Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ming Vases

Trust me, we'll get to the vase bit. I'd like to continue the post from earlier about the potential of the zone read play and the wildcat package in the NFL by assessing the QB position itself and the major difference between the perspective of college teams and pro teams to their Quarterbacks. The first, is time span. In College obviously there is a defined limit of player eligibility. You have a player who is at most going to spend 4 years on the field. In this period he's unlikely to accrue injuries that will end his college career, for example preventing him from playing as a senior. When we look at running backs in the NFL, typically we're starting to consider the effect of accrued injuries when the player reaches about 29-30, or in other words, after about 8 years or so of NFL play (with his college time tacked on of course). For colleges, the injury factor of a running QB is not such a big concern. In the 'league' however it is. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre etc. These are not spring chickens. And if you want your QB to make it to such a grand old age, when they're just starting to reach a peak combination of arm strength and experience (accuracy, coverage reads etc) then feeding that QB a heavy dose of down hill runs is not going to end well. Brady is getting pretty nicked up as it is, without the added impact of having spent his whole pro career trying to play chicken with guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jared Allen or dodging tackles from guys like Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis! The second is the cost factor. Though not entirely true, Colleges essentially get their Quarterbacks for "free". Four years of play, no wages. There's no truly lasting investment of resources in that player. Jump a level to the professional leagues and suddenly we have guys tied to multi-million dollar contracts. The game has just changed big time. You can't cut injured players, so a guy who spends the rest of the season on the sidelines with a banged up knee is going to still drain money from your budget. And because a College team is not restricted by salary cap issues, they can afford to have on their roster 4 quarterbacks who are all very good at what they do. A pro team simply can't afford the space (not a good, well rounded pro team anyway) to keep two or more high level QBs on the books. You can get away with one, and then a Rex Grossman as a back up, but you're not going to see Drew Brees warming the bench behind Peyton Manning any time soon. The final aspect I think that's worth looking at is replacements. More specifically, how easy is it to replace your QB. In college, you theoretically have the entire nation at your disposal. In reality of course it's not quite that simple, but you still have a large pool to draw from. You can pick up anyone who is willing to come and play for your program, and if they're good enough there is always a way to make room. A good program can consistently go out year after year and find intriguing prospects who fit their mould. In the NFL, it's not so simple. To be a good QB in the NFL takes something a little bit special. The standard is so much higher. To reference a favourite old movie of mine 'Top Gun' (the fact that it's now considered 'old' is rather worrying) this is the home of "the best of the best". And just like in the TopGun Fighter Weapons school, all of the coaches around the league will be quietly whispering "we'll make you better". To play the QB position successfully at this level, you need to be just a little bit special. And special players are not a common commodity. They are rare beasts for whom teams will pay large sums of money. Critically, such beasts are usually to be found in the draft. High level QBs don't normally end up wandering the free agent market for long. So you have 32 teams entering the draft each year; each with its own unique needs. A team that already has a good QB can not afford to blow a first round pick on another one. So you're getting down into the lower orders of the draft before you can go looking for your future QB replacement, and as the rounds tick by so the stock of quality quarterbacks naturally decreases. Now I already know what you're thinking; Tom Brady. You're going to tell me all about how the Patriots dipped into the bottom of the barrel and pulled out a gem. Forget it. The reason this story is so often repeated is precisely because of how rare it is. There is not, repeat not, a Tom Brady lurking in every draft. So what does this replacement issue mean? It means that NFL teams have to be careful with their quarterbacks. They have to use them wisely and protect them as much as possible (though the league is increasingly doing that for them). Like a delicate Ming vase, the NFL quarterback cannot be thrown around carelessly. Which, ultimately, means that we're unlikely to see Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco running the zone read as a base play anytime soon. By all means, keep an eye out for the receivers and running backs coming into the league who have QB experience behind them, but the use of such packages is likely to stay strictly limited for as long as the top quarterbacks and top receivers are able to team up and do things like this: Have a great day everyone.


Teoita said...

Well at the end of the day, the zone read is just a way to control the backside defensive end on run plays. The same thing happens on run plays when Brees/Brady/Manning bootleg away from the end, while leaving him unblocked.

Having said that, i think there will be more Josh Cribbs-type players: the guy returns punts and kicks, runs the zone read as a qb, gets handoffs as a hb and lines up as a receiver. And he's pretty damn good at it ;)

Kevin said...

Solid points in the post. I agree with them. I think we'll see this "set" of offense as long as teams do have that WR/QB type guy as you mentioned. I do think if a team stumbles upon a stud athlete that can hurt teams enough with his legs AND can force defenses into certain coverages because of it, an NFL team will run him into the ground. In the end game, an NFL team is built to win a championship now if possible. It's not hard to change the structure of a QB contract if they know that within 3 years a QB might win you a title and only have 3 years left.

As I mentioned before, it's exciting to see these guys battle with this mental and physical chess.

Chris said...

"As I mentioned before, it's exciting to see these guys battle with this mental and physical chess."

One of my favourite aspects of football. That, and people getting hit.

Much respect for Josh Cribbs from me. Guy is just a phenom with the ball in his hands. His special teams play alone makes him a key weapon for the Browns. Now if they can just fix the other 52 guys....