clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On Jordan Love, football organizations, and quarterback development

Take a look around the NFL - the smart teams know how to get quarterback value in a thousand different ways.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

One of the key changes to the NFL over the last five-to-ten years is the simple realization by many, but not all, teams that there is more than one way to play quarterback. This is incredibly obvious in retrospect, especially given the fact that old-timey NFL quarterback play, like from the 20s through the 60s, involved a lot more running/mobility and ideas could have been mined by any team at any time.

From 1970 through the early 2000s, the league really fixated on the “prototypical passer” who would stand in the pocket and make strong, on target throws, and no one did much of anything else. You had your occasional Randall Cunninghams and Steve Youngs, but those guys were also good in the pocket, with their mobility serving as more of a bonus.

That lack of creativity led to the general freezing out of unconventional quarterbacks, mobile quarterbacks, and quarterbacks with unique skillsets. But more than anything, the idea that a quarterback had to be one way to succeed led to a lack of critical thinking on how certain quarterback attributes could be maximized while their flaws were downplayed.

There are, of course, some traits that cannot be hidden. A quarterback with less than the minimum necessary arm strength to play the position isn’t going to work. A Kyle Boller level of accuracy isn’t going to work. But there are so many other problems that are relatively simple to work around or develop through with some honest self-scouting and a willingness to actually run a meaningful development program. The Green Bay Packers are currently reaping the benefits from this approach, but they’re hardly the first.

If you look around the league, you’ll probably start to notice just how much organizations seems to matter. They have always mattered of course, but I’m not sure they’ve ever mattered quite like this. The most efficient quarterback in football according to EPA per play (which you can see here) is Brock Purdy, the former 262nd overall pick out of Iowa State. It’s no longer unusual for Kyle Shanahan to turn a lesser regarded player into a true star, and I think Purdy was underrated coming out of college, but the Purdy 49ers aren’t just competing with a seventh rounder at the helm - they’re dominating. There is perhaps no better place for a young QB than San Francisco, but it’s also worth noting that Purdy has reportedly also done some offseason work to address one of his biggest issues out of college: arm strength.

The next highest EPA/Play is held by Dak Prescott, the former 4th rounder. I won’t go to bat too much for the Cowboys as a progressive organization with Mike McCarthy at the helm, but if there’s one thing Jerry Jones doesn’t do, it’s underfund his organization, and it’s not like this is the first time the Cowboys have struck gold on a less well-regarded quarterback. This is Tony Romo’s team after all.

The next on the list is Josh Allen, a famously inaccurate, toolsy product. At the time, many of us on the analytical side said something along the line of “you can’t count on Josh Allen happening twice,” but I’m not sure that’s truly the case anymore. Next is Patrick Mahomes, and while I suspect he would have thrived anywhere, the fact is he has thrived with Andy Reid. Next is Tua Tagavailoa, who was certainly a highly regarded college passer but one who struggled until the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel, who has served under Shanahan in many capacities including offensive coordinator for a long while. Tyreek Hill also helps, of course.

Next is CJ Stroud, the impressive rookie who has outperformed the more highly drafted Bryce Young. I love Stroud as a prospect, and the talent level overall is certainly higher in Houston with Nico Collins and Tank Dell, but it also helps to have DeMeco Ryans and Bobby Slowik running the show, both (again) former 49ers coaches.

Then it’s Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. The former 2nd rounder taken 53rd overall was brought along slowly, but has thrived playing for one of the best, if not the best, organizations in football. The Eagles play to every strength that Hurts has, including the advent of the Tush Push.

Things get a bit squishier after Hurts, but I think they largely make sense. I think the Chargers and Jaguars have actively hindered Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence through poor hires like Urban Mayer and Joe Lombardi, and that they’re just starting to break some of the bad habits developed under them. I think Jared Goff has been as good as he had by landing first with Sean McVay, and then with Ben Johnson in Detroit.

