INDIANAPOLIS — Year after year, one of the best parts of the scouting combine for writers is when we get to head into the box area of Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the quarterback and receiver drills. Last year, the story was all about the comparisons between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, the two marquee quarterbacks of the 2015 draft. This year, there are no lead-pipe locks at that position, which actually makes it more interesting from a scouting standpoint—when the QB class is undefined as this one is, there's more to watch from all sides.
I headed into the first drill, with the first nine quarterbacks on the list throwing (it goes in alphabetical order). It's always an interesting experience to see these guys throw in person for the first time. One of the tricks I've learned for this process is to avoid matching names to jersey numbers beforehand—I'd rather come back with my notes, break it down from there, and then, if Vernon Adams looks twice as good as Connor Cook (which is what happened, in my opinion), there are no preconceptions to overcome.
One guy who kept showing up positively on my notes was Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty. While he struggles at times with the quick sideline routes requiring precise timing, he amped it up with the 10-yard out routes. There, Doughty showed a nice balance between his upper and lower body—good mechanics overall—and that's very important. Bill Walsh always said that you could tell most of the story of a quarterback by watching his footwork, and that was an obvious issue for some of the throwers here today. Doughty really sparkled on the go route, where the quarterback was directed to get the ball out after the receiver had run 15 yards and time it up with him 15 more yards downfield. The first time Doughty made that throw, it stopped me short. He's got a natural ability to make the ball zip out of his hands with minimal effort, and that kind of easy velocity can lead to success with downfield throws. On the longer post/corner, he stopped his feet and had trouble with his velocity, which would lead one to believe that this has been an issue before.
It has been based on his tape, but one person I spoke with about Doughty's throwing session estimated that he may have upped his draft stock from the late third day to the middle rounds with this performance. One thing's for sure: he was the most interesting man at the podium through the four days of media stuff.
“I think I’m the most accurate quarterback in the draft. I truly think that. You can’t teach someone to be accurate. I’m on time. I move pretty well in the pocket. I just do the little things, man. I’m a student of this game. When you think about Brandon Doughty, you think about Christ and you think about football. Some guys play this game because they love it. Other guys play it because they are it. I am football. This is my life. I don’t really have a life outside of football. I’m getting married in a week. (My fiancée) is the best. But she was saying, we call it a football muffin. That’s all he talks about is football. Someone that’s dedicated to the game and loves it so much. I think that will show and that will be something I know I can succeed in the next level.”
A "football muffin?" Alrighty, then. So, Brandon, what was the weirdest question you were asked by an NFL team this week?
“I got the weirdest question the other day. I don’t want to say who, but one team asked me, I’m on a hill in Alaska, driving a bus and going like 100 miles an hour. As I go to the bottom and I’m going down this hill, it’s all icy and cold, and I realize I don’t have any brakes. Where are you sitting on the bus? … I was like, Man, I’m going to the driver. I’m going to pull the emergency brake and we’re going to get off this dang bus. It’s just weird stuff like that, trying to get you to think a little differently, trying to see your thought process through some stuff. But it’s all effective.”
Oookay then. What did your answer tell the team?
“I guess it’s the way you think about things and command things. I want to be the bus driver. I want to be in control. If the ship is sailing, I want to be the guy getting beat up by you guys in the media, not my teammates. So I think that’s kind of what they’re looking for and something I take pride in.”
Yeah, he's a trip. He's also very intense (“I'm the worst loser in America... I have to be a better loser. I gotta work on that”), and an avowed game tape junkie. What that all means for his NFL future is open to debate, but he did lead the nation in passing yardage and passing touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, and he's the only quarterback in FBS history to have two straight seasons in which he threw for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. Strength of opponent, and the general characterization of head coach Jeff Brohm's offense as a video-game spread attack (Doughty's response: “We didn't just throw bubble screens”) may minimize him in the eyes of some, but he had a ready answer when asked about transitioning to the NFL.
“Just being on a bigger stage, man. We played LSU last year. I remember me and Coach Brohm had a conversation after the game. We lost the game. But I was like, ‘Man, I wish we could play LSU every dang week. This is cool. The atmosphere, people around the field, people throwing popcorn at you … this is cool.’ I think I’m up for the challenge. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to show everybody what I can do. Not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. I’m kind of over talking about it and I want to go do it.”
