Difference of opinion on college QB crop

ASSOCIATED PRESS Oregon's Marcus Mariota is regarded as one of the top college quarterback prospects.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Oregon's Marcus Mariota is regarded as one of the top college quarterback prospects.
Posted: November 01, 2013

CHIP KELLY said he hasn't given a single moment of thought to who his starting quarterback will be in 2014, and there's no reason to doubt him.

Like all football coaches, Kelly has a one-game-at-a-time mentality. It's the only way you can survive in his business. He can't afford to worry about next year until the curtain comes down on this year.

But NFL general managers have a broader perspective. While they certainly can't ignore the present, they also need to have an eye on the future. So, while Kelly might not be thinking about his 2014 starting quarterback right now, you can damn well bet Howie Roseman is.

After the season is over, Kelly and Roseman will sit down and figure out what they want to do about the quarterback position.

If they conclude that they need to do better than Nick Foles and Matt Barkley, they will consider their alternatives.

Which brings us to the 2014 quarterback draft class.

A lot of people around the league are absolutely giddy about the wealth of talented quarterbacks who will be available to NFL teams next May. Some scouts and analysts already are saying this group could be as good or better than the 1983 class, which had six quarterbacks selected in the first round, including future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

That probably will change once the February, March and April nit-picking begins and teams start taking off points for poor posture and slow three-cone drill times. But right here, right now, depending on how many of the underclassmen declare, don't be shocked if as many as seven or eight quarterbacks get gobbled up in the first round.

Not everyone thinks this quarterback crop is the greatest thing since sliced bread, though. While ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay feels it could be one of the deeper groups in recent years - he lists a dozen quarterbacks he thinks could go in the first four rounds and has given a "draftable" grade to 14 - he's lukewarm on the talent at the top.

He doesn't see more than four potential first-round picks in the '14 class - Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and possibly UCLA's Brett Hundley and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. And since all four are underclassmen, there's no guarantee all four of them even will come out.

"People are getting a little carried away talking about this year's group," McShay said. "There's a lot of big names and a lot of good players. But it's important not to confuse depth with quality."

McShay said there isn't a quarterback in the '14 class right now as good as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, who went 1-2 in the 2012 draft.

"Andrew Luck got the highest grade I've ever given to any player," he said. "And I know a lot of scouts that evaluated him did too. I love Mariota and Bridgewater, and I think Hundley has a lot of potential. But there is not a player in this class that's going to get a grade that's close to the one Luck got.

"Maybe if Mariota continues to progress, he gets a grade that's maybe the same as RGIII. Bridgewater, when all is said and done, probably will be in the same range as the grade I gave Ryan Tannehill [who was the eighth selection in the '12 draft by Miami]."

McShay lists LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray, Miami's Stephen Morris, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Fresno's Derek Carr and Ohio State's Braxton Miller as potential picks in rounds 2-4.

Miller, like Mariota, Bridgewater, Hundley and Manziel, is an underclassman.

"Teams looking for a backup quarterback and guys they can develop, it's going to be intriguing when you get in the second- and third-round range," McShay said.

Tight-end tale

Eight games into the season, the Eagles' tight ends have just 30 catches, 17 receiving first downs and two touchdowns, which is a lot less than most of us would have anticipated 2 months ago.

After they signed James Casey in March and drafted Zach Ertz in the second round of the draft, the assumption was that Chip Kelly's offense was going to be very tight-end-centric. Particularly after wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in the first full-squad workout of training camp.

So far, though, Ertz, Casey and starter Brent Celek have been targeted just 54 times, or 19.5 percent of the Eagles' pass attempts. Through the first eight games last year under Andy Reid, tight ends were targeted 23.8 percent of the time.

The Eagles have only used multiple-tight end sets on 17.5 percent of their offensive plays this season (95 of 542). And they've only thrown the ball on 34 of those 95 plays.

In last week's loss to the Giants, the Eagles ran 12 of their 58 plays with "12" personnel (one back, two tight ends), but ran the ball on 10 of those 12 plays.

"The last game we were able to get more of them on the field," tight ends coach Ted Williams said. "And I think that trend probably is going to continue. We are trying to use them all and to accentuate the positive and get the best out of them."

A look at the tight ends' numbers after eight games:

Snaps Tar. Rec. Yds. TD FD 3FD

Celek 452 25 14 214 2 8 1

Ertz  210 26 14 201 0 9 3

Casey 29 3 2 23 0 1 0

There is a perception that Celek is being used more as a pass-blocker and less as a receiver in Kelly's offense. But nothing could be further from the truth. In the first eight games, he has been on the field for 203 pass plays and only pass-blocked on 39 of them (19.2 percent). Last year in Reid's offense, he pass-blocked on 126 of 418 pass plays (30.1).

