On Wednesday, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman addressed the media from the podium in Indianapolis. Among the litany of questions from the assembled media, Gettleman addressed the idea of what it takes to play quarterback in the National Football League. For him, the biggest trait to find can be summed up in one word: Instincts.
The GM elaborated, going on to say that “...one of the things I focus on and we talk about all the time is instincts. Does he have a feel for the game? Is he a step ahead of everybody else? Instincts and play smarts allow you to play bigger, stronger, faster.”
Understanding that, who should Giants fans keep an eye on this weekend as the quarterbacks take to the field at the Combine? Here are five quarterbacks to keep in mind.
The unfolding duel between Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray for the top spot among this quarterback class will be fascinating to watch over the next few weeks. Both quarterbacks have good instincts and feel for playing the position, despite their vastly different playing styles. For Gettleman, Haskins is probably what he is looking for in a quarterback. He is your prototypical pocket passer, who will need to learn to live and die in the pocket when he transitions to the NFL.
As far as his instincts for the position, with Haskins they show up in two ways: Anticipation and manipulation. His ability to make anticipation throws was highlighted in a previous piece, and shows up at all levels of the field, including between the numbers and hashmarks. Manipulation is another area where you can see his instincts as a passer. He has a more natural ability to move defenders with his eyes, and whether it is an underneath linebacker or a safety over the top.
These are two traits that quarterbacks can learn over time, but for a QB with Haskins’ level of experience to display them in his single season as a starter, without those being schemed into designs, shows that he has the kind of instincts that Gettleman covets in a quarterback.
In contrast to Haskins, the instincts that Murray shows for the position are more rooted in athleticism. His ability to create plays outside of the pocket is unmatched in this draft class, and he can make throws from a variety of different platforms and angles, thanks to his baseball background. In addition, Murray as a true “angle eraser.” When he decides to tuck the football and run, he has the ability to beat most defenders to the edge and out run them for the big gains. He has also shown the willingness to protect himself, often sliding before contact or stepping out of bounds, forgoing additional yardage in exchange for avoiding collisions. That is another instinct that will serve him well as he transitions to the NFL.
However, Murray’s athletic instincts perhaps overshadow his ability as a passer from the pocket. He lacks the ability to move defenders with his eyes, at least on the level that Haskins shows, but he does make throws with anticipation, particularly on routes over the middle of the field. One of Oklahoma’s passing concepts, a Mesh concept variation with a curl and a seam route in the middle of the field over-the-top of the mesh, was something Murray executed very well, pulling the trigger on either the seam or the deep curl with great anticipation and feel.
Murray’s athletic instincts, at this point, outweigh his instincts as a pocket passer. But they are in progress and are developing. The way he plays the game should not overshadow his play from the pocket and the progress he is showing as a passer.
Can aggression be instinctive?
That might be a question that Gettleman needs to answer if he decides to wait on drafting a quarterback in the first round. Grier is more of an unorthodox passer and quarterback. Sometimes the mechanics are a bit of a mess, in both the lower and the upper body. His ball security, an area he is trying to refine, can be lacking. He can assume things at times when reading a defense and it gets him into trouble, one such example is a disastrous interception he threw on the goal line against Kansas when he assumed that the slot defender was going to cover the inside receiver on a double-slant concept, and when he threw the outside slant, he threw the pass right into the chest of that slot defender who jumped the outside route.
But Grier also has the ability to maintain his aggression, bounce back from mistakes and continue to make throws into windows that other quarterbacks in this class - and on this list - might shy away from. His instincts and aggression serve him well when attacking the middle of the field, as he shows both the aggressive nature to challenge smaller throwing windows, and the instincts and feel to move the ball around defenders between the numbers. If Gettleman is going to wait on a quarterback, Grier might be the kind of player that would intrigue him on Day 2.
When working through a quarterback class there are games that stick with you. For Haskins, his outings against Penn State and Purdue University were two such games, when you saw him tested and having to work through adversity. With Murray, you might point to the overtime game against Army, or the playoff game against Alabama. With Ryan Finley, the game to point to is the Syracuse game.
I always seek out games where a quarterback’s team loses, because you want to see how they handle those situations, and if they succumb to quicksand or fight through the adversity. Finley showed that ability, that competitive toughness, in that contest. But he also showed a bit more from the neck up. The Orange spun their safeties at the snap early and often in that game, and it tested Finley from the mental side of the game. When seeing looks that will be across from him come Sunday afternoons, Finley made the right reads and decisions that you want from your quarterback.
Now, he is not the kind of QB that is going to get people excited at the outset, as he might be more in the mold of a “long term backup/spot starter” type than someone you expect to come in and take over as a starter quickly, but given the criteria as outlined by the GM, he might be someone higher on the Giants’ board than you might expect.
When our fearless leader Ed talked to me about working on this piece, he had one simple request:
“As long as you don’t write ‘I love Brett Rypien’ 500 times, we’re good.”
Stay tuned as we see if I keep my promise not to.
The way to sum up Rypien is like this: He is the refined passer in a class that might truly lack that kind of player. He does the small, little things, well. Moving defenders with his eyes. Throwing with an understanding of leverage and coverage, particularly in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. Taking control of a team in the pre-snap phase of a play, in terms of adjusting protections, moving players around, changing the calls. He is a full body manipulator, who will use pump fakes, shoulder shrugs and the like to get defenders out of position and give his receivers better odds down the field. He has the “play smarts” when it comes to reading a defense and the coverage, whether just a simple “middle of the field open versus middle of the field closed” read or a spun safeties look at the snap.
Of course, there are questions, as none of these passers come without concerns. There might be a size issue, particularly if you are worried about hand size. (As an aside, if you are worried about a QB’s hand size, go back and watch them in games with weather. As someone who played the position with tiny hands, that is when it will show up. Rypien’s game against Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game might be one to watch...) There might be an issue with upper-end arm strength. There are times that he seems to succumb to the quicksand, and make a few mistakes in a row and struggle to get on track. But instincts and play smarts are his calling cards as a passer, and why he remains someone to keep in mind.
As always with a piece like this, the players not mentioned might generate more attention than those discussed, specifically Drew Lock and Daniel Jones. Studying those quarterbacks, I see strengths to their game and areas where other teams might really value them highly. However, given the criteria of “play smarts and instincts,” these other passers seem better fits for what the GM has in mind.