A year ago not many knew or were even aware of San Jose State quarterback David Fales.
Now, however, after an impressive first season—which saw him lead the entire FBS in completion percentage (72.5)—Fales has quickly gone from relative obscurity and unknown JUCO transfer to potential first-round NFL draft pick.
Recently, respected CBS Senior College Football Columnist Bruce Feldman even had this to say about Fales via Twitter, following his performance in the Elite 11 quarterback camp.
Gaining respect from your peers and trusted talent evaluators like Feldman can go a long way, but it is Fales' key performances against elite competition last season that really stand out.
According to rankings from NCAA.com, Fales faced four teams in 2012 that ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense in BYU (3), Bowling Green (6), Utah State (14) and Stanford (20).
In those four games, Fales and the Spartans were just a combined 2-2 overall. However, Fales' completion percentage was also over 74 percent during this same stretch—completing 120 of 162 passes for 1,384 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Those are the type of numbers that have evaluators like Feldman and Bleacher Report's very own Matt Miller taking notice. But as we know, it is in the film study where we truly find out how much NFL potential a player has to offer.
Ahead, we delve deeper into what allows Fales to be such an efficient quarterback—utilizing the attributes to look for when evaluating quarterback prospects, courtesy of the aforementioned Miller and his excellent series on "How Do Scouts Break Down NFL Prospects" by position.
Like a lot of modern day college football offenses, Fales and San Jose State operate out of a shotgun-heavy zone-read pistol offense. Because of this, Fales' completion percentage can become somewhat over-inflated as a good amount of his throws are either at, behind or just beyond the line of scrimmage.
This is important to take note of during your evaluation, and is just one of the reason's why you always want to trust the film, as it also lends you more insight into the amount of drops or catchable passes that went down as incompletions.
Which, in Fales' case, happened quite a bit in the four games I charted (Stanford, BYU, Utah State and Bowling Green).
Take for instance these three plays below from the Stanford game.
In each one of these, Fales does a great job of delivering the ball on target and on time. Unfortunately, his receivers just do a poor job of finishing the play—one of them even potentially costing the team a touchdown.
Nonetheless, rather than focus on the negative, let's take a look at four additional plays that illustrate why Fales' ability to throw the ball with accuracy is nearly unparalleled at the college football level and just one of his many unique strengths as a pocket passer.
Sticking with the Stanford game, above, we see Fales and the Spartans offense execute a signature out route or sideline throw.
Notice the ball placement, timing and rhythm. Never does Fales appear flustered, uncomfortable or rattled in the pocket. Rather, he stays calm, cool and collected, delivering a perfectly thrown ball with good velocity and a quick release.
Now let's move on to a couple throws that are a little more challenging.
As many of you know, a lot of times a quarterback has to do more than just be able to find and hit the open receiver. Sometimes, it takes a combination of accuracy, anticipation and even a little bit of trust to deliver an ideal pass in a window or accomplish what has become known as "throwing your receiver open."
The two plays below from the team's Military Bowl win are a prime example of this.
As you can see from the two videos above, not only does Fales display superb accuracy, but he's also an accomplished anticipation passer with the vision to see the entire field.
Areas we will get to in a little bit, this last throw is icing on the cake of just how well Fales places the ball. Putting it in the only spot his receiver can make a play with proper arc, touch, timing and rhythm.
A large part of scouting involves knowing whose opinion you can trust and who you should be listening to. Which guys you know spend copious (and sometimes even unhealthy) amounts of their time evaluating certain prospects at certain positions.
For quarterbacks and nearly anything football, one of the guys to give a follow on Twitter if you haven't already is NFL Draft Monster's Benjamin Allbright (@NFLDraftMonster).
Besides being extremely knowledgeable, active, honest and approachable, Allbright also takes the quarterback evaluation process to an entirely different level.
Recently, he had this to say regarding Fales and his nearly impeccable ability to see the entire field while reading a defense.
Fales so great with how quickly he reads the field, how well he keeps his eyes up and down field while buying time with his feet.— Benjamin Allbright (@NFLDraftMonster) July 6, 2013
To better illustrate and hammer Allbright's point home with solid concrete video evidence, take a look at this succession of plays in last year's BYU game, capping off a drive that encompasses what it means to be in total command of an offense.
Within this drive, not only does Fales show off his lighting quick release, but he routinely makes quick reads and decisions—seeing the entire field and going through his progressions before finding the open target.
To do this takes vision and high football IQ, all while knowing where your hot read will be to consistently make effective pre- and post-snap decisions with a high degree of efficiency.
The best quarterbacks in today's NFL have mastered this part of the game. The Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys and Drew Breeses of the world all do a tremendous job using their vision to set their team up for success before any given play.