"Because of the way defenses are structured and the way the game unfolds, you can't necessarily say, 'I want this guy to catch the ball, I want this guy to run this route,' " Williams said. "You can put them in a position to be successful. That's all you can do. When it happens, it happens. I just tell them, 'When you get a chance to make a play, make a play.' "

Ertz has the greatest upside as a receiver. While the 6-5, 250-pounder has only caught 14 passes, nine of them have been for first downs. He's averaging 14.4 yards per catch. He's been targeted one more time than Celek even though he's played 242 fewer snaps.

"He has a different skill-set [than the other two]," Williams said. "He's big. He's linear. He runs really well. He catches the ball really well.

"With any young player, he's still learning to play the game at this level. Which is always a small hill to climb. Bigger for some than others. But we're pleased with where he is right now. He's come a long way. He's not quite where we want him to be, but he's better than he was."

Figuring the Eagles

* In their first six games, the Eagles had just eight three-and-outs in 76 possessions. In their last two games, they've had eight in 25 possessions.

* The Broncos have scored a league-best 66 points on their first possessions of the half this season. The Eagles have scored 24. They have three touchdowns, one field goal, three turnovers, eight punts and have turned the ball over on downs once in their 16 possessions to start the first and third quarters.

* In the first 18 quarters this season, LeSean McCoy averaged 5.7 yards per carry, had 26 rushing first downs and 13 double-digit-yard runs. In the last 14 quarters, or since Michael Vick first injured his hamstring, he has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, has 10 rushing first downs and just four double-digit-yard runs. Thirty-two of his last 65 rushing attempts have gained 2 yards or less.

* The Eagles haven't been very good on third-and-long offensively or defensively. Their offense, which has the league's 11th-best overall third-down rate, is 27th on third-down plays of 7 yards or more. They're 11-for-56 (19.6 percent) on third-and-7 or more. Their defense is 25th on plays of third-and-7+, allowing opponents to convert 19 of 60 opportunities (31.7). The five offenses with lower third-and-7+ conversion rates than the Eagles:

Pct. W-L

Cardinals. . . 6-51 11.8 4-4

Texans. . . 8-48 16.7 2-5

Cowboys. . . 8-45 17.8 4-4

Jaguars. . . 10-55 18.2 0-8

Rams. . . 9-49 18.4 3-5

The seven defenses with higher third-and-7+ rates than the Eagles:

Pct. W-L

Browns. . . 22-59 37.3 3-5

Texans. . . 18-49 36.7 2-5

Falcons. . . 17-47 36.2 2-5

Vikings. . . 16-45 35.6 1-6

Giants. . . 22-62 35.5 2-6

Jaguars. . . 15-43 34.9 0-8

Bears. . . 12-37 32.4 4-3

* The Eagles' three quarterbacks are a combined 12-for-30 with five touchdowns and one interception in the red zone. Mike Vick is 5-for-19 with two TDs. Nick Foles is 5-for-8 with three TDs. And Matt Barkley is 2-for-3 with no TDs and one interception. The Eagles are 31st in the league in red-zone production, converting just nine of 23 opportunities (39.1 percent) into touchdowns. Only Jacksonville (25.0) is worse.

* DeSean Jackson has a team-high seven third-down receptions for first downs. No one else has more than three (Zach Ertz, Jason Avant).

This and that

* As they did for their Week 4 trip to Denver, the Eagles aren't leaving for Oakland until tomorrow afternoon. Many NFL teams in the Eastern time zone leave 2 days before a game when they're playing in a city with a 2- or 3-hour time difference. Many, but not all.

Under Tom Coughlin, the Giants don't leave until the day before. Same with Buffalo, Indianapolis, Detroit and Pittsburgh, who left on Saturday last week for its game against the Raiders (a 21-18 loss). The Ravens, Jets, Redskins, Bengals, Dolphins and Patriots all leave 2 days before. But Patriots VP of communications Stacey James said the Patriots have flown out on Saturday for West Coast games in the past under Bill Belichick.

Kelly said leaving on Friday for a Sunday game has no benefit as far as battling jet lag.

