienced QB under pressure would be able to make this issue secondary and focus on the task of completing a pass. Mariota doesn’t flinch at all, and his pass makes it to his receiver just before he’s hit.

  GIF

Continuing a look at him under pressure, the play above is terrific on the part of Mariota. He simultaneously sees a defender about to smash him and DeMarco Murray open. Keeping his eyes up, he evades the defender at the right time and fires to Murray in a spot where the guy guarding him can’t reach because of where his momentum is carrying him. The touchdown pass as a result is perfect.

  GIF

Mariota’s mechanics are among the fastest in the league, if not the fastest. Whether protected or unprotected, his delivery and footwork are always smooth and his poise never seems to break down when the protection does. The above play features good protection, but it’s enhanced by Mariota’s pocket movement and release. He’s able to catch Delanie Walker with an opening, and climbs up, jumps, and throws across his body to where Walker can make a clean, uncontested catch with no one guarding him. A great play from the quarterback.

Mariota would be good enough with these traits alone, but he has a special talent that truly ascends him into a top 10 quarterback; his eye movement.

Marcus Mariota can read defenses perfectly fine, but he goes a step beyond and is able to move defenders with his eyes to create openings for his receivers. This allows him to throw “no look passes”, where he’s not even looking at the place he’s throwing to, but it doesn’t matter because the passes arrive on time and in stride.

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, so let’s look at some examples.

  GIF

At first, this seems like a brutal mistake from the safety in the middle, but at closer glance, you can see Mariota staring directly at him. He’s in his zen like trance where he notices one of his receivers has separation on his man, but he knows that he can’t simply just throw looking at the spot he wants, otherwise it’s an easy interception. Combining his quick release, Mariota fakes out the defender by turning his head as he releases the ball, making the defender look like a clown and making the completion look easy in the process.

  GIF

On this play, the defensive back (#49) thinks Mariota is staring down a receiver and that he has easy pickings for an interception. In reality, Mariota is actually staring down the defensive back. He falls for the QB’s trap, as he throws a receiver open with a perfect pass and delivery. This comes from the Chiefs game where coach Mike Mularkey made several questionable decisions including a botched two point conversion attempt. Mariota truly carried the team in the 4th quarter and helped pull an upset at one of the deadliest opposing arenas in the league.

  GIF

This last play is Mariota’s best throw of his career, and one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. He’s able to control the momentum and movement of two defenders this time, and impossibly threads the needle between both backs for an improbable touchdown. For any other active QB, this wouldn’t be open. For Mariota, he creates route openings with his eye movement and fits the ball perfectly into areas most quarterbacks wouldn’t dream of attempting. This pass is otherworldly as a result.

 

What About the Other Young Quarterbacks?

So I’ve made my case for why I think Mariota is the best young quarterback in the league, but why not Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, or Dak Prescott? Below, I’ll explain for each quarterback.

Jameis Winston

Jamies Winston is a truly gifted athlete. His ability to manage pockets, extend plays to the point where he squeezes the last amount of juice out of them, poise, and arm strength are all first class. The problem is that his accuracy is terrible. He constantly misses receivers by miles and lacks the consistent touch that Mariota has, even if his accuracy is better. I actually found that while Mariota wasn’t a good deep passer, Winston was even worse. 

Winston does so many things right, but if his accuracy was even mediocre, he’d not only be the best young quarterback in the league, but also a top 5 guy.

Derek Carr

Many people think Derek Carr is a top 10 or top 5 quarterback. NFL Network recently put him 11th on their annual list of the top 100 players in the league (as voted by actual players). I’m not one of those people. As I’ve stated in the past, Carr’s career progression has been impressive, but his mechanics and play under pressure simply can’t compete with Mariota’s. This is strange considering the excellence of the Raiders’ offensive line in comparison to the above average offensive line of the Titans. In addition, his receivers and scheme give him so many more chances to create plays, with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree constantly creating separation and making Carr’s job a lot easier.

Carr is clearly a better downfield passer, but he also has struggles with releasing the ball, as he often fires prematurely in clean pockets when he needs to let routes develop or buy time with his protection. He’s a good, but not great, quarterback at this stage of his career.

Dak Prescott

Out of any quarterback compared to Mariota, the rookie is the one I would put closest to. I’ve found Prescott’s ability under pressure (despite the Cowboys OL) and his pre snap ability to be much more advanced than Carr and his accuracy to be a big step up from Winston. When compared to Mariota, I have him as the 2nd best young quarterback in the league. Still, Prescott doesn’t have the level of MM’s ability to anticipate openings, and he’s not as accurate.

Still, for rookie standards, Dak Prescott was sensational, but he has a long way to go before he’s on Mariota’s level in my mine.

 

Conclusion

Marcus Mariota is a great quarterback already. The problem is will it be enough under Mike Mularkey? The coach received praise for guiding Tennessee to a 9-7 record after winning just 3 games the previous season, but this was really because of the run combo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and Mariota’s ability to carry a flawed team out of tough situations.

The problem with Mularkey’s coaching is that he calls too many vertical plays without spreading out receivers. It limits the amount of options Mariota has, and leads to failed plays or interceptions. He also is too attached to the idea that Mariota is a scrambling passer instead of a pocket QB (though to his credit, as the season went on more plays asking Mariota to play in the pocket were called) that he is. The 4th quarter of the Chiefs game was a perfect example of Mariota transcending bad coaching into a win for the Titans.

Fortunately, Mariota has a fine offensive line, but the receivers are a different story. We know Delanie Walker is great, but Tajae Sharpe was a disappointment in his rookie season, and Rishard Matthews, while explosive, is also inconsistent with catching. Harry Douglas can’t separate or show off ball skills, so his presence for the most part has been useless. The team has added Eric Decker and Corey Davis in hopes of upgrading the receiving corps, so we shall wait and see how that goes.

Regardless, Marcus Mariota’s level of play is sensational for a guy entering his third season. He’s deadly accurate, extremely quick with his reads and mechanics, can handle pressure and move around the pocket like a pro, and plays the game of turf chess where he moves defenders with his eyes and creates openings for his receivers. He’s a special player and a top 10 quarterback, and as long as he stays healthy, he’ll continue to go that route.

That all adds up to Marcus Mariota being the best young quarterback going into the 2017 season.

 

Featured image via nashvillesportsnetwork.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colin Kaepernick Is A Good Quarterback And Deserves To Start

By now, Colin Kaepernick’s kneel down during the National Anthem in 2016 has been imprinted inside every football fans’ heads. Done to protest what he felt was the oppression of blacks and people of color, his decision to kneel for the anthem has been met with both praise and criticism.

Front offices turned on Kaepernick completely, disgusted at how he would even kneel down and not stand up for the most iconic American symbol. Even when he got his starting job back from Blaine Gabbert later in the season, it was clear that the 49ers weren’t going to keep him after the season. He opted out of his contract with San Francisco in March, making him a free agent.

From then on out, he’s gotten very little interest from teams. From Roger Goodell saying the league’s lack of interest was football related, to Spike Lee prematurely congratulating Kaepernick on a gig with the Seahawks that he was never offered, to teams like the Jets signing Josh McCown over him, it’s been a rough year for what once was a football sensation back in 2012.

Some applaud Kaepernick for taking a stand against the system and its corruption. Others feel he did it for attention and to get his starting job back. One thing is certain: You can’t bring up the former 49ers quarterback without getting a polarized reaction from whoever you talk to. Some people think he isn’t even good enough to be a backup, and MMQB writer Andy Benoit wrote that he saw 15 backups that were better than Kaepernick.

Take my word for it. Colin Kaepernick isn’t a backup quarterback. He isn’t a third stringer. He isn’t even a guy that can make the practice squad. He’s a starting caliber quarterback.

When he took Alex Smith’s job in 2012, he was one of the most exciting players to watch. Featured in San Francisco’s run heavy read option offense, Kaepernick took full command and led the team to a Super Bowl appearance, as well as another NFC title appearance the following season. And when it comes to postseason stats, Kaepernick has actually done really well in January.

You can say that Kaepernick never played as good as 2012 for the next 3 years, but looking deeper, I don’t think you can say the same about 2016.

