Preseason QB Rookie Review: Week 3
There are few questions left to be answered regarding the rookie class this preseason. Performances are beginning to balance out, and it is becoming clear what each quarterback is at this stage in their first professional seasons. For some, the progress and promise has been exponential, while others are struggling to provide hope for the immediate future of their respective franchises.
Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears)
Mitchell Trubisky is a promising, yet incomplete young quarterback. This week highlighted his physical talents and skills, while also shedding light on the flaws that may restrict him from early success. As a college prospect at North Carolina, Trubisky regularly missed throws to his immediate left. He also struggled to read underneath cornerbacks in Cover 2. Neither concern had much opportunity to show its face until this week.
Trubisky needs to reign his feet because he has a tendency to open his front (left) foot very wide of a natural position. Opening one’s front foot too wide of the intended target inhibits the passer from getting snap at the end of his rotation and controlling the release point. The result is often a wide and sailing pass beyond the wide receiver, as was the case on this play for Trubisky. If Trubisky can’t attack a particular section of the field, defenses can more easily defend him.
That type of throw is more of a repeated action than a response in the pocket, so Trubisky may be able to fix it, but that is yet to be seen. Trubisky can absolutely fix the way he reads certain coverages, though, and he’s showing that he needs to. In the play below, he was a dropped ball away from an interception to a Cover 2 cornerback.
Quarterbacks cannot stare down the outside vertical route versus Cover 2. Underneath cornerbacks in that scheme are deliberately coaxing quarterbacks into throwing such passes. If the quarterback wants the vertical route in the “honey hole” between the safety and the cornerback, he needs to fake intention to throw to the flat and draw the cornerback upfield. On this play, Trubisky locks onto the vertical route and never hides his intentions. The cornerback slowly floats up the field until Trubisky goes to throw, then he snaps into action and attacks the catch point. That should be an interception, but Trubisky was bailed out by the defender’s stone hands.
A silver lining shone through the mistakes of Trubisky’s past, however. In addition to having poor footwork to his left and misreading Cover 2, Trubisky didn’t throw down the field well in college. He had the arm talent to do it, but his feet to often got away from him, or he was too late pulling the trigger. Trubisky tossed a dime this week to silence those critiques, at least for now.
Rhythm, smooth mechanics, ball placement — it finally all came together for Trubisky. He seldom made deep passing look this easy in college. The Bears haven’t had Trubisky take shots like that so far this preseason, but if he continues to make these types of throws, a Trubisky-led Bears offense may be more explosive than initially anticipated.
Trubisky also flashed his athleticism once again. Over the course of the preseason, he has proven comfortable and accurate outside of the pocket. He kept that streak alive this week.
After some bouncing around, Trubisky freed himself from pressure outside the pocket. He extended his path as wide as possible before finding Victor Cruz on the sideline. Cruz failed to work back all the way to the ball and secure it, but that isn’t Trubisky’s fault. The distance and accuracy of that throw again proves Trubisky’s impressive arm talent.
Trubisky remains in the race for the starting job in Chicago. He has not yet been dominant or consistent enough to outright win it, but he’s proven he is ready when the time comes. The Bears have little to gain from rolling with Mike Glennon, so it’s hard to imagine Trubisky not seeing the field eventually. What the Bears are doing feels similar to when the Minnesota Vikings started the 2014 season with Matt Cassel under center, knowing full well Teddy Bridgewater was more talented and capable.
Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs)
Patrick Mahomes remains inconsistent, which is not necessarily bad. Inconsistency implies there are worthwhile highs that come with the frustrating lows. That was the case with Mahomes through the first two weeks, and this week was no different.
Mahomes fumbled a shotgun snap inside the red zone on third down. On a handful of passes, his mechanics got the best of him as he faded his body away from the throw. Mahomes missed more throws than would be desired and missed badly when he did so. Yet, through it all, Mahomes still showed promise and didn’t allow his poor plays to deflate him from making good ones.
