By: Tom Shannon
One of the things I look most forward to every year is reading Bob McGinn's scouting reports on prospects. McGinn has the contacts to get what are often very detailed and frank quotes from scouts as he takes a thorough look at the top guys every year at each position. He's been doing it for 36 years and I'm happy to say that he's doing it now for The Athletic, where it’s much easier to justify spending the money to get them.
McGinn's entry on the top quarterbacks in this year's draft was fascinating and, as usual, was full of some controversial quotes from scouts. But the ones about Tua Tagovailoa were, perhaps the most interesting.
Tagovailoa's injury history and how it will carry over to his NFL career is, of course, a major part of the story. But enough of that has been hashed and re-hashed and I won't go into it other than to say that scouts were concerned to a varying degree about it.
But what was really interesting were the comments about Tagovailoa's ability to handle the mental part of the game:
"He’s nowhere close to Russell Wilson as far as escaping pressure and making plays on the move,' said a third scout. 'He’s not Drew Brees. He shies away a lot in the pocket when people get at him. I just never saw this phenomenal, once-in-a-generation talent."
"Some teams are more concerned than others about his 13 on the Wonderlic, the lowest score at the position. 'We interviewed him,' said one scout. 'He’s smart enough, but he’s an RPO guy. (Steve) Sarkisian (Alabama’s new coordinator in 2019) tried to do pro stuff and he (Tagovailoa) couldn’t handle it mentally because all he’d ever done was RPO stuff. So they went back to RPO."
I don’t think a low Wonderlic score is a huge deal to many NFL teams. Many teams understand that the test has its limitations. For many, usage of matrices testing involving shapes and other non-reading material is thought to be more valuable as a measure of football intelligence.
But those quotes about Tua not being able to handle a pro-style offense are damning. I can totally understand Alabama playing to their quarterback's strengths with a lot of RPO. But it’s a bad sign when they ask him to do more and he can't make the adjustment.
Bottom line, Tua might be an effective quarterback in the NFL. But you’ll have to be willing to design your offense around him.
The bet here is that this is common knowledge among NFL teams. If it wasn't, it is now. You wonder how badly this will hurt Tagovailoa's draft stock.
"Obviously, that decision is seemingly made. The Dolphins are going to make the attempt at Burrow. So they must believe it’s worth it to give up multiple picks to try to get Burrow.
"Me? I’m not there.
"Joe Burrow was very good in 2019. And he’s a very good quarterback prospect.
“But he’s not Andrew Luck. He’s not John Elway. He’s not Peyton Manning… So I don’t give up, say, three first round picks -- two this year and one next -- for Burrow."
I can understand Salguero’s point of view. At the same time, scouts were unbelievably positive about Burrow in McGinn's quarterback scouting report:
"I’ve never seen anything quite like this before,' one scout with 30-plus years in the business said. 'He totally dominated college football. He was fascinating to watch. He just reminded me of Peyton Manning. The way that nothing seemed to concern him.'…'He has a good enough arm and he runs pretty good,' said another scout. 'But he has elite, magical ability to process quickly, and his accuracy is unbelievable. Those are the two most important things... He doesn’t have near the arm talent of Matthew Stafford, but I bet he wins more."
"He received a late-round grade a year ago from National Football Scouting. 'Never had a guy in the summer I felt he was a backup and in November I said this guy might be the best player in the draft,' said a third scout. 'I’ve never seen a guy play at such an efficient level. If people had truth serum poured down their throat, they waited all year for him to fall off the wagon. ‘This can’t be real.’ But he didn’t have a bad quarter all season. And you’re talking about Auburn, Bama, SEC defenses."
Burrow really sounds like the guy to take in this draft if you can get him. There's almost no price that's too big. There's only one thing you need to do: be right.
Dave Hyde at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on quarterback Jordan Love:
"For a while, the idea of the Miami Dolphins wanting to trade up for Joe Burrow had been floated (ESPN’s Todd McShay said Friday he knows it, “for a fact.”) For a while, there’s been reports the Dolphins want Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.
