Fear the Spread (NFL Scouts)
Written by Curtis Popejoy on 01/13/2009
I love trends. I’m a slave to ‘em. I try and stay on the cutting
edge. Like I just bought me some new acid wash jeans, and one of those
hypercolor shirts, that changes colors with your body temp. It’s
awesome! I can’t wait until the guys see my new threads.
Yeah, I am kidding, but in football, it’s all about trends. A team
wins with a certain scheme or package, and next year everyone feels the
need to follow that trend in hopes it works. In college football, this
is even more prevelant, and what’s the big trend in college football?
The spread offense or some derivative of it. It’s great for college
football fans who love lots and lots of offense and scoring. It helps
teams get all their best athletes on the field and create mismatches
with opposing defenses.
But there’s a flipside to it. The NFL pulls it’s players from
college football and more and more bigtime programs traditionally
engines for producing NFL prospects is switching to the spread. This
creates some very unique problems for NFL teams and their scouting
First and foremost is the quarterback. Anytime you have a
quarterback who puts up gaudy EA Sports type stats NFL franchises will
take notice. But upon closer inspection, you see some problems with
scouting a player like this. They take upwards of 80-90 percent of
snaps from the shotgun. An average NFL team takes fewer than 30 percent
of snaps from the shotgun. Because they don’t go under center, it makes
certain aspects of the scouting tough. It’s hard to judge things like
their drop back, footwork setting up, ability to work a playfake things
like that. The two big things I see, that gives me pause are the
quarterback never turning his back to the defense and always having a
head start on the defense. There are two things every NFL quarterback
must be able to do well.
First is take a snap under center, turn his back to the defense to
run a play fake, set up, and then see the field. A spread quarterback
never has to look away from his receivers so you just don’t know if
they are able to process the field quickly after turning their back to
defenders. Second is their ability to make plays while under duress. In
the NFL it’s going to happen to everyone. NFL quarterbacks start at the
line of scrimmage and at the snap, it’s a race to the offensive
backfield, with them in a backpedal, and defenders at a dead run. We’ve
seen this season great spread quarterbacks stand back essentially flat
footed survey the field from the snap and pick defenses apart. This is
a situation they will rarely be in at the next level and most haven’t
shown a great affinity to work well with players in their face.
Next are the running backs. There is one school of thought that
spread backs aren’t used to working out of the I or more pro style
formations and their performance is skewed from the formation. I don’t
buy this theory anymore. Great backs are built with vision, power,
speed, smarts and decisiveness. These attributes are there,
irrespective of the offense they run. If anything, drafting a great
spread running back probably means you are taking a player with fewer
carries (less miles on the tires) and are typically good pass receivers
and pass protectors.
Offensive line. Here’s another where it’s tricky. Offensive linemen
in the spread can look like world beaters in pass protection, mainly
because they are blocking 5 on 3 as teams drop 8 in an attempt to
defend the pass. You see sacks allowed numbers and you are dumbfounded
as to how a team with so many attempts don’t give up more sacks. It
could be an illusion. And as for pulling and run blocking? Forget about
it. There’s nothing to base it from, and in many cases the few run
players they run, are zone reads and sprint draws out of the shotgun
where the line shows pass blocking anyway. If I am scouting a lineman
that plays in the spread, I pass very close attention to down and
distance scenarios, how do they do goalline and short yardage when
even spread teams often run with the quarterback under center?
Wide receivers/Tight ends. Like running backs I don’t see this as a
huge scouting hurdle, mainly because if you can’t run good routes and
catch the ball, you don’t play spread or not. Let me add this however.
There is not position in football that success in college translates
more poorly than wide receiver. Great, and I mean really great college
wide outs never get a sniff in the NFL, so scouting them regardless of
system is inherently more challenging.
So tell me what all this means Curt? It means you are going to see
more starting quarterbacks from schools like Delaware and Central
Arkansas (Nathan Brown), getting drafted early and playing in the NFL.
And it means a lot more work for NFL scouting departments in their hunt
for quarterbacks and linemen. They will need to do their due diligence
and dig a little deeper than the traditional powers to find top
prospects. It also means as NFL fans, you may need to either do your
homework better and know more about the players in the draft (did I
mention I have an email? firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions)
or have a little more patience with their team’s front office. Their
job is getting harder by the year and you might see names on your draft
that you don’t recognize but don’t assume theirs a gas leak on the war
room. It could just mean a prepared front office.
Last Edited: 04/05/2009