A Look At Kaepernick’s 2016 Season

It’s true that the San Francisco 49ers went 2-14 in 2016, 2nd to the Cleveland Browns for the worst record in the league. Head coach Chip Kelly was fired after one season with the team, and Kaepernick went down with him. The general consensus is that Kap has gotten worse since 2012, to the point where he couldn’t be a functional quarterback.

Taking a look at it myself, I found I was coming away from it with the opposite feelings. Colin Kaepernick’s play was not only a step up from previous seasons, but was actually a pretty good year overall, and that’s not even looking at the 16 touchdowns to 4 interceptions.

You won’t see Kaepernick referenced as one of the game’s elite passers. He’s not a top 5 or top 10 quarterback. What he is is a borderline top 15 quarterback as a starter, a good passer that can explode in a run heavy system. The problem was that in 2016, his supporting cast was bottom of the barrel. The offensive line kept giving up pressure, the run game was almost nonexistent, and his receivers were among the worst in the league, creating zero separation and leaving plenty of plays on the field.

With that said, Kaepernick experienced growth in 2016. No longer was he just a run exclusive quarterback. He was doing things he showed in brief spurts in past seasons. His pocket movement evolved to the point where it’s become a strength instead of a glaring omission. Instead of making one read then panicking if it wasn’t open, he showed greater patience and more instances of him progressing through his reads. He was showing legitimate development.

  GIF

This play would be an anomaly from previous seasons, but in 2016, it was some I was constantly expected Kaepernick to do. Here, Kap notices his initial read is not open, so he uses subtle pocket movement to create space for him to to throw, allowing him to get the pass off to his receiver. At first it looks like an inaccurate pass, but his receiver stops running for some strange reason, even though the pass would’ve hit him in stride had he kept running.

  GIF

From the same game, this is a very impressive play that continues to show the growth Kaepernick experienced last year. The right edge rusher (Kaepernick’s right) gets through the cardboard cutout attempting to block him. In past seasons, this might be a situation where Kap would run completely outside of the pocket while dropping his eyes. Here, that’s not what happens. Kap recognizes that one of his receivers has the edge on a defender, so he keeps his eyes up, evades the edge rusher, and stays in the pocket, firing an accurate pass to the open receiver for a nice gain.

  GIF

  GIF

Kaepernick has always been a guy willing to hold on to the ball, but as these two plays against the Buccaneers show, he combined that patience with a more technical and refined style of play in the pocket. On the first play, Kap pump fakes to create an open lane for him to throw. The distraction allows the receiver to get open and make the catch on the quarterback’s throw.

The 2nd throw illustrates perfectly how far Kap’s vision and movement have improved. When the pass protection starts to break, he keeps his eyes downfield and moves slightly outside the pocket, picking apart an open receiver with a strike.

  GIF

This last example comes against the Dolphins. Kaepernick’s first read isn’t open, so he surveys the field, simultaneously climbing up the pocket while locking his eyes up. He evades one defender and climbs up, firing a perfect strike in stride to an open receiver. These are plays people think inferior quarterbacks do better than Kap. Those quarterbacks have an inability to keep calm when the first read is blocked and run themselves into pressure and make stupid decisions like turning the ball over or throwing to the wrong receiver. Kap’s improved pocket presence has transcended what was once a limitation for him.

Kap is a polarizing subject and always has been, but what has always been universally accepted is that his peak arm velocity is sensational. It might be the best I’ve ever seen out of any quarterback. Take the 50+ yard throw against the Saints in 2014 for example.

This was a masterful throw. To have that amount of velocity from that far while doing it on 4th down with the game on the line is legendary. But Kap’s velocity has usually been uncontrolled, as he’s rifled it fast for most of his career.

In 2016, while that didn’t really change, his increase in subtle pocket movement allowed it to be less of an issue.

  GIF

On this play, Kaepernick embraces a common theme from this article: patience, keeping his eyes downfield, and escaping pressure to pick apart the open guy. Here, he does that and rifles a touchdown pass on the other side of the field to an open receiver.

  GIF

Kaepernick’s vision comes on display here along with his arm strength. He does an excellent job making small movements in the pocket to escape pressure while (shocker) keeping his eyes downfield. He throws a rifle across his body to the other side of the field in a similar way to the Saints game from 2014. This can’t hold a candle to that play (nothing can), but it is still a terrific play nonetheless.

It’s fun seeing Kaepernick use his arm strength to his advantage, and in 2016 he displayed plenty of said advantages. But the footwork wasn’t the only improvement, as Kap showed more plays where he progressed through his reads.

  GIF

Here, Kaepernick does the unthinkable; he does multiple reads on the same play. Crazy, isn’t it? This play isn’t spectacular, but it shows that Kaepernick is taking better care of the football while maximizing the results of a play.

But while Kaepernick has become a better pocket passer, he hasn’t lost the art of buying time and being a magician on unstructured plays.

  GIF

This play is risky, but displays vintage Colin Kaepernick. None of the receivers are open when the 49ers need a first down, so Kap rolls out of the pocket and buys time. He’s able to outrun everyone until he has no room left, and just at the last second, he lofts a pass just over a Pats’ defender’s head and into the arms of his receiver where only he can catch it. Some people have said this play was dangerous and should’ve been picked, I think it’s a risky play that ultimately paid off.

He also still has a few magical running plays up his sleeve.

  GIF

Conclusion

These are all plays analysts choose to ignore to push a narrative, a narrative that Kaepernick can’t start in the NFL. Is it just a coincidence that Kaepernick was said to contribute to a decline in NFL ratings in 2016 and now no team is interested in him? That Goodell continues to say his lack of interest is football related? Or that teams are signing horrible quarterbacks like Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick (the latter of which divided his locker room in 2016 and blatantly said he could care less about mentoring the young quarterbacks on the Jets) while ignoring a quarterback that has evolved his play and has widened his skill set? To me, it doesn’t sound like a coincidence at all.

The pushing aside of Colin Kaepernick isn’t because of QB evaluation. It’s because he goes against their mindset and what front offices personally believe in. The NFL is close minded. This is a league that is okay with players hitting their girlfriends, committing assault of any kind, being constant off field headaches, playing abysmal in the system, committing arson, or just being dirty players. As long as you stand for the National Anthem, most of these teams will give you a chance if you’re talented or cheap enough. And maybe, just maybe, if you play football the right way.

This is the same NFL that has teams calling Kaepernick a distraction and a bad role model yet ignores his charity work and that the only time he’s kneeling for the anthem is, well, during the anthem. If you’ve noticed, there doesn’t seem to be any protesting or running on the field during the middle of a game, not one instance. So where does the distraction part come in? Here’s a secret: It doesn’t. He’s not on a team because owners are scared that if they sign him, fans won’t tune in to watch them. I think that’s pretty clear.

This is a country that claims to be the United States of America, yet can’t even agree on a single issue on or off social media. Kaepernick’s protests have provided zero exceptions in that regard. But what is agreed upon is that those who have actually given his 2016 a chance generally think it was a good season. No longer was this the work of a run only quarterback, this was the work of quarterback that developed into an improved pocket passer.

Sure, Kaepernick has flaws. His accuracy is decent, but it’s not league leading. His downfield accuracy isn’t all that. But he’s not the same running exclusive quarterback people think he is. That Kap is still unsigned shows just how outdated the NFL’s methods of analysis is, because at 30 years old, while his running ability may soon decline, his growth as a passer gives him the chance to extend his career even further. But no one wants to look into that.

There aren’t 15 backups better than Kaepernick. He is not an on field distraction or a bad role model. He is not one of the worst passers in the league. Colin Kaepernick is a good quarterback and deserves to start in the NFL.

 

Featured image via 15minutenews.com

 

 

Ryan Tannehill Is the NFL’s Most Underrated Quarterback

Introduction

The quarterback draft class of 2012 was one of the best in NFL history. In the same breath as 1983 and 2004, the names include Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, and Robert Griffin III.

Luck and Wilson are universally accepted as the two best quarterbacks from that class. With monster years and a heavy amount of Pro Bowl trips, these two quarterbacks have dazzled us with their playmaking abilities, which have a certain style that we rarely see in the league. Cousins is a limited QB, but has been able to get the most out of his skill set and has put up huge numbers behind a monster supporting cast. Foles and Griffin have long been forgotten after once being young stars for about a year each.

