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With Russell Wilson locked in as the Hawks franchise QB, the case for trading Matt Flynn and replacing him inexpensively through the draft. Plus draft targets at QB.
Late Sunday night, not long after the Hawks' offseason began, I was looking at the ways this team can refine this roster and take it to the next level in 2013. Twitter was abuzz with the FieldGulls crew talking about one of those changes/refinements being to the QB position. Well…the backup QB position. With Russell Wilson’s future as the franchise QB presumably locked up for the foreseeable future, this year’s formula of underpaid, unproven starter and overpaid, only-slightly-more proven benchwarmer, becomes unnecessary.
It’s something many of us agree on. In the tweets Sunday night, Danny Kelly talked about Flynn’s presence in the locker-room, and the Hawks’ front office and/or coach thinking Flynn deserves a shot at starting. Davis Hsu broke it down by Flynn’s impact (or lack thereof, if absent) on the salary cap. Davis tweeted: "If you can get a replacement draft pick for Flynn and unload his contract you basically created $8 to $13M in value." It’s something I alluded to in my mock draft last week. It’s something that has been building for months, as RW has laid the foundation of his future. It’s something that makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons to a lot of people. Opportunity for Flynn, cap savings for Hawks, and filling a roster hole for whichever team ponies up the highest draft pick to get him.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something PC and JS seem to agree upon. On Monday, in his press conference, when asked about the future of the Hawks’ backup QB, PC said, "It’d be nice to have another guy who can do similar things to Russell." Wow. That’s pretty candid. He’s not saying it’d be the 2nd-string guy, but considering the Hawks haven’t kept three QB’s on the roster for months, one can presume. Schneider, on the other hand, spoke to Sirius Radio on Tuesday and, when asked about Flynn, said, "We’re open to anything, but the QB position is very important and we are blessed to have Matt. I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't listen to offers but we've got two good ones." That’s a little more cryptic and very skillfully postured. On the surface, the Hawks value the backup QB very much, and don’t mind over-paying for one (and RW’s minimal rookie salary makes it feasible). Between the lines, the Hawks are gonna want starting QB compensation (draftpick) to let Flynn go. It’s also wise to posture as though you really want to keep something so that bidders will work harder to pry it away.
Matt Flynn's Beanie - photo by USA TODAY Sports
So what WILL it take to get Flynn from the Hawks? Lots of differing opinion on that. Some say Flynn’s "high" contract will lower his trade value. I say it’s not THAT high of a deal for a QB. Some say Flynn won’t net much because it’s much cheaper for teams to draft a QB under the new CBA. That’s true, but this is a notoriously weak college QB class (you never want to follow a legend, nor a legendary group). Some say Flynn’s value is down because he lost his job to a rookie/5’11"/3rd-round draft pick. I say Flynn’s value WAS down because he lost his job to a rookie, but his value is back up because we all now know he lost his job to the Peyton Manning rookie-TD-record-tying/playoff-game-winning/NFL Rookie of the Year (wink); Russell Wilson. Know what I mean? He didn’t lose his job to Nick Foles. He lost his job to a room-tilting rockstar.
If all this conjecture isn’t enough for you, I say look at the history of QB trades. Kansas City gave up a high 2nd-round pick (#34 overall) to get Matt Cassel (and LB Mike Vrabel). This followed Cassel starting the whole 2008 season for the Pats…so he had more experience and value than Flynn. In 2010, Seattle gave up (essentially) a 3rd-round pick for 3rd-string San Diego QB Charlie Whitehurst, who had basically never played. Last year, Oakland traded a 1st and a 2nd-round pick for an aged Carson Palmer. Steve McNair was also getting on in years when he was traded to Baltimore for a 4th rounder. There is a pattern here, and the pattern is over-paying. In fact, teams always over-everything for a QB. They overdraft QB’s out of college (Locker, Ponder, Gabbert, Weeden), they overpay QB’s in free agency (Kolb) or before they become a FA (Vick, Fitzpatrick), and they overvalue QB’s in trades. It only takes one overzealous, desperate owner to make it happen, but that one guy almost always shows up.
This leads me to believe that the Hawks can look for a ceiling of a 2nd, with a bottom-basement floor of a 4th for Flynn. As unproven as Flynn may, or may not, be…if a team is willing to take on his salary, they are doing it to name him as their starting QB…and a starting QB gets at least a 4th. But since it’s my hypothetical, I’m saying Hawks get a 3rd for Flynn. And I think a 3rd is realistic. I’m not sure they make the deal otherwise.
