One of the biggest criticisms of Russell Wilson coming out of Wisconsin was his height deficiency and a perceived inability to see over NFL offensive lines. Besides the obvious flaw in that logic — the Badgers’ offensive line is regularly one of the nation’s largest — it was an unfounded criticism for another reason: No quarterback, save for a few prototypes 6-foot-5 and above, regularly throw directly over their offensive linemen. Wilson, like Drew Brees before him, thrives off finding lanes and throwing at angles, as well as the natural ability to throw the football with timing and anticipation.
This year’s first overall pick, Baker Mayfield, is faced with a similar challenge. At 6 feet tall, Mayfield, like Wilson, relies on throwing through lanes and manipulating his arm angle to be able to do so.
In addition to being able to throw through lanes and manipulate his arm angle, Wilson thrives off of an ability to create out of the pocket, possessing an explosive release with a live arm, and an innate ability to throw with timing, touch and anticipation. Although Wilson’s skill set and talent is rare, any quarterback brought in to back him up is likely to possess a similar style of play.
The idea of roster mirroring — having reserve players who possess similar skillsets to those of the starters — has been prevalent in Seattle throughout Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s time with the Seahawks. From Tarvaris Jackson to Trevone Boykin, that ideology has included the quarterback room. With the selection of FIU QB Alex McGough in the seventh round, Carroll and Schneider again looked for a skill set similar to Wilson’s.
At 6-foot-3, McGough isn’t faced with the exact same difficulties as the 5-foot-10 Wilson. However, like most quarterbacks, McGough does have to find lanes and work his arm angle to make challenging throws. Mayfield credited his baseball background for his ability to do so, and McGough’s background in baseball lends itself to doing so naturally as well. It was a skill McGough excelled at during his time in college and it was something that attracted the team and Schneider to him:
”His team really struggled this year but his arm talent... Different release points, it’s really cool. There’s a category called off the spot where he’s got to move, and of all the guys in this class, Baker was first [in completion percentage], which makes sense with his skills and his eyes, I think at 58-percent and this guy [McGough] was second with 54, then Darnold was third at 48.” Schneider said during his press conference after day three.
McGough’s ability to alter his arm angle and release point appears throughout his game. Getting the ball out quickly to a receiver on a screen, he’s able to sidearm it like Matthew Stafford on a throw that looks precisely like a baseball release.
Throwing to the boundary on a short route, McGough again has to release the ball on a rope off to the side and does so with ease:
Schneider briefly touched on it when he spoke to the media following day three, but McGough’s team did struggle in 2017. They finished 7-5 and appeared in the Gasparilla Bowl with McGough playing behind the 43rd ranked offensive line in the nation. McGough, like Wilson in Seattle, was forced to create outside the pocket constantly. With a great ability to get outside the tackles, McGough had success, finishing with a 61.9 adjusted completion percentage under pressure and a 100.6 passer rating when blitzed.
The play above, as well as this play, are downright Wilson-esque, from the spin out of the pocket to pushing the ball vertically:
One of the things that makes Wilson so dangerous when he breaks out of the pocket is the ever-present threat that he’ll make the throw. Moving to his right or left, Wilson keeps his eyes downfield and maintains throwing as his first option. Here, McGough does a great job moving to his right before hitting his receiver along the sideline:
It doesn’t matter how elusive a quarterback is or how strong their arm is. If they can’t throw with anticipation and accuracy, they’ll struggle to succeed in the NFL. Windows are tighter and secondaries are more talented. McGough’s anticipation is obvious and it is one of the things that will give him a good chance at carving out a career in the NFL.
Here, he bails out of the pocket and hits the back shoulder throw with great anticipation and accuracy on the move:
Look at where the receiver is when McGough releases the ball:
Inside the pocket, McGough has a good feel for pressure and navigates the pocket as well as he bails out of it. When he’s forced to stick in the pocket and make a throw, he can have success too.
Although McGough can push the ball vertically or to the boundary without any issues, arm strength is perhaps where he lacks NFL talent the most. The ball comes out flat and his release looks more like a heave than a natural throw.
With a satisfied grin on his face, Schneider ended his answer to a question about McGough with “He’s going to be really fun, he’s got a great attitude about him, he’s a really cool kid, great feet, great movement skills, tough, aggressive. We’re excited,” calling him one of the guys you would want to play in the park with. It’s easy to see where Schneider got that impression from:
As a seventh-round pick, McGough has his work cut out for him if he’s going to beat out Austin Davis, and to a lesser extent Stephen Morris, for the backup quarterback job. Whoever wins it will be playing behind the most durable quarterback in the NFL, but in McGough, the Seahawks will have an option with a similar skill set to Wilson, enabling them to maintain what they do on offense should he be forced into action.
McGough’s arm strength is what held him back from being a higher regarded quarterback entering the draft and it’s likely what will stop him from ever being a starting quarterback in the NFL. But McGough is an intelligent passer, capable of throwing with accuracy and anticipation. Like Wilson, he’s able to win inside and outside of the pocket with different release points. And that’s exactly how Schneider and Carroll want it.