The Scouting Notebook returns to Optimum Scouting this year after football season came to our televisions this past weekend. A weekly Monday staple here at Optimum Scouting all season long (and even after the season), the Scouting Notebook will touch on a few major stories I watched over the weekend and hopefully expound on them to give you a different look at what happened in the weekend’s games.
This week, I’ll touch on why NFL teams should be very confident in Tajh Boyd’s and Aaron Murray’s abilities after their battle on Saturday night, why North Dakota State’s win is due to elite coaching and NFL quality talent, and the Top 10 breakout seniors/juniors from an eventful weekend.
Tajh Boyd vs. Aaron Murray is the Battle of Polished, NFL Ready Passers
Tajh Boyd ended up winning the war of the two Top 10 teams, giving Clemson a key victory to start a season that is aimed at a National Title berth. But both Boyd and Aaron Murray gave college football and NFL Draft followers a battle that was a prime example of how senior, experienced quarterbacks should play fundamentally and with NFL-level control.
Prospects like AJ McCarron get a lot of attention due to team success on a consistent basis. Prospects like Logan Thomas get attention for their remarkable upside. But both Boyd and Murray showed why they should be long-time NFL passers after this season, regardless if they start or not. Based on the offensive control, ball handling, composure in a variety of unique situations, and overall footwork polish, both quarterbacks could be in the NFL right now and make a roster.
Both quarterbacks are shorter than 6’2, the ideal height for passers. But similar to the newest small quarterback stud Russell Wilson, it doesn’t give these two passers much problem. Boyd especially has a very high release point from the pocket, throwing at a 6’4 level, which is certainly high enough to dodge his own offensive lineman. Murray gets a lot of work on the move, limiting his concern on a variety of plays due to height concerns. Both quarterbacks utilize controlled feet in the pocket and an appreciation for throwing windows in the offensive line to make up for their lack of ideal height, very similar to Russell Wilson at NC State and Wisconsin.
Boyd’s footwork was even more consistent than 2012, though he still can get too wide of a base when he gets to his drop and his initial read isn’t there. It’s not a huge concern, but it does limit the velocity some and certainly makes him a shorter quarterback in the pocket. Boyd has very “patient” mechanics on the move, with a controlled body and arm movement and finishing his throws despite his feet moving. And effective and balanced runner when running outside the pocket or on designed read option runs, Boyd avoids big hits and as sneaky foot speed as he worked upfield.
The most notable play for Boyd in this game was his contorting and adjusting off an inside blitz to find and hit Sammy Watkins, who ran it for a long touchdown early in the game. That one throw says a lot about Boyd’s performance and development as a quarterback. Because of his development mechanically, Boyd feels comfortable and controlled when forced to do the uncomfortable and difficult to control plays. That’s why quarterback mechanics are so important: Not for the routine plays, but for the plays when a passer doesn’t have time to think about the mechanics.
Based on this game alone, the Clemson offense will be plenty of screen passes and outside the hash fades (which Boyd is the best at among the quarterbacks the country), with some hitch routes and the occasional downfield interior routes to show off Boyd’s NFL ability sprinkled in. After this performance and win, Boyd immediately will be thrusted into the Heisman discussion, and even more will be turned onto him as a future 1st round passer.
As for Murray, he had a quietly impressive game despite a lackluster state sheet (0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 61.7 QBR). Murray consistently showed his devotion to consistent mechanics, both from the pocket where he always follows and on the move when he has a high release and a tightly spun ball. While some will assume that, because he’s a smaller quarterback that he lacks velocity, Murray showed both downfield arm strength as well as high velocity throws in the 15-25 yard range, a far more important characteristic to possess.
One skill set in a quarterback that I valuable very highly is a passer’s velocity control between levels (DL to LBs, LBs to DBs). Few are able to throw with velocity in the middle of the field and over linebackers and not leave his receivers out to dry or float passes over their heads for potential interceptions. Thanks to an over the top release, plus velocity in the 10-20 yard range, and a plus understanding of using his eyes to subtly move defenders, Murray is able to have success across the field. He’s one of the best passers in the country when he comes to level throws and velocity control. Most of his throws are not only catchable balls, but put his receiver in position to make big plays after the catch, showing on the stat sheet as four catches over 20 yards by his receivers.
