Revisiting pre-draft scouting opinions on the 2011 to 2014 QBs
We all love anonymous scout opinions, where people that refuse to put their name on something dish on a young man. Sometimes, though, the concerns and issues pointed out by someone in confidence prove to be accurate. I thought I would take a look back at some recent past quarterbacks who have played enough for us to make an evaluation, and see if the scouting comments proved prescient or problematic.
Bob McGinn, who used to write for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel compiled scout comments on the draft for years, and so I am looking at what he relayed for the 2011 to 2014 drafts.
2011, of course, was the year of the lockout and also the year that Cam Newton was entering the league. That entire spring was full of negative comments about Newton, most notably with the controversy involving Nolan Nawrocki’s assessment of Newton.
I could not find a recap that went down each QB individually, like some future editions, but McGinn did go in depth on Newton.
Let’s start of with this fire assessment from one scout. “I don’t like any of them, really. There’s no Sam Bradfords. There’s no Josh Freeman. I think they’re all second- or third rounders.” That one does not stand up well to history. Freeman flamed out soon after and Bradford never became a star, while Cam Newton won an MVP award, Colin Kaepernick appeared in a Super Bowl, and Andy Dalton has started for almost a decade.
Bill Polian was quoted as saying there was a big dropoff after Cam Newton, but of the 24 personnel people interviewed by McGinn, most thought Newton would be a bust. Sixteen of them had Blaine Gabbert as the best quarterback in the class, and only two thought Newton would be a perennial pro bowler.
Some scouts did favor Newton, though. One said, “our coaches just ripped his (expletive), but I’d take him top-10. This guy is so talented, so much a winner, such a force.”
That scout has largely been proven right.
Let’s move on to 2012, where McGinn did do a positional ranking with scouting comments for all the top guys.
ROBERT GRIFFIN III
“Everybody is just assuming because of the Heisman and the socks and all that bs. . . . they are ignoring a lot of bad tape that he’s had,” a third scout said. “I don’t think he has vision or pocket feel, which to me are the two most important components of quarterbacking. He’s just running around winging it. He’s (Michael) Vick, but not as good a thrower.” Finished with passer rating of 110.1 and 2,254 yards rushing (33 TDs). “He has better arm action and is more accurate with his deep ball, but he’s not as good as Cam Newton,” a fourth scout said. “As much as is written about his athleticism, his athleticism under duress in the pocket isn’t even close to Cam Newton’s. This guy, the only way he gets big plays with his feet is if he’s got a wide-open field and the sea opens for him. He’s got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn’t treat anybody good.” Another scout also questioned the way Griffin deals with people.
For one year, the negative opinions on Griffin seemed out of touch. But after his knee injury, a lot of the issues pointed out here, both in dealing with people and in his pocket awareness, came to fruition in one of the biggest boom-then-bust stories in NFL history.
“He is the first pick in any draft I have been a part of,” a veteran scout told McGinn. “He might have been picked ahead of (Peyton) Manning. He’s not a (John) Elway arm. Neither was Manning. If you were just taking him and Peyton out of college they have very similar characteristics and careers. Luck would have been faster and stronger than Peyton.”
Luck was the much safer choice, and seemed like a safe pick to be a good quarterback. Other than his shoulder injury, that has played out.
Obviously, being a receiver and switching to quarterback, he’s got a lot of up side,” Carolina scouting director Don Gregory told McGinn. “He’s smart, a perfectionist, got a live arm, the prototype size and he’s athletic. He’s not a finished product, by any means. He’s kind of in the mold of Jake Locker last year.”
As it turns out, being in the mold of Jake Locker was not a positive. Tannehill never really panned out in terms of that upside, but he did start games and had a good enough arm and athletic ability not to be a bust.
“He will be a No. 3 and might work his way into a No. 2,” one scout told McGinn. “There’s nothing there except straight character. You’re not talking about a guy who does a great job under pressure or is a pinpoint accurate passer. There’s not a single tool that you go, ‘Oh, golly. He’s going to win us a game.’ ”
Another scout said of Cousins: “Can’t scramble. Doesn’t have an elite arm. And poor decisions under pressure. He is an absolutely fantastic human being, but I don’t know what the attraction is to him. I don’t see the comparison between him and the real starters in the league. I think he’s just ordinary.”
Some of those negatives come up from time to time, but Cousins has also earned a lot of money in the NFL because he turned out better than a number 2 or number 3.
At the Senior Bowl, when he threw on air, great,” a scout said to McGinn. “When the game started he had two picks and looked so uncomfortable when he had to move. I do not see it with this guy at all.”
“Not a very strong arm,” another one relayed. “Not very good in the pocket. Average intelligence. He’s just a guy.”
Perhaps the Browns would have been better off employing these scouts and not drafting a 29-year-old QB in the first round.
Another was not as sure he could make it as a starter: “Everything they do they have to five- and seven-step drop and shotgun so he has space to see anything. He can’t do the three-step passing game, OK? That’s a problem. Awesome guy. Great story. If guys like Seneca Wallace can be a No. 2, so can he.”
As it turns out, Russell Wilson’s command of the interview room was a prelude for becoming a star quarterback.
A scout compared Osweiler to Dan McGwire, a tall QB taken in the first round who had a slow delivery. Osweiler did enough to get paid but the scouting was largely correct.
“If he had feet, he’d be one of the best,” one scout said told McGinn. “He just isn’t a real good foot athlete. But he is a good passer. When he gets time to throw, he throws well. But you have to be able to move now.”
“I don’t like him,” another scout said. “I think he’s heavy-footed. Tall pocket passer. That’s all he is.”