"Forever, there’s been the Dolphins’ coveting of Tua Tagovailoa.
"But the most practical question of the off-season… is this: Can you fall in love with Jordan Love (because, if not, you’ll probably have to grit your teeth and feel lucky about Tua’s injury history)?
When considering Love, you have to look at the talent that was around him at Utah State Vs. what the two consensus top prospects, Tagovailoa and Burrow had.
Both Tagovailoa and Burrow had some of the best blocking in the nation in front of them. For instance, it was rare to see Tua throwing from anything other than a clean pocket at Alabama and when he did see pressure, he often just pulled it down and ran.
Admittedly I wasn't sitting and watching Utah State play all year the way I was watching Alabama and. But its rare to see a highlight of Love throwing the ball when he doesn't have someone in his face or wasn’t running for his life.
What's really interesting and what's really going to drive Love’s value up are the comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. Here's what Lance Zierlein at NFL.com had to say about Mahomes in 2017 with some selected strengths and weaknesses in the table below:
"…Mahomes' ability to improvise and extend plays can lead to big plays for his offense, but he will have to prove he can operate with better anticipation and be willing to take what the defense gives him in order to win from the pocket. Mahomes will be a work in progress, but he's a high ceiling, low floor prospect."
And here is what Zierlein has to say about Love:
"…Love's accuracy took a step back [in 2019], and his delayed reaction from ‘see it’ to ‘throw it’ when making reads is troubling. He has the arm to stick throws into tight windows but needs better eye discipline and anticipation to keep windows open. His size, mobility and arm talent combined with his 2018 flashes could be a winning hand that leads a team into the future or a siren's song of erratic play and unfulfilled potential."
The similarities, both strengths and weaknesses are all there. Love is the same athletic, big armed project that needs work with the mental part of the game. He's got Mahomes-like boom or bust potential that will entice a lot of teams to take a chance on him in the hopes of getting a similar type of player.
If Love is drafted in the top 15 slots in this draft, he should send half of his signing bonus to Kansas City. Because it will be visions of getting another Patrick Mahomes that will have pushed him up the board.
"And then, why not Herbert? Well, because I cannot get last year’s game against Arizona State out of my mind -- the one in which the Oregon Ducks needed a big play from Herbert to pull out a close game that would have put his team in the national championship playoffs.
"In that big moment, Herbert, who threw two touchdowns and two interceptions and missed key passes, was outplayed by a freshman quarterback who threw three touchdowns without an interception.
So big moment, but not a big response. And this wasn’t the only time I was bothered by Herbert not rising above the fray in a big moment."
I'm afraid that these are exactly my thoughts as well.
Many have criticized Herbert for being an introvert. I really don't think that matters that much. Hyde quotes ESPN's Todd McShay on the topic.
“He’s an introvert; the guard is the one sitting close to us talking to us and Herbert is in the back corner,” McShay said. "He’s working on it , but he’s not your typical quarterback. There are some teams that are OK with it and some teams that say that’s not what we want in our quarterback.”
Indeed, some teams probably don't care about it. I don't think I would care that much.
But what every team absolutely does care about is a quarterback's ability to respond under pressure.
I'm not a scout and I haven't reviewed a whole lot of Oregon video. I don't see a lot of PAC 12 games because they're on late and I go to bed early. But the ones I have seen are the big ones. And outside of the Rose Bowl I've seen nothing but Herbert coming up small.
I keep trying to visualize Herbert driving the team down the field for the game winning touchdown with less than 2 minutes left. I can't see it.
Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald advocates for a running back in the draft:
"I like bigger backs. To put it in New England Patriots terms -- something the Dolphins are very much about these days, if you notice their roster -- I want running backs like LeGarrette Blount or Antowain Smith or Corey Dillon on the roster."
"So I look at the running back prospects in this year’s draft and I really, really like AJ Dillon from Boston College."
"Dillon is not a first day pick. He might not be a second-round pick, either, if the experts have their way."
