One-Year Collegiate Starters And Their Transition To The NFL
The phrase "one-year wonder" is not often used as a term of endearment in scouting circles. It's a saying that's used to describe a player who has one year of production that stands out from the rest of their career. College players with this type of career arc can be difficult evaluations for NFL teams as they try to determine if the breakout season is a sign of things to come or an anomaly. Thankfully when it comes to Quarterback evaluations there are typically a few years of game tape to digest. However, every so often teams are left to evaluate quarterbacks with just one-year of starting experience. Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com wrote an article stating that since 2000, there have only been three quarterbacks selected in the first round who have only been one-year collegiate starters – Mitchell Trubisky, Cam Newton, and Mark Sanchez. Next week that number is expected to grow to five as Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins are expected to be selected early.
Are there any similarities to take away from this pool of players? On the surface, all five players put up terrific production and four of the five even led their school to at least a dozen wins in their lone year under center. On the flipside, their size and play style fits all across the QB spectrum.
With limited experience at a high-level, these quarterbacks all entered or are entering the NFL with weaknesses in their game. Cam Newton and Mitchell Trubisky and their organizations have provided a blueprint for how to develop their quarterbacks on the fly.
The biggest hurdle Cam Newton has had to climb throughout his pro career has been his accuracy and decision-making. There is no question that Newton has the necessary arm strength to make any throw along the perimeter, but it his lack of touch as a passer, particularly in the middle of the field, that has plagued him. There are certainly questions about his durability due to his dual-threat style of play, but those have been afterthoughts to his accuracy issues. Newton’s mechanics are not flawless.
In his throwing motion, as you can see in the clip below from the 2012 season, Newton has a wide base in his throwing motion with a slight backward lean relying on his pure upper body strength to generate velocity and deliver the football. He does not fully utilize his lower body in his throwing motion as his stride foot is slightly moving throughout the process and his back leg is behind in the motion as well. Essentially, this throw, from a mechanical standpoint, is functional chaos. Although his lower body is not in sync with his upper body, Newton made this motion work due to his physical gifts.
As mentioned in an article last week, Norv Turner helped resolve some of Newton’s accuracy and velocity control issues not by trying to greatly alter his throwing motion, but rather adapt the scheme to what he can consistently throw well. Newton’s throwing motion has improved since his first few seasons in the NFL, but it is still not picture perfect. The key is that Carolina did not appear to try to fixate on his throwing motion, but instead tried to tweak it to make it work for them and their offense.
Trubisky’s NFL career has not been as illustrious, thus far, as Newton’s. He has not won an MVP award or taken his team to a Super Bowl, but he took huge strides this season with new coach Matt Nagy. The biggest issue with Trubisky’s game has been his inconsistent ability to diagnose defense’s and make good decisions with the football. There were times in the season where Trubisky would not correctly identify the coverage and miss open targets despite having the “perfect” play call against a defense. Mechanically, Trubisky is a much more polished passer than Newton while also possessing above-average mobility. While accuracy is still an issue in Trubisky’s game, most of his big-picture issues stem from decision-making. Nagy simplified the offense and allowed Trubisky to play much freer and more relaxed in his “new” system.
With Trubisky and Newton, they both had issues that may have been more polished in college had they been multiple-year starters. However, both have had some success in the NFL despite that. With Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins, the key will be something similar to what Chicago and Carolina did with their respective franchise quarterbacks: put them in familiar situations and quarterback friendly concepts, simplify the offense, and focus on particular areas to fix not everything at once.