Which brings us to Tannehill. Since 2012, he’s been in the shadow of Luck and Wilson, QBs who have had historic seasons when they started out. Many fans and media have now placed Cousins over Tannehill as well, the latter of which has been blamed for the Dolphins’ turmoil from 2012-2015, and was perceived as being the product of head coach Adam Gase, known as a QB whisperer for his work with Jay Cutler in 2015.

The truth is that Tannehill is the 3rd best QB from his draft class. Being 3rd behind 2 generational greats in Luck and Wilson is not something to turn away from, especially since Tannehill himself is a really good quarterback.

When Gase took over, there was a perception that he was going to fix Tannehill. In reality, Gase fixed the situation around Tannehill to prevent him from falling into the traps Joe Philbin set him in. Gase created an environment where Tannehill was actually doing things that fit his skill set, being encouraged to push the ball further downfield and calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, something he had never done under Philbin.

When Tannehill went down, Miami’s season basically ended. They won a few more games to secure their ticket to the playoffs, but without their starting QB, they faltered in the wild card matchup at Pittsburgh.

Or, at least that’s what should be reported. Tannehill’s reputation is that of an average quarterback, when he’s much more than that. Tannehill is a really good, sometimes great, quarterback who has progressed steadily since 2012, and looking closer, his 2016 season was a great one.

This article will look at why I believe Ryan Tannehill is the NFL’s most underrated quarterback, using the usual brand of GIFs and analysis of each GIF.

Supporting Cast

Miami’s offensive line is bad, but most people know that by now. The wide receivers are usually talked up as a strong group, yet have been partly responsible for Tannehill having pedestrian stats.

Jarvis Landry is a fine slot receiver, but struggles to get separation downfield and needs to be schemed open to create said separation. Kenny Stills is the best receiver on the team, even though his touchdown drop against the Seahawks was a huge momentum shift.

The real concern is Devante Parker.

  GIF

Entering his third season, Parker has an impressive catch radius, but terrible ball skills and security. He’s left too many plays on the field, many of which have been perfect throws by Tannehill. On this play, the QB delivers a perfect strike (and what should be a touchdown) to Parker, who has the ball ripped out of his hands for an incompletion. Parker’s presence at the catch point is nonexistent at his current stage. He isn’t aggressive and doesn’t create a big margin for error or a frame to throw to. On a team with one true outside receiver and a guy thats presence is really limited to a slot receiver, that’s not a good sign.

  GIF

On this play, Tannehill does a terrific job of escaping the pocket, rolls out, and flings a pass over to Parker. While not perfect, the pass is catchable. The way Parker plays the ball is awkward and he never puts himself in a good position to bring it in, making it a lost cause.

  GIF

This is perhaps the worst offender. Here, Tannehill fires a beautiful pass. Parker can make it a touchdown by boxing out the incoming safety, giving plenty of room to haul it in. Instead, he plays it the exact opposite, showing zero aggression and letting the safety pick it off cleanly. While an impressive play by the safety, it’s more glaring that Parker let him have the opportunity to pick it off.

These are a few examples of the plays Parker left on the field. He needs to start showing more aggression at the catch point if the WR group in Miami wants any chance to improve. Jay Ajayi in the backfield is a clear strong point, but behind a bad offensive line and inconsistent receivers, it may be tough for Tannehill to stay healthy on the field.

With that said, let’s get to why #17 is a really good QB by taking a look at what he does well.

Tannehill’s Traits

The most common criticism of Ryan Tannehill is that his pocket presence is lacking. This has come mostly from him taking so many sacks. From 2013-2015, he took at least 45 sacks in each season. In reality, Tannehill’s sack takes are less on him and more on his offensive line, which has generally been one of the league’s worst units. Under Adam Gase, the unit gave their quarterback more room to breathe, allowing his pocket presence to thrive despite what you may be told.

  GIF

The idea that Tannehill has no pocket presence is a myth. As he’s progressed, his movement has gotten significantly better to the point where he hardly flinches in the pocket under pressure. On the play above, Tannehill’s pass protection acts more like turnstiles and allows pressure instantly. The quarterback sees this but keeps his eyes up and downfield and shifts slightly to the left to throw. He’s able to detect an open receiver and is able to throw a perfect pass to him in stride despite the intense pressure.

  GIF

Pocket presence is more than just deciding when to stay or leave in the pocket. In most cases, it requires staying in the pocket and being willing to take hits. Leaving the pocket can work, but it depends on the context of the pressure and if the receivers are open.

RT17 knows this and stands tall in the pocket regardless if he gets drilled or not.

Even just before getting drilled on this play, Tannehill’s mechanics stay smooth. If you look closely, you can see that at the last second he plants his feet and gets off a precise pass in time.

  GIF

Tannehill is one of the more patient passers in the league. He’s a QB that doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly, rather allowing the WR routes to develop so that he can get the most out of the play. The problem is that with a bad offensive line, Tannehill’s been hit before he can get the ball off to an open receiver. With a better offensive line, his patience would pay off far more than it already has.

Nevertheless, his patience does pay off on this play. He does a great job of reading the coverage and searches downfield before finding a receiver. Tannehill subtly moves to the left before finding the exact right time to fire the ball. As he’s hit, the ball sails to where only his receiver can get it, making another perfect pass under pressure thanks to his awareness and movement.

Under Gase, Tannehill’s arm strength has become fully realized. This isn’t because it’s developed, it’s because he’s playing under a coach that gives him plenty of freedom to take advantage of his wide skill set.

  GIF

Tannehill has one of the best arms in the NFL, and it was seen in 2016 at its best. With a better scheme, Tannehill’s downfield accuracy skyrocketed. On throws of 20+, he was 2nd in accuracy and first in TD%. 

The play above is tougher than it looks. Not only does it require a precise throw, but it also needs the right amount of velocity for it to work. Anything slower would easily be picked off, and anything faster would be overthrown. Tannehill makes it work here. The velocity of the pass is crazy good, but also precise enough where it isn’t missing his guy completely.

  GIF

The combined threat of pressure when passing on a play that requires plenty of arm strength gets satisfying when it succeeds. Such is the case on this throw, one of the best ones you’ll ever see. Tannehill rolls out of the pocket and gets ready to release the ball. While a defender is just about to pounce on him, he focuses his attention on the open receiver downfield while ignoring the rush. He throws it just before getting hit, and the result is a sensational touchdown pass that should get much more credit than it deserves, especially since it’s launched 55+ yards in the air under pressure.

Yet as good as Tannehill is inside the pocket, he is at his best outside of it.

  GIF

  GIF

  GIF

Tannehill is one of the best quarterbacks, if not the best, at rollout passes. His accuracy and confidence all seem to skyrocket when he’s on the run, whether designed or undesigned. It’s a skill that truly sets him apart from the garden variety quarterbacks.

On each of these plays, Tannehill’s awareness and ability to pick out the open man are noticed, but the first play is easily the most impressive. How he’s even able to launch that pass in the area from the angle he’s at is insane. Like all of his traits, it’s something that no one talks about but really needs to.

 

Conclusion

Ryan Tannehill is the most underrated quarterback in the league. When it comes to finding flaws, there’s really nothing I can find. Tannehill is an extremely well rounded, talented, and consistent passer who has finally got the coaching he deserves.

At the same time, however, he is not the product of Adam Gase. Gase has just given him a scheme that allows him to breathe (even if the receivers won’t let him), and the result is a far more comfortable quarterback.

Tannehill has always been this good even if people don’t give him the respect he deserves. He is the most valuable player on the Dolphins’ roster, and a huge reason for their success in 2016. He’s able to carry the team under intense pressure, throw his receivers open in tight windows, and has a wide skillset which allows him to play supreme at all fields of the level. He can make any throw you ask of him at any angle because of his arm talent, and he is a master of the rollout.

To my thinking, Ryan Tannehill is a damn good quarterback. A borderline top 10 quarterback.

(Featured image via topbet.eu)

 

 

 

 

Derek Carr and Dak Prescott: Similarities, Differences, and Quality

Two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL are Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. Both were quality quarterbacks in 2016, being praised for having what many considered MVP caliber seasons. Both Carr and Prescott led their respective teams to double digit wins and the postseason.