It's a little bit of an acquired attribute that takes countless repetitions, but making pre-snap adjustments and taking what the defense gives you is perhaps one of the most valuable traits for highly effective quarterback play.
Check out these last two plays below, each of which show off Fales' awareness to identify the blitz and immediately attack the voided area.
Leadership and Poise
The leadership trait cannot be undermined when it comes to the quarterback position. Looking around today's NFL landscape, you'll notice plenty of leaders from all sorts of positions, but when the game is on the line it is the job of the quarterback to rally his troops and come out on top.
They're in fact the commander in chief of sorts, and not just for the offense, but for the entire team.
These are the guys so emotionally, physically and even spiritually invested in the game that they can barely keep their eyes off the action, even when they're not out on the field. The ones who you see on the sidelines constantly challenging and inspiring their teammates to rise above the adversity and block out the pain.
Certainly, these traits are a little harder to come by and even notice without spending a good amount of time with a player and person; however, luckily for us, there are analysts and evaluators like CBS Sports' Rob Rang, who have more inside access than others.
Describing Fales in his recent scouting report, courtesy of CBS Sports as having a "selfless personality with the preparation habits needed for the next level." While also identifying Fales as a player with a "strong work ethic" and someone who is just as "ambitious" as he is "coachable."
Of course, these statements are only word of mouth for right now and should be taken with a grain of salt until further confirmation; however, that does not mean they should completely fall on deaf ears.
After all, scouts like Rang don't usually stick their necks out for a player unless they mean it, and from everything I have gathered as well, Fales appears to be an even-keeled, level-headed kid with the persistency and degree of stubbornness it takes to make it in today's NFL.
Take it for what it's worth, but I myself also believe Fales to be a rather "high character" guy and chalk this up as another positive checkmark in his ongoing evaluation process.
To this point we've been quick to commend Fales on all he does well, but if there is one area he can stand to improve on it is his ability to drive the football down the field in tight windows.
At this juncture, Fales' overall arm talent is good, but its just not at the ideal level of what you look for in a franchise quarterback and certainly won't have him being mistaken for Jay Cutler or Matthew Stafford anytime soon.
Nevertheless, since arm strength is largely an overrated quarterback trait to begin with, Fales should have no problem making the transition.
The clip below is a perfect example of Fales executing an NFL-caliber pass. Completing the daunting hash-to-far-sideline throw with adequate velocity, all while having a hand in his face.
Throws like the one above do a good job highlighting what Fales is, and what he isn't as an NFL quarterback prospect.
Clearly he has enough arm talent to make even the most difficult of throws that will be asked of him at the next level, but where Fales will make his money is in the short-to-intermediate game and preferably in an offense that further plays into his strengths as a passer who processes information very quickly and gets the ball out in the similar manner.
This is the type of system Fales was built for and an example of a quarterback prospect who has more value in a quick-hitting offensive attack, rather than one that is primarily interested and geared towards challenging the vertical parts of the field.
Pocket Presence and Escapability
In Miller's article on breaking down NFL quarterback prospects, he describes pocket presence as being a skill that is two-fold.
The first part being the ability to see and feel pressure, and the second part involving the running ability to escape that pressure and extend the play.
For quarterbacks with great pocket presence skills and awareness, the first part of this comes very naturally. The second part, however, depends almost exclusively on the amount of mobility and athleticism that player possesses to escape the pocket and create with his legs.
To highlight each aspect of this in regards to Fales, I have chosen the following two plays, which can be seen below.
In this first clip, you get a sense for just how well Fales is able to feel and temporarily escape it. Sliding up in the pocket, while simultaneously keeping his eyes down the field, before finding his open target for an impressive first down.
This type of awareness is a rather innate quality, but to get a better sense of Fales ability as a true runner, we must pay close attention to clips like the one highlighted below.
With this one, we get a much better sense and feeling of how well Fales is able create once he has been forced to tuck the ball and experiences that "flight or fight" moment.
In both instances, Fales does a great job keeping calm in the pocket, while also realizing once that internal clock has gone off in his head it's time to make a run for it.
Certainly, no one will be mistaking Fales with his former teammate at Nevada, Colin Kaepernick, anytime soon.
However, it is good to know that when push comes to shove, Fales at least has enough intellect, agility and vision to create with his legs, as this has become a skill that has become more and more important over the past several years.
Earlier we touched on what it means to "throw your receiver open," and this relies largely on not only on a quarterback's timing and chemistry with a player, but also his ability to anticipate when and where his receiver is likely to become open.
It's a rather underrated quality and one that requires a quarterback to always be one step ahead of the defense.