One concern that showed in this game on multiple occasions for Murray is his placement suffering the longer he’s forced to stay in the pocket. An effective timing passer who does ample work pre-snap (handling 2-3 plays at a time on most plays), Murray is comfortable when he gets to his drops, drives off his back foot, and come over the top on his throws. When he’s forced to hold his position and wait on a route or a late breaking receiver, he tends to lose that balance on his back foot, lean forward too much, get a little while in his feet positioning, and losing some velocity/high release, leaving those passes short at times. He needs to be more comfortable chopping his feet, staying active in his lower half as he makes progressions.
Murray’s lack of ideal height likely pushes him out of round one. But at this point, I’ll easily take him over AJ McCarron and, depending on my team’s need for a starting quarterback, over Logan Thomas.
North Dakota State isn’t the New Appalachian State. They’re Just Better Than You Know
It took an 18 play, 8-plus minute drive for North Dakota State to pull off their fourth consecutive FCS over FBS upset in a season. Easily their best opponent they’ve faced in that time (Colorado State, Minnesota, Kansas), head coach Craig Bohl was able to knock off a team who just last year was in the BCS Title consideration.
And while a team of Kansas State’s caliber should never lose to a team that doesn’t play at the highest level, it’s no surprise that North Dakota State showed up to play. Much of the Bison’s success is due to fantastic coaching by Craig Bohl, who, if he wasn’t before, should at least be vetted for FBS coaching jobs now. But it also has to do with the NFL quality talent on the roster in the past and especially this year.
The best prospect for North Dakota State is easily cornerback Marcus Williams. The senior considered declaring early for the draft last year after a productive career thus far. With fluid hips to attack vertically and the ball skills to finish plays across the field, Williams recorded an interception in the game and put himself back in the minds of NFL teams with his play in Week 1 against the best team he’ll face this season. While I don’t think he’s physical enough in the short area and takes some poor missteps based on 2012 film, he could be the next non-FBS cornerback to be a Top 64 selection in the 2014 draft.
After Williams, three other seniors who are considered UDFA types impressed against a fundamental Kansas State defense. While senior quarterback Brock Jensen didn’t wow on the stat-sheet, he was efficient throughout the game (despite the interception) and utilized a safe passing game to keep things close, including going 6 for 6 for 53 yards in the team’s final draft to take the lead. Despite a relatively safe passing game, Jensen has ample size (about 6’3) and arm strength (solid, not great) to generate ample interest by NFL teams. If he can finish his FCS season with another deep playoff run, he’ll be firmly on the minds of NFL teams.
Running back Sam Ojuri had a surprisingly impressive game despite just 10 carries and lacking elite overall talent. With a 66 yard and a 30 yard run a key reason for his 100+ yard game, Ojuri was able to pick up big chunks of yards when a whole opened up, and he stayed compact inside the hole to take advantage of openings. Not initially on my radar, Ojuri has earned himself a look by NFL teams when the season’s over. Also on the offense, 6’5 offensive tackle Billy Turner did enough in this game to allow for a boastful team running game, and he’ll also be in the NFL Draft late round considerations. With ample size to play tackle and the feet to work upfield in the run game, he’ll get NFL looks as well.
Top 10…Juniors/Seniors With Breakout Week 1s
1. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado – 10 rec, 208 yards, 2 TD
2. Jordan Hall, RB, Ohio State – 21 car, 159 yards, 2 TDs
3. Jamarcus Nelson, WR, UAB (JR) – 10 rec, 199 yards, 2 TDs
4. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (JR) – 13 rec, 196 yards, 2 TDs
5. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (JR) – 25 car, 161 yards, 2 TDs
6. Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina (JR) – 447 yards, 85.2 comp %, 5 TDs
7. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina (JR) – 16 rec, 191 yards, 0 TDs
8. Paul James, RB, Rutgers (JR) – 22 car, 182 yards, 0 TDs
9. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois – 416 yards, 77.8 comp %, 2 TDs
10. Connor Wood, QB, Colorado (JR) – 400 yards, 71.7 comp %, 3 TDs