Nebraska football fans have seen their share of NFL players wearing scarlet and cream. And they have watched quarterback Taylor Martinez light up the scoreboards and write his name into the Nebraska record books during his three years in Lincoln.
So the question is raised by some as to whether Martinez could take his skills to the next level and play in the NFL. Head coach Bo Pelini told ESPN’s First Take that he thought Martinez could be an NFL quarterback, given the rise of read-option quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.
(Yes, it caused me physical pain linking to a video involving Skip Bayless. That’s how dedicated I am to bringing you, gentle reader, all the Nebraska coverage you need.)
Pelini knows more about football than I ever will, to be certain. So let’s take a look at some of the things NFL scouts might be looking at in deciding if Pelini was right or just trying to fill his senior quarterback with confidence before the season begins.
He can protect the football
Coming into his senior campaign, there are few Nebraska fans who are unaware of Martinez’s biggest problem—he has been a turnover machine. Take a look at Martinez’s career turnover numbers:
** 2011 fumble stats are derived from a game-by-game review of box scores. That number is remarkable in itself, in that Martinez had thirteen fumbles and lost only two. Talk about whistling past the graveyard.
Martinez has played a total of 40 games at Nebraska, which means over his career he has averaged 1.125 fumbles per game, 0.375 fumbles lost per game (not quite a fumble lost every three games) and 0.675 interceptions per game (more than one interception every two games). In the NFL, there are no teams like Idaho State (although the Jaguars may be close this year) against whom you can get away with atrocious turnovers. Even if Martinez had the passing skills of Peyton Manning (which, let’s be clear, he does not), his rate of turnovers alone would be enough to make NFL general managers pass on him.
He can throw the ball further than 14 yards
Bill Connelly at SB Nation has done some phenomenal statistical work looking deeper into the numbers of college football. One of his articles looked at how successful college quarterbacks were for different lengths of passes thrown. This does not refer to the length of the overall passing play, but the distance the ball was in the air between the quarterback and receiver.
Looking at Martinez, we learn that he’s very good at the short pass. Martinez completed 90.9 percent of his passes from 0-4 yards, second only to Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater in that yardage for the quarterbacks charted. Martinez completed 81.8 percent of his passes thrown less than zero yards (behind the line of scrimmage), and he connected on 75 percent of his passes thrown between five and nine yards.
Once the passes get a little longer, though, things look worse for Martinez. For passes from 10 to 14 yards, Martinez has a completion percentage of 50 percent. That’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.
But then things fall through the floor. Martinez completed only 10 percent (!) of passes between 15 and 19 yards and only 16.7 percent of passes from 20 to 24 yards. There wasn’t enough statistical data to chart Martinez’s success rate for any passes longer than 24 yards.
In the NFL, a quarterback simply must be able to consistently complete passes from 15 to 24 yards. If a quarterback cannot do so, NFL defenses will be able to over-commit nearer the line of scrimmage, stifling any running attack without having to respect the deeper pass.
Unless Martinez can dramatically increase his effectiveness in throwing the ball downfield, even if he is able to cure his turnover woes, his chances of playing quarterback in the NFL are virtually nil.
He can play another position
Look, there are few people who have been more all-in on Martinez coming into this season than I have been. I think the kid has gotten a bad rap from many fans and is poised to have an eye-popping senior campaign.
But even with the advent of the read-option in the NFL, there is still such a thing as a great college quarterback that doesn’t translate to the next level. And Martinez might be the poster child for the new-look NFL for such a player.
Martinez will likely leave Nebraska holding all of NU’s offensive school records, and he should be remembered as one of the transcendent talents to wear the scarlet and cream. But we’ve seen him for three solid years now, and it’s fair to conclude that we know what he is…and what he is not.
There’s no shame in being a great college quarterback whose skills do not translate to the NFL. Even with the changes that the NFL has seen in the last few years, in many ways the game is still very different. Ask Denard Robinson, who was one of the most exciting college quarterbacks in recent memory, and who is now listed as an “offensive weapon” by the Jacksonville Jaguars and doing just about everything except playing quarterback.
For Martinez to be legitimately considered as an NFL quarterback prospect, his turnover margin would have to dramatically improve and his ability to complete a pass longer than 14 yards would have to drastically increase. Sure, anything’s possible, but that’s asking an awful lot.
So if Martinez truly harbors a desire to play in the NFL, he’s going to have to show after the season is over that he can shift his skill set to a different position. Or, he may have to at least position himself as another offensive weapon (perhaps ironically abbreviated as an OW) to get a look in the league.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge