Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook: Do Not Overreact About Early QB Struggles

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2017

QB Josh Allen struggled in his 2017 debut.
QB Josh Allen struggled in his 2017 debut.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Spend 10 minutes talking football with Alabama head coach Nick Saban—or any of his disciples—and you'll hear a lot about "the process" of recruiting, coaching and deploying football teams onto the field.

Similarly, when it comes to the NFL draft, there is a process that must be followed. And like with Saban's methods, it's an area many either don't know about or don't respect.

Week 1 of the college football season perfectly displayed many common misconceptions about scouting and the entire draft process.

Many fans and analysts overreact to one game, which makes sense. All summer, we've heard about how great Josh Allen or Sam Darnold will be, and then both players go out and struggle in the first game. I share in the blame for this, because when talking about next year's draft class, we have to rank players. The issue comes from those who always expect greatness from a top-ranked player. That won't happen. Even Tom Brady has bad games.


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A pet peeve of mine is when someone tears down one player to make another (their favored player) look better. That won't happen here. Draft evaluation should be honest and fluid. If Allen, my top-ranked player, follows up a two-interception performance against Iowa with a stretch of bad games, his stock will fall. The same goes for Darnold. And similarly, if Josh Rosen continues to excel as he did in a 34-point comeback over Texas A&M, his stock will climb.

It's early, and while we all want instant reaction and analysis of what the past week of college football meant, the reality is that one game rarely changes anything. Players are drafted on traits as much as production and on potential as much as current ability.

That's not to say Allen and Darnold didn't have their struggles. That will be noted and remembered when it's time to file a final report in the spring. But right now is not the time to have a final thought about any player. In fact, we're just getting started. This is Step 2 of 10 on a long road to the 2018 NFL draft.

                

Here's what else is going on this week:

  • Top five matchups to watch in Week 2
  • Grading the top QBs' opening performances
  • College Football Playoff and Super Bowl picks
  • Stick to Football Episode 22 with country music star Ryan Hurd

            

The Scout's Report

Josh Allen Week 1 grade: C-

Allen showed the elite traits that have scouts excited, but he struggled in a two-interception loss at Iowa. He gets little help from his offensive line, receivers or coaching staff, but he must improve at seeing the defense before he'll be ready to grace an NFL field. But as one scout told me this week, "It doesn't matter, because with that arm and athleticism, he's still going top three."

Sam Darnold Week 1 grade: C

Darnold struggled with accuracy and velocity in his Week 1 win over Western Michigan. He tossed two interceptions and seemed to have issues with his release timing. Darnold has a sidearm delivery that may bother some scouts, and it did appear to cause problems against the Broncos. 

Josh Rosen Week 1 grade: B+

Rosen burst back onto the scene with an epic performance.
Rosen burst back onto the scene with an epic performance.Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Rosen wasn't perfect, but he was pretty against Texas A&M while leading a 34-point comeback. What impressed most was Rosen's ability to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes with defenders crashing down on him. When it comes to pure mechanics, Rosen is beautiful, but he has to be more accurate on intermediate routes.

—Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams had an uneven Week 1 performance against Maryland, as he was flagged for two holds late in the game. One scout who saw the game said, "I'm not sure 55 is settled into that new scheme yet. He looked timid and that's not him."

Simmie Cobbs Jr. was the story of the Thursday night opener against Ohio State. The Indiana junior has awesome size (6'4", 220 pounds) and was a monster posting up shorter defenders. His jump-ball skills alone should have NFL teams excited. I have Cobbs ranked as the No. 5 receiver in the class and a second-rounder.

Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State) was as good as advertised in his Week 1 stomping of Akron. Barkley (5'11", 230 pounds) showed vision, power and breakaway speed while rushing for 172 yards, catching three passes for 54 yards and scoring two times.

—Two scouts, two opinions on Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli. Scout No. 1: "Mid-round type. Just a guy." Scout No. 2: "Love his ability up the seam. Think he'll rise to the late first."

