UCF junior signal caller Dillon Gabriel may or may not leave the Knights after this upcoming season concludes. Time will tell. Regardless of when Gabriel does enter the NFL Draft, the following areas will help him to show improvement so that he continues to move up NFL teams’ draft boards.
Rolling Right and Throwing Against His Body
The most difficult throw to make is when a quarterback runs in a direction that does not allow for a pass without first slowing down and setting one’s feet after shifting the body 180 degrees. That’s called throwing against one’s body. It’s awkward, it’s hard.
This type of throw does happen at the college level, although not all that often. A bootleg, waggle, or even a situation where Gabriel needs to throw the football against his body after being chased out of the pocket, those situations will present themselves from time to time.
If he just shows improvement with velocity and continues to be accurate in these situations, Gabriel’s NFL stock could rise. Scouts are going to measure each activity on the gridiron, and this is one of the most important. It shows not only athleticism and arm strength, but cunning and adaptability.
Not every play provides the same amount of time to pass the football. Gabriel could essentially have one rollout pass with five seconds to throw, then the next time that play is called there’s an outside linebacker closing in to make a sack. How Gabriel adapts with each of these situations, in the moment, will help NFL scouts determine if Gabriel is improving and might be ready for the jump to the NFL after the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Running the Football: RPO, Designed Runs, and Scrambles
Last season, Gabriel was credited with 72 rushing attempts for 169 yards and two touchdowns. At the college level, sacks go against a player’s rushing total. Even with that fact publicized, Gabriel is not considered to be a runner. He’s a passer first, and he does his best work from inside the pocket.
With UCF hiring Gus Malzahn to be the Head Football Coach, there is a chance to see Gabriel on the move in more ways than one this fall. The run-pass option game, designed runs like a quarterback draw, and of course the occasional scramble will all take place.
The real question from all the possibilities, can Gabriel extend plays? Sometimes escaping the pocket does in fact lead to a quarterback run. Other times, Gabriel will earn time to make a pass. If nothing else, he can escape and throw the football out of bounds and keep from losing yardage via a sack. There’s even the opportunity for the split-second decision that NFL scouts will want to see.
When just about to the line of scrimmage and deciding whether to run or pass, inevitably Gabriel will be in a situation where he must immediately figure out how he can throw around or over a charging 6’5” defensive end. That same defensive end will be very hard to get a pass by him, but there’s an open receiver that Gabriel needs to find a way to get the football.
Gabriel making a couple of clutch plays against the oncoming pass rush, even if it’s away from the pocket, help NFL scouts determine the decision making of a quarterback prospect. Sure, he could run for three or four yards, but what about making that pinpoint pass that leads to a fifteen yard gain? That's what NFL scout will want to witness.
Football is fascinating because it moves quickly. Seeing Gabriel in these fast-moving situations where he can run or pass will be fun this season, as he’s mature enough to make really good decisions despite being under duress.
Making the Proper After the Snap Reads
The West Coast Offense is the granddaddy of difficult and confusing offenses, at least for the majority of fans. It’s mostly about post-snap reads, i.e. reading where the football needs to be thrown after gauging which coverage the defensive players are in after the football is snapped. It’s also about timing and rhythm.
Gabriel is one of the most cerebral players in all of college football. Seeing how he adapts to watching a defense move after the snap, and how he attacks thereafter, that will be curious for fans and vital for NFL scouts. UCF will use a modicum of post-snap reads, but Gabriel is more than capable of handling the situation. Look for him to carve up defenses when he realizes the defense made a mistake by shifting incorrectly or simply not being the best defense after the ball is snapped to Gabriel.
This area is something NFL scouts like to see before a player enters the NFL Draft. It’s a litmus test of quarterbacking skills and the moxie to make plays within a limited amount of time. All the footwork, arm technique and other quarterbacking skills remain the same, but with the pressure of reading a defense as it moves after the play begins. If anyone can excel within this category, Gabriel is built to do it.
Gabriel is a really good college football player. He needs to continue to develop his overall skills to be drafted, but he’s probably going to do quite well within the categories listed above.