Last off-season, Hogs Haven published articles that focused on ranking position groups in an effort to identify what the division would look like in 2019. This year, we’re going to do it again.
Click here to see all the Ranking the NFC East articles
NFC East Positional overview
The NFC East is loaded with great running backs and great defensive linemen, but — at least based on the 2019 season — I don’t think anyone is projecting the division to lead the league in quarterback play.
But considering the fact that two of this year’s starters were rookies playing on bad teams for coaches on the hot seat a season ago, we could see much higher quality play out of the QBs than most national pundits are expecting.
Here in DC, Scott Turner has taken over the offense, with Ken Zampese taking on the role of QB position coach. In New York, we have a familiar face in a new position and location as Jason Garrett takes a step back from his head coaching gig in Dallas to become the offensive coordinator for the Giants. As a former NFL QB himself, Garrett has had a pretty impressive track record of getting the most out of guys with low expectations like Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do with the 2019 6th overall pick, Daniel Jones.
Garrett’s replacement in Dallas is Mike McCarthy, who, with one of the most talented quarterbacks of all time in Green Bay managed to win a super bowl. After a year out of the coaching game, when he says he refreshed his football knowledge (but stayed well away from the Lean Cuisine menu), it’ll be interesting to find out if McCarthy has anything left to offer the game or if he turns out to be a super-sized hand puppet for Jerry Jones and his last gasp effort to put a 21st century Lombardi Trophy on the shelf.
The only head coach-QB combination that has worked together before is the Pederson-Wentz team. Like Garrett, Pederson is a former NFL QB, and Wentz may have the best combination of knowledge, skills and experience in the division in 2020. Wentz’s problems have rarely been related to talent, though. His issue has been staying on the field. Philly fans were rightly impressed with his play down the home stretch of the 2019 season as the Eagles did what was necessary to win the division and make the playoffs after a dumpster fire start to the regular season. The front office responded, however, by drafting Jalen Hurts in April, perhaps signalling that Wentz may not have a promising long-term outlook in Philly. Of course, you can always choose to believe the “quarterback factory” explanation offered by GM Howie Roseman.
Speaking of QB factories, you may have noticed that two division rivals have former Redskins as their backup signal callers - Nate Sudfeld in Philadelphia and Colt McCoy in New York. Only Andy Dalton and Alex Smith offer much in the way of veteran savvy at the backup role in the NFC East.
While Dwayne Haskins, in 2019, probably had the roughest year of the four 2020 starting quarterback in the NFC East, things have changed. The Football Team has a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new QB coach, new offensive scheme and new attitude. And Haskins himself seems to have morphed into a more physical and mature professional. I think anyone who projects Haskins’ performance in 2020 based on the rough start he had a season ago will be making a mistake.
This division is filled with young guys — Carson Wentz, at 28, is the oldest starter of the bunch. Jones and Haskins, each 23, should both be poised, with new head coaches, OCs and offensive schemes, to compete for recognition as the best in the division as Dak Prescott plays for a big long-term contract in ‘21 and Wentz seeks to prove that he can stay healthy and win playoff games.
One advantage that Haskins will have over the competition is that he is the only starting QB in the division that won’t have to face the expected fearsome pass rush of the Washington front four twice this year. It should be an interesting season.
What do scouts look for in NFL quarterback prospects?
Last year, the Giants fan site, Big Blue View, published a very good series on the topic, “What do scouts look for?”
I’d like to quote heavily from that series here. What follows is the BBV discussion of what scouts look for in running back prospects.
Many consider arm strength to be very overrated when evaluating quarterbacks. In some regards, that is true. If a passer doesn’t have a huge arm, he can make up for it with anticipation. However, there is a minimum needed without question and also without question, there are times in a game when powering a ball into a tight spot has extreme value. Arm strength matters.
Size matters as well, but it isn’t one of the top three traits. We have seen all shapes and sizes of quarterbacks have success in this league. In fact, shorter quarterbacks are showing now more than ever that they can play at this level. Maybe they should have been given a chance long ago. Doug Flutie agrees. That being said, even guys like Russell Wilson struggle to see the field at times because they are simply short for the position. Also in terms of size, it is frightening when a slightly built player like Lamar Jackson so often puts himself in harm’s way. Having body armor is important.
Decision making, field vision and football intelligence are all also extremely important. But we have also seen some of the best quarterbacks in history make poor decisions with the football but make up for it with other extreme quarterbacking skills. Brett Favre comes to mind. Field vision and football intelligence are also wonderful attributes, but great coaching and offensive scheme can be a crutch for quarterbacks that are not at the top of the list in these categories.