"But I’d take Dillon in the third round all day long. And did I mention he’s 6-foot and 247 pounds?"
I'm sure Dillon is a fine back but he's not the type of back that the Dolphins need right now. They already have Jordan Howard, who will serve the Dolphins well as an early down back. Howard is a one cut back with good vision and he runs with power.
What Howard does not do well is catch passes out of the backfield. The Dolphins need a third down back who can pass protect and make a reception when needed to get a first down in the open field. That's not going to be Dillon's area of strength.
"This is the one position on Miami’s roster that seems fairly stacked from a talent standpoint if Parker (11) replicates last year’s productivity (1,202 yards and nine touchdowns on 72 receptions), Williams doesn’t suffer a setback from the ACL injury he suffered in early November, and if Wilson evolves into respectable slot receiver. Wilson’s roster spot isn’t guaranteed because he’s due $9.5 million, but he’ll likely get a chance to earn it in training camp. Grant, a return specialist, should be considered safe if he’s productive in training camp, so the rest of Miami’s receivers are competing for one or two spots on the 53-man roster. Hollins is a special-teams demon, and Jennings Jr. and Ford have potential as slot receivers, so those three should be considered the front-runners for the final spot heading into training camp. Adding a young receiver from this talented draft class would complicate things further."
I'm going to disagree with this.
I think depending upon Parker after one good year to lead this group wouldn't be prudent. The history of the league is stacked with one-year wonders who performed after years of mediocrity only to return to the proper level after it was over. I would agree that Albert Wilson is a solid second receiver when used properly. But the rest of this group lacks play making ability.
In a year where the wide receiver talent supposedly runs extremely deep, I think looking to add talent here is the right thing to do.
That aside, looking further into this roster evaluation going into the draft, I'm thinking that the Dolphins need to get stronger up the middle. They had what was for my money the worst run defense in the league last year and they did nothing in free agency to improve it. Defensive tackle, inside linebacker and safety are major needs that need to be filled early and in some cases with multiple prospects.
I would definitely be looking to add to the interior of the offensive line as well with at least one guard. Jesse Davis may have to play right tackle and Michael Dieter didn't have the look of a player who was likely to develop last year.
"Rank these scenarios with the No. 3 pick in order of the likelihood of the Lions doing them: Trading back; drafting a quarterback; drafting a non-quarterback.
"1. Trading back. Working with the likelihood that Joe Burrow and Chase Young go 1-2, Detroit could command trade value for No. 3 with quarterback-needy teams. Provided one or two of those teams is interested in making sure they secure Tua Tagovailoa, the second-ranked QB in this class, the Lions could land a lucrative package by trading back."
"2. Drafting a non-quarterback. If Tagovailoa goes No. 2, it would leave Young for Detroit at No. 3. Even if Young goes No. 2, if the Lions fall in love with Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, they could make sure they nab an elite talent at No. 3."
"3. Drafting a quarterback. It's not impossible to see the Lions taking Tagovailoa but considering the team's needs and the expectation of winning in 2020, this seems like the least likely possibility."
Every instinct I have tells me there's no way the Lions take a quarterback at #3 overall. Matthew Stafford is still a good quarterback at age 32 and the cap hit would be massive if they traded him under the current conditions of his contract.
Just one thing gives me pause. The odds in Las Vegas that the Lions will take Tagovailoa? -110. That's tied for the top spot with the Dolphins.
I've done nothing but lose my shirt betting the NFL and I don't do it much anymore. But there's one thing I've learned. Never, ever bet against the bookie.
As an outsider looking in, I have learned to always follow the money. When looking for the real deal, I always look at the people who get paid to be right. That means ignore the media “experts” and listen to the scouts (when they’re being honest) and, above all, look to the people in the desert.
I hear it all the time. Bookies are just trying to get 50% of the betting on either side so they can collect the fee as profit. And sometimes they are. But you don’t get paid to play it safe. You get paid to maximize profit and sometimes they set the odds to sucker the public into betting the wrong way. When I see lines like this, my antennae go up.
