Tyler Bray makes me angry. I'm trying to find some compassion for the poor chap, struggling as he was. But it wasn't just his own impressive physical talents he was wasting.
'2nd and 10 at TENN 41 - Tyler Bray pass incomplete.'
This doesn't look so malignant, but something is inconspicuously missing. Look at another one.
'1st and 10 at TENN 41 - Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
In the three games I studied, the NCAA official play-by-play data logged seven incomplete passes without a target. There was at least one per game. Versus Florida and Georgia, he threw three passes inaccurately enough that the scorekeeper couldn't confidently assign a target.
Bray threw for 58% completion in 2012, and went deep consistently enough that the middling percentage doesn't alone raise a substantial red flag. At least not for his receivers.
I'm looking into the detriment of Bray's accuracy problems on the prospects of the incredibly talented receivers Derek Dooley recruited to Tennessee. I first came upon Justin Hunter while admiring Cordarrelle Patterson's Terrell Owens-like ball carrying skills, when I noticed a lot of Patterson's highlight catches were questionable throws by the QB. Scattershot accuracy, occasionally striking a dime, but the timing and decision-making was strangely frustrating. On some of these throws I thought he had a better option on the other side of the field.
Justin Hunter is a physically gifted athlete, with tremendous promise as an NFL wide receiver prospect. He produced well enough in college, but most scouts feel he didn't develop into a skilled receiver as much as they'd hoped by now, his junior year, and he seemed to play tentatively enough in 2012 while recovering from ACL surgery, that his physical talent alone didn't separate him as a top prospect.
Focus and consistency are frequent negatives cited in scouting reports:
Hunter has also shown an alarming lack of focus this season. He drops way too many passes, and it's not entirely a result of bad hands. Hunter simply loses focus, turns up field to quickly or allows the ball to come into his body on far too many plays. He's still working on becoming a more natural hands catcher, and this season proved that he still has a ways to go in that area.
Patterson's scouting reports cite similar negatives. Impressed as I was with the prospects, and what I'd observed about the accuracy of the QB, I was a bit troubled by these scouting reports. I was troubled because I've become personally vested in Hunter (they say not to fall in love with a player, but all too often, I do), and like most people I want to be right about him. I frequently seek to find an undervalued prospect and substantiate why I think he's a better prospect than scouts give him credit for. But be ulterior motives as they may, I set out to investigate whether I'd overlooked these receivers' inconsistencies, or whether scouts saw gross completion percentages and presumed receivers with under 60% catch rates have focus and consistency issues.
I watched every Tyler Bray incomplete pass thrown to Patterson or Hunter in three different games. I didn't include Da'Rick Rogers in this study.
Tennessee vs. Florida
Between Patterson and Hunter, I charted 30 targets (12 and 18, respectively) for 13 receptions (8 and 5, respectively). Three targets to Hunter aren't specified in official play-by-play (one was a wild pitch marked simply as "Tyler Bray pass incomplete;" another was deflected by Marcus Roberson and caught by Zach Rogers; the third was an interception).
4 of the 16 incompletions, each to Hunter, weren't shown on the ESPN broadcast due to "time constraints." I can't evaluate fault there, but of the remaining 12, I could only assign two to shared fault at most:
'1st and 10 at FLA 41 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
1st Quarter, 9:50 to play. Bray's throw is rushed and high. Patterson could have caught it, but it's forgivable.
'1st and 10 at TENN 41 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
4th Quarter, 15:00 to play. Bray just overthrows Patterson, who stops the ball with one hand, but drops it trying to haul it in. A certain TD missed.
Shared fault, in my eyes, as Patterson had to stretch his arm forward to get a hand on the ball, steering his torso laterally, but it's the kind of catch that NFL receivers are absolutely expected to bring in. More on Patterson than Bray.
The rest of the incompletions are pretty darn uncatchable. Let's take a look.
'1st and 10 at TENN 49 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
2nd Quarter, 13:00 to play. Bray's throw is several yards out of bounds.