Three Most Important Traits
The ability to run with the football is great. Guys like Josh Allen made many huge plays as a runner last year while they learned the nuances of playing this extremely difficult position. To some degree, athleticism and running ability can allow for a young quarterback to keep his head above water while learning the position. But far more important than being a ball carrier, “Mobility” is the subtle movements that great quarterbacks display within the confines of the pocket. Dan Marino and Peyton Manning were two of the slowest football players we have seen in the last several decades, but they moved brilliantly within the pocket while maintaining a distinct passing posture. We could take this a step forward and just label this trait “Footwork”. Joe Montana had the sweetest of feet, whether is was just the timing of rhythm of his drop and getting the ball out on time or on a designed rollout. It was like ballet for Montana. There are all sorts of types of athletic ability, but what is most important at this position is having controlled, light feet that best keeps the quarterback in position to destroy a defense with his arm.
Poise can mean a lot of things and is very much in tune with a quarterback’s mental makeup. In a huge game when under extreme pressure, does a quarterback play his best or does he wilt? When huge men are crashing in around him, does he maintain an even keel, keep his eyes downfield and deliver a strike when everyone in the stadium knows he is going to take a huge hit? There is also poise off the field, which to some degree, is interchangeable with leadership as well as competitiveness. How does the face of your franchise handle his business? Do his peers look up to him both on and off the field? When the going gets tough, do they look his way? Is winning at all costs the most important thing to this player? We are trying to win Super Bowls here you realize, right?
If a quarterback can do all the things mentioned above, but can’t put the ball where he wants, a lot of his other skills go for naught. Some describe accuracy as if you are looking at a door. Can a quarterback hit the door? Great, but can he consistently hit the doorknob? And best of all, can a quarterback prospect repeatedly hit the keyhole much like Drew Brees, probably the most accurate quarterback in history. Now, the trick is, can this quarterback remain consistent with his ball placement once he gets moved off his spot or he has to alter his feet or arm angle? Accuracy is not the same as completion percentage. It is where a quarterback puts the football as well as factoring in the difficulty of the throw. Also, accuracy very rarely ever improves at the NFL level. If a passer only has “Hit the door” accuracy, you are probably better off playing against him than with him. With today’s NFL rules in the passing game, defending a quarterback with consistent “Keyhole” accuracy is nearly indefensible.
The film room - Andrew’s analysis
In this section, we’ll offer a look at the four starting quarterbacks in the NFC East, with an analysis of their styles, skills and limitations written by Andrew York, who has volunteered to co-author this series with me.
Andrew is a self-taught film analyst with a pretty impressive resume. He has a PhD in Experimental Particle Physics and has spent several years doing research with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, and now does R&D work as a US government contractor. He will put that analytical brain to work this off-season helping to analyze some of the top players in the NFC East.
He will break down film from all 4 NFC quarterbacks:
- Dak Prescott
- Carson Wentz
- Daniel Jones
- Dwayne Haskins
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott played college football for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Initially backing up Tyler Russell in 2013 as a redshirt sophomore, Dak took over after an injury to Russell early in the season and held onto the position afterwards, starting for his remaining three years with the Bulldogs. In college, Dak was known for being a thickly-muscled, durable dual-threat QB, threatening at least as much on the ground as in the air, and leading the team in both rushing and passing yards over multiple years, and joining Tim Tebow as the only two players in SEC history to accomplish that feat. Dak was taken in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
The first thing that jumps out when watching Dak play is his athleticism. Although Dak is a very capable pure passer, the Cowboys certainly take advantage of his ability to run to spread defenses out and open up their rushing game. They also feature him throwing on a lot of rollouts that leverage his threat to run to extend his time to scan the field and let the play develop. Dak also has a good arm and is capable of making any throw on the field so long as he can set his feet, though he makes the occasional inaccurate throw when he doesn’t set his feet. Dak also displays excellent pocket awareness.
Another thing that jumped out at me was how many of his plays seem scripted or designed to force the ball to a certain player. This is purely my subjective opinion, but the Cowboys’ offense seemed more scripted than the typical NFL offense, and this simplified Dak’s job in reading the field on many plays. Basically, it seemed to me like the 2019 offense depended on star skill-position players (Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott) winning 1-on-1 matchups. I think Dak made enough full-field reads and progressions to show he is capable of doing so; he just wasn’t asked to do it as much as many other QBs, which is interesting to note.
This may be connected to a weakness I noticed with Dak, which is that he tends to decide where he wants to throw the ball pre-snap and over-focuses on his intended target, sometimes to the point of ignoring other receivers that break open and telegraphing his intent to the defense. This tendency seems to get much worse when the Cowboys are trailing, particularly in the 4th quarter. It seems like the pressure starts to get to Dak, and he stops trusting his ability to make reads on the fly and relies too much on what he sees pre-snap. I think this is a big part of the reason that Dak is 35-11 against teams that end the season with 9 or fewer wins, but only 5-13 against teams that end the season with 10+ wins. If the Cowboys are down and the game is on the line, Dak becomes predictable and over-focuses on one target.
