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Looking at Kyle Lauletta: Does he have what it takes to be a successful NFL QB?

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His arm may not be great, but his game measures up in many other ways

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp
Kyle Lauletta
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Having outlined how Eli Manning may still have some bright days ahead of him, and how Davis Webb is working to improve himself as a passer, it is time to take a look at the third member of the New York Giants’ quarterback triumvirate. Former University of Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta was the darling of draft season, after a strong performance down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl saw him linked with a number of teams and perhaps as early as the second round. But the Giants were overjoyed to see him on the board with the 108th overall selection, all the way in the fourth round, and grabbed the Senior Bowl MVP.

Whether Lauletta is perhaps the Giants’ quarterback of the future, or a long-term backup, likely depends on how he develops, starting with the 2018 NFL preseason.

Strengths as a passer

Lauletta’s strengths as a quarterback begin with the cerebral part of the game, coming from the neck up. On tape you can see that he is a QB who is very active in the pre-snap phase of each play, and in addition is a passer who is very experienced, having played under four different offensive coordinators during his time at Richmond and in four different offensive systems. Despite facing a new and/or unfamiliar playbook each season, Lauletta was able to respond and run the offense with precision and execution.

Here is an example of how the pre-snap phase of a play can lead to success on the play itself. On this play against Villanova from last season, Lauletta (5) sees the outside linebacker cheat down a few steps and take inside leverage alignment from Richmond’s inside receiver. Seeing this, as well as the alignment of the safeties, Lauletta is confident in the pre-snap phase that the defense is in a Cover 2/Tampa 2 coverage scheme. Once he confirms that as the play begins, Lauletta comes right to that inside receiver on a seam route to attack the soft spot of that coverage look:

Later in that game we see Lauletta winning on a given play again by identifying a weakness in the pre-snap phase and exploiting it in the post-snap phase. On this play against the Wildcats, the offense puts multiple receivers to the right side of the formation, and only the tight end and the running back align on the left, or weak, side. Lauletta surveys the defense and sees that Villanova only has a single defender - a cornerback - aligned on the weakside of the offensive formation. That gives Richmond a 2 versus 1 advantage with the potential to exploit it, which Lauletta does:

As the play begins, Lauletta confirms that the cornerback is bailing with the tight end and comes right to his RB on the quick flat route. It is a quick little play, but these are the kinds of reads and decisions that show a quarterback is able to make quick decisions and take what the defense gives him.

During draft season one of the phrases that gets thrown about regarding quarterbacks is “making full field reads” or “he can make progression reads.” With the evolution of offensive football, with both the prominence of run/pass option plays as well as half-field reads, this is not a mandatory trait for a quarterback to possess. However, when you see a college quarterback enter the league with the ability to work sideline-to-sideline on a given play, it is evidence of hiss ability to quickly process information, read a defense and make the right decision with the football.

On this play the Spiders run two different half-field concepts. On the left side of the formation they run a HOSS Concept (hitch/seam), a favorite of teams such as the New England Patriots. To the right side they run a switch concept, with the outside receiver running an in-breaking route while the inside receiver runs a corner route. Lauletta opens first to the left to read the HOSS concept, and once he sees that both routes are covered, he comes right to the switch concept before throwing the in-cut. To make this all the more impressive, Lauletta does all of this under pressure.

During his time in college Lauletta also showed a nice combination of athleticism and accuracy, and Richmond used this by often getting Lauletta outside the pocket on designed rollouts and sprint-outs. This play against James Madison is a perfect example:

This is a designed sprint-out to the right with a Sail concept from the receivers. The outside receiver runs a vertical route, the running back releases to the flat, and Lauletta throws the intermediate out pattern with sufficient velocity and perfect placement.

We will return to velocity in a minute.

Finally, Lauletta’s understanding of defenses extends to those moments when he has to stare down a blitz to make a play for his team. As a quarterback this is one of those instances when you have to push out the voices in the back of your head telling you to protect your body, and hang in the pocket to exploit the opportunity. On this play against Villanova, the defense sends the linebacker on a delayed blitz. Lauletta sees it, but needs to hang in the pocket to allow a receiver to enter the now-vacated spot over the middle:

Lauletta hangs in the pocket knowing the pressure is coming, uses a subtle slide/reset movement to buy time, and replaces the blitz with the ball to perfection.

The scheme question

There are certainly things that Lauletta needs to improve upon as he transitions to the NFL, and we will get to my major concerns in a moment, but first we should take a few minutes and address what seemed to be the biggest criticism of Lauletta during his draft process: Arm strength. More precisely, a perceived lack of velocity. For example, when you look at Lauletta’s draft profile at NFL.com from Lance Zierlein, the first five weaknesses all stem from an evaluation of his arm strength. Phrases such as “can’t make all the NFL throws” and “substantial concern” are noted.