When it comes to awarding credit, Prescott hasn’t received as much as Carr. From a veteran standpoint, this is acceptable, as Carr is entering his 4th season in the NFL while Prescott is only in his 2nd. QBs who have had good rookie seasons have received skepticism in the past and will continue to receive skepticism in the future. The way they can change that is by preventing the sophomore slump.

What is particularly interesting is both quarterbacks have the best offensive lines in the league. I’ve observed that talk of Prescott’s offensive line serves to discredit his play more than it does Carr. If it were down to just being based off of a rookie season, then that would be fine.

But it goes further than that. I started to hear more about how Carr was more valuable to the Raiders than Prescott was to the Cowboys. There is no disputing that the Raiders need Carr. When he went down, the offensive took a major hit going into the postseason without a quality passer steering the ship. But the same can be said of Prescott. When Tony Romo sat out due to injuries in 2015, the Cowboys suffered. Without a great quarterback, the team couldn’t operate the passing game, making the offensive line’s impact irrelevant. Prescott’s presence allowed the Cowboys to rarely miss a beat even without Romo, and he was the main reason the team elevated to 13-3.

Yet even with similar quality in pass protection and supporting casts, why is it that Prescott has people going “It’s his offensive line and weapons” but not Carr?

The best way to answer this question is to do a side by side comparison of both quarterbacks, highlighting their skill sets in a way that goes beyond statistical analysis. In this piece, I’ll highlight both quarterbacks, then go through who’s better and why.

 

Derek Carr

When the Raiders lost their franchise QB in week 15 against the Colts, it was clear that the season was over at this point. A postseason appearance for the first time since 2002 almost meant nothing without the most valuable player on the field, and it was obvious when Matt McGloin and Connor Cook played.

However, how valuable Carr had been in 2016 was generally overstated. He is a good quarterback capable of elevating his teammates and provides great stretches of play, but he is surrounded by arguably the best supporting cast in the league. McGloin was bad enough, but even worse was Cook. Cook’s performance in the playoff game at Houston was atrocious. He was consistently off target in every aspect on the field, and his pocket play was borderline bottom of the barrel.

While Oakland’s offensive line isn’t quite as good as Dallas’, it’s right there with them. The pass protection rarely exemplified pressure onto their QB, allowing him to comfortably run the offense and allowing for the system to thrive.

The receiving corps is also a plus. If the duo of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree isn’t the best in the league, it’s at least in the top 3. Both receivers have tremendous skill sets that allow them to adjust smoothly to passes while offering great relief on third down passes, making them great downfield and YAC threats. Seth Roberts is inconsistent with his hands but is a fine route runner and also has a wide catch radius. Clive Walford has seen limited play but is a talented tight end. Cordarelle Patterson isn’t a great weapon, but under a good scheme can be quite explosive. The same can be said for Jared Cook. Finally, the receiving back Jalen Richard offers consistent explosiveness as a Darren Sproles-esque back, and his best days are yet to come.

With that said, Carr has come a long way. His rookie season in 2014 was a bad one. His footwork was generally sloppy and his accuracy rarely ever hit the mark with his receivers. That changed in 2015 and 2016 when he improved his accuracy and mechanics, making him operate the offense at a higher level. With cleaner footwork and more decisive playmaking, he helped turn around Oakland’s fortune, successfully completing the rebuild and making the team a contender.

  GIF

Carr’s best trait is in his arm talent, which is one of the league’s best. The strength at which Carr throws is impressive enough, but he goes further and combines that with an extremely quick throwing motion. This is shown above. He rarely needs to wind up the ball to make it travel far, which is sensational to watch in practice and on this strike against the Dolphins.

  GIF

On the play above, Carr flicks this pass outside the numbers to Cooper. The velocity of the pass is insanely quick despite the distance and the placement is perfect, allowing Cooper to haul in the throw.

  GIF

Carr’s arm strength works especially well on unstructured plays. Above, Carr does a great job of escaping pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. As he climbs the pocket he notices Crabtree open on the other side of the field and flicks a bomb to him for the completion and the result of a terrific play.

  GIF

But it’s perhaps this play that shows Carr at his best. Here, Carr rolls out of the pocket and flickers a rocket to Crabtree for a massive gain. While he checks out of a clean pocket, Carr makes up for it by keeping his eyes locked downfield. The fact that he just flickers this pass with a quick motion on the run while dropping it right in the bread basket is incredible. His arm is a gift not many passers can say they have.

Carr’s arm talent has been a part of him since college, but what hasn’t always been there was an ability to operate comfortable in the pocket. In his last 2 seasons, Carr has become a more poised pocket passer.

  GIF

On this play above, Carr holds on to the ball after his initial read isn’t open. He sees Latavius Murray open heading to the sideline and wisely steps up in the pocket, allowing for Murray to have more space to grab an easy first down.

  GIF

Carr is a patient passer outside the pocket. He can survey the field and pick apart the open receiver without being pressured to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. This is done in the play above, where Carr is forced outside the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield and maximizes the play to its best ability. This ultimately pays off as just before he goes out of bounds he is able to find an open target and the last second for a touchdown.

Carr is not a flawless quarterback though. In general, no one really is, but Carr has a couple of flaws that prevent him from being a top 10 quarterback in my mind.

  GIF

Carr’s decision making takes a hit when he’s inside the pocket under pressure. He tries to get rid of the ball too quickly for his own good, resulting in decisions that are forced and often lead to turnovers or failed opportunities.

One example is in the play above, Carr hurries under pressure, forcing the ball to a receiver being double covered downfield. The pass is overthrown and picked off. It wouldn’t have done Carr any good to hold on to the ball any longer, but because he panicked, the pass was not accurate.

  GIF

Perhaps Carr’s biggest flaw is his reliance on checking down in clean pockets. While he hasn’t done it to the extent in which he did it in his rookie season, he’s done it enough where it’s still an issue.

No game highlighted this more than Week 14 at Kansas City. The Chiefs’ defensive line has proven to be an excellent match for the Raiders’ offensive line, with the coaching staff regularly showing blitzes to get to Carr.

On the play above, Carr has a clean pocket on 3rd and goal. He is not a QB that is willing to hold on to the ball while in the pocket. He has plenty of time to decide on a read, but forces this pass to Roberts, who is completely covered and nowhere near the end zone.

  GIF

The same thing happens on this play. The Chiefs send another blitz, tricking Carr into throwing to a covered receiver short of the first down marker. Once again, Carr has clean protection, yet forces the pass when he didn’t need to. It’s frustrating to see because it wastes great protection, and Carr doesn’t use the protection as wisely as Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or even Prescott. These are all quality QBs with excellent offensive lines. These QBs understand how to take care of the football and maximize plays when it calls for holding onto the ball. Carr does not, at least not to the extent the other quarterbacks do.

With all this said, for the same reasons Carr’s flaws keep Oakland’s games close, his strengths also help keep them competitive. His development as a good quarterback has been exciting to watch, and his overall arm talent and greater consistency have allowed the Raiders to thrive as one of the league’s most dominant offenses.

 

Dak Prescott

By now, the story of Dak Prescott’s rise from a fourth round draft pick backing up Tony Romo to becoming a rookie sensation once the latter QB went down is common knowledge.

The offensive line is the best in the NFL, but it does not guarantee instant success for any QB. When Romo went down in 2015, the Cowboys finished 4-12 with their QB only playing in 4 games. 3 of those wins came in games Romo started. It was clear that Dallas needed a backup in case Romo went down again, and they got that in the 4th round.

But when Prescott became the starter, he was more than just a backup. His surprise success awarded him the Offensive Rookie of the Year and he led Dallas to the #1 seed in the NFC.

When it comes to receiving corps, Oakland’s stands tall above Dallas’. Dez Bryant is an obvious great, but outside that the group is lacking. Jason Witten is old and washed in comparison to who he once was, and Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are both frustrating at the catch point. Cole Beasley is a fine slot receiver, but when compared to Oakland’s group it can’t hold a candle. Dallas did draft Ryan Switzer, a speedy slot receiver who should be able to give the Cowboys offense another YAC threat as he works his way on the field.

Regardless of cast, while he’s been set up to succeed, Prescott hasn’t simply been the bus driver behind the offensive line. He’s elevated his teammates and made everyone around him better, and is already a top 15 QB already after one year.

