Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is set to make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday versus the Arizona Cardinals.
Glennon, the Buccaneers’ third-round selection (No. 73 overall) in this year’s NFL draft, is replacing 2009 first-round pick Josh Freeman. Freeman completed just 43-of-94 passing attempts in Tampa Bay's first three games this season.
The third quarterback selected in the 2013 draft, Glennon will join the two quarterbacks selected ahead of him—EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills and Geno Smith of the New York Jets—as one of three current NFL rookie starting quarterbacks.
It came as a bit of a surprise when Glennon, a 6’6”, 232-pound signal-caller out of North Carolina State, was drafted ahead of USC’s Matt Barkley, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, who all fell to the fourth round of the draft. The latter three quarterbacks were all viewed as more NFL-ready passers than Glennon, who has intriguing physical tools but was inconsistent at NC State, completing just 58.5 percent of his passes and throwing 17 interceptions in his senior season for the Wolfpack.
Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, however, disagreed with the majority media opinion. He said he thought Glennon was the best player available when the Buccaneers selected him, according to the Buccaneers' official website:
We had him as the highest-ranked player on our board and it filled a need for our football team that we thought was important. He’s a good fit for what we do offensively, and that’s why we took him. This is a quarterback-driven league. Any time you have a chance to add a guy into your organization that you feel like you can develop, that also has the talent that fits your system and fits what you believe in in terms of character, [you do it].
Glennon was fortunate to be drafted to a team where he is going to have a chance to prove himself as a franchise quarterback as a rookie. On the other hand, Glennon goes into his first NFL start having had little time to develop and improve upon his flaws, and facing the added pressure to immediately perform at a level that will solidify himself as the Buccaneers’ future at the quarterback position.
The rookie quarterback will be the top storyline when the Buccaneers play the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Can Glennon be the difference in leading the Buccaneers into the win column, or is he set up for failure in his NFL regular-season debut?
The Tools of an NFL Quarterback
While many may question whether Glennon was the right third-round draft selection for the Buccaneers—and whether he is actually an upgrade over Freeman as a rookie—it’s not hard to see why he caught Tampa Bay’s interest.
Glennon has the physical tools of an NFL starting quarterback, including ideal size.
While he does not have a rocket arm, he can throw a beautiful deep ball, such as he did on the next two throws in the following clip from Draft Breakdown of Glennon’s game versus Clemson in 2012.
The tape shows Glennon can hit an open receiver deep at least 45 yards downfield from the point of his throw. Glennon’s arm is not quite as strong as Freeman’s, but the Buccaneers will not lose the deep-passing potential they had with Freeman after switching to Glennon.
As the first play—Glennon’s 77-yard touchdown connection with NC State wide receiver Tobais Palmer—from the start of the clip shows, Glennon can also throw on the run. He does a good job rolling out of the pocket to extend plays, and he resets his feet well to launch the ball downfield when throwing a deep ball like he did in that example.
Glennon is, for the most part, a mechanically sound quarterback. His dropbacks feature clean footwork, and he has a strong throwing delivery and a fluid release that gets the ball out of his hand quickly and efficiently.
He stands tall in the pocket and maneuvers his feet well within the pocket. When he has room to step into his throws, he does so effectively to generate extra velocity on the ball. He consistently keeps his eyes downfield and is good at switching reads rather than staring down intended targets.
Glennon's ability to maneuver in the pocket with his eyes downfield is one of the reasons the Buccaneers selected him in this year's NFL draft, head coach Greg Schiano told Dan Pompei of the National Football Post in May.
“He has pocket presence, ability to feel the rush and move in the pocket,” Schiano said. “Some guys can feel the rush and keep their eyes downfield; other guys feel the rush and start looking at the rush...Once you start looking at the rush, you are done."
With the ability to throw accurate deep balls and good downfield passing mechanics, Glennon can complete challenging throws against every level of the defense. To be a successful NFL starting quarterback, however, he needs to refine some of the traits he displayed during collegiate play.
What Glennon Must Improve to Be a Successful NFL QB
While Glennon showed great potential throughout his collegiate career, he was never a great college quarterback. His career will continue to be plagued by inconsistency if he is unable to fix many of the flaws in his game.
One thing was consistent in every NC State game of Glennon’s that I have watched: For every one of the great passes he threw, there was an abundance of poor throws, too. While his best throws will translate to the pros, the worst throws will end up being turnovers against NFL defenses.
Many of his mistakes stem from poor decision making.
Glennon sometimes seems overconfident in his ability to make throws, attempting to force passes that have a low success rate. He easily could have thrown more than 17 interceptions last season, as opposing defensive backs dropped several potential interceptions; NFL defensive backs are less likely to miss those opportunities to take the ball away.
As is often the case for young quarterbacks, Glennon’s decision making seems to be compromised by pressure.
He too often tries to force throws to his receivers when he's about to be hit, risking interceptions rather than simply throwing the ball out of bounds and living to play another down.
The first play in the above example from last year’s Clemson game shows Glennon making a poor decision.