For me, the issue of arm strength when evaluating quarterbacks is a two-fold process. First, it is a threshold question: Does the quarterback have enough of an arm to be a functional quarterback in the NFL. Second, if there are arm concerns but the quarterback still meets the threshold for life in the NFL, it becomes more an issue of scheme fit than anything else. For example, if you have an offense that is rooted in the vertical passing game, such as the Arizona Cardinals under Bruce Arians, you need a bit more velocity and arm strength to make those throws. But if you’re running a more West Coast system, with shorter throws predicated more on timing and placement, then arm strength is not a major concern.

Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur seemed to mirror my approach shortly after the Lauletta pick was made:

“Really, arm-strength is about fourth on the list. You have to be a good decision-maker. You have to have a sense of timing, and throw an accurate ball. He does all of those things well,” Shurmur said. “He also uses his feet to get the ball where it needs to go. That’s what I was impressed by. He has a good set of legs. He’s tall enough. He’s a winner. He’s got Moxy. He’s competitive. He’s going to come in and be as good as he can be. If he’s not the starter at some point, he’s going to come in and help make the starter better.”

Shortly after the NFL combine, when the quarterbacks were put under the radar gun and Lauletta clocked in at 52 miles per hour, which is considered below the 55 mph serviceable threshold by some, I wanted to study the velocity question a bit more. In a piece over at Inside the Pylon I tried to break this down by charting out throws by distance. There were some interesting findings. For example, the two quarterbacks who topped the league in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt last season (Jared Goff and Drew Brees) each attempted 91 percent of their passes shorter than 20 yards. Of the 36 quarterbacks with charted data, they are attempting throws shorter than 20 yards 85.8 percent of the time.

Perhaps the most interesting finding I stumbled upon brings us to a quarterback whose arm strength was also questioned, Deshaun Watson. When Watson posted a 49 mph reading at the combine, many evaluators began to seriously doubt his transition to the NFL. But believe it or not, Watson attempted the highest percentage of throws of 20 yards or more before his injury, 17.2 percent.

My conclusion? Again, it is two-fold. Velocity and arm strength matter most on those deeper throws, the deep out routes, the deep comeback routes, where the extra velocity can make a difference. However, these do make up a smaller percentage of the offense, as the data shows. But even a lack of true velocity, such as with Watson, does not eliminate the ability to challenge defenses downfield, it just might come down to finding designs and route concepts that the quarterback can execute effectively.

What I’m watching

As Lauletta enters his first NFL preseason there are two areas I’m watching to see how his development is coming along. First: Aggression/situational awareness. Second: Processing speed. Now I know that we listed Lauletta’s cerebral nature as a major strength of his, and it still is, but all rookie quarterbacks need to get faster when they move to the NFL, and Lauletta is no different.

Let’s look at an example of where Lauletta needs to be faster. On this play against Villanova, Richmond has just crossed midfield with under a minute remaining in the first half. The Spiders put Lauletta in the shotgun and have three receivers to the left, with a single receiver to the right. The running back stands to the right of the quarterback as well. Watch as Lauletta simply takes far, far too long to make up his mind, before finally running out of time and taking a costly sack:

Lauletta has two open receivers on this play. First, one of the receivers to the trips side of the formation runs a hitch route, which is open, and second the running back releases on a curl to the right, and he is wide open. The Spiders have a time out remaining and this play comes on a first down, so there are ways to stop the clock if the eventual receiver does not get out of bounds. But Lauletta freezes here and takes a disastrous sack.

Richmond would not score on the drive.

Lauletta also has a tendency to be a bit too aggressive at times, which is something he will need to learn to dial back in the NFL. Here is a prime example. On this play against James Madison the Spiders face a third-and-12 in the third quarter, trailing by three. The offense sprints Lauletta out to the left and run a switch concept, with a curl route and a wheel route. Lauletta tries to fit in this throw to the wheel route into triple coverage:

Sometimes when you challenge triple coverage, you get intercepted. That is exactly what happens on this play. Making matters worse, the receiver on his curl route is wide open at the 50-yard line, and in position to pick up this first down. This is too aggressive a decision, and an example of Lauletta perhaps locking onto a target early in the play and not moving his eyes off this receiver.

Lauletta shows a lot of promise as a young quarterback, and his best traits are often the hallmarks of successful, long-term quarterbacks in the NFL. Whether Lauletta’s career is one of a starter in the league, or as a long-term backup, remains to be seen. We will get our first looks at this process on Thursday night.