"It takes a week to get acclimated," he said. "So unless we went out a week ago, I don't think [it helps]. The kick [start time] is 4 o'clock [Eastern time]. That's kind of how our approach is to it. Our day is set up for a 4 o'clock kick. The biggest difficulty would be if you're east coming west and you have a 1 o'clock [eastern time] kick. That's a 10 o'clock kick [in the west]. So, then your day gets off a little bit. But really, you're not going to change anything from a time-zone difference on one day. It's a go play. The fortunate thing for us is we don't have to play early. We're playing a little bit later. So we adjust our schedule accordingly."

It should be noted that the NFL does not play any games on the West Coast that start before 4 p.m. in the east.

* Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor presents more problems to the Eagles as a runner than a passer. He leads the Raiders in rushing with 391 yards and actually is ranked higher in the league in rushing (18th) than passing (25th).

"He's an exceptional athlete," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said of the 6-6, 230-pound Pryor. "We're definitely focused a lot on him this week. He's a big-time playmaker for them. He gets them going. We know we have to stop him to stop their running game. He's a guy who can take it to the house. He can make guys miss. He breaks tackles."

Pryor had a 93-yard touchdown run last week against the Steelers. It was the longest run by a quarterback in league history.

* The Raiders, who are ranked 10th in the league in defense and sixth against the run, have 10 new starters on defense this season.

* Ryans has been more physical in the middle of the field the last two games as far as knocking receivers off their routes. "The last couple of weeks, I got some good shots [in]," he said. "Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don't. I just want to let them know that they can't run across the middle and not expect to get hit."

* Former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham will be featured on the latest episode of NFL Network's "A Football Life." It will air on Tuesday at 9 p.m.

2-minute drill

FROM THE LIP

* “We’re trying to win the game we’re playing this week, and if we start planning long-term, I may not be here long-term, you know what I’m saying? So let’s go beat Oakland.” — Chip Kelly, on if he has started thinking about who his quarterback will be next season

* “I loved playing for Ted Marchibroda. He didn’t yell at you. It was a look that he could give you that was just 100 times worse than being screamed at. Kind of like what my dad does. It was a Jack Harbaugh look. The Ted Marchibroda look. Just the look of disappointment rips your heart out.” — 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, on his former coach

* “To be honest, man, you’ve just got to go low now. You’ve got to end people’s careers, you know? You’ve got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees now. You can’t hit them high no more. You’ve just got to go low.” — Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather

* “This is not Tom’s first rodeo. He’s been around for a while. The passion that he brings to the table, all of our players can see that. That’s never wavered with him. For him to keep this team together, I think that shows how much respect the players have for him and what he’s done for the organization.” — Giants GM Jerry Reese, on coach Tom Coughlin

BY THE NUMBERS

* The Patriots are 28th in the league in third-down conversions with a 33.3 rate. In the previous 12 years since Tom Brady became their starting QB, they have converted no worse than 42 percent of their third-down opportunities 11 times. They were ranked in the top five in third-down conversions each of the last three seasons.

* The 623 yards they put up in their 31-30 win over the Cowboys was the most by the Lions in franchise history. It also was the most given up by the Cowboys in their history.

* The Broncos are just the third team in history to score 30 or more points in each of their first eight games. The others: the ’07 Patriots and the ’00 Rams.

* Eli Manning has a 29-7 record as a starter in October.

* Last week, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards and average less than 5 yards per attempt.

* The Steelers have been outscored, 54-19, in the first quarter this season.

Domo's rankings (through Monday night)

1 Chiefs 8-0 (1 last week)

2 Broncos 7-1 (2)

3 49ers 6-2 (4)

4 Seahawks 7-1 (3)

5 Saints 6-1 (5)

6 Colts 5-2 (6)

7 Packers 5-2 (7)

8 Patriots 6-2 (8)

9 Bengals 6-2 (9)

10 Lions 5-3 (11)

11 Bears 4-3 (12)

12 Chargers 4-3 (13)

13 Panthers 4-3 (14)

14 Cowboys 4-4 (10)

15 Titans 3-4 (15)

16 Cardinals 4-4 (22)

17 Ravens 3-4 (17)

18 Jets 4-4 (16)

19 Dolphins 3-4 (18)

20 Giants 2-6 (28)

21 Eagles 3-5 (19)

22 Raiders 3-4 (29)

23 Rams 3-4 (23)

24 Bills 3-5 (21)

25 Browns 3-5 (25)

26 Falcons 2-5 (20)

27 Texans 2-5 (27)

28 Steelers 2-5 (24)

29 Redskins 2-5 (26)

30 Vikings 1-6 (30)

31 Bucs 0-7 (31)

32 Jaguars 0-8 (32)


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Email: pdomo@aol.com

Blog: eagletarian.com

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