Like Romo, Prescott excels at pre snap reads. He is capable of diagnosing defensive coverages before the snap and changing the play to where it can maximize the potential for success. Credit should be given to the Cowboys’ coaching staff for not preventing him from audibling, a mistake Joe Philbin made with Ryan Tannehill during his years in Miami.

  GIF

Post snap, what stands out most about Prescott is his patience. You don’t expect many QBs to have the patience Romo had, especially not a rookie QB, yet Prescott was able to be in the same ballpark in that area. He is willing to hold on to the ball if his first read isn’t open, and will make the most of the protection he’s given.

On the designed rollout above (he is also a running threat), Prescott surveys the field. His first read on the right side is open, but short of the first down. He spots Beasley crossing to the middle of the field, but also notices the underneath linebacker approaching. With most rookie QBs, especially one drafted at the spot Dak was, this would lead to a rushed throw that would end in a bad misfire or a pick. That’s not the case here. Prescott resets his feet and throws Beasley open. The result is a perfect strike for 14 yards.

This play is sensational not only because of the placement, but because Prescott knew he was going to get hit after he released the ball. He just didn’t care.

  GIF

Prescott’s patience again benefits him on this 3rd down play. He’s able to go through his reads and notices Beasley open near the first down marker. With a defensive back (#52) ready to pounce, Prescott uses his eyes and movement to shift the back away from Beasley. When this occurs, he immediately shifts focus to Beasley, firing the quick strike for a first down.

  GIF

On this play, Prescott steps up in the pocket, and he waits for the receiver to get as outside as possible before firing to him. If he had fired any earlier, the receiver would have been tackled short of the first down. Fortunately, Dak’s added patience allows for the play to expand the first down marker.

  GIF

The Cowboys offensive line rarely gives up pressure, but when it does, Prescott has still played well. His ability to subtly move up the pocket was advanced for rookie standards, as he was able to consistently deliver without flinching. On the play above, the protection collapses, yet Prescott is able to keep his eyes downfield, side stepping defenders while being able to deliver a strike to Terrance Williams. This is the most impressive play #4 has made so far; It’s a big boy play that great veteran QBs like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady make on a daily basis.

  GIF

On this play, Prescott operates from a condensed pocket. He notices Dez working his way left, but sees the defensive back (#53) reading him all the way. With subtle movements, he’s able to draw #53 away from Dez and over to him, putting him under pressure but allowing Dez to get open, resulting in a completed pass and a successful pressure play.

  GIF

On the play above, Prescott shows great timing in releasing the ball. While he’s a QB that thrives on plays that require him to hold the ball, he’s also aware when to release the ball, whether it’s quick or late. As soon as Prescott sees the open receiver, he immediately plants his feet and drops a perfect pass into the breadbasket for a huge play. His smooth mechanics allow him to operate comfortably for the most part.

When it comes to flaws, there aren’t nearly as much as other rookies, but there are some things Prescott can polish up on.

  GIF

In general, while Prescott’s play under pressure is certainly good, it could be better. Sometimes his decision making is errant, and as the season progressed we saw a bit more of that appear. Against the Eagles defense was one of the better examples. On this play, Prescott is forced out of the pocket. On 3rd and goal with no one open, your best bet would be just to throw it away and take whatever points you can get, but Prescott got a little too trigger happy here. He was fortunate Terrance Williams committed blatant offensive pass interference, because this should’ve been picked.

  GIF

On this play, Prescott tries too hard to get rid of the ball in crunch time. With 23 seconds left, you need to be pushing the ball a bit more downfield at this point. He dumps a short pass to Witten instead. This would be problematic enough, but the coverage completely bails the QB’s decision. The Steelers’ defense is not well coached or disciplined, as the cornerback is supposed to be playing closer to Witten. With better coverage, this would be an easy pick six, and the game would be over.

Still, these are relatively minor complaints, and Prescott’s overall play was great as a rookie, and good for an overall QB. He does so much right that his flaws are easy to forgive.

 

Carr vs. Prescott

We’ve profiled both QBs, but now it’s time to do a comparison, highlighting which traits each QB is superior to the other on.

 

-Pre Snap Ability: There is no contest. Dak Prescott is head and shoulders above Carr in this area.

Winner: Dak Prescott

 

-Arm Strength: Prescott’s arm strength is good, but Derek Carr’s is sensational. The way he can just flick the ball 50+ yards downfield with just a quick release with great control is seen in very few quarterbacks.

Winner: Derek Carr

 

-Accuracy: This is an area where both QBs have had their struggles, but Prescott’s is clearly better. Carr has struggled with short accuracy throughout his career, while Prescott is much more decisive and consistent, especially under pressure.

Winner: Dak Prescott

 

-Decision Making: The bread and butter of a quarterback. Derek Carr’s decision making has greatly improved since he was a rookie, and he’s been able to avoid the same stretches of old. With that said, it can’t compare to Prescott’s. Dak’s patience and superior field vision put him well above Carr in this category, and his decision making is much more thought out under pressure.

Winner: Dak Prescott

 

-Downfield Passing: Prescott was generally good at throwing downfield, but Derek Carr was fantastic in 2016, with more precise placement.

Winner: Derek Carr

 

-Pocket Movement: Carr has come a long way with his movement in the pocket, but Prescott has a greater display of subtle movement in the pocket, and is more willing to hold onto the ball to allow a play to develop.

Winner: Dak Prescott

 

Outside the Pocket: This is pretty close, but this is an area where Derek Carr gets the slight edge in, since he’s been able to operate outside the pocket with very little trouble.

Winner: Derek Carr

 

-Mechanics: Even as a rookie, I found Prescott’s mechanics to be well above Carr’s, as his footwork doesn’t downgrade as much under pressure.

Winner: Dak Prescott

 

 

Conclusion

While both quarterbacks are good and two bright stars in today’s game, I would take Dak Prescott over Derek Carr. Prescott is simply the better quarterback in the pocket, with his decision making, accuracy, play under pressure, pre snap ability, and overall consistency. His play in general has been underselled because of the situation he’s in. He’s been responsible for much of his team’s success because of how he operates the offense.

While Derek Carr operates his offense well, I don’t think he’s quite as good as everyone seems to think. As much as he is a reason his team wins, he’s also a reason his team is in close games so much due to his eagerness to get rid of the ball in clean pockets to covered receivers when he should hold onto the ball, as well as his footwork under pressure.

So I think Prescott is the better quarterback, but both are good players that should continue to develop behind great offensive lines and overall quarterback friendly environments. For a young quarterback, that’s the best thing to have, and it’s pleasing to see that two active young quarterbacks are behind those situations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Good Can Matt Ryan Be In Life Without Kyle Shanahan?

For the longest time, Matt Ryan was one of the most if not the most, underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. Unfairly picked on for a small playoff resume that only included one win, he was a top 10 quarterback that was passed over because of what he “didn’t do” in January.

That all changed in 2016 when Ryan ascended as the Most Valuable Player of the year and helped take the Atlanta Falcons to their 2nd Super Bowl in franchise history.

It was a season to remember. Setting franchise records for passing yards (4,944), yards per game (309.0), touchdowns (38), passer rating (117.1), and completion percentage (69.9%), Ryan’s season was a tremendous accomplish both personally and for the city of Atlanta.

It was also a season where he finally silenced critics of his postseason accomplishments. Putting up 1,014 yards for 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, as well as a 144.0 passer rating in a losing effort in the Super Bowl, Ryan managed to take off some of the weight he had for most of his career.

In fact, Ryan’s last 5 postseason starts look great.

These statistical accomplishments are something Matt Ryan should be proud of achieving. Being an NFL quarterback is already difficult enough to get to. Staying in the league and being a good quarterback for a long time is near impossible. Ryan has been able to accomplish this tenfold. So there’s been plenty of reasons for Falcons fans to keep their heads high despite a heartbreaking meltdown in the Super Bowl.

But should there also be concerns for the franchise quarterback now that former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is now in San Francisco as the head coach?

When ranking him in my annual Starting Quarterback Power Rankings list, people were surprised to see Ryan at 15 out of 32 starting quarterbacks heading into 2017 (recently updated to 12th). The league MVP outside the top 5 and top 10, just barely in the top 15? And with the aforementioned list of accomplishments, isn’t putting him that low far-fetched?