Overall, I think Dak is a good QB, but not a great one. He has all the physical traits you’d want in a QB: a good arm, tremendous athleticism and mobility, and a body built to take hits. Mentally, he’s a bit more of a mixed bag. I think he still has many of the mental traits you’d want in a QB: leadership, intelligence, and I think he’s capable of reading the field, but his play tends to break down a bit in game-on-the-line situations, and either his coaches didn’t trust him to read the field in those situations, or Dak didn’t trust himself. Either way, it led to a QB that was very good most of the time, but struggled a lot against good teams.
Cowboys vs Vikings, Week 10 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[7:51] Dak lines up in shotgun and fakes a handoff before rolling out right. As he’s running, he motions Amari Cooper, who stops on a dime and breaks out to get open. Dak makes a pretty amazing cross-body throw while jumping in the air, not even setting his feet, but managing to rocket the ball to Cooper (who was covered) entirely with his arm in a very tight receiving window to get the touchdown.
This play showcased not only Dak’s athleticism, mobility, and arm strength, but also his ability to make very difficult throws into tight windows. However, it’s worth pointing out here that this play seems very scripted to get the ball to Cooper. Once Dak rolls out right he’s not looking anywhere else, and the burden is really on Cooper to get open and make a spectacular catch in the endzone.
I noticed a lot of plays like this in last year’s Cowboys games, where the play was designed to force the ball a certain way and relied on Cowboys players out-athleting their opponents. This kind of play highlights why the Cowboys passing game was much less productive before the arrival of Amari Cooper, it depends heavily on a few star skill-position players to make it work.
[12:42] Dak lines up to take the snap and Ezekiel Elliot lines up in the slot. This is a critical 4th & 5 situation in the red zone with the Cowboys trailing by 4 points and under a minute left to play. The entire game hinges on the outcome of this play.
This play is broken down in greater detail by Brett Kollmann here, but the summary is that Dak locks in on Elliott as his intended target based on the look of the defense pre-snap and so misses Randall Cobb coming open due to one of the safeties getting out of position.
This decision on where to throw pre-snap and over-focus on his intended target was emblematic of Dak in critical situations last year. Early in a game or when Dak is nursing a comfortable lead, he seems more relaxed and doesn’t force the ball as much. But when the Cowboys are trailing and the game is on the line, he doesn’t seem to trust his reads on the fly and decides too much pre-snap. Unlike the previous play, Elliott was not able to out-athlete Eric Kendricks to bail Dak out.
Cowboys vs Eagles, Week 16 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[2:16] The Cowboys are down by 10, but this is still early in the game. Dak takes the snap and goes through what looks like a full-field progression, first reading right then scanning left. One of his receivers on the right motions he is open, but Dak sees a better opportunity passing deep on the left to Michael Gallup, who wins his 1-on-1 matchup outside with Jalen Mills.
Dak launches the ball hard for a beautiful 48 yard pass that lands right on Gallup. Not only does this play showcase Dak’s arm strength and touch, but it also shows his ability to make full-field progressions and show good decision-making when he’s relaxed and not under pressure. I include this play because I think it’s an example of Dak going through full progressions, although it’s also possible that the play was scripted and Dak was just looking off the defense while he waited for Gallup to get deep.
[7:49] This is another play that seems designed to get the ball to Amari Cooper quickly. Dak rolls out right after the snap and locks in on Cooper (on the right boundary) right away. Cooper breaks outside and Dak runs with him, never seeming to take his eyes off Cooper. Eagles DB Avonte Maddox seems to be watching Dak’s eyes and realizes the ball is going to Cooper, which allows him to get in and break up the play.
This is yet another example of Dak deciding his target pre-snap and only focusing on him when down in the 4th quarter.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz started two years in college for the North Dakota State Bisons football team. In 2014, his first year as a starter, he threw for 3,111 yards and 25 touchdowns and lead the team to its fourth consecutive FCS Championship. His second year as starter was marred by a broken wrist to start the season that kept him out of all but 7 games, but he still managed to lead the team to another FCS Championship. The Eagles traded up to 2nd overall in the 2016 draft to select Carson Wentz as their franchise QB.