Push the hypothetical forward, and what can the Hawks spend that extra 3rd-rounder on? My current feeling is that they need to use two of their first three picks on the defensive line. With the additional 3rd, going DT, WR (or TE), DE, OLB has a nice look to it. Something like: Sylvester Williams, Travis Kelce, Quanterus Smith, Gerald Hodges. Could also see: DT, WR, DE, TE, and then get the OLB in the 4th. However the flow went, an extra pick on Day 2 means all of our targets can move up a round. Which is huge! Then the back end of the draft will have an opening, and the obvious fill for that opening would be Flynn’s replacement. I’d look for that replacement backup QB in the 5th or 6th round. So who do we look at for QB’s on day three?
Returning to that Carroll quote: "another guy who can do things similar to Russell." What does Russell do? Let’s put it in the same context as this year’s draft class, and say Russell does what he did at Wisconsin. And what he did at Wisconsin was complete nearly 73% of his passes for 3175 yards, 33 TD, 4 INT, a 191.78 QBR, 10.3 YPA, while rushing for 338 yards with 6 ground TD’s and 4.28 YPC. No problem finding a guy similar to that, right? Wrong.
There are no guys like that. No one in college football this year came close to touching RW’s record QBR of 191.78. The closest anyone got was AJ McCarron’s 175.28, but he’s a junior not entering the draft. In fact, the top five QB’s by rating are all underclassmen. So the top draftable QB is Geno Smith with his 163.86 QBR. The Hawks aren’t going to be looking for a QB anywhere in the first 3 rounds, so let’s expand our search to the top 50 players by QBR, and key on those that look available late. With that parameter, we get a group that includes (in order): Nick Florence, Ryan Aplin, Seth Doege, Colby Cameron, Tino Sunseri, Collin Klein, Ryan Nassib, and Jordan Rodgers. You probably recognize a couple of those names. Others…not so much.
Back to the tweets: late one night (I think it was January 8th), Davis wondered on his TL about the possibility of Syracuse’s Nassib slipping down the draft. I replied to him, "3rd at the latest on Nassib," and, almost as a reflex, added in my next tweet, "P.S. I’m starting to like Nick Florence." I had been watching a lot of Baylor WR Terrance Williams this year, so I had sort of picked up on Florence by osmosis. I knew Baylor hadn’t changed much of their zone read offense since losing RG3 to the NFL, and he just felt like a guy that had thrown for a lot of yards and had decent success running the ball. Then I went to actually retroactively research my claim.
On paper, I really liked what I saw from Florence. First of all…he led the country in passing yards. I did not realize that prior. His comp% was less than desirable at 61.6%. He had also thrown 13 INT on the year (further research though revealed that Florence only had 2 INT over his last 6 games, including 0 picks in his last three). Those were his worst stats. The good stats: 13th in the country in QBR (157.51…higher than Johnny Manziel), 9th in the country in TD passes (33…same as RW), and 3rd(!) in the country in YPA (9.3). He also had over 500 yards (4.08 YPC) and 10 TD on the ground. His YPC was lower than Russell’s, but SHOCKINGLY, it was higher than RG3’s (3.91…and also 10 TD rushing). Right out of the gate, I found a guy that felt really interesting. Listed at 6’1"/205, Florence is even built a little like RW.
Then I saw the game tape. Florence has some mechanical issues. I’m nowhere near an expert at mechanics, but even I can spot the weird throwing motion Florence has. He appears to have a long, looping delivery, and yet it doesn’t seem slow. Whereas Tim Tebow has both a long and slow motion, Florence seems to get through his long motion quickly. To his credit (and my optimism), when Florence slowed down his delivery (like to put some touch on a fade route), his mechanics looked pretty clean. So whatever he’s doing, it may be fixable. In the meantime though, we have to look at some more candidates.
I think one of RW’s most admirable qualities is his completion percentage. Russell just has a knack for putting the ball where his receiver can catch it (and, more importantly, the DB can’t). Once again, no college QB surpassed RW’s comp% of 72.8 this year. The two guys from the previous list that came closest were Texas Tech’s Seth Doege and La-Tech’s Colby Cameron (70.2 and 68.8 respectively). Both of those guys had 4000-yd passing seasons, QBR’s of about 153, and over 30 TD passes. The differentiation, and reason one is closer to RW, is the interceptions. Doege threw 16 picks this year, compared to Cameron’s 5. At one point Cameron had gone something like 10 games without an INT. He is a very discriminating, thoughtful QB, but appears to lack superior arm-strength. I’d project him to be somewhere between a Kirk Cousins and a Chad Pennington in terms of arm talent. But that’s not necessarily bad company if looking for a backup. Unfortunately, Cameron seems to lack the run threat.