The Hilltoppers lost 48–20 to LSU in late October, but Doughty didn't play badly, completing 37 of 61 passes for 325 yards, three touchdowns and one interception (which wasn't his fault—his receiver fell down on a drag route). The game degenerated into a downpour, and Doughty put up a lot of his stats in garbage time, but he was happy to describe that particular experience.
“I knew what LSU was going to do," he said. "They ran two different coverages... I knew what they were going to try to do. They were trying to beat us with talent. At the beginning of the game, their mike linebacker was playing actual mike. At the end of the game, he was playing D-end. It’s like, holy cow, they’re bringing in an extra nickel because we’re trying to throw it all over the place. We had to make some adjustments five minutes prior to that game because it was raining so hard. We were going to try to push them vertically a little bit more. But it was hard to grip that ball. It was getting so wet. It was crazy. In the warm-ups, I was like, man, we’re not going to play this game. There’s no way. It was like four inches deep on my cleats. I was like, Dang, I need some new cleats. That was like the weirdest game I ever played in. But it was cool, man. The atmosphere was awesome.”
Against South Florida in a 45-35 win in the Miami Beach Bowl, he did throw two picks, and after a strong week of practice in the East-West Shrine Game, he threw two picks in the game itself. There's work to be done, and Doughty had admitted that there are elements to Brohm's offense that cover up the weaknesses he's trying to eliminate, but today's throwing drills represented a step in the right direction.
The tape shows clearly what work needs to be done. Doughty has a weird hitch in his delivery when he's bringing the ball up to throw, he's overconfident about his arm angles (perhaps believing that he can throw from anywhere), and when his lower body fails him, he can be wild high. But the combine showed potential, and for the lesser-known guys, that's what this is all about.
More notes from the first throwing session
- Cal's Jared Goff was kind of wonky on his sideline throws, and I was surprised to see a lot of moving parts in his overall delivery here, because he generally looks so fluid on tape. Maybe he's working on mechanical things, but right now, it leads to inconsistency with short throws at times. He does throw with more anticipation than you may expect from a quarterback who came out of an air-raid offense, and his velocity was good enough to make every throw required. He got the ball there with good timing on the go route, though he had some placement issues on the post/corner. I would have liked to see more accuracy on the short stuff.
Penn State's Christian Hackenberg has a decidedly high arc to just about every throw. Even on the short sideline routes, he was airing it up, and it led to some interesting timing issues with his receivers. My impression of Hackenberg from a vision standpoint is that he throws with less anticipation than I expected, though he did show good timing with his receivers on the intermediate routes. On the deep stuff, he throws from his upper body too often, which leads to accuracy problems. Based on this session and on his tape overall, I think Hackenberg will need to work on integrating his lower body and getting more zip on the ball for the kinds of timed throws the NFL requires.
- Michigan State's Connor Cook would probably like his short sideline throws back. He showed far too much inconsistency in the simple timing passes you'd expect a player with his pedigree to nail. And it's not appropriate to blame the receivers when the ball is sailing out of bounds before the receiver can even get there. On longer passes, I think Cook stops his feet and loses lower-body energy; there's a slight hitch in his giddy-up, as they say. On the go routes, Cook's receivers had to slow down to get under the ball on two throws, but on the deeper post-corner, he recovered nicely with an easy delivery, good feet, and a nice whip-like, overhead delivery.
- Oregon's Vernon Adams has a really nice, quick, efficient overhead throwing motion. He's consistent in his upper-body mechanics, and while he doesn't have a gun for an arm, he can get the ball where it needs to go. Deep-passing teams may want to take a pass. On the shorter throws, like the quick sideline outs and curls to the seam, he could be a little off in his timing, but the touch was generally there. Where Adams struggles is with his lower body. He'll put too much energy into the backside of his drops, and he's not always balanced as a result. Adams's best asset, from my observation, is the consistency of that overhead delivery. If he can get the lower-body stuff together, there's a lot of potential there.
- TCU's Trevone Boykin seems like a see-it/throw-it guy. On any manner of crossing routes, he seemed to throw a hair late and wait for openings. In the NFL, when you throw at the point where your receiver is open, he probably won't be open by the time the ball gets there. He does have a good feel for the pocket—there's a sense of comfort to his dropbacks, but he'll regress when his upper and lower body get out of sync.
- Jacoby Brissett from North Carolina State had a good day overall, and showed particularly nice touch on the deep fade throws. There's been a bit of a buzz about him in Indy this week.