By far, the most appealing aspect of the NFL preseason are the brief glimpses at the new crop of rookie quarterbacks wearing an NFL uniform for the first time.
As a group, this year’s class of rookie signal-callers stumbled out of the gate—especially when you compare their debuts to that of Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III last year. The fact that only one team thought there was a passer worthy of a first-round pick speaks to the void of exceptional talent in the 2013 class.
Geno Smith and EJ Manuel will grab the majority of the headlines as the two rookies with a realistic chance to start in Week 1. Manuel had a solid debut, shaking off a stiff start after an impressive 24-yard scramble to finish 16-of-21 for 107 yards. Geno Smith’s uneventful debut was cut short after he injured his ankle in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia's Matt Barkley completed just half of his 22 pass attempts, while fellow fourth-round pick Ryan Nassib connected on just one pass on four attempts for the New York Giants.
Amidst a weekend that was a rude awakening for the biggest names of the draft, the most impressive rookie quarterback performance came from a player not even deemed worthy of a draft pick back in April—Matt Scott of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As he entered the draft this past spring, Scott was looked down upon because he played in a spread system under Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Scott does have some clunky footwork, but he has a quick release, good arm strength and can make accurate throws on the run—important traits on display during his first live action on an NFL field against the Dolphins.
Scott’s live arm and poise was best illustrated on a pass that wound up incomplete.
First, Scott is able to avoid a rushing defender by stepping up into the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. It is a common theme for rookies to panic when things break down around them, but Scott maintains his poise and looks to keep the dying play alive.
Initially, this receiver looks covered with a defender within striking distance. In fact, this play has the makings of a pick-six if Scott does not put some serious heat on the ball.
Scott is able to put enough juice behind the throw to beat the Dolphins defender breaking on the ball. Even more impressive is how the ball is accurately thrown away from the DB to a spot where only his receiver has a chance to come down with it.
Unfortunately, the wideout bobbles the ball and the catch is ruled incomplete, but Scott showed NFL-caliber arm strength on that particular throw.
Yes, it was against third-string defenders, but the fact that he beat a defender without even putting all of his weight behind the throw is impressive.
Scott was even able to show off his underrated deep-ball accuracy. He launches a pass from his own 10-yard-line…
…and nearly completes it inside the opposing 40.
The ball is perfectly placed over the receiver’s shoulder and falls right into his hands. But the wideout is unable to hang on and the pass falls incomplete.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Matt Scott’s showing was that he anticipated routes like a seasoned veteran.
Here, Scott has a tight end breaking over the middle. While his receiver is still covered coming out of his break, Scott anticipates the separation and begins his release.
As Scott predicted, the tight end gains a step of separation to create the smallest of windows for Scott to throw to.
The ball is perfectly placed on the upper shoulder—once again in a spot where only his man has a chance to catch it. Scott’s feet barely moved, indicating that this throw was made with pure arm talent.
Again, two of these plays ultimately resulted in incompletions, but getting caught up in stats is not the way to preseason performances. At this stage, especially for young, unproven commodities like Matt Scott, how players are going about their business on the field and the traits they put on display is more important than the yardage they churn out.
Scott may have missed on two of these throws, but they show a lot more than a handful of checkdowns that would somewhat artificially boost a completion percentage.
It is highly unlikely that the undrafted free agent rookie has a chance of winning the starting job this summer, but he may be the most talented and promising QB on the Jaguars roster.
Matt Scott has the physical talent to play the position. The biggest question for Scott coming out of Arizona was whether he could produce in an NFL offense that did not feature quick, easy reads and wide open receivers. So far, Scott has done just about everything possible to debunk being just a “spread quarterback" or a product of a gimmicky college system.
Scott is far from a finished product; he needs to clean up his footwork and is prone to the occasional errant throw. Of course, throwing Scott in the middle of a regular-season game would yield much different results than what he produced in the waning minutes of a preseason game.
However, his upside as a developmental No. 3 quarterback is certainly enticing for a team in desperate need of answers at the position.