—What do NFL teams think of Baker Mayfield? I asked around this week and got back a variety of answers.

Baker Mayfield has his doubters despite monster production.
Baker Mayfield has his doubters despite monster production.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

A. "Love the kid on the field, but only as a college quarterback. He's a late-rounder."

B. "I won't discount him, because we've seen guys like [Drew] Brees and Russ [Wilson] succeed. The biggest questions come off the field."

C. "He won't meet our size thresholds, but I'd put money on him to win the Heisman."

                   

5 Matchups to Know

Week 2 has a loaded schedule, including an Ohio State vs. Oklahoma matchup you won't want to miss. If you want to prioritize a few matchups to watch, here are the top five I'll be checking out.

                

5. Orlando Brown (Tackle, Oklahoma) vs. Ohio State Defensive Line

There has been hype surrounding Orlando Brown as a potential first-round tackle. He'll get a big test against Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa and the talented Buckeye pass-rushers in a prime-time matchup. Brown is a massive tackle (6'8", 345 pounds), but he isn't the best mover. If he can keep pace with Hubbard and Co., it will turn heads.

               

4. Tanner Lee (Quarterback, Nebraska) vs. Oregon Secondary

The Oregon secondary doesn't have a player ranked in the top five at any position so far, but it's still a talented group. That will give Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee a fine test in Week 2. Lee has a big arm and is an impressive athlete, but he has to show better underneath and timing-based accuracy. He's climbing draft boards, though.    

         

3. Braden Smith (Right Tackle, Auburn) and Kamryn Pettway (Running Back) vs. Clemson Defensive Line

Braden Smith is one of the best right tackles in college football, and Kamryn Pettway has power and vision as a runner. The two are a powerful duo in the SEC, but the Clemson defensive line is elite. Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and DeMarcus Lawrence all rank among the nation's best individual defensive linemen.

                    

2. Sam Darnold (Quarterback, USC) vs. Quenton Meeks (Cornerback, Stanford)

Darnold is one tough son of a gun, and scouts are in love with his grit. On the other side of the field will be one of the country's best cornerbacks in Quenton Meeks. Will USC challenge Meeks? The entire Stanford defense is talented and will give Darnold a much bigger test than Western Michigan did in Week 1.

            

1. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey (Offensive Line, Notre Dame) vs. Jonathan Ledbetter and Trenton Thompson (Defensive Line, Georgia)

Mike McGlinchey is one of the top tackles in the country.
Mike McGlinchey is one of the top tackles in the country.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

This might not be a sexy matchup of skill players, but this one should get you excited. Nelson is the best guard in the country, and McGlinchey might be the top-ranked tackle. How well they combine to move the talented Georgia defensive line is a game scouts will be going back to throughout the season.              

 

Parting Shots

7. I'm often accused of being boring in picking winners. It's true, but I pick my Super Bowl and College Football Playoff winners with the idea of being right, not exciting. So forgive me if I keep picking Alabama or New England to make their respective championship games, but they're there pretty often. With that disclaimer, here are my picks for the football postseason.

CFB Final Four predictions

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

I know, I know—boring. But after taking down Florida State in Week 1, Alabama has a clear path to the title and will likely be the favorite in every one of its remaining games.    

2. Oklahoma State Cowboys

This one may surprise you, but I expect Oklahoma State will win the Big 12. Mason Rudolph is throwing to the best wide receiver corps in college, and the Cowboys have a feisty enough defense to at least slow down Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense.    

3. Penn State Nittany Lions

James Franklin has one hell of a team and an easy decision offensively—give the ball to Barkley. Ohio State and Michigan will be tough tests, but Penn State is the more well-rounded team. If J.T. Barrett plays like he did in Week 1, I can't pick Ohio State.    

4. Clemson Tigers

Last year's champs lost Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams and must rely on a strong defense early on, but if Clemson can beat Louisville next weekend, the path to the final four isn't that tough in the ACC. I expect the offense to become more of a threat as the season progresses and young starters develop.

Championship Game: Alabama over Oklahoma State

    

6. When I was growing up, Chris Berman would go on ESPN every year and pick the San Franciso 49ers to face the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. His reasoning was that throughout the early '90s, at least one of those teams was making the big game. He was more right than wrong, too.

I never realized how much that influenced my own picks until recently. It's boring, I know, but the New England Patriots are in a dominant stretch unlike anything in my lifetime. Picking against that just to be different isn't my style.

Here are my division winners and Super Bowl picks.

AFC East: Patriots

AFC North: Steelers

AFC South: Titans

AFC West: Raiders

AFC Wild Card: Chiefs, Texans

NFC East: Cowboys

NFC North: Packers

NFC South: Falcons

NFC West: Seahawks

NFC Wild Card: Vikings, Buccanneers

AFC Championship: Patriots over Raiders

NFC Championship: Seahawks over Cowboys

Super Bowl 52: Patriots over Seahawks

5. The best ability is availability, and for Ohio State running back Mike Weber, a hamstring injury that kept him out of Week 1 may keep him out of the starting lineup all season. Weber is listed behind freshman J.K. Dobbins for Week 2 after the latter went off against Indiana for 181 yards.

J.K. Dobbins adds another element to the Ohio State backfield.
J.K. Dobbins adds another element to the Ohio State backfield.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Over the summer, Weber was among my top five running back prospects, so there is no shortage of talent, but we've seen before at Ohio State that Urban Meyer won't hold a job open for you. Losing a starting job to injury doesn't always affect a player's draft stock, but there will undoubtedly be scouts who knock Weber for it. 

The Buckeyes were already a fascinating team to watch given their talent at defensive line and cornerback, but this two-headed monster at running back makes the offense exciting, too.

4. Alabama is known for defense, but wide receiver Calvin Ridley stole the show against Florida State in the opener. I'm already hearing buzz that Ridley is the best receiver in the class. On the other hand, some scouts have expressed concern that the 22-year-old Ridley is a "man among boys." 

Age is an interesting part of draft evaluation, and it certainly plays more of a role for some than others. Every NFL team I've been in contact with in the past lists age as a red flag only if the player turns 24 years old in his rookie season. That would include Ridley, who turns 24 in December 2018. 

On my draft board, age would only be used to break any ties between Ridley and other receivers. If he and Christian Kirk (Texas A&M) end the season with the same grade, I would use factors like injury history, size, speed and age to separate them on the draft board. 

3. Florida State fans looking for a silver lining after the Week 1 loss to Alabama should look at the impact defensive backs Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden had. Both are potential top-10 talents.

In James' return to the field after he missed most of the 2016 season, he looked like the same dude. That's a huge plus. I had talked all summer about the need to see James again before buying into the hype, and he showed there's no hesitation in his game as he comes back from injury. As a comparison, I like James in the Landon Collins mold as a physical, game-changing safety able to play both free and strong positions either at the line of scrimmage or in a single-high spot.

McFadden has a lot to live up to after posting eight interceptions last year, and I expect we'll see opposing teams throw away from him as much as possible. Given Alabama's inability to throw down the field, we didn't get a great view of McFadden's turn-and-run skill, but his instincts were once again on point.

2. Thank you again to the awesome people at the University of Iowa and in Iowa City for hosting us last weekend. The pull of the tailgaters was strong, but I managed to abstain until after the game. There's nothing like a game day in a college town, and Iowa City impressed all around. Next scouting road trip? Louisville vs. Clemson next weekend.

        

1. Stick to Football Episode 22 is ready to download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe! This week, Connor Rogers and I are joined by emerging country music star Ryan Hurd to talk Titans, Michigan Wolverines and life on the road. We also break down the weekend of football for the top players and look ahead to the draft process.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.