I can count on one hand the number of NFL quarterbacks who can make this throw the way Mahomes did. His level of flexibility, core strength, and focus is nearly unrivaled. Most quarterbacks would need to fully bring their bodies around to reset their feet, then make the throw. The window would be tighter by the time that all took place, if not closed entirely. Mahomes quickly summoned a throwing platform and got the ball out to give the receiver time to reel in the pass before a defender could close in on him, which helped maximize the yards-after-catch potential of the play.
Mahomes’ physical tools were on display all night and they really popped on this deep corner route in particular.
The reception required some acrobatics from the wide receiver, but completing that throw at all is impressive. Mahomes made it happen with a pass rusher barrelling toward him, no less. His natural arm talent occasionally lets him nail tough throws without stepping into them, which would have gotten him obliterated on this play. When Mahomes has a clean pocket, he shouldn’t be doing this, but being able to protect himself from a pass rusher while still completing a deep pass is a hell of a tool to have.
The most exhausting theme with Mahomes is his pitch count. For whatever reason, head coach Andy Reid refuses to play Mahomes for extended periods of time. He is the only premier rookie quarterback getting that treatment. Granted, Mahomes has the best starting quarterback ahead of him among the top four rookie quarterbacks, but it’s still perplexing the Chiefs don’t want to get Mahomes as many snaps as they can. Hopefully the rookie can get a healthy chunk of snaps in week four.
Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
The outlook for Deshaun Watson’s rookie season is gloomy. He may have been an accomplished and promising college prospect, but his preseason has been a disaster. Watson put up a second-straight dud this week after a mediocre Week 1, leaving little hope to draw on moving forward.
Watson does not seem mentally ready for the starting position. Aside from slant routes and option routes out of the backfield, he doesn’t seem to have any grasp on what routes will be open and when. Simple reads look anything but simple for Watson right now. He is even fouling up easy concepts that he threw well in college, such as “stick” routes.
There is no excuse for missing this easy completion to Bruce Ellington (#12). Ellington has leverage on the linebacker pre-snap and has the athletic advantage to turn outside before the linebacker can react and close on the ball. Watson completely spaced on the mismatch. In fact, Watson never seems to fully hone in on Ellington after the snap, lending to the possibility that Watson had no clue Ellington had a leverage advantage. Out of an empty formation, easy leverage windows can not be overlooked.
Later, Watson nearly throw a horrendous interception. He felt pressure in the pocket soon after redirecting his eyes toward the middle of the field. Watson pinballed around for a second before mindlessly launching a deep ball toward two defenders. At no point in the play did Watson appear to have a worthwhile plan.
Toward the end of his outing, Watson did throw an interception. Decision making was not the root of his mistake this time, however. Watson instead faltered due to poor mechanics and, in turn, putrid accuracy. That was the story throughout most of the game, too. Watson regularly missed throws by failing to keep a proper throwing base and playing with his shoulders wide open. Both issues stripped Watson of velocity and consistency in his release point, resulting in incompletions one after another.
Watson’s mental process was right on this play. He recognized the “stick” route leverage he failed to take advantage of earlier and intended on making amends. Watson’s feet didn’t follow his mind. By the time Watson went to throw, the base of his backfoot was pointed behind the intended receiver, as was his front shoulder. Watson wasn’t able to rotate his hips cleanly and generate snap at the end of his throwing motion. The pass sailed too high for the receiver to get a good grasp of it, allowing the deep cornerback behind the play to capitalize and pick off the pass.
Watson struggled to get much going within the structure of the offense. Once again, his best performances came on broken plays, often from outside a conventional passing position. He continues to impress as an athlete and creator.
On both these plays, Watson was able to evade pressure, find an open receiver, and toss an accurate pass. Without success on easy throws, however, Watson’s explosive plays meant very little in the grand scheme. At least he has shown something for his fans to cling to.
Watson needs to be better next week. Plain and simple. A small handful of exciting plays aren’t nearly enough to offset bad accuracy and spotty decision making. If Watson doesn’t show any improvement on the easy plays in his final preseason game, it will be hard to confidently argue he deserves to start over Tom Savage (who is not a starting caliber quarterback in his own right).