In a lot of ways, Wentz is a prototypical NFL QB. He’s tall, has a good (but not elite) arm, makes full progressions, reads the field well, and does a good job placing the ball where only his intended target can catch it. Wentz is also exceptional at extending plays and improvising when the play breaks down, which he has had to do a lot with perennially poor WR groups since starting in Philadelphia. Last year was particularly bad with regard to the receivers available, and Wentz frequently had to rely on passes to RBs and TEs in order to move the sticks. Despite his miserable WR group, Wentz managed to throw for over 4,000 yards and he led the Eagles to the playoffs. Although Wentz doesn’t look especially athletic, he actually has very good mobility in the pocket and has the athleticism to make plays with his legs, which he did frequently when improvising last year.
Bucky Brooks of NFL Network is fond of saying that QBs are either trucks or trailers, they either carry their team and elevate the play of people around them or they get carried by the team and depend on great weapons to win games. Wentz is definitely a “truck” in that analogy, creating something out of nothing on many plays with his improvisational ability and ability to find open receivers late in progressions or after the play breaks down.
Wentz is not without weaknesses though, the biggest and most obvious of which is his injury history. In addition to injuries in college, Wentz has been injured in every year he has played in the NFL, whether in the preseason, regular season, or postseason. He managed to suit up for 16 games last year, but his concussion in the playoffs sealed the Eagles’ postseason fate. Although all of his injuries seem to be flukey and unrelated (they are certainly not the result of a single nagging injury), I see enough in his play style to make me think it’s not totally bad luck. Wentz clearly values moving the ball more than protecting himself, and is often caught staring downfield for an open receiver instead of paying attention to pressure in the pocket. This fearlessness leads to some heroic plays, but it also leads to a lot of unnecessary sacks. Wentz played behind one of the best OLs in the NFL last year, yet still took 37 sacks (12th most in the NFL). Wentz also has a tall, lanky build that doesn’t lend itself to taking hits as well as a sturdier-built QB like Dak Prescott.
Other than his health and a playing style that leads to injury, Wentz doesn’t have many weaknesses. I did notice him rushing through progressions when losing late in games, but he’s good enough at improvising and repeating his scans of the field to find open receivers that he is often able to compensate for it. One other big problem for Wentz is fumbling. Wentz put the ball on the ground 17 times last year, second only to Daniel Jones in QB fumbles. I think Wentz’s issues with fumbling are due to a combination of not seeing pressure when he’s focused downfield (so he doesn’t brace for impact) and trying too hard to make a play despite pressure all around him. There were several times it seemed like he was still trying to throw even knowing a linebacker was on top of him and it made his throwing arm an easy target.
Overall, Wentz is a very good NFL QB with few traditional weaknesses, but his health concerns are serious enough that the Eagles saw fit to draft another QB in the 2nd round this year to ensure they have a high-level backup if/when he gets injured again.
Eagles vs Vikings, Week 6 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[4:15] Wentz drops back near the 40 yards line down by 21 points. He starts his progressions left to right, which gives RB Miles Sanders time to run downfield and get open deep. Wentz sees him get open at the end of his read and throws the ball in a window that only Sanders could catch (threading between two defenders) to get a long TD.
This play encapsulates the good in Wentz’s play pretty well: he makes full-field progressions easily, sees when his players get open, and has the arm strength and touch to throw the ball in a window that only they will catch it.
It also introduces another aspect of Wentz’s play last year, which is that his most reliable pass catchers were not WRs. The degree to which Wentz relied on RBs and TEs in the passing game reminded me of Kirk Cousins circa 2017.
[6:15] Wentz lines up in the red zone down by 14 points in the 3rd quarter. You can see Wentz scanning the field, but none of his reads are open in such a tight space. After finishing his progressions, Wentz sees pressure and breaks the pocket, all while keeping his eyes downfield to see Alshon Jeffery get open as the play breaks down, throwing to him for the touchdown.
Wentz does a great job here of improvising and extending the play to get a much-needed score, and this ability to improvise and create something out of nothing is one of Wentz’s greatest strengths.
[10:31] Now with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter and down by 18 points, Wentz scans from left to right and doesn’t see anything open initially, but recognizes that Zach Ertz is about to run into the soft spot of a zone and comes back to him for what should have been a big 1st down. Ertz fumbles the ball, but Wentz did a good job reading the field and anticipating where and when his most trusted pass catcher would get open. This anticipation and ability to identify the soft spots in coverage makes Wentz difficult to defend against. Wentz also delivers a very well-placed throw here, threading the needle between multiple defenders to a spot only Ertz could receive.
If Wentz had continued his progression he would have seen DeSean Jackson (number 10) break free with more open field around him, but Wentz took the first opportunity he saw. I actually think Wentz went through his progressions a bit too quickly here, which is part of the reason he didn’t give DJax enough of a chance to get open before throwing.
