While bigger names stole the headlines during the start of NFL free agency, particularly Tom Brady at the quarterback position, there are some under the radar signings that are worthy of examination. Teams with younger quarterbacks that are (or will become) starting quarterbacks looked to acquire veterans who can run the team’s offense and also serve as a mentor for the younger QB1.
For example, the Cleveland Browns hired Kevin Stefanski, formerly the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, as their new head coach. Stefanski will let offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt call the plays, but the offense is going to look like what Stefanski installed in Minnesota for the Vikings. A few years ago, when Stefanski was the quarterbacks coach, he helped guide a veteran passer to his career-best season. That passer? Case Keenum.
So what did Stefanski do about his backup quarterback spot? Enter Keenum. Given his familiarity with the offense Stefanski is going to be running, Keenum will not need a ton of reps each week in practice to be ready to roll should Baker Mayfield suffer an injury - or be ineffective. But Keenum’s experience under Stefanski and in his system makes him a great choice to serve as that veteran mentor, similar to how Josh McCown helped Sam Darnold his rookie season.
Consider also the New England Patriots. Brady is off to the NFC South, meaning for the first time in two decades Bill Belichick has a decision to make at the quarterback position. Rather than sign a Cam Newton or a Jameis Winston, or trade for an Andy Dalton, it looks like New England’s plan is to roll with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Their one move at the quarterback spot? Signing Brian Hoyer, a veteran who has made multiple stops in New England, and who knows the Patriots’ offense inside and out. Similar to Keenam, Hoyer can serve as both a mentor to Stidham and a backup experienced enough in the system that he can step in at a moment’s notice, without taking away valuable practice time from Stidham.
(Of course, New England’s tough cap situation might have forced their hand in this decision).
So that leads us to Colt McCoy coming to the New York Giants. What are the Giants getting in the veteran backup? The prototype.
As we approach the NFL draft, we are seeing more and more player comparisons. I just finished my top 11 quarterbacks for USA Today/Touchdown Wire, and you can see player comparisons at the end of each report. More positions are coming.
Now when it comes to thinking about the quarterback position during the draft process, there is often that player that gets put into the “high floor, low ceiling” category. A quarterback who looks the part of the safe prospect, who might not wow you with his physical talent or any other trait, but looks like a quarterback who will not make mistakes, who takes care of the football, who plays by the script and ultimately looks like a quarterback who is not going to get fired.
Sometimes we put those QB’s into the “spot starter/long-term backup” bucket. Think, for example, Cody Kessler a few years back. Kessler did not have a huge arm coming out of USC, but played with anticipation, took care of the football, and looked the part of a long-term backup. You might look at Jake Fromm in that same mold. A player who wins with his mind, lacks elite physical tools, but you can consider him as a 10-year backup in the league because of what he can do at the position.
The comparison often used for players like that?
After all that is how McCoy himself was viewed during his draft process. He suffered an injury in the National Championship Game against Alabama that cost him a shot at guiding Texas to a title, and during his draft process he was viewed as someone who might struggle transitioning to the next level. In his draft profile on NFL.com, he was described as someone with skills that “don’t translate to his being a lock to make it big at the next level.” Bleacher Report’s draft profile, while stronger overall, still compared him to Alex Smith.
To his credit, McCoy has stuck in the league as that long-term backup, who can step into an offense and keep it relatively on track should the starting quarterback go down. One of his calling cards right now as a passer, is what he can do in the vertical passing game. It might come as a surprise, given his relative lack of arm strength, but McCoy is adept at throwing the deep ball with touch and/or giving his vertical targets a change to make a play downfield.
Take, for example, this touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys from 2018. The Washington Redskins align with McCoy in the shotgun and use 12 offensive personnel, putting one tight end to the left and the other three receivers to the right, with tight end Vernon Davis (85) the inside receiver. Washington runs a vertical concept, with the outside receivers on the right both releasing vertically, and Davis running an over route. With the other tight end releasing to the flat, it sets up a Smash concept on the left side.
McCoy spots the man coverage, and goes right to Davis on the deep over route:
Then there is this vertical route touchdown to DeSean Jackson (11) from the 2014 season, where McCoy puts the ball up and lets his receiver make a great adjustment:
McCoy would be a fit in the more downfield approach we anticipate the Giants installing under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. While McCoy has obviously been operating in a more West Coast offense under Jay Gruden the past few years, one of the things that was interesting about Gruden’s offense is how aggressive he was in the vertical passing game. Last season, with Keenum, it was noted here that Washington’s offense was just missing on opportunities downfield in the vertical passing game. This experience for McCoy makes him a fit in the new Giants offense.
But it also puts him in that mentorship position. While Daniel Jones and McCoy will both be learning new systems, McCoy has both the league experience as well as the specific experience in an system that was willing to push the football downfield. He can be that veteran mentor that gives Jones guidance not only during the week prior to each game, but on the sidelines after each drive, good or bad.
Everything the Giants do from a roster-construction standpoint right now should be geared toward helping Daniel Jones succeed during his rookie quarterback window. The acquisition of McCoy should be viewed through that lens as well, and via that prism, it makes a ton of sense.