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5 Burning Questions: Draft analyst Ethan Young breaks down quarterback prospects

You may know the draft’s most visible and popular analysts from ESPN and NFL Network like Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Mike Mayock etc., but there are a number of other quality draft analysts who are producing excellent analysis. As we count down to the NFL Draft, we’ll catch up with some of the best and get their take on this year’s class. We kicked things off with Jon Ledyard from Inside the Pylon, who broke down the Vikings’ draft needs. For this version, we speak with draft analyst Ethan Young, who works most notably for Bleacher Report and FanRagSports and won NFL Network’s Scouting Competition. 

Ethan invented a statistical analysis system for projecting college quarterbacks called SEMTEX. The system takes QB prospects and adjusts their statistics for multiple factors such as era, competition, surrounding talent and pace. So, if a quarterback had great numbers against Whatever State but struggled in his conference, that would be a red mark on his report. The system puts quarterbacks in to three categories of Gold, Silver and Bronze production. Turns out that 96% of the quarterbacks who became regular starters in the NFL had Gold or Silver production in college. Some of the highest picked QB busts (including Christian Ponder) were in the Bronze category.

The entire study is a MUST READ.

Because I liked it so much, I contacted Ethan to talk about this year’s draft class, how it might impact the future of the NFL and whether there is a sleeper. Here is our conversation:

Matthew Coller:

Ethan, great work on the study. You’ve become one of the must-follow people leading up to the draft. Let’s start out with the SEMTEX system’s hottest take, if you will. The numbers don’t appear to be very high on Clemson’s DeShaun Watson, who could end up being the first QB off the board. The guy beat Alabama in the title game and put up some huge yard and touchdown totals this year, can you explain why your system isn’t high on him? Does your trained eye match up with the numbers?

Ethan Young:

The rate stats were not kind to him. Looking at pace, surrounding talent, era, level of competition – all those things put together hurt him. People ask me, “What’s a single thing that put Watson in the Bronze.” It wasn’t a single thing, but if I was going to point to one, it would be the turnovers. That was the glaring thing on the stat sheet. Even looking deeper into his tape…one thing I heard a lot was, “A lot of the interceptions weren’t his fault.” Mark Schofield from Inside the Pylon did a study on Watson and found that five of his interceptions weren’t his fault. So I dug deep into that to find out how many interceptions on average weren’t a quarterback’s fault. It’s about 23% of interceptions that aren’t a QB’s fault in the NFL, I found a PFF study on that. Even adjusting for that, he still ended up in the Bronze category.

Here is part of Ethan Young’ SEMTEX draft board

In the study, 96% of the quarterbacks that were starter level came from the Gold and Silver category. The outliers from the Bronze were guys like David Garrard and Ryan Tannehill. Even if you take the best outliers, are those players that you really want to take in the first round? When you’re looking at DeShaun Watson in the first round, I don’t think that you can justify it.

I do think he will be in that outlier group in the top Bronze quarterbacks. I think he’s dynamic inside and outside the pocket, he has a clean delivery, good frame, he’s quick to recognize and process blitzes. The big thing with me is the ball placement. I think that comes through in the statistics. One thing in his favor is that he’s going to beat everybody else in terms of work ethic and toughness. That is something that’s important for quarterbacks. Guys like Tannehill and Garrard would be worth like a  late second-round pick. Obviously he’ll be way off the board at that point because somebody will take him in the first round. I don’t think I see a guy I would draft high, though I do like the intangibles. When you’re drafting quarterbacks, I don’t think you want to take ones high that have risk indicators.

Coller:

It’s funny, around draft time last year, all we heard was about how the 2017 QB class was going to be amazing and that teams wanted to wait to get their hands on these guys. Now it seems like things didn’t turn out that way. How good of a draft class is this for quarterbacks? 

Young:

I think we’re looking at a deep class with a few starters coming out, but I don’t think there’s any bonafide elite top five quarterbacks in this draft. I do think we see two or three solid starters. I think a lot of those will come from the Silver category. Mahomes is a guy, if you read the Silver description, you either need to have elite arm talent or elite mental processing skills like knowing the offense like the back of your hand, sort of that West Coast death by 1,000 cuts type offense. Nathan Peterman fits that role well and Mahomes fits the role of having that elite arm talent.