Oops. Score one for being a good passer and a statue in the pocket.
For 2013, McGinn did not do a detailed write-up and breakdown of each QB. That’s because the quarterback class was seen as underwhelming, so his piece focused on the scouting view of how this class compared to recent ones.
In the last two weeks, six NFL personnel people said there wasn’t a legitimate first-round quarterback. Three said they were greatly relieved their team didn’t need one.
“I think two will (go) in the first round,” said one personnel man for a team that’s looking. “People will reach on Geno Smith, Matt Barkley. But I don’t think there’s a first-round quarterback in the bunch.”
“Geno is the only one you’ve got a chance to get a starter,” an NFC personnel chief said. “After Geno, (Ryan) Nassib and Barkley, the rest are just bad.”
At times, scouts can be guilty of finding reasons not to take a player as opposed to reasons for taking him. According to one NFC evaluator, “I think they’re all bad. It’s such a crappy group. You look at them, is anyone sold on any of these guys?”
As it turns out, those who were very negative and harsh about the prospects of this QB group were correct. E.J. Manuel was the only first round pick. Geno Smith (31 career starts) turned out as the best QB of a very sub-par group.
Finally, let’s review the 2014 draft, where McGinn again went through each prospect and offered scouting takes.
Scouts actually praised his ability as a quarterback but the character and work ethic concerns repeatedly came up. “To me, the only thing holding him back is the off-the-field and if he’s committed to coming in on Mondays and Tuesdays,” one scout told McGinn. “He’s a likable guy. Not great on the (coaching) board. Doesn’t always work at it,” another said. When responding to McGinn about what could cause him to bust, another scout said “Off field. Parties. Lack of dedication to his craft. All the stuff that gets in the way. You know what I mean.”
I’d say that accurately sums up what went wrong with Johnny Manziel.
Scouts praised his physical ability but had concerns about his experience and accuracy. “Not ready to play. He has some of the same problems Blaine Gabbert had. He came out early and needed refinement. But he has a lot to work with,” was the assessment of one scout with McGinn.
He works his (expletive) off, he’s a leader, he’s won and kind of raised the program,” a second scout said. “Even though he really didn’t beat anybody. He’s actually more of a runner. They ran him a lot and rolled him out. If somebody takes him and thinks he’s going to be their franchise guy they’re going to get burned.”
Another scout, after saying he was scratching the surface of his potential, added “but I do worry about the pinpoint accuracy. I see some passes on the back shoulder, some on the back hip, some thrown back to the inside on an out route. Can those things be coached up? Some people say they can, others say they can’t.”
Score another one for the scouting assessments and concerns. Bortles played as long as he did because of his athleticism and competitiveness, but he was maddeningly inconsistent with his accuracy, and that never developed.
“He’s tougher than his brother,” another scout told McGinn. “Pretty athletic. Great arm talent. Even though he hasn’t thrown many interceptions he’s a little erratic in his decision-making.”
Another scout described him as “not the type of guy you’d have a beer with. Good kid but little bit of a forced leader.”
“He’s not an elite talent but he’s got a good enough arm, he’s a good enough athlete and he’s a leader,” one scout told McGinn. “The big thing is his intangibles. He wins. He’s clutch.”
Another described him in game manager terms: “I don’t know if he’s any better athlete than Geno but he’s a little stronger character kid. To win, he’ll have to have a good supporting cast.”
Then, there was that bad workout for scouts. “It looked awful. It’s almost impossible to have a bad workout. It’s scripted, it’s inside, it’s on air with your receivers. It’s like you and me playing pitch and catch when we were kids. You’ve got to be able to do that.”
It’s hard to say how Bridgewater would have turned out without the serious knee injury, but he does fit more in the game manager mode and could be a competent backup moving forward.
“Interesting cat,” one of the scouts told McGinn. “Gets the ball out very well. He doesn’t have the same arm as Carr but he’s got great feet, a quick release and he’s accurate. He played with some very pedestrian football players. Believe it or not, he has a lot of similarities to Drew Brees. But he ain’t Drew Brees.”
Of course, it’s now 2019 and because of playing behind Tom Brady and then getting injured we still don’t really know about Garoppolo.
“Just an arm,” said one scout. “He has no other quarterback qualities.”
“He can’t do it,” a third scout said. “He’s slow-footed and methodical. He’s got all those receivers and running backs, they should have been national champions were it not for him. He was the guy holding them back.”
Harsh, but in the end, correct.
“He’s a great game manager,” one scout said. “I think he’s an accurate passer (66.9%). He’s a good decision-maker. He doesn’t have a great arm, and he’s not a great athlete. He’s a very sound guy. He’s not going to beat himself. He’s a leader. He probably will be a starter within a couple seasons.”
“He’s better than (Christian) Ponder,” a third scout said. “Bigger, more durable. Probably equal to an Andy Dalton.”
Better than Christian Ponder is definitely something to strive for, and also accurate.
Finally, a scout said of Savage: “Big-time arm. More of a pocket guy but his feet are better than he gets credit for. The kid’s tough. I’ve seen him take a boatload of hits and he keeps coming. Kind of a Joe Flacco personality. Outward, extrovert, vocal kind of guy. There’s a steadiness and a coolness to him. The guy just hasn’t played enough.”
Another one, though, gave the following assessment to McGinn: “He’s one of these (expletive) late risers. Big-arm kid. Doesn’t move his feet very well. Throws it to the other color a lot.”
Tom Savage has seven career interceptions and five career touchdowns. He still hasn’t played very much, though he did for some reason start the 2018 season over Deshaun Watson.