DeShone Kizer (Cleveland Browns)
The 2017 NFL season has its first official rookie starting quarterback: DeShone Kizer. He earned the start in the Browns’ third preseason game, and it served as an omen for what is to come. Even with a miserable, yet misleading 6-18, 1 INT stat line, Kizer showed head coach Hue Jackson the requisite skills to be the starting quarterback for Cleveland. It’s Kizer time.
Kizer sprinted out of the gate. He was dealing in myriad ways, from quick “iso” routes on the boundary to difficult play-action concepts. Third downs were no issue for Kizer as he zipped through each and every one of them, showing the poise and decisiveness needed in those challenging moments. Kizer converted a 3rd-and-8 to Kenny Britt, a 3rd-and-4 to Corey Coleman, and threw an accurate ball on 3rd-and-6 in the red zone that Britt couldn’t hold on to. The throw to Coleman seized the most attention.
I don’t know. I sincerely don’t. Kizer’s physical talent was never a question, but that throw isn’t something a young quarterback, or any quarterback, is expected to make. Kizer threaded the ball inches past the defender, yet just within reach of Coleman’s outstretched arms. Special quarterbacks make special throws when their team needs them most. That was a special throw.
On two of Kizer’s following possessions, the offense was pinned inside their own five-yard line to start the drive. Kizer dug the offense out of the hole both times. Cleveland’s brutalizing ground game helped plenty, but Kizer made all the right decisions and proper throws to allow the Browns to march out of their own end zone.
The first of those two drives ended in an interception, partly because Kizer was robbed on the penultimate play. The offense worked themselves to about their own 30-yard line, but were faced with 3rd-and-5. Kizer had been money on every third down up until then. It shouldn’t have been a problem and, initially, it wasn’t.
Wide receiver Corey Coleman was somehow penalized for offensive pass interference. Coleman used his arms to separate himself from the cornerback, sure, but what he did was standard. It wasn’t malicious or overt. It was a quick jab as he turned for the ball. That is not a penalty nine times out of ten. Unfortunately, this play was the exception.
On the ensuing play, now 3rd-and-15, Kizer got too testy and threw an interception. He either felt he could beat the linebacker with the throw or did not see the linebacker. Regardless of Kizer’s intentions, the linebacker floated under the pass and tipped it up for cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who was able to secure it on the way down. In a preseason game, allowing Kizer to try that throw on 3rd-and-15 was probably more valuable than cooking up a lame draw play, but Kizer does need to prove he won’t make that same mistake moving forward.
The second of the two drives from out of their own end zone came to a close with a Duke Johnson fumble. Kizer and the Browns marched all the way down to the red zone, but lost it all on a silly fumble. In all reality, things like that will happen in the regular season. The important takeaway is that Kizer was able to help orchestrate the offense into that position from deep in their own territory.
Throughout the rest of the game, Kizer was aloof. He was not bad, per se, but he only looked to test his limits in the deep game. The desire to look for more sensible and efficient options had vanished, lending to his poor completion percentage. On one play, Kizer chucked a deep ball on third down, even though he had a wide open checkdown option who almost certainly would have picked up a first down. Kizer needs to take those checkdowns and trust his playmakers.
The box score may not say it, but Kizer looked nice. He didn’t need to be perfect to prove he has the necessary skills to unlock this Browns offense. Kizer should try to put together a more efficient and consistent final preseason game before delving into his first regular season in the pros.
- Nathan Peterman (Buffalo Bills) may actually be a starter at some point this season. If Tyrod Taylor’s concussion proves problematic or Taylor falters, the coaching staff, already working toward a rebuild, may give a new quarterback a shot. Peterman has been solid in quick passing and play-action this preseason. He still needs to prove he can manage a less-than-ideal pocket, though.
- Josh Dobbs (Pittsburgh Steelers) hardly got a chance this week. He hasn’t looked great so far this preseason, leaving the Steelers to give backup reps back to Landry Jones this week. The immediate outlook for Dobbs is poor, for now.
- C.J. Beathard (San Francisco 49ers) is still oddly productive. He tossed an interception this week, but continues to show he can do enough to move Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Neither Brian Hoyer nor Matt Barkley are anything to get excited over, and the 49ers will be a disaster this year. It’s reasonable to think Beathard could play at some point in the regular season.
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