Ethan Young at the Senior Bowl

In the Gold category, you have Mitch Trubisky [North Carolina], Brad Kaaya [Miami} and Jerod Evans [Virginia Tech]. The Silver category, some people get confused with it. The main thing I would say is that it’s in between area with the enhanced metrics, so you want to go even deeper into the tape and see if they have translatable traits to figure out what side they will end up on.

Coller: 

Are you as high on Trubisky as everyone else? I think he is an interesting player to watch in this draft for Vikings fans because he might end up being the guy that the Chicago Bears pick. If he ends up in Chicago, are the Vikings going to have another tough QB to face year after year? Because right now Minnesota fans are planning on two wins against Mike Glennon.

I do like Mike Glennon, I just don’t like the idea of paying him $13 million. What I think Glennon does for the Bears though is gives them flexibility to not have to draft a quarterback in the first round. I think that’s what that move was because there isn’t a clear guy at that pick.

In terms of Trubisky, he clearly passed everything you’re looking for from a production standpoint. On tape I had some issues. He’s only my fourth quarterback overall. I wasn’t high on the tape. His deficiencies are clear, I just don’t think they’re fixable at the NFL level. He needs to completely re-work his mechanics. The delivery, the release, the throwing motion, it’s very inefficient and I don’t think there’s a way in the NFL…I think we see this a lot with big strong guys that get away with bad mechanics at the college level and develop some bad habits. It’s sort of hard to wipe that slate clean. If I wanted to fix that, I’d have to sit him for a year and just hammer that, but these guys in the first round, they usually play right away and have to master the playbook, so they don’t have time to sit and fix the throwing mechanics.

Trubisky is tough to place because his success or failure is so keyed on his development. It’s hard to evaluate those guys. He has good size, movement, anticipation down the field on timing routes. The footwork is fixable, but the upper body mechanics scare me. His throwing delivery is so weird. At times he throws jump balls – I don’t mean like 50-50 down the field, but he actually jumps in the air to put power behind his throws. There are other times where he throws a 15-yard out route where it’s quick and efficient, it’s just not a consistent delivery. The throws down the field are something I value a lot. He also has a lot of weapons around him, a very simple scheme. I’m not sure you could justify taking a guy with a first-round pick that requires two years of development.

Coller:

How about in the later rounds? I’ve gone back and forth about whether the Vikings should draft a late-round quarterback. In one way, you never know which one will turn out to be Dak Prescott or Tom Brady, but in another way you’re throwing away a pick most of the time. It catches my eye that Jerod Evans is in the Gold category in your study. Is he that guy?

Young:

If we’re looking at Jerod Evans, I don’t think that he’s that guy. I have him as the 10th quarterback in the class. He does well in SEMTEX but on tape I had some issues.The big issue with him was pocket manipulation. He has the speed to bring it to the hashes but in terms of staying within the pocket and moving within it, he has work to do there. He gets flustered when he’s pressured and tries to make a lot of throws off his back foot. The tools are intriguing, I would say that. But the lack of decision making coming from a gimmicky offense makes it sort of a tough sell before the sixth round. There ball floats down the field when he started to push it vertically. He does have some great touch, especially on fades in the end zone. But that’s sort of his one trick and he goes to it way too often. The offense also doesn’t ask him to make a lot of translatable intermediate passes like timing routes or anything that’s bang-bang across the middle. It was a lot of fades to 6-foot-6 tight end Bucky Hodges. When you have him and Isaiah Ford, whose specialty is spectacular catches down the field, it hides a lot of flaws. I don’t think he’s a guy I would take before some of the guys in the Silver category like Peterman or Josh Dobbs.

The guy I really like is Brad Kayaa. He’s kind of the forgotten man in the class. He can come in and compete for a job Day 1. His ceiling isn’t high. He might be a serviceable, Alex Smith type. West Coast guy that can do what he’s asked to but not much more. He has good touch and footwork. Where he wins is route development and anticipation, hitting routes as they break. He’s sort of that game manager. Does not like to push the ball down the field and the zip on those deep and intermediate passers is average. In terms of a guy who can lead the team and manage the offense, he’s a guy that might go in the mid-rounds and you could plug him in and play him.