'1st and 10 at TENN 25 Tyler Bray pass complete to Zach Rogers for 7 yards to the Tenn 32.'
1st Quarter, 7:52 to play. Bray throws well behind Hunter, who attempts to break up a potential interception by Marcus Roberson. The pass is deflected and caught by Zach Rogers. I love the uncaring focus on the end-result in the play-by-play.
'2nd and 10 at TENN 49 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
2nd Quarter, 12:53 to play. Patterson is overthrown by 5 yards. The orange X is the approximate landing the ball makes. The safety runs presnap from the deep middle over to the top of Patterson. Bray's eyes gave it away.
'3rd and 10 at FLA 31 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter, broken up by Matt Elam, TENNESSEE penalty Illegal Motion on Rajion Neal declined.'
2nd Quarter, 10;25 to play. Hunter breaks in from the slot -- crossing routes usually showcased the best of Bray's timing and accuracy, while outside the numbers usually showcased more accuracy problems. Crossing routes featured Patterson and Rivera more often -- but the throw is too far led to make a play on it.
'1st and 10 at TENN 25 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
3rd Quarter, 3:15 to play. Bray throws well behind Hunter and out of bounds. You'll be forgiven if you're starting to lose focus by this point.
'2nd and 10 at TENN 25 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
3rd Quarter, 3:10 to play. Bray throws well above Hunter's head. It's worth noting, for all Hunter's athleticism, he has some heavy legs when he jumps. He makes some very athletic plays on some erratic throws, laterally, but his catch radius doesn't run as high as you'd expect.
Tennessee Vs. Georgia
13 targets for 5 receptions between Patterson and Hunter, here. One interception targeted Patterson, who was not at fault.
'2nd and 7 at TENN 24 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
1st Quarter, 8:17 to play. Pass is high, behind and beyond Hunter.
'3rd and 6 at TENN 39 Tyler Bray pass intercepted by Damian Swann at the Geo 44, returned for no gain to the Geo 44.'
2nd Quarter, 12:46 to play. Pass is tipped by a Bulldog, then picked off. Patterson was the target, but he had nothing to do with the outcome.
'2nd and 6 at TENN 46 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
2nd Quarter, 11:05 to play. Wake up, class, something happened. For once, a perfectly thrown ball, on the money, hitting Patterson in stride. As the announcer says, it's a better thrown pass than the Florida drop by Patterson earlier, and there's no excuse for this drop. We've found our first incomplete pass, 13 in, that isn't owned by Bray. Patterson FTL.
3rd and 6 at TENN 46 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
2nd Quarter, 10:58 to play. Like every team, an embarrassing drop is cause to give the guy another opportunity, to lose the bad taste in his mouth. No difference here, only the overthrow high is much close to two, if not three Bulldogs, than Patterson, who makes a futile leap to reach it.
'1st and 10 at UGA 50 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter, broken up by Damian Swann.'
2nd Quarter, 7:59 to play. Hunter defends this one, not really a poorly thrown ball, just good positioning by Swann and a pass that shouldn't have been thrown, as Georgia was anticipating the route and the overly-led throw. But our concern here is, can we find any incomplete passes as a result of poor concentration or focus, or just plain bad hands? In the case of Hunter, we're still looking for the first one.
'3rd and 8 at TENN 39 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
3rd Quarter, 12:37 to play. Thrown just a bit behind Hunter, but I'm inclined to mark this the first fault for Hunter, shared with Bray. Bray's probably more to blame, but the awareness and body control Hunter exhibits -- honestly I'm kind of reaching here, but -- leaves a bit to be desired. Yes, he comes out of his break tremendously fast. That's part of it, and that's very encouraging, for Hunter the prospect, and Bray should have led him forward more. But Hunter's down-breaking speed takes him out of position, while he's facing the ball coming toward him. But however much negativity I can construe here, watch that down-breaking speed (on a recovering ACL) and picture it on an option route vs. cover 3. Pretty sick.