Eagles vs Patriots, Week 11 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[3:30] This play shows a bit of the negative with Carson Wentz. After he receives the snap, his eyes get stuck downfield as he searches for a WR to get open and he is oblivious to the pressure coming from inside the pocket, resulting in a costly sack.
I noticed this a lot with Wentz, he doesn’t have the best pocket awareness and can often get caught staring downfield looking for an open receiver and oblivious to pressure in his face. Despite playing behind one of the best OL in the NFL, Wentz was sacked 37 times last year (12th most in the NFL) and I think this is why. He’s more interested in moving the ball and scoring than in protecting himself, but it comes with a price.
Dwayne Haskins, Washington Football Team
Dwayne Haskins was mentored from an early age for professional football. As a child living in New Jersey, Haskins met former Redskins CB Shawn Springs at a passing camp. Springs immediately identified Haskins’ talent as a passer and convinced him to move down to Maryland to attend the Bullis School in Potomac, MD in order to face a higher level of competition — competition that included future NFL players like Stefon Diggs, Kendall Fuller, and Cyrus Jones. Springs mentored Haskins throughout high school, and by the time Haskins graduated, he was named a top 5 pro style QB prospect in the nation and left for Ohio State.
Haskins redshirted his first year at Ohio State and backed up JT Barrett his second (freshman) year, beating out third year QB Joe Burrow as primary backup and causing Burrow to transfer to LSU for a chance to start. Haskins finally started in his third (sophomore) year and led the nation with 4,831 passing yards and 50 touchdown passes (just eight interceptions) in 14 starts, ranking in the top five in the FBS with a 70.0 percent completion rate (373-533). After only one season starting, Haskins declared for the 2019 NFL draft and was taken by the Washington Redskins at 15th overall.
Watching Haskins play last year, two words immediately come to mind to describe him: “raw” and “talented.” It is rare for a high-round QB to declare for the draft after only a year of starting experience in college, and even rarer for such a player to succeed in the NFL. That lack of starting experience was evident in Haskins’ play last year. He was slow to go through progressions, poor at reading defenses pre-snap and calling protections (leading to some bad blocking assignments and free rushers), slow to react to events on the field (like pressure or receivers getting open), and the rookie quarterback showed poor timing with his receivers, often expecting them to get to an open spot or turn around to look for the pass just a bit earlier or later than they seemed to. This last problem was certainly exaggerated by not being able to practice with the first team offense last offseason.
Although he doesn’t do it too often, Haskins occasionally stares down his intended target and needs to get better at looking off safeties. Haskins visibly improved in all of these areas over the 7 games he started last year, but still has a ways to go before he’s at the level of a good NFL starter.
I also thought Haskins was overly willing to take contact, particularly when breaking the pocket and running for yards. He lowered his shoulder to charge through tacklers instead of sliding in those situations, which is a play style that will shorten his career in the NFL. He was also a bit slow to sense the pocket collapsing, and needs to be quicker to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack.
At the same time, his talent and potential were also visible in his play. Although Haskins went through progressions slowly (for NFL speed), he was clearly capable of going through full-field progressions and processing what he sees, so I don’t think he will have any issues making NFL reads once he adjusts to the higher play speed. Even more promising, he shows good intelligence and instinct in placing the ball where only his receiver can catch it, and has the touch as a passer to place the ball wherever he intends. According to PFF, Haskins had the lowest percent of turnover-worthy plays of any starting rookie QB last year at 2.3%, and I think this is entirely due to his excellent (and smart) ball placement. Haskins also showed good pocket awareness and good mobility in the pocket, though he was again often a tick slow in responding to pressure.
Haskins also has a really big arm, making many throws seem effortless and demonstrating the ability to push the ball deep downfield with arm strength alone. However, this big arm is a bit of a mixed bag, as I think his arm strength has allowed him to coast by with poor lower-body throwing mechanics. Most QBs need to learn to set their feet properly and rotate their hips with their upper body as they throw to transfer the power of their legs into the throw for extra juice. Haskins is slow to set his feet, doesn’t always set them well, and often doesn’t even bother rotating his hips all the way as he throws because he doesn’t need the extra power (his arm is enough). Although this has worked out well enough so far due to his arm strength, it leads to the occasional errant pass where his poorly-set feet disrupt his throwing motion.
Lastly, it must be mentioned that Haskins dealt with many problems last year that were not of his making. The protection his OL afforded him was poor, particularly at the OT position. He had few proven receiving threats, though several rookies stepped up in a big way. And his coaching staff ran a vanilla, predictable offense that frequently ran on 1st and 2nd down and forced Haskins into obvious passing plays on 3rd down. It’s difficult to account for these factors when watching him play, but it should add a grain of salt to criticism of his 2019 play.