These next two touchdown passes from Fales do a good job displaying not only his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy, but his ability to anticipate and deliver the ball when the opportunity presents itself.
What's refreshing about these two throws is the fact we get to see Fales executing passes down the field.
We already knew he was a cerebral enough quarterback to deliver in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field, but these two throws tie in and encompass much of what we already knew and have covered to this point in his evaluation.
In these throws it's all there. The accuracy, timing, vision, poise, arm strength and pocket presence are all very evident in this set of highlights.
Further confirmation that Fales gets it and has a little bit of that "it" factor we're looking for, when evaluating college quarterbacks for the NFL.
Mechanics are born out of habit and constant repetition, but the good news is that they are correctable and can be advanced with added focus, attention and determination.
Plenty of quarterbacks come into the NFL with needed emphasis on mechanics. Sometimes this is a quick fix or minor tweak, while other times it can take much more physical conditioning and mental repetition.
Luckily for Fales, his mechanics are pretty spot on and don't require all that much work. However, that's not to say there aren't areas in which he can improve to get the most out of his throwing motion.
For instance, everyone loves how quickly Fales snaps the ball off with his quick release. His fluid, crisp and efficient motion is key to making up for some of his deficiencies in terms of arm strength, and it allows him to get the ball to his intended all the much sooner.
While all this is great, when I'm evaluating a quarterback (in my opinion) it all begins and ends with their footwork.
Which, if you ask me, has sometimes gotten Fales into trouble, as it does in the two clips leading to interceptions below.
A large part of the issue with these two throws has a lot to do with poor decision-making, but another part of the issue can be traced back to Fales' sloppy mechanics and tendency to throw with poor balance.
His decision to throw the ball in the first place is questionable, sure, but just as guilty is his lower body mechanics that cause him to drift away from his throw and release off one foot.
Never is this acceptable, and especially not for a quarterback who lacks great arm strength.
Fales is much better off when he sets and re-sets his feet. As is the case in this clip below, which is perhaps the best example out there of Fales doing nearly everything flawlessly and to complete perfection.
Notice how Fales does a great job of going through his progressions—constantly setting and re-setting his feet, all while standing tall and remaining poised in the pocket.
Then, once he finds his passing lane and anticipates his receiver coming open, he hits his man in perfect stride with pinpoint accuracy and velocity.
These are the type of throws NFL evaluators want to see and are a favorable sign that Fales is quickly putting it all together.
The San jose State Spartans official team website lists Fales as a 6'3", 220-pound quarterback, but those measurements are purely speculative and currently at the discretion of the team's athletic department.
After all, it wouldn't be the first time a player has been listed taller than they actually are, only to later be discovered as being nowhere near as tall or as big as originally listed, at annual events such as the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
Certainly, this is not to say I believe this to be the case with Fales, but do believe he is getting a slight home-field advantage and benefit of the doubt when it comes to where he is currently earmarked.
Fales' actual numbers are likely right around this range, and while I do not believe his overall size to be too much of an issue, I do have concerns regarding his hand size.
On film and in the picture above, you can see that Fales does appear to have rather small hands for an NFL quarterback, which can lead to some issues with ball security and things like grip moving forward.
Obviously these concerns will eventually work themselves out as we move further into the season and beyond; however, it is something to take note of and keep an eye on moving forward.
Not many quarterbacks with as little starting experience as Fales can say they have all the momentum going for them, but Fales truly does in only his second season behind center.
In a relatively short period of time, he has taken his team from poor all the way to winning a bowl game with an 11-2 record, and even has himself on the verge of potentially being the first senior quarterback taken next spring.
Who is the best senior quarterback in college football?
Certainly, a lot of that depends on his performances in the upcoming year; however, judging by some of the film from last season I would be hard pressed to say I don't see him accomplishing that, and potentially much more this upcoming season.
In terms of raw skill, Fales can be described as only being slightly above average. His arm strength is so-so and his legs aren't anything to write home about, but what Fales seems to possess is that rather innate quality and level of determination to make everyone around him better.
His ability to do the little things right and excel in the most important areas of accuracy, vision, leadership and anticipation go much further than the numbers we will ever see show up in physical testings that take place leading up to the 2014 NFL draft.
Simply put, quarterbacks like Fales don't come around too often and it's not every day you get to witness and experience a quarterback who has that enviable "it" factor about him to will his team to victory week in and week out.
We saw that on countless occasions on last year's team, and at the forefront of keeping his team in games they probably had no business being in at all was Fales.
The steady leader of the ship and quarterback whose importance to his team is infinitely greater than anyone could have ever imagined just one short year ago.