'3rd and 10 at TENN 46 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Justin Hunter.'
3rd Quarter, 9:01 to play. Hunter crosses inside, Bray's throw is led too far, just beyond his fingertips. Again, I'm inclined to assign Hunter a share of the blame, here. Given the amount of open space ahead of him, and the down & distance situation, I'd like to see Hunter lay himself out a bit more to bring this one in. The ball arrives rifle-fast, and Hunter's in mid-stride, not having enough leverage underneath him to push out for a lay-out, I'll give him some benefit of the doubt, here, but if you called this symptomatic of concentration issues, or a matter of not processing information fast enough to preclude these issues in the NFL, it's a legitimate possibility.
'3rd and 5 at UGA 10 Tyler Bray pass incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson.'
3rd Quarter, 0:58 to play. Too high and outside for Patterson, and lacking the touch warranted by the fade. I don't fault Patterson here.
I simply don't have the strength to do another game, here. South Carolina was nothing different. Catchable passes were caught, wild pitches weren't remotely catchable, and Patterson was good for one stone-handed drop. Let's get to the implications.
Hunter's worst incompletion came in the Carolina game, however, and is another example of game speed due to Bray's fastball appearing to be quicker than Hunter's ability to process quickly. I came into this study puzzled by the claims of concentration issues, and unfortunately I feel they're corroborated.
I just think the issue is easily misconstrued. Hands and coordination is not an issue with Hunter. Concentration doesn't appear to be mental lapses or problems with focus, but playing in a faster game in the pros could lead to a scattering of misqueues like Michael Crabtree suffers, which on the surface can come across as not giving full effort or playing more tentatively than you'd like to see. Hunter and Crabtree don't have the scrappiness of DeAndre Hopkins or the Panthers' Steve Smith. Hunter displays better lateral range in terms of catch radius than vertical: he jumps with heavy legs.
Now, this catch radius limitation is somewhat relative: he's 6'4". But with currently developed technique, he's a big and fast target that has good separation skills, but his catch radius is vertically no higher than that of Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
Hunter is a true junior. His second season was comprised of three games. His college career amounts to 28 games, and half his targets didn't have a realistic chance of him making a play on the ball. I think his development warrants recognition that he's not developed, but clearly his lack of polish doesn't stem from unmet development expectations on account of sufficient development time.
Patterson is a JUCO transfer, and while I get the lack of positive corroboration of demonstrable skills and execution vs. stronger opponents, I kind of suspect the JUCO transfer red flag is rather paradoxically self-fulfilling. Mike Mayock described a transfer path littered with tremendous athletes with high upside that didn't amount to anything in the NFL, but I don't think the list of standout transfer prospects has been long enough to have an established track record of fool's gold, and the list includes such resounding successes (Walter Jones, Randy Moss, Cam Newton, to a lesser extend Russell Wilson), and that doesn't include those lucrative prospects that never did transfer out of a smaller school (Terrell Owens, Favre, DeMarcus Ware & Osi Umenyiora, and so many others). This is the year of the small school, it's been said. The list, in my mind, starts with Patterson.
Patterson is already likely out of Seattle's reach; I just hope Hunter's combine measurements and performance don't also elevate his stock too far.
Patterson does have more of an established problem with dropping catchable passes, but not an alarming disability. It's not a problem with concentration, it seems, but more a matter of coordination. There are negatives on these prospects' reports, and their dynamics lend more to certain usage than others (Patterson is a guy you want to get the ball to in space; Hunter is a perimeter technician that takes the top off the defense).
But me, I just can't stop shaking my head at what could have been for Derek Dooley's meekly coached squad. If requisite discipline had been instilled enough to keep players like Da'Rick Rogers (which I can't not mentally pronounce "Da Rick" and I would be kind of surprised if he doesn't refer to himself in the third person in private), and if their QB could have developed some touch and accuracy on that cannon...but now they are hid from thine eyes.