Overall, Haskins showed himself to be a very raw QB with many areas of play to improve, but also a quarterback who visibly improved in most of those areas over the course of the season and flashed a higher-than-average amount of innate talent. He still showed more potential than production last year, but a lot of potential is there and it will be interesting to see if he can realize it to take the needed step forward this year.
Redskins vs Lions, Week 12 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[0:37] Haskins lines up in shotgun to take the snap. The first thing that should be obvious is how poorly Haskins is protected. RT Morgan Moses is almost immediately beaten around the edge by blitzing CB Justin Coleman and RG Brandon Scherff gets stood up and walked back by DE Julian Okwara into Haskins’ lap almost immediately. Haskins initially tries to read the field, but quickly senses the pocket collapsing and realizes he has to run.
He does a very good job avoiding initial pressure from the right and evading a tackle as he breaks the pocket and runs to get a first down. However, he ends this run in a concerning way, lowering his shoulder to take unnecessary contact instead of simply sliding once he had gained the 1st down. I saw him take unnecessary contact at the end of too many runs for my liking, so I hope he gets better about sliding.
This run also highlights something a bit more subtle I noticed about Haskins, which is that he was terrible at choosing angles to avoid contact when running in an open field. He did a good job evading people in the pocket, but once he was in open space, he practically charged into his own blocker instead of turning right and heading for open space. I saw this on other plays too, he’d hesitate and run into people instead of taking a clear path with a few more yards before contact. For now I’ll attribute it to nerves and his adjustment to NFL speed, but it’s worth monitoring going forward. Haskins also lacks lateral agility while running and has trouble juking people (though granted that shouldn’t be a primary skill for a QB).
Overall, this play shows Haskins’ mobility in the pocket and ability to evade pressure to make plays with his legs, though it also shows his troubling willingness to invite unnecessary contact instead of sliding. It also showcases the poor protection Haskins dealt with all of last season.
[6:43] Haskins lines up under center and fakes the handoff, first reading the field right to left, then sweeping back left to right before seeing Harmon running with two yards or so of separation from a chasing CB. Haskins throws the ball in a spot only Harmon could catch (away from three surrounding defenders) to get a big gain and first down. However, Haskins was slow to go through those progressions and late to see Harmon open.
Harmon had more separation earlier in his route (right after breaking inside), and by the time Haskins saw him, Harmon was losing that separation to the chasing CB. Because Haskins was slow to see Harmon come open, he had to throw the ball a little behind him to keep it clean of defenders, which forced Harmon to stop in his tracks and made him easy to tackle. If Haskins had seen Harmon earlier, he could have placed the ball in front of him to catch him in stride and give Harmon a chance to keep running after the catch. It was still a very positive play, but it showed room for improvement as well.
This play also showcases Haskins’ big arm. This was a 35 yard throw and he barely stepped into it, standing straight up and sailing the ball easily with arm strength, not even needing to rotate much to get the power of his legs into the throw.
Overall, this play shows some of the promise, but also some of the problems with Haskins last year. On the one hand, he demonstrates the ability to go through full NFL progressions, read the field, place the ball where only his guy should get it, and shows great arm strength. On the other hand, he is still a bit slow to read and process the field and needs to work on his timing with his throws so that he hits his receivers at the most advantageous part of their routes.
He did improve on his speed going through progressions incrementally as the season wore on, but he still left plenty of room for improvement by the end of the season.
[7:38] Haskins lines up in shotgun to receive the snap and stares down Terry McLaurin, who quickly wins a footrace with CB Darius Slay. Haskins sees McLaurin get open, sets his feet, and throws well mechanically, but leads him by a yard or two too much, negating what could have been a TD.
I think this is an example of Haskins’ timing being off and being just a bit out of sync with his WRs. I suspect this is at least partly because Haskins wasn’t allowed to train with the first team last offseason and only got limited snaps with those WRs during the season. I saw several plays like this, where nothing looked especially wrong with Haskins’ throwing mechanics and he showed on plenty of other throws he has the accuracy to put the ball on his WR’s hands, but his timing was off and he misjudged where the WR would be. I’ll be very curious to see if time spent working with his WRs this offseason fixes these issues with timing.
Also, the fact that Haskins stared McLaurin down on this play was a rookie mistake. I don’t hate it too much because the play seems designed to get the ball to McLaurin and he won his matchup, but I hope to see more eye discipline from Haskins going forward (and he did get better as the season went on).
Redskins vs Eagles, Week 15 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[3:49] Haskins lines up in shotgun to take the snap and immediately starts scanning right to left. He sees McLaurin covered and progresses to Steve Sims Jr who is initially covered. Haskins sees the DB’s back turned and throws to a window Sims can adjust to reach, but the DB can’t reach without knowing to adjust to the throw.