Perhaps it is, but I want to address a couple of things I could not with Twitter’s character limits.

First, Ryan’s position on the list was not from a personal bias or a random conclusion. My reasoning was done by watching all 32 projected starting quarterbacks (It has yet to be determined if DeShaun Watson will overtake Tom Savage for the Texans’ starting role, but I had him on the list anyway), comparing their strengths and if they had any weaknesses, and then evaluating them based on what I saw and the rankings I was most comfortable with.

Second, the list and Ryan’s ranking was not done for the purpose of click baiting people. This was done to give people an alternative opinion on the quarterbacking, something they could use as a reference point for their own research instead of using someone’s work as the gospel.

Third, and most importantly, to me, there are issues Ryan has had that I feel need to be addressed heading into the 2017 season. That’s where this article comes in.

In 2016, Matt Ryan was given the best supporting cast of his career. With the addition of center Alex Mack from the Browns, wideouts such as Taylor Gabriel and Mohamad Sanu in addition to the presence of Julio Jones, and the dynamic run duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Ryan was given a cast that didn’t suffocate him like in previous years.

But it went further than that. Ryan’s MVP winning season was aided with the help of former coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

The Kyle Shanahan Factor

Shanahan used the assets Ryan had to create one of the league’s most quarterback friendly environments, one where easy reads where available consistently and at the right time. While in previous years, #3 had better receivers around him, in 2016 that didn’t matter.

As well as helping sign Browns center Alex Mack, Shanahan helped recruit receivers Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson (the latter of which is in San Francisco with Shanahan), two players who played under the OC in previous seasons. No one would mistake these guys for world class athletes, at least by NFL standards, but under Shanahan’s scheme. Both receivers struggle to gain separation downfield, but their speed and YAC ability can help them to be schemed open easily to fit their skill sets.

Under the Shanahan offense, both players thrived, as well as players such as Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. With all these tools, Ryan was given his most comfortable cast to work with ever, and at times it seemed like an absolute cakewalk.

  GIF

In his offense, Shanahan likes to spread out routes, using misdirection, RB routes, TE throwbacks, and a wide variety of play calls to scheme receivers open and make big plays easy to create. This means that the quarterback has plenty of options to throw to and plenty of time to get the ball out of his hands, even if the offensive line isn’t up to par.

While Atlanta’s offensive line wasn’t spectacular in 2016, it didn’t need to be due to the creativity Shanahan’s offense presented. This allowed Ryan to be protected consistently even if he wasn’t by technical terms.

In the GIF above, the 3 WR set on the right side of the field purposely does not separate, creating misdirection on the routes and a distraction that leaves the left side of the field completely uncovered. Ryan understands this and immediately dumps the pass off to Devonta Freeman, one of the best backs in the game. Due to the abundance of space, Freeman’s path to the end zone is an easy one.

  GIF

A theme you will notice with these GIFs is that uncovered receivers defined a chunk of Ryan’s 9.3 YPA. Of course, he still had to put the work in and the stat is still impressive even with context, but these types of plays where the receiver is schemed completely open doesn’t make it quite as impressive as it sounds.

The play above is a staple of the Shanahan offense; the tight end throwback. Involving play action, the throwback has the QB rolling right (or left) outside the pocket, throwing to the opposite side of the field to hit a (presumably) uncovered tight end.

The 2 WR set on the left side crosses outside, while the defense takes the fake handoff bait. Austin Hooper, who catches the pass, creates a diversion by pretending to block. With the chaotic routes, the closest defender to Hooper is tricked by Ryan rolling to the right. This allows Hooper to be completely uncovered, so much so that as long as the pass was in the general area he was, it was a touchdown. Taking candy from a baby isn’t this easy.

  GIF

Above is one of the best play calls I have ever witnessed. At first, it appears to be a five receiver set, but there’s more to it. 2 receivers run up the middle right of the field, or so it would seem. As it turns out, Coleman (lined up as a receiver on the play), cuts to the middle of the field, and with the other receiver cutting in front of Coleman to block, this creates confusion amongst the two defenders in front of them, allowing Coleman to be completely wide open. The resulting play leads to a 48-yard gain.

  GIF

  GIF

Lastly, these two plays, from the same game, had the same result; a bubble screen to Gabriel for the touchdown. These resulted in touchdown passes of 35 and 25 yards, 60 of Ryan’s 269 yards on the day. When taking out those two plays and leaving in 32 attempts instead of 34, the 7.91 YPA goes down to 6.53 YPA.

Ryan still had to do his own work, and his improved play in 2016 over 2015 definitely helped. But Shanahan’s scheme helped create a large part of Ryan’s statistics. The 9.3 yards per attempt are impressive, but the Falcons offense in 2016 gave Ryan plenty of easy yards with targets being schemed open downfield. This, in addition with the YAC ability of Freeman and Coleman, helped make Ryan’s YPA look all the more impressive.

Next to the Patriots, the Falcons had arguably the most quarterback friendly environment in the NFL.

Now, if this was all that happened in 2016, I wouldn’t have any concerns to address post Shanahan. But despite the QB friendly environment, Ryan’s skill set was unhinged in comparison to previous years.

Before I get into that though, I want to dwell into what Ryan improved on in 2016 that made it all the more better than 2015, and ultimately, made him an MVP candidate.

Matt Ryan’s 2015 season was a mixed bag. While he was still making quality throws, he was also turning the ball over at the wrong time, often being careless with the ball and looking uncomfortable in the new Shanahan led offense. This proved costly as the Falcons slumped to 8-8 after a 5-0 start.

In 2016, Ryan stepped up and delivered the quality season you would expect from a QB of his caliber. As the season progressed, we started to see the Matt Ryan of old, not holding back the Falcons the same way as in 2015.

Matt Ryan’s Strengths

  GIF

Matt Ryan’s arm strength has never been great, and this is common knowledge. The Falcons knew this when they drafted him, instead going after him because of how well he could anticipate route openings and play under pressure.

In the GIF above, Ryan’s pass floats for what seems like an eternity, but he makes up for it by getting rid of the ball early as Julio Jones is at the top of his route with his back turned. Ryan places the ball in a spot where only Jones can catch it, resulting in a completed pass.

  GIF

Ryan is a smart quarterback that understands how to adjust his skill set when the play requires a long ball. In the play above, Ryan, off play action, anticipates a spot where Jones can catch the ball without interference. The placement on this pass is one of the best you’ll ever see. The ball could not be thrown any better, and it results in a massive gain.

  GIF

Ryan’s pocket movement also stands out. His mobility is above average, but has never been on the same level as Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. However, his pocket movement has been terrific. He is consistent in providing subtle movement and can easily sense pressure. This has helped make him the deciding factor to the success of the Falcons, even if the team wasn’t always winning.

Ryan shows great pocket movement in the sensational play above. He not only notices Julio crossing to the outside left, but also notices the edge rusher to his right closing in on him. Keeping his eyes downfield, Ryan steps up in the pocket and quickly gets rid of the ball with an incredible pass to Julio.

  GIF

Similarly, Ryan keeps his eyes downfield when he’s forced to climb out of the pocket on this play. His pass threads the needle here for the touchdown, helping secure a monster win against the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football.

Ryan had the offensive scheme of his dreams in 2015. It’s just that he didn’t play up to standards and improved his decision making a good deal in 2016. By running Shanahan’s offense at a higher and more efficient level, the offense became the #1 unit in the league.

Concerns for the Future

Despite all the good Ryan did last year, there may be some concerns heading into the 2017 season. While Ryan’s mistakes weren’t as abundant as the previous season, he still made a shocking amount in a QB friendly environment. Even though he only threw 7 interceptions in the regular season, he very easily could’ve thrown a lot more.

Cian Fahey of Pre Snap Reads calculated that Ryan threw 23 passes that could have been intercepted, 17th most in his QB Catalogue book. The percentage of his passes that were interceptable was 3.64%, 11th most in the league. In the passage for Ryan, Fahey concluded that he felt Ryan played good, not great, in 2016, and that the INTable stats weren’t quite as impressive because of the execution of the offense around him.