He had a good amount of time to make a throw from inside the pocket on this play, but when blitzing pressure came through the middle, Glennon decided to try to force a throw to his wide receiver running deep along the left sideline approximately 35 yards downfield. The problem? His receiver was not open on that play, instead blanketed by Clemson's double coverage.
As the screenshots below show, the pass should have been intercepted but instead went right through the hands of Clemson safety Rashard Hall.
Decision making isn’t Glennon’s only problem under pressure. As he showed on the above play, Glennon has a tendency to throw the ball off his back foot when he is being pressured. This can affect his downfield touch and cause his throws to float, giving defensive backs more time to make a play on the ball.
Glennon also needs to learn when to throw the ball under pressure. At NC State, he took many sacks because he held on to the ball too long in the pocket or tried to elude defenders.
The following example versus North Carolina last season is a play where Glennon tried to do too much and cost his team yardage. When he was able to quickly slide left away from a blitzer up the middle, he should have taken the extra second he bought to throw the ball away out of bounds and avoid a sack. Instead, he continued trying to evade the linebacker and was taken down from behind.
A quarterback should always be aware of his own limitations. Glennon does not always seem to realize his athletic shortcomings.
While Glennon can scramble to extend a play and then throw on the run, he does not fit the modern prototype for a dual-threat quarterback. He is not going to run away from many defenders, so trying to do so when there are multiple pass-rushers in the backfield will typically be a recipe for a sack.
In the aforementioned interview with Pompei, Schiano acknowledged Glennon's limited athleticism.
"Can he tuck the ball and run away from people? No. He is not going to be the guy who makes the 30-yard run," Schiano said.
Ball placement is another attribute Glennon must improve to consistently complete throws against tighter NFL coverages.
As previously displayed, Glennon can hit receivers in stride 45 yards downfield, and he has shown the ability to precisely fit throws through smaller windows on short and intermediate passes.
Over the course of a game, however, Glennon’s ball placement can often be erratic.
His downfield accuracy is inconsistent, as he is known to both overshoot and underthrow receivers. He must cut down on mistakes like throwing the ball late or to the wrong shoulder of a receiver.
He does not throw the ball with great zip, either. That makes placing the ball with precision all the more important, along with hitting his targets with proper timing and anticipation. All of those traits tend to be jeopardized when he is under pressure, while he also struggles to get air under long passes when he is unable to step into his throws.
Establishing a rhythm and consistently completing throws against NFL defenses is going to be tough unless Glennon makes smarter decisions and throws the ball consistently well. In limited preseason action, Glennon completed just 33-of-70 passing attempts, showing that he continued to have issues with his accuracy, decision making and passing consistency.
Glennon often plays with a Brett Favre-like “gunslinger” mentality, but he lacks the arm strength and elusiveness required for that style to work. If he is going to be a long-term NFL starting quarterback, he has to focus on being a more aware and accurate pocket passer.
Glennon is likely to struggle in many of the same capacities that Freeman has this season, but he brings the promise of young, untapped potential. It will be crucial for Glennon to earn the faith of his teammates, which Freeman has seemingly lost.
Are the Buccaneers Making the Right Decision?
In an era where instant results are expected and instant criticism is a given, the Buccaneers are going to be quickly praised if Glennon shines in his early starts or scrutinized for their decision to bench Freeman if Glennon struggles.
But while there are many reasons to be skeptical of Glennon’s NFL readiness, the decision to make a starting-quarterback change is a logical one.
Freeman was a “sitting duck.” He is in the final year of his contract, and he had not delivered the results for the Buccaneers in his first four seasons to earn an extension.
It seemed Freeman was already on his way out of Tampa Bay when he lost his captaincy for this season after being a team captain for the three previous years. By opting to revoke its quarterback's captain status, the team demonstrated declining faith in Freeman as a team leader.
When a team does not trust its starting quarterback, the results are usually meager. Freeman did not earn back his team’s trust in the first three weeks of the season by completing 45.7 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions.
Who will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback in 2014?
Schiano said Wednesday, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas, that he believes Glennon gives the Buccaneers the best chance to win games now.
“We’ve lost eight of nine games and we haven’t played particularly well on offense in the last nine games," Schiano said. “Although it’s not completely the quarterback’s fault, that position touches the ball every play."
Schiano may just be trying to save face, as playing an inexperienced Glennon above Freeman may not necessarily improve the Buccaneers’ chances to win this season. At 0-3, however, their playoff chances are already bleak.
The change from Freeman to another quarterback in Tampa Bay had become a matter of when, not if. The question is no longer whether Freeman will be part of the Buccaneers’ long-term plans, but whether Glennon will be his long-term successor at starting quarterback.
Playing Glennon now is the best move as the Buccaneers look ahead to 2014 and beyond. Over the next 13 games, the Buccaneers will have a much better idea of whether Glennon is a viable long-term starting option, or whether they should invest an early draft pick in one of the upcoming draft's signal-callers.
If his erratic play throughout his collegiate career is any indication, Glennon is likely to struggle as a starter this season. Barring an injury, however, there should be no turning back now for Tampa Bay.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.