COMBINE NOTEBOOK: Top QB Prospects Differ On Combine Strategy

Posted Feb 23, 2014

Some signal callers chose to throw in Indy and others opted not to.

IINDIANAPOLIS – Besides their 40-yard dash times and hand size, the most scrutinized thing that the quarterback prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine face is their throwing, yet not all of them throw.

Each year at this time when the 32 teams around the league descend on Indianapolis, the coaches, scouts and general managers have to account for this impact on their evaluations. They acknowledge each player’s right to make their own educated decision regarding whether to throw in the on-field drills or not and properly weigh that into their grading.

For the media and the fans, there is always a little extra criticism depending on who the quarterback is and what has been written and said about him up to his point. This year there are 19 quarterbacks looking to make a lasting impression, with just under half carrying the burden of high expectations for a variety of reasons. Only two of the perceived top five have chosen to throw – Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.

“My mind was always made up, it was just waiting on the right time to announce it, getting information from a lot of people,” said Bortles, who at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds is being compared to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “But I want to compete. That’s kind of who I am. That’s what I want to do. I look forward to doing everything here. That’s kind of the way I was brought up and who I am. So throwing really wasn’t a question the whole time, it was just a matter of time until we told somebody about it.”

There are many different ways to look at how throwing or not throwing impacts a signal caller’s draft stock because on the one hand, if they do throw they are throwing to receivers that they have no familiarity. Even if one of their teammates happens to be at the Combine with them and would be among those catching the passes, the results of those other throws are unpredictable.

However, players like Bortles and McCarron also realize there is only one time when this many representatives from all 32 teams are in one place focused solely on watching their every move. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel had to think long and hard before opting to skip the throwing portion here and he also thought long and hard about his answer before addressing the large throng of media on Friday.

“From what I’ve told every team if they want to work me out privately, any throw they want to see me make at my pro day, any interview, any question they want to ask me, any throw they want to see me make at any time, I’m more than willing to do that,” Manziel said. “I’ll be in a situation March 27th where I’ll have Mike Evans and a group of receivers that I’ve been very comfortable with, very familiar with that I want to give those guys an opportunity to go and show what they can showcase as well.

“It was an extremely hard decision for me not to throw here, I’m an extremely competitive person. It’s something that my agent really kind of advised me on, but at the same time I’m telling all of these teams anything they want to see, anything they want to hear from me I’m more than willing.”

Manziel is well aware that the knock on him has been that he’s more of a scrambler and an improviser than a pocket quarterback and that doesn’t always translate from the college ranks to the pros. He identified that as the biggest misperception of him and he is setting out to prove that he can throw out of the pocket and thrive in a traditional passing role as well. But by not throwing here he’ll have to wait a month before finding out if he succeeded in convincing the scouts.

For McCarron, having played on such a national stage with the Crimson Tide benefits him due to the fact that so many of his games were nationally televised and there is more than enough film on him. Most if not all of his games were always well attended by NFL scouts and executives, which could have made it easier for him to call his own shots and not throw here like he did when he skipped the Senior Bowl.

“I just felt it was a good choice for myself. I’m healthy and better than I’ve ever been,” said McCarron, who made it a point to tweet out his hand size (10 inches) after it became official. “I know free agent week starts the same time as our Pro Day, so some teams’ coaches and GMs might not be able to come down. So I felt this was the best opportunity to showcase what I’ve been working on since our last game, which is my release point.

“All the experts try to knock me on my deep ball. (They) try to say my arm’s not strong. My arm’s strong enough. I mean I can throw the ball 65 yards. But I had a bad habit of releasing the ball out wide, not staying vertical on it. If you go back and watch my film you can see the film doesn’t lie on that. The times I had to throw the ball deep and I stayed with a vertical release on it, the ball went far. So that was the biggest thing for me, finishing my throws on the deep ball.”

Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, who confidently stated that he believes he is the best quarterback in this draft class and that the Houston Texans should take him with the first overall pick, also is not throwing. He didn’t hesitate in citing his accuracy as his biggest strength and even blurted out his completion percentage (71 percent) with a sense of pride.

Bridgewater perhaps made the strongest case for not throwing today, at least one that most scouts and general managers would have a difficult time arguing with.

“The biggest thing was just me being a perfectionist, and I just want everything to go right,” he said. “Whether I’m taking a five-step drop and the guy’s not on top of his route at the time, I just want to have that chemistry with the guys. I tend to look at it from a pro standpoint. When you’re throwing in the offseason, you want to be with your guys to have that timing and that connection, so that was the biggest thing.”
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