After looking through it myself, I found similar results. Like I said, Ryan’s mistakes were fewer and farer in between, but there were still instances where a pass caught by the defense could’ve made the QB pay for his error.

  GIF

In this situation, during a 17-10 game on his own 15-yard line, Ryan experienced one of the luckier moments of his career. Assuming Julio was open and getting confused by the coverage, Ryan forced a bad decision and should have been picked off. Improbably, the pass was tipped and caught by Julio, and the momentum swing was thrown aside by the football gods.

  GIF

Ryan threw an impressive go ahead touchdown during the game winning drive against the Packers in the regular season matchup, but it came close to ending in disaster for Atlanta. In the play above, Ryan did not see LaDarius Gunter (#36) watching Mohamad Sanu, assuming he would help double team Julio instead. Gunter watches Ryan the entire way and makes a move. He disrupts the play but drops the potential game sealing interception, giving new life to Atlanta and making Green Bay pay for failing to capitalize.

Not only did this impact the game, but it even helped impact the NFC playoff seeding. With otherwise same results, the Falcons would’ve finished at 10-6, with the 2nd seed and a first round bye potentially going to the Seahawks, who finished 10-5-1 and beat Atlanta in the regular season. Perhaps I’m nit picking, but when a play like this does not get punished, it needs to be recognized if the QB is doing this more than a few times.

  GIF

In this situation, the Falcons scored on a TD drive with the help of a little luck. Arizona’s defense prevents Ryan from getting rid of the ball quickly, but he forces it anyway to what he thinks is an open Julio. But instead of being punished, the interception is dropped, and the Falcons move forward and score plays later.

  GIF

The Chiefs game ended in heartbreak, but it could’ve been a lot worse. After throwing a pick six, Ryan and the Falcons got the ball back attempting to put up empty yards before the half expired.

Here, Ryan almost threw another pick six. The throwing motion looks very odd on this particular play, as there’s a slight hitch that prevents the ball from arriving safe and on time. But even then, Daniel Sorensen (#49) was reading the route all the way. Fortunately for Ryan, the pick six is dropped.

The point is that if Ryan was still making these mistakes (albeit less than in 2015) under the 2nd most QB friendly environment, how much would this come up with new coordinator Steve Sarkisian? There comes the concern. Sarkisian can potentially be a good coordinator in the NFL coming from college, but I’m not sure he can be nearly as good as Shanahan. If he adapts the offense and doesn’t stay true to the system the team ran last year, we could see the mistakes pop up more and more.

I probably wouldn’t be so concerned if I was secure about Ryan’s arm strength. He’s been able to make up for a lack of a great arm with quick instincts and anticipation, but there were signs in 2016 that it was on the decline.

  GIF

  GIF

Despite the win against the Raiders, there were several scenarios where Ryan’s arm had the power of a toy cannon. Arm strength isn’t a major deal breaker, but a declining arm can impact the velocity of a quarterback’s passes and how far it travels.

In the first play above, Ryan’s pass doesn’t even come close to hitting his target’s breadbasket. The pass just hits the turf (or baseball field, whatever works). In the 2nd play, the Falcons run another TE throwback similar to the one against the Panthers. But while the Panthers one resulted in a touchdown due to how open Hooper was, in this play, the defender is closer. Ryan’s lack of juice on the pass results in Hooper slowing down his stride in order to make the catch, preventing a touchdown.

  GIF

Ryan’s downfield accuracy was good in 2016, but not great, and plays like the one above were the reason for that. Here, #3 air mails it out to Jones. The receiver is so wide open that it should’ve a walk to the end zone after he caught it. Instead, Ryan’s pass sails wide, forcing Julio to adjust to even make the catch. The Falcons would later settle for a field goal on this drive.

This throw isn’t easy to make, but it isn’t impossible like Ryan makes it. A QB with the arm strength, control, and velocity of Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, or Russell Wilson would be able to make this throw in stride. Here, Ryan’s pass look like it just sailed.

  GIF

On Atlanta’s final possession against Seattle, defensive pass interference should have been but wasn’t called on the Seahawks when Julio Jones was held by Richard Sherman, but it wouldn’t have been a problem had Julio been provided a better pass. On the All-22 angle, it is clearly shown that Julio has beaten coverage and would be able to score the game winning touchdown with a precise pass.

Instead, Ryan’s arm prevents the pass from getting to where it should be. Ryan can mask the arm strength downfield by anticipating a route opening, but here, Julio was open as Ryan got rid of the ball. The pass sails a bit wide and is underthrown.

  GIF

Finally, on this play, Ryan’s pass is again nearly picked. The hitch in his motion helps, but the throw lacks the juice one would expect on a strike down the middle. The arm strength was an issue that happened on more than just the plays I showed, but I wanted to present a glimpse of what I was seeing.

 

Conclusion

Matt Ryan is a quality quarterback and always has been. After 2016, no one will really dispute that. He’s a quarterback that has long deserved the reputation he’s getting now, and his reaction to pressure, pocket movement, accuracy, and ability to read out defensive coverages has always stood out.

Kyle Shanahan leaving Atlanta for San Francisco wouldn’t be so big of a problem for me if Ryan didn’t commit as much turnover worthy throws in an extremely friendly quarterback environment.

Shanahan was the best thing to happen to Ryan. His style of offensive and scheming allowed for a massive variety of open receivers and opportunities for Ryan to stack up yards and touchdowns. Despite not having the best individual supporting cast in and of the players, the coaching and scheming of the players allowed for Ryan’s most comfortable offense. Even with this, the cases where Ryan’s arm strength and mistake worthy plays showed up were enough to concern me.

With Sarkisan coming in, who knows what will happen. I still think Ryan will be a good quarterback in 2017, but I don’t think he’ll be as good as people thought he was in 2016. If Sarkisan continues to run the offense the same way Shanahan did, Ryan will easily be a top 10/top 5 QB again. But if the arm continues to get worse, we could see #3 on the outside looking in again when it comes to QB debates.

All things considered, Matt Ryan is the best quarterback the Falcons have ever had by a longshot, and even if his arm continues to decline, his career up to this point has been really damn good. Even if I don’t think his 2016 season was as good as public perception, I’m happy to see him get the recognition he has long deserved.

And in 2017, time will tell if Ryan can continue to be the MVP he was in 2016 with the departure of Kyle Shanahan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Bradford Is 2016’s MVP Frontrunner Through 6 Weeks

You read the headline correctly. No this is not a hot take. This is not an article about stats. This is not even an article about wins.

You’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind right now, and I don’t blame you. Someone with the perception Sam Bradford has had being an MVP candidate is strange enough, but MVP frontrunner? Perhaps I’ve gone off the deep end, and perhaps I’ve lost my mind.

If that’s the case, so be it.

INTRODUCTION

The 2016 Vikings have come to the forefront of the NFL and shocked everyone by jumping out to a 5-0 start without Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and with one of the worst offensive lines in the league. A big reason for this is the defense. Currently ranking 1st in scoring defense and 2nd in yards allowed, what was once one of the worst units in the league in 2013 has become one of the elite defenses thanks to head coach Mike Zimmer.

But while the defense has gotten a lot of credit (and rightfully so), it is Bradford’s play that has made the Vikings the best team in the league thus far.

Looking at the stats, Bradford’s completed 70.4% of his passes (leading the league) for 990 yards, 6 TD, and 0 INT through 4 games. Looking at these stats would suggest Bradford’s role has been that of a game manager, but I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.

When Bradford was traded to the Vikings by the Eagles before the start of the season, no one expected him to learn the playbook as quickly as he did. The team wisely chose to start Shaun Hill in week 1 so that Bradford would be given time to adjust to his new team. Once week 1 was finished, Zimmer knew right away #8 would be the starter.

Right away, the quarterback proved to be a perfect fit for Norv Turner’s offense, doing things Teddy Bridgewater could not do. That’s not a knock on Teddy either. Teddy is a very good quarterback that was suffocated through his first 2 seasons because of a horrible offensive line and lack of fit in Turner’s vertical offense, instead thriving in intermediate passes. The offense never adjusted to fit Teddy’s skill set in 2015, giving him an undeserved reputation of being a game manager and a bad quarterback.

Because of Bradford’s arm talent, he has thrived in the offensive scheme the Vikings have.