Currently sitting at 11th, and shooting up the charts, we have Jordan Love, who absolutely has some warts to his game. The deep ball is rough, his mechanics on short throws can still be pretty brutal, and he’s not a Josh Allen or Justin Fields as an athlete (though he is still a good one). But after early struggles with a bunch of young receivers who kept running the wrong way and dropping his passes, those warts have generally been addressed in some fashion.

Against Detroit on Thanksgiving the Packers started off with deep shot to Christian Watson on the first play of the game. To this point in the season, Watson had struggled with contested catches, and coming into the Pittsburgh game a few weeks ago, he was one for ten on contested catches on the season. In the Lions game, Watson had five contested catches, including here, and it’s hard not to see the impact of practice and realistic self-scouting of Love if you watch the play again.

Watson is amazingly fast and typically shoots by his defender, expecting a deep ball out in front of him, but look at this play. Watson makes the catch on the 18 yard line or so, but look at where he starts slowing down and tracking it:

Watson is fast, but he’s also tall, and he can jump, and for Love’s deep ball, those qualities are more important than his pure speed. Watson made excellent use of his frame in this game as the team has adjusted to figuring out what they can do well. Jayden Reed is unusual for his pure straight-line speed in the slot. Most slot receivers excel in the horizontal game of agility, but the Packers get the most out of Reed by putting him in positions where his wheels are a major threat. Jet sweeps to space, slants, and generally speaking, routes where he’s running forward are all Reed staples. And while I do not really care for end zone fades, Romeo Doubs seems to be good at them, so why not.

The Packers also have adjusted to post-Rodgers life by drastically increasing their play action and pre-snap motion, all essential tools for opening up the middle of the field. They’re a much better RPO team than last year as well, and all of that deception has worked wonders, as it did on this RPO touchdown to Tucker Kraft. Look at everyone sell this play!

The sum total of all of this is that the scheme and the specific skills of the pass catchers now help to accentuate what Love does well (his intermediate and deep middle throws are always threats to score) while also providing a helping hand on his weaker areas, like the deep ball. Later in this game, Watson made an outstanding sideline catch on an out that was thrown too high, but his height and leaping ability mitigated some of Love’s accuracy issues. And more than anything, Love’s intelligence and control of the offense now allows for every deceptive play in the book to work.

Contrast this offense, with all of it’s raw talent, youth, and Aaron-driven dead cap space dragging on it, against the Bears and Justin Fields. It’s not as if the Bears didn’t try to help him this offseason, nabbing DJ Moore as a part of their outstanding trade with Carolina, and drafting Darnell Wright, but they seem to have absolutely no idea how to deal with Fields’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Fields took far too many sacks in college. He loves to hold onto the ball and use his speed to hunt for big plays. Moore’s a great player, and he absolutely can hurt you down the field, but he’s more of an all-around guy. Tight end Cole Kmet is fine, but he’s basically a possession tight end, and there’s not a lot of talent on the team that CAN hurt you down the field, thought it is strange how much Darnell Mooney has regressed. But even if there were downfield threats, the Bears can’t block for it.

More than anything, they seem to want Fields to be an old school 80s quarterback. Fields is very fast, but there are no plays designed to capitalize on him being very fast either as a runner, or to buy time for big plays in the passing game. There has seemingly been no effort to work on his clock, or to create progression rules for him. It’s just bizarre and not that different from what went on with Mitch Trubisky. It’s not just the Bears either. I don’t think much of Kenny Pickett, but it’s likely hard to turn into much of a player under Matt Canada. Mac Jones is probably terrible, but it’s pretty clear at this point that Bill Belichick has lost some zip on his fastball, and the Patriots are among the least talented teams in the game.

I wasn’t a fan of Love coming out of college, however I suspect the combination of physical tools and a good organization (and mental acuity as well. Love was inaccurate in college, but in the NCAA and as a Packer, he has almost always made the correct read) is now a much surer bet than it used to be.

We make fun of the Bears never having a good quarterback because they’re the Bears, but the simple fact is that it’s probably true.