This is called “throwing your WR open,” throwing to a WR who doesn’t have separation, but placing the ball somewhere only the WR will be able to reach it, and it’s an ability that is critical in the NFL, where WRs often can’t get much separation and throwing windows are tight (especially in the red zone). It’s a very promising ability to see in such a young player and shows not just great accuracy, but also great instincts and intelligence.
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Daniel Jones started at QB for 3 years at Duke under QB guru David Cutcliffe, who had previously mentored Peyton and Eli Manning. As a result of both his starting experience and his mentor, Jones shows a lot of polish in many nuances of the QB position. Although he did not put up impressive passing statistics or win-loss records while at Duke, a look at his game film shows that he was often the primary reason Duke was competitive in games at all. Many of his passes were dropped by a bad WR corps and Jones faced constant pressure behind a talent-poor OL. Jones went on to show extremely well at the Senior Bowl and was taken #6 overall by the Giants in the 2019 NFL draft.
Watching Jones play, it’s clear he’s had a lot of starting experience in college. He reads the field relatively quickly and his throwing mechanics are excellent, particularly his lower body mechanics. He always sets his feet quickly before a pass, rotating into the throw to transfer as much power from his lower body as possible into the throw and positioning his feet to aim at his target, leading to very consistent, accurate short and intermediate passes. He also shows a great sense of timing and anticipation in his throws, throwing to where his receivers will be instead of just where they are. He has complete fearlessness and poise in the pocket, standing tall to complete a pass even with pressure right on top of him. This fearlessness combined with a desire to throw downfield will lead to some amazing plays where Jones stands tall in the face of pressure to make a big completion or TD. Jones is also very mobile and athletic, able to break the pocket and make plays with his legs as well as his arm.
However, Jones has several weaknesses as well. Too often, he will lock in on a target early in his progressions and stare them down until they get open, sometimes tipping his intentions to the opposing defense. Magnifying this problem, he seems to have difficulty reading and accounting for zone defenders as a play develops. It’s as if he gets locked in on an intended receiver and only pays attention to the CB chasing him, leaving him oblivious to a safety or linebacker coming in from elsewhere in that zone. That over-focus on a target downfield manifests in other ways, as he will often ignore a safe checkdown once he finds a matchup he likes and is often completely oblivious to pressure coming in around him, leaving him unbraced for a hit and prone to fumbling the ball. Daniel Jones had 18 fumbles last season, more than any other QB in the NFL, and I think it was largely due to not seeing and hence not bracing for pressure. This fumble-itis combined with his problems seeing coverage led to Daniel Jones having the highest percent of turnover-worthy plays of any starting rookie QB last year at 6.8%, nearly twice the next highest (Gardner Minshew).
Jones doesn’t have a great arm, but his arm strength combined with his excellent throwing mechanics are good enough to make the necessary NFL throws. QBs like Tom Brady and Drew Brees have certainly succeeded with what looks like a similar amount of arm strength. However, Jones struggles with ball placement on long throws, a problem that gets worse the further he has to throw. I don’t know if this problem is due to arm strength, his inability to anticipate defenders, or some combination of factors, but on long throws Jones will often place the ball where defenders have a chance to play it and his receivers either have to fight for it or at the very least adjust to it while it’s in the air. This poor placement on long passes is probably the reason why Jones was 8th in the NFL on catchable pass rate on throws of 20 yards or more, but only 28th on completion rate of such passes. He can get the ball to his receivers downfield, but doesn’t place it in a window that allows them to catch it.
It should also be noted that much like Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones suffered from poor offensive line play, particularly at the tackle position. Jones had much better weapons around him than Haskins, though Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram all missed time due to injury last year as well. I think Jones benefited from a style of play that was much better suited to his strengths. The Giants offensive philosophy seemed to be focused on the quick game, with short, timing-based passes to his talented skill position players. This leveraged Jones’ timing and short-field accuracy while also getting the ball out quickly to protect him and giving him easy reads to minimize his problems reading coverage.
I’ve mentioned it before, but a lot about Daniel Jones reminds me of Kirk Cousins. Kirk was also a turnover machine his first few years in the league, coughing the ball up with fumbles as well as more than a few ugly interceptions. Kirk also excelled on short, timing-based passes and was more inconsistent on deep throws. Kirk was also oblivious to pressure in the pocket, which resulted in some big-time throws, but also some terrible sacks. Kirk also got over-focused on his receivers downfield and sometimes missed a waiting safety nearby. Kirk also had good mobility and athleticism and could escape the pocket to pick up yards with his legs. If anything, Daniel Jones looks like a more refined, more NFL-ready Kirk Cousins to me (comparing to Kirk’s rookie year), with similar abilities and limitations. Giants fans will have to hope he makes the same incremental improvement Kirk has every year, because although Jones flashes a lot of good traits and potential, his flaws are serious enough that he won’t become a consistent winner without addressing them.