Coller:

You’re big on Mahomes. Fun fact: Minnesota people have interest in him because his dad used to pitch for the Twins. I had his baseball card back when people had baseball cards. So while most people have Trubisky or Watson first, you would go with him as QB1. Why?

Young:

The arm talent is clear. He’s a great athlete, he checks all the physical boxes. Mahomes was asked to do some translatable throws on tape and pulls them off very well. He can throw the ball into tight windows, he’s sort of a gun slinger, forcing it sometimes. When he’s on, he’s tough to stop. The big thing people harp on is the footwork and it’s a mess. The footwork is bad. You can see times where his hips are completely divergent of his intended target. His arm is so strong that I don’t think he always has to throw from a powerful base. I don’t think the footwork is a deal breaker. There are NFL quarterbacks with bad footwork and they just have to have elite arm talent to do it and Mahomes does.

My issue is that he leaves clean pockets early. He’s scrambling all over the place in part because they don’t have established protection, so he’s trying not to get killed. I do think he could benefit from sitting for a year so he could learn to play under center, get into a safe environment with a good offensive line and retrain his chaos meter, so to speak and have him play within a system. He’s a guy that can be a special quarterback. He’s really the only guy that I would say, “Can he lead me to a Super Bowl?” There’s no Aaron Rodgers in this class, but as for a guy that, if it goes right and he has pieces around him, he’s the only one who could do it.

Coller:

Technically this is a sixth question, but Mike Mayock always has guys tied in his top five lists, so I’m calling this Burning Question 5T. Is there an in intruging guy that you think might end up in the second round but you believe is first-round talent? The Vikings will be picking 48th, so I’m curious who comes to mind for you as an under-the-radar prospect?

Young:

Marcus Williams from Utah. Explosive ballhawking safety. He is more of a Cover-1 guy who plays that free safety role, so I’m not sure how that would fit with Minnesota, but he’s an idea last-line type guy. He’s got great read-and-react ability. He sees things quickly. Great ball skills to pair with the instinctual side. His lack of size hurts him as a tackler. He isn’t going to be that physical box presence. Williams breaks down really well in space and can redirect ballcarriers back into the defense well. When you’re looking at finesse tacklers, that’s a key thing. The ability to stop the running back from continuing on, even if it’s not that player making the tackle, be responsible for driving them back into the defense. He does a very good job of that. He checks everything I look for. I actually have a first/second round grade on him at 17th overall on my board. He could be in play in the second round because the consensus on him is a little bit lower.

  • jeffreyinoc

    Mahomes at #48?

    • PurpleFaithful

      Think he is a top 15 at this point

  • PurpleFaithful

    Safety williams doesn’t play fast enough on run plays. Looks real good in coverage, but a big liability with how slow he plays on runs. Too easy to block downfield, seems to me.

  • Craig

    Some teams draft quarterbacks with the hope of flipping them for draft picks later. Has Shurmer shown that ability? Could the Vikings flip other positions such as DBs or DEs which they have shown an ability to develop?

  • Andre Esters

    Been hearing that a lot from Coller leading up to the draft… picking a QB in the later rounds is either a unlikely jackpot, or a complete waste… seriously, couldn’t the entire draft be summed up like that?!
    If Minnesota drafts QB — which I strongly believe would be wise — my preference is leaning towards the later rounds. Bradford did surprisingly well staying alive thru the entire season, especially behind the Vikings struggling O-line. Even with a few minor additions along the O-line and backup QB, Minnesota has to continue planning for a difficult future without either Teddy or Bradford.

    I do have to admit, that ultra-nerdy SEMTEX tier system by Ethan Young is pretty awesome… I’m usually opposed to stringent formulas and scientific measuring tools in sports, but every edge that can be gained can be useful. You better believe Spielman is drooling over another source of analytics. I wouldn’t blame him!





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