In advance of NFL training camps, we asked Christopher Harris to write an overview of film-watching. He and Field Yates recorded a Fantasy Underground podcast on the topic, and we think it bears elaboration. Chris and Field are at the vanguard of advocating film-watching as an essential tool of fantasy evaluation, and in this series of articles, Chris will offer an overview of what he looks for on video.
Part 5 of 5: Warning signs for young quarterbacks
I'll admit it: I probably get less out of watching film on quarterbacks than any other skill position. Why? I think it's because we're all so trained to watch the quarterback on every play. We already know what an inaccurate thrower looks like. We already know what a poor decision-maker looks like. It doesn't take a ton of game-film reps to see the big problems. Besides, there are enough proven, stud, veteran signal-callers to go around in most fantasy leagues, and there's not a ton of incentive to really dig into their tape and find flaws. They're good.
Instead, I try to gather big-picture impressions of younger quarterbacks, whose stocks can affect the skill guys around them. Here are a few things that can set off red flags:
1. Shaky pocket awareness: We all know what it looks like when a quarterback gets blindsided. But especially in an era of supermobile signal-callers, we may lose track of less violent examples of poor pocket awareness, especially when a play's result is actually positive.
Young quarterbacks will sometimes "step up" into a pocket that isn't there. I asked Field Yates which young QB he thinks is guiltiest of this on tape, and he said Geno Smith. Indeed, there are repeated instances where Smith steps directly into defensive tackles or winds up having to throw off his back foot because he evaded a rushing defensive end in the wrong direction. I find that Nick Foles has some of these tendencies as well.
Poor pocket awareness can also manifest in mobile QBs who leave the pocket too quickly. Watch Cam Newton's tape and you'll sometimes see him reacting to ghosts and bailing out; Newton is such a big man and a good runner that he can make this work, but it contributes to his lack of development as a passer.
2. Poor mechanics -- Watch the feet: If a young QB hasn't had good results, we have to look for reasons why. External circumstances can be at fault (poor weapons, blocking, game plan, etc.), but one building block needed to get it all together is consistent and repeatable mechanics.
What does it look like on tape when a player doesn't have such mechanics? I think too much is made of arm position. Offenses are so multiple and move quarterbacks around so much that I don't have a problem with different arm angles. But watch the QB's feet. Can Robert Griffin III make surprising passes when he doesn't set his feet or throws off his back foot? Yes, but eventually it bites him. Matthew Stafford gets himself all turned around, and when his accuracy issues rear their head, you can almost always trace them back to his feet.
3. Reading half the field: I still love Colin Kaepernick's potential, but something seems wrong with his development because the San Francisco 49ers' passing offense still seems dedicated to protecting him. A great number of route combinations see Niners receivers flooding one side, and if Kap doesn't see anything he likes on that single side of the field, he takes off.
How can you tell an offensive coordinator doesn't trust his quarterback with the entire playbook? Watch how frequently the QB rolls out, watch where his receivers run patterns and, most importantly, even when the QB does stay in the pocket, watch his head. Does he scan horizontally across the entire field, or does he stay locked in one direction? One way to know when players like EJ Manuel and Smith have graduated to a new level will come when they run through full receiver progressions.