If we were to look for the players that ARE threats to run, the top three in this draft appear to be Florence, Aplin, and Matt Scott. We’ll talk about the latter two soon. If we were to look for a QB that has similar measurables to RW, the closest are, again, Florence and Aplin (both listed identically at 6’0"/205). If we were to look for QB’s that run the zone read, pretty much everyone I watched and mentioned do it to some degree. If we were to look for a guy with RW’s cannon arm, I think Doege had one of the better arms I saw.
The one guy who really didn’t have the stats I like to warrant film study, but I literally had three people mention him to me, was Arizona’s Matt Scott. So I took a look (I’m not even going to change anything, and just present my notes on him unedited)… He goes with his first read EVERY time. He’s forcing throws like crazy. Three or four passes broken up by DB, another two batted down at the line of scrimmage. 95% of his pass plays are 5 yard timing routes. If he gets forced out of that speed rhythm he throws wildly. He completed two passes of over 20 yards, and one of those would have been incomplete if the DB (or perhaps it was a LB dropping in coverage) had the least bit of cover skill. He’s a decent runner (had a couple ZRO plays), but he takes excessive hits. Tough to judge the arm talent from these short throws.
I’m now kind of befuddled as to why this name is suddenly so buzzy. Is everyone watching the tape, or did some college scout/reporter drop his name, and all of my peers just trusted the scout’s eye without doing their homework? I know Scott’s stats aren’t much worse than Nick Florence (for example), but where Florence completed 61% of all types of throws, Scott completed 60% of bubble-screens and checkdowns. And he does a fairly nice job of putting his WR in really vulnerable positions with his throw placements (that was sarcasm). If the performance I’m seeing from Scott has more to do with Arizona’s scheme/play-calling than it does Scott himself, please argue that point. I could soften my stance, but as of now, Scott is not draftable on my board.
For me, the better version of what I think people are thinking Matt Scott is, would be Arkansas State’s Ryan Aplin. I watched Scott and Aplin back-to-back and the schemes they’re running are really similar. They certainly have some similar stats. Scott: 3620 yards, 27 TD, 113 rushes for 506 yards (4.48ypc) and 6 TD. Aplin: 3323 yards, 24 TD, 104 rushes for 438 yards (4.21ypc) and 6 TD. The differences are completion percentage, yards per attempt, and interceptions (Aplin completed 67% to Scott’s 60%, Aplin had 8.2 YPA to Scott’s 7.3, and Aplin had 4 INT to Scott’s 14). Another difference is conference.
I know people will want to bring up the "Pac-12 versus Sun Belt" point. My rebuttal is: Matt Scott was handing the ball off to Ka’Deem Carey (#1 RB in the country) and throwing to Austin Hill (#7 WR in the country)…Ryan Aplin had JD McKissic and David Oku. Ever heard of them? Can you name which of the two is the RB? Bottom line: watching these two QB’s back-to-back meant also watching these receivers back-to-back, and where Austin Hill makes multiple incredible catches for Scott, Aplin was hurt by his receivers’ multiple drops on passes that hit them directly in their hands.
Watch this cut of Aplin versus FIU:
Of all of the QB’s I’ve watched this week, Aplin looks, to me, like how I imagine Russell Wilson looked at NC State. Even though he’s a senior, Aplin looks a year behind where Wilson was at the same point in his career. But I see where Aplin is headed, and I see some cool things already in Aplin’s game. He has nice escapability, I like the placement on his throws, he knows when to push for extra yards on keepers and when to slide, I love how he bounces in the pocket readying to fire towards the open read.
I like that Aplin is the only QB in college football to attempt over 400 passes, and get picked-off 4 or fewer times (1.0 INT%...RW had 4 INT in 309 attempts- 1.3 INT%), so there is good decision-making present. And I like that Aplin could come to the Hawks as an undrafted free agent…which is how he is currently projected. I’d, personally, draft him instead. Might also draft Florence. Despite his mechanics, Florence has this interesting Jim McMahon meets Hacksaw Jim Duggan vibe about him, that I kind of like. And he probably runs the ZRO the best of the guys I watched.
At the end of this four-hour film and writing sesh, the eyes have gone sore, and I’m not much more certain now than when I began. Quarterback evals are hard. And they should be…it’s the most important single position in sports. Who have you guys liked?