2013 is setting up to be a big year for quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL draft. Matt Barkley has the pro-ready pedigree, Tyler Wilson has the arm and athleticism, and Logan Thomas has the dream set of tools. So what does Tyler Bray of Tennessee have that may make him worth a consideration early in the first round with these elite passing prospects?
Bray is a mantis-like 6'6" 215 lbs. Although his body type hasn't been the mold of too many starting NFL quarterbacks, the whip-like energy his springy, loose body generates sets Bray apart from the typical deliberate, stationary pocket passing long-limbed quarterback prospect. It allows him to put a lot of velocity and accuracy on passes that don't come out of ideal mechanics, such as this throw where Bray perceives pressure and doesn't shift his weight to his front foot:
Bray's most impressive tool besides his arm strength is his mental approach to the game. He sells the play-action fake well with crisp execution and the ability to quickly see the field and reset after turning his back to the defense. He calmly goes through his progressions and finds his checkdown on time.
Bray can see plays develop and lead his receivers to open spots on the field. In general, he has a great feel for the game and lets it come to him instead of forcing the issue or otherwise seeming out of sync. He is always playing calm, relaxed and under control, never exhibiting a sense of being rushed mentally or physically.
Bray is slow, there's no doubt about it. He won't outrun anyone except defensive tackles. He does use the springy energy in his body to slide in the pocket and his quick recognition of pressure makes it work even though Bray is not a very good athlete.
Bray uncoils into his throwing motion and puts excellent velocity on his passes. There is not a lot of visible effort in his mechanics, and Bray has a quick release, both in the pocket and on the move. He has a release point closer to 3/4, which is fine for his height.
Bray can also vary his arm slot to improvise when passing lanes are clogged. The Volunteer quarterback hits the top of his drops with live energy in his legs that helps create the zip on his passes. His mechanics also help him be able to throw a long distance from a less-than-perfect platform.
Bray throws frozen ropes downfield. The ball gets there in a hurry. Defenders have little opportunity to pick off passes because they don't hang in the air for too long on the way to their target. The best barometer of arm strength is the 15-yard out pattern. Bray throws the ball at least 30 yards in the air and the converging defenders are still steps away from Justin Hunter when the ball arrives:
All of that arm strength will be for naught if Bray isn't accurate. He hasn't topped 60 percent accuracy in a season yet, which is an important hallmark of a premium pro quarterback prospect. His short touch passes can miss in any number of ways, and he sometimes aims to spots downfield instead of naturally seeing the vectors of ball and receiver intersecting.
He does have terrific accuracy on crossing routes and often sets up his receiver for great run after catch opportunities. Bray's ability to "not think" and just "let 'er rip" on these short/intermediate throws to the middle of field makes these his most accurate throws.
The most important kind of accuracy for the pros that Bray has is being able to anticipate and throw to receivers before they are out of their breaks:
The release of the ball, and more importantly, the decision to throw the ball, happen before the wideout is out of his break on the deep out. The ball arrives on time for what looks like an easy completion on a difficult throw:
What is left out of the photos here is that this was a 4th-and-8 play, and that the receiver's break was at the hashes and the reception came at the numbers. The receiver was nowhere near the eventual spot of the reception, showing finely-honed timing, which is essential for NFL success.
POCKET PRESENCE/MENTAL TOUGHNESS
These attributes are impossible to measure; you just know them when you see them. They are also more integral to making it at the next level than the more ballyhooed tools like height, athleticism and arm strength. Bray appears to be strong in both categories.
He processes the field quickly and the time between him seeing something come open and the release of the ball is very short. He stays on his toes and moves well in the pocket and otherwise to create space. He is not very quick physically, but the speed at which he senses pressure and decisively moves makes him effective at creating plays when the initial read isn't there.
The sense of calm in his game allows him to keep his eyes downfield when his feet are moving to escape pressure, and instantly reset and load his hair-trigger release for a completion downfield, as it does here:
Bray is a bold enough quarterback to try throws into small windows, and aspirational throws into coverage where only his guy can get the ball. His mental toughness comes into play when he has to make stick throws between defenders, although his arm strength helps him have supreme confidence making these throws. There is little panic in his game, and he'll make heady plays to the throw the ball away, even when he has to improvise and do something like throw it away underhanded to avoid the sack.
Bray's obvious ability to make all of the NFL throws and his apparent ability to see, process and act on information at the pace an NFL quarterback needs to for survival are enough to make him a first-round pick if he can stay out of trouble and continue to improve his overall accuracy. Unless something derails him this year, he'll be a 2013 first-round pick.