Giants vs Vikings, Week 5 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[4:37] Jones lines up under center to take the snap. As he drops back, he scans right to left and locks in on Darius Slayton running down the left sideline. He must have liked Slayton’s matchup with Xavier Rhodes (Jones did pick on Rhodes all game) and Slayton does outpace Rhodes, but Jones seems completely blind to the zone coverage and safety Harrison Smith following the QB’s eyes and running to the sideline.
Smith gets there in time, but Jones is lucky to have the pass bounce out of his hands and go for an incompletion instead of an INT.
This is one of many plays where Jones seemed blind to zone defenders and only paid attention to the 1-on-1 matchup of his intended target. Jones also holds his eyes on Slayton a bit too long here, tipping his intentions to the other team. On the plus side, Jones did stand tall in the pocket and was unphased by pressure coming around the edge, though this fearlessness is a bit of a mixed bag for him overall.
[7:34] Jones lines up in shotgun to receive the snap. Evan Engram lines up on the left boundary with a lot of cushion given by the defense. Engram breaks inside quickly and Jones has already launched the ball in the air, showing great timing and anticipation of where Engram would be in his route. Engram makes an easy catch and turns it upfield to get YAC and a first down.
This really typifies the kind of passing plays the Giants tried to lean on last year with Jones at QB. It’s a quick pass with an easy read to get the ball out of Jones’ hands quickly (protecting him from the pass rush) while also limiting how much of the defense he needs to read to prevent him from making mistakes. It also takes advantage of Jones’ excellent timing and short-field accuracy while minimizing his issues with ball placement at longer distances.
[11:03] Jones lines up in shotgun to receive the snap. He seems to lock in on slot WR Sterling Shepard early and keeps his eyes on Shepard the whole time, throwing to Shepard as he nears the end zone.
Shepard runs his route maintaining inside leverage, meaning he’ll have the best chance of catching the ball if it is placed inside (away from the sideline). Instead of placing the ball inside, Jones chucks it deep and outside, forcing Shepard to try to body out the DB and leap in the air to catch it, which he is unable to do. This is more clearly shown in the camera angle used in the Brett Kollmann film breakdown here. Jones showed similar poor (or at least, inconsistent) ball placement the further downfield he had to throw, which combined with his difficulty reading coverages and poor protection made downfield throws a risky proposition for him.
Giants @ Bears, Week 12 highlights | NFL 2019 on YouTube
[9:09] Jones lines up in shotgun, receives the snap, scans middle to right, and locks in on a target. However, there is pressure coming around both edges that he seems completely unable to see. It’s one thing to be fearless, but a QB needs to be able to sense pressure and react to it, which Jones doesn’t do here. If he had stepped up in the pocket, he might have been able to make the throw. At the very least, he could have braced himself for contact and held onto the ball.
Instead, Jones set his feet and wound up for the throw like normal, leaving him unable to hold onto the ball when he gets drilled from both sides, giving up a sack fumble within 10 yards of his own endzone. Plays like this are the reason Daniel Jones had 18 fumbles last year, more than any other QB in the NFL.
[11:27] Jones again lines up in shotgun and faces immediate pressure after the snap. This time though, he moves up in the pocket to avoid the pressure and does a great job getting the ball off just before the pressure gets to him, connecting with Golden Tate for an amazing long TD with perfect ball placement. For all the faults listed above, Jones is capable of amazing plays like this one and seems to be good for at least one per game. He’s currently a QB with flaws and who makes a lot of mistakes, but makes enough good-to-great plays on a regular basis to indicate a core of NFL ability to refine. If he can get more consistent with his good plays and stop making the same mistakes, he’ll be a QB worth building a team around.
A look at the top of the depth chart for each team
Of course, no position group consists of just one star player. In a sport that is as physically demanding as football, one in which player injuries are common, the unit depth is as important a factor as the skill of the star players.
Here, we’ll take a look at the top of the depth chart for each team This list should give some idea of the relative depth of the four positional groups.
- Dak Prescott
- Andy Dalton
- Carson Wentz
- Nate Sudfeld
- Jalen Hurts
- Daniel Jones
- Colt McCoy
- Dwayne Haskins
- Kyle Allen
- Alex Smith
Who is the best QB in the NFC East?
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Which NFC East team has the BEST QB group (taking backups into account) in the division?
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Which NFC East team has the WEAKEST QB group (taking backups into account) in the division?
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How many touchdowns will Dwayne Haskins throw in 2020?
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12 or less
34 or more