Coming from the Big East and Mountain West, respectively, both schools can expect to see an increased level of competition, so how will each of these prospects fare in their new conference?
Quick Notes of Big 12 Defenses
Before dissecting each player’s prospective fit in the Big 12, it’s important to note what types of defenses they’ll be facing each and every week of conference play. Zone coverage is rampant, with most coaches in the conference teaching their corners to read outside-in, through the receiver’s route to the quarterback in order to get quick reads and good jumps on the ball. The only teams able to play effective man coverage are Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State, with Texas holding the best corps of DBs in the conference. Broderick Brown at Oklahoma State, Carrington Byndom at Texas, and Nigel Malone at Kansas State lead the class with outstanding read and react skills, excellent drive technique on the route, route anticipation, and plus ball skills.
Staying on the topic of defensive backs, safety play has been a huge plus for the Big 12, with Kenny Vaccaro from Texas and Tony Jefferson from Oklahoma, headlining this year’s group as versatile, playmaking safeties that fly all across the field. In total, there are more than 10 safeties in the conference that I’ve given a draftable grade to. On the pass rush side of things, defensive ends for the most part, are light, long, and explosive with their first step. The only exceptions belong to Texas’ Alex Okafor (6’4, 260 lbs) and Jackson Jeffcoat (6’4 250 lbs), and Oklahoma’s David King (6’5 273 lbs).
Transition #1 - Geno Smith, West Virginia
Excelling in his first year with Air Raid guru, Dana Holgorsen’s new passing attack, Geno Smith made leaps and bounds as a prospect in 2011. Primed for a breakout senior season, let’s take a look at what makes this quarterback a 1st round talent.
The biggest improvement in Geno Smith’s game, evident early and throughout the 2011 season, was his pocket presence. When forced to move off his spot and reset his feet in a collapsing pocket, Smith consistently kept his eye level down field while avoiding the rush. His patience and poise in a clean pocket, as well as his smooth, elusiveness to slide and buy time adjust to a collapsing one, afforded his receivers the time necessary to continually create separation down the field, resulting in a more explosive pass offense.
As a 2013 NFL Draft prospect, Smith is without question the most accurate quarterback in the Big 12. Among the quarterbacks I’ve graded this offseason in the Big 12 and SEC, no quarterback earned higher marks for ball placement than Geno Smith. Mountaineer receivers are rarely forced to break their stride on drags, digs, deep crossing patterns, posts, or go routes, as Smith has both the arm talent to drive the ball down field and the anticipation to lead his receivers with the throw. Versus man coverage, he does an even better job of throwing away from the corner’s leverage to give his receiver the best opportunity to complete the reception. Simply put, Smith showcased elite level accuracy and ball placement to all levels of the field.
Equally impressive is how polished and savvy, Geno Smith has become as a quarterback. Facing a defense loaded with NFL talent in LSU, Smith proceeded to carve up the soon-to-be SEC West champions by utilizing deceptive eye level and pump fakes in order to manipulate the secondary. The maturation process could be seen as the season went further and further along, as Smith improved each week in both his timing and command of the offense.
Boasting a talented group of wide receivers, including an outside-inside receiver tandem with Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, Geno Smith has the surrounding talent to compete for a Big 12 championship. West Virginia will continue to utilize a heavy dose of mesh concepts (crossing drag routes), slot drive concepts (play-side drag and dig routes to flood the middle of the field), and other plays geared to spread defenses out, create mismatches in the slot, and shoot holes against zone coverage.
By forcing the defense to extend itself towards the sidelines, seam windows become larger, vertical attacks more successful, and running plays more efficient; this is the same type of attack that we saw Robert Griffin III and Art Briles conduct at Baylor last season, and there’s no reason to doubt West Virginia’s offensive capability in such an offense. What isn’t noted enough, is Dana Holgorsen’s reliance upon older passing concepts such as the curl-flat, post-over-dig, and smash route combos. And while individual route combinations and concepts are nothing new, the incorporation of each and every one of these concepts makes West Virginia’s Air Raid offense so difficult to defend.
In the previous four NFL Drafts, the Big 12 has produced a total of seven, 1st round draft choices (including three last season, with Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden). As the draft season unfolds itself, I have a strong feeling Geno Smith will ascend rapidly up draft boards, as he possesses all the physical tools such as size, arm strength, and athleticism, along with the polished footwork, high football IQ, and mental makeup to succeed in the NFL. Since his best games came against opponents such as LSU and Clemson, there’s no need to worry about a dip in production. Casey Pachall, TCU
Moving on to Casey Pachall, you have a raw, gun-slinging quarterback prospect with loads of upside and toughness. Taking over for now-NFL starter Andy Dalton, Pachall set school records for completion percentage (66.5%), passing yards in a season (2,921), passing yards in single game (473), and passing touchdowns in a single game (5). Each of the previous two mentioned statistics coming in TCU’s toughest matchup, visiting #5 ranked Boise State, where Pachall out-dueled Kellen Moore for a thrilling 36 to 35 victory.
Looking forward to the 2012 season, Casey Pachall could be in a position to declare early for the 2013 NFL Draft as a possible Day 2 selection in rounds 2-3. Pachall is a bit rough around the edges, but he’s a gritty, tough, competitive, gunslinger with an impressive arm and more than enough athletic ability.
Certain aspects of Pachall’s game that need to be addressed heading into the 2012 season, include weight transfer in the pocket and consistency in maintaining a firm base from which to throw off of, both of which stem from his rather raw footwork.
Pachall delivers the ball off a straight front leg, creating torque with his back hip and arming the ball through the throwing zone. As a result, accuracy is affected and ball placement is sketchy. His extreme arm talent still is able to drive the ball downfield, but I’m 100% positive that Pachall is just scratching the surface as a quarterback. The lack of consistency in his footwork provides a quick explanation for Pachall’s streaky accuracy and ball placement. Rhythm, timing, and to a greater extent, velocity starts with the lower half, and for TCU quarterback Casey Pachall to take that next step, he’ll have to correct these issues.
Examining his physical tools, again, not many quarterbacks have as live an arm as Pachall. Interesting to note, are Pachall’s abnormal physical length, especially in terms of arm length. Sporting a ¾’s arm slot upon delivery, Pachall generates velocity with a sudden, whip-like motion that puts a great deal of stress on his elbow. His confidence and ability to fit the ball into tight windows between the hashes, particularly on seam throws, highlight his skill set as a passer. Having a natural feel for throwing over defenders, between the 2nd and 3rd levels of coverage, immediately translates to the NFL game.
Quick and decisive to pull the trigger on downfield throws, Pachall refuses to hesitate with his reads and reacts instinctively to the defense. Issues arise when he locks onto his primary target and stubbornly forces the ball into coverage, and this could be the biggest concern NFL scouts will have with the TCU gun-slinger. I anticipate more trust being given to Pachall as a thrower in 2012, along with an uptick in progressional reads working the entire field. Possessing the height and presence to see the field clearly, the only missing piece is consistency with pre snap reads and target progression.
Success or failure in 2012 for Casey Pachall, will be paralleled by his consistency in footwork, throwing mechanics, pre snap coverage reads, and progressions in the pocket. I absolutely love this player’s upside, confidence, on-field swagger, and poise under the bright lights, but also realize the need for growth this offseason. If he can correct these concerns, Pachall could be in line for another record setting season, building off of last season’s numbers as baseline statistics moving forward. Holding mid-to-high 3rd round grade entering the season, it’s quite possible that Pachall could climb all the way into the top 64 of the 2013 NFL Draft.