If the odds don't make sense, there's usually a reason for it. Watch out for the Lions.
"Dolphins' depth chart - QB (3): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Jake Rudock"
"The Dolphins have a little over $10 million committed to Fitzpatrick (14), the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2019, and Rosen, who Miami traded a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round selection to acquire during the last year’s NFL draft. There’s a chance Rosen, who struggled as Miami’s starter last year, will improve in his third season, but the Dolphins’ decision-makers openly acknowledge that they need to find a young quarterback they can groom for the future so don’t be surprised if Rosen, who is 23, is traded again. The Dolphins are searching for a quarterback with athleticism because that’s the type of player new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey prefers."
This isn't going to be a popular opinion but depending upon Ryan Fitzpatrick to perform again in 2020 the way he did in 2019 seems to me to a mistake.
Fitzpatrick has been up and down over the course of his career. In 2011 Fitzpatrick earned a six-year, $59 million contract extension including a $10 million signing bonus with the Buffalo Bills. Head coach Chan Gailey was fired the next year.
After bouncing around a bit Fitzpatrick landed in New York with the Jets. He started in all 16 games of the 2015 season and had his best year as a pro with 3,905 passing yards and 31 passing touchdowns along with 15 interceptions. In 2016 the Jets went 5-11 and Fitzpatrick’s contract was voided after the season.
I think you see where I'm headed here. The Dolphins seem to have tied themselves to Fitzpatrick for the coming season as the starter, at least until a rookie is ready to go. But every instinct I have screams that the Dolphins had better be ready for Fitzpatrick to lose his mind sooner rather than later again this year.
The rate at which former Patriots either become very average or, even worse, flat out fail once they leave the organization to go to another franchise is alarming. Former Patriots coaches dot the map of the NFL and the only ones that have been at all successful are the ones that have been able to see beyond their former place of operation to identify talent outside of that realm.
To some extent this is all understandable. Head coach Brian Flores spent his whole career with the Patriots and that’s all he knows. That limited vision extends to his coaching hires, which focused almost entirely on former Patriot coaches his first year. In his second year he hired an offensive coordinator that he knew because he faced him when he was part of the Bills organization in the AFC East.
A head coaches’ primary job is to manage personnel, both players and coaches. When you are hiring one who spent all his time with one team, this is what you get.
In any case, as ex-Patriot after ex-Patriot signs with the Dolphins because of the familiarity of head coach Brian Flores with the players, you wonder where the general manager and the pro personnel department are in this process and why they aren't pushing forward a more diverse pool of talent.
I find it all to be mildly concerning.
"TE (4): Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Michael Roberts and Chris Myarick."
Gesicki (80) had a solid 2019 season as Miami’s pass-catching specialist. He was second on the team with 51 receptions, which he turned into 570 yards and five touchdowns. Smythe (seven receptions for 65 yards) has been adequate as Miami’s in-line tight end the past two seasons, but he now has competition from Roberts, a third-year veteran Miami claimed off waivers earlier this year. Myarick showed promise on the practice squad last season, so he could be ready to push for a spot on the 53-man roster this fall. If Gesicki is going to remain the featured player at this position, it would help if he became a respectable blocker."
Kelly is a football writer. Unlike others who get paid to pop off with their opinions, he actually spends his time in the locker room. Because of that, I like him better than most Dolphins followers.
But he really pushes my buttons with his constant harping on Gesicki’s inability to block.
Gesicki. Is. Not. A. Blocker. He wasn’t drafted to do it.
Not all tight ends are expected to block effectively in 2020. Gesicki is a tight end who will create mismatches by spitting out in the slot. That's his strength and when he's used properly, he can be pretty good at it. But he's never going to be expected to block and putting him into a position where he has to do it is not playing to his strengths.
That's OK. Jimmy Graham couldn't block either and there are many others around the NFL playing the “U” tight end who aren't expected to do it.
Welcome to the modern NFL, Omar. Get used to it.
Follow Tom on Twitter @bearingthenews