THE SHAUN HILL FACTOR

Now, before I get to why Bradford is my MVP frontrunner, I want to take a look at Shaun Hill’s performance from week 1, since many people are probably wondering how he compared. The Vikings won that week but Hill’s accuracy was really bad, and that’s not even accounting the 54.5 completion percentage. He was constantly missing open guys and forcing the ball under pressure, being lucky to escape without any turnovers.

While the Vikings put up 25 points, Hill rarely did anything to help justify it. The Vikings defense scored a TD on a pick six and another one on a fumble recovery. The pick six occurred while the team was trailing 10-6, and the fumble return helped put the game out of reach at 22-10 (at the time). In the 2nd G

Shaun Hill struggled to move the chains forward and deliver the ball quickly, a trait that’s in Norv Turner’s offensive scheme with the Vikings. That hasn’t been the case with Bradford.

BRADFORD MAKES THE VIKINGS OFFENSE WORK

Bradford has been a very accurate quarterback in 2016, but it’s not something he hasn’t done before. If you follow me, you know I’ve done extensive research on Bradford’s past seasons, where it has been proven he has been very accurate for his entire career. Even in that trainwreck 2015 Eagles season, Bradford was one of the lone bright spots for the team despite what most people would suggest. His receivers would constantly fail him at the catch point, and the offensive line and play calling never set him up for success.

In Minnesota, while the offensive line still sucks, the receivers have been able to catch, and the play calling has been tweaked to fit Bradford’s skill set, demanding quick throws and a more vertical style of passing offense. Bradford has managed to take care of the ball extremely well while fitting the ball into tight windows under aggressive pressure, a remarkable achievement.

BRADFORD HAS EXCELLED UNDER PRESSURE

bradford-delivers-dime-td-as-hes-hit

johnnykinsley

When the Vikings traded for Bradford, they did it because they needed a quarterback that could play under pressure. Despite the awful offensive line, Teddy Bridgewater has played great under pressure in his career, making huge plays to move the chains forward and taking care of the ball without putting the team in harms way.

Bradford is doing the same thing. In the first GIF, Bradford delivers under pressure on a wonderful TD pass to Stefon Diggs. I’ve already described this from the Week 2 article on Bradford, so you can check there for more details, but it’s still a great play from the QB.

The next 2 GIFs are placed into one slideshow (because WordPress won’t loop my GIFs for some bizarre reason). The first shows how a typical looking throw is actually spectacular when put into context. On 3rd down, Bradford got drilled as he was passing, but incredibly took the hit and placed the ball perfectly for his receiver to go get the first down. 3rd downs have been big for Bradford this season, as Football Outsiders back on the 13th ranked him 7th in 3rd down conversions.

In the 2nd GIF, a defensive end is about to tackle Bradford, who is able to offer beautiful ball placement to Adam Thielen, who makes a terrific one handed catch while being interfered with.

johnnykinsley

In these next 2 GIFs, the Vikings put Bradford’s OL under pressure yet again. As aforementioned, however, Bradford has done a great job of setting his feet and preparing to take hits, concentrating only on getting the ball out of his hands both quickly and precisely. These 2 passes are great because of the situation surrounding the QB, and offering this kind of placement under heavy pressure has been massive for the pass game.

QUICK THROWS

Speaking of quick throws, that’s another reason why Bradford has thrived in Minnesota. Unlike in Indianapolis where the routes develop slowly, preventing the QB from getting the ball off, the Vikings’ routes develop quickly, allowing Bradford to get the ball out even under pressure.

johnnykinsley

The QB has to set himself up quickly on those plays otherwise it wouldn’t work, and Bradford executes these three plays beautifully. In the first GIF, Bradford offers a quick diagonal strike to Diggs as he’s cutting across the middle. Bradford dances around in the pocket to make himself comfortable, then when he sees the opportunity, quickly plants his feet and strikes to Diggs for a big gain.

In the 2nd GIF, he barely has time to plant his feet as he’s backdropping, but executes it wonderfully thanks to a great precision pass to Charles Johnson. As he’s backdropping he throws the secondary off by surveying the right side of the field before turning and firing to Johnson. In a similar manner, the 3rd GIF showcases Bradford play faking before immediately setting his feet and firing a beautiful pass to his receiver.

MANIPULATING DEFENSES

johnnykinsley

Bradford has been excellent at manipulating defenses this season, leading defenders with his eyes before exposing them by turning the other way or fooling them with his mechanics. In the first GIF, Bradford pump fakes after the snap, which halts the secondary and allows Thielen to get open, allowing Bradford to deliver the precision pass for the touchdown. In the 2nd GIF, Bradford’s eyes survey the middle of the field before he turns and fires to an open Charles Johnson. For some reason, instead of powering forward, Johnson elected to cut to the middle of the field. I felt he would have had a touchdown here had he kept going, even though they scored on the next play.

johnnykinsley

In this next GIF, the defensive back in the middle is watching Bradford’s eyes carefully. Bradford steps back and dances in the pocket, then when the receiver passes the defensive back, Bradford quickly sets his feet and fires a strike, fooling the coverage and allowing for a big pass play.

DOWNFIELD DIMES

bradford-beauty

bradford-dime-to-diggs

Bradford is one of the best downfield passers in the league, confirmed when he ranked as the 3rd best deep passer in the 2015-16 Deep Ball Project. His arm talent is a big reason for it, but it’s the precision that matters, and Bradford has consistently managed to place the ball perfectly out of the defender’s reach throughout his career.

Since I used up most of the deep passes already, These two are the leftovers, but they are great leftovers nonetheless. The first pass is beautifully placed in between two defenders, high enough so the first defender can’t reach it, and far enough that the second defender can’t make a play on it. The 2nd GIF is perhaps Bradford’s best downfield throw yet, throwing a cannon that allows Diggs to run up and make a play without being in the way of a defender. Even more impressive is how quickly Bradford gets the ball out of his hands, considering the pressure around him. Beautiful play.

WHY NOT OTHER CANDIDATES?

You may be wondering why I haven’t listed any other obvious candidates for MVP. This short section of the article will detail that.

Matt Ryan is a favorite to win MVP, but while he’s been impressive, I don’t think he’s been the frontrunner. His arm strength has never been top tier, but it’s looked to be declining. In addition, Ryan’s made inaccurate throws that his receivers still manage to catch, and got away with a few bad misses.

Matthew Stafford is another popular candidate, and similarly to Ryan, has gotten away with a few bad mistakes of his own. He’s definitely played well, but his numbers have been massive in part thanks to the quality of the scheme and receivers around him. Jim Bob Cooter’s offense has emphasized short throws and screen passes to a legion of great YAC receivers such as Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, and Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones have been great margin for error increasing additions this past offseason.

Ben Roethlisberger was my candidate before this week, but thanks to his health and the quality of his play against the Eagles and Dolphins, has slipped a bit in the rankings.

Russell Wilson has been mostly great this season, but managed to only have solid, not great, games against the Rams and Falcons. His decision making was definitely better in the other games.

Derek Carr has been overrated this season. While I consider him a solid quarterback, the quality of his surrounding cast is unbelievable, with one of the best offensive lines and receiving units in the league, as well as an improved running game. He’s made plenty of great difficult throws, but his ability to take care of the ball has faltered a bit in the last 2 games, and he’s been lucky not to have more picks than he already has.

Tom Brady has only played 2 games.

CONCLUSION

When you get right down to it, no quarterback has been as consistently great this season as Sam Bradford has, despite the fact that he’s only played 4 games. All 4 of his performances this season have been superb, displaying perfect precision passing, masterful footwork, and exceptional play under pressure.

Bradford is a smart quarterback. When put in a comfortable situation he can excel, and while the situation in Minnesota isn’t perfect, it’s the best one he’s been in thanks to the structure of Norv Turner’s adjusted playcalling. His decision making has been excellent as well as the most consistent, and along with the Vikings defense, has been a huge reason why the team is 5-0.

This week, Bradford will return to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. A win and/or a strong performance against his old team would certainly make his case for MVP a lot better for voters. Perhaps his legacy will be on the line as well.

Regardless, Bradford deserves MVP consideration at the least, and I think he’s the MVP so far this season.

(Featured image via ChicagoTribune.com)