Scouting Jimmy Clausen: Is This Notre Dame QB the No. 1 NFL Pick?

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Scouting Jimmy Clausen: Is This Notre Dame QB the No. 1 NFL Pick?
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Will he stay or will he go?

Before the 2009 college football season began, very few people believed Jimmy Clausen would be leaving South Bend a year early to enter the NFL draft. Now, it is looking like a strong possibility.

Why He Enters the 2010 Draft

Obviously, Clausen wouldn't be rumored to leave early unless he was getting significant attention from scouts and media alike to warrant such a decision. Now, after a tumultuous first two seasons at Notre Dame, Clausen is finally being recognized as an elite quarterback and a fine NFL prospect.

Through six games this year, Clausen has put up impressive numbers (1,804 yards, 65 percent completion, 14 TD, 2 INT) and has forced his way into the Heisman conversation with three fourth quarterback comebacks, and nearly two more as well against Michigan and USC respectively.

As of right now, Clausen's stock is sky rocketing and that is sufficient reason to believe he will enter the draft. Depending on who you consult, he is rated as one of the top quarterbacks, ranging anywhere from the top spot all the way to the fifth or sixth best signal-caller.

Also helping matters are the falling stocks of Bradford, McCoy, Tebow and Snead. Not too long ago it was assumed these players would be ultra-high draft picks in 2010. Now, they may all fall out of the first round or worse.

Money is almost certainly going to play a part in Clausen's decision with NFL owners seeking to adjust the rookie pay scale in 2011. With a high stock now, staying for his senior season could cost Jimmy Clausen millions of dollars.

Why He Stays at Notre Dame

Despite the ever increasing amount of praise for Clausen, there are still plenty of reasons to believe he will play out his eligibility in South Bend.

His stock may be high right now, but there is no guarantee it will remain so over the next month or two. In other words, Clausen may very well struggle down the stretch, making a return to Notre Dame all but a foregone conclusion.

Also playing a part will be the amount of returning starters and athletes on the offensive side of the ball, where only two linemen and one receiver will be hanging up their gold helmets. 

That means out of the eighteen players currently playing significant minutes on offense, an appetizing fifteen will be back next year, including two of the nation's best wide receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.

Moreover, you have to also factor in what kinds of goals Clausen would like to achieve at Notre Dame. Right now, his stock is higher than his teams, but the Irish program is on the rise despite two crushing losses in 2009.

Notre Dame isn't winning a national championship this year and it would take some breath taking performances from Clausen for him to even be invited to the Heisman presentation in a couple months.

Next year, his team could come into the season with a high ranking and loads of returning starters and difference makers.

Thoughts of a national championship with a stronger team, being the Heisman front-runner and breaking numerous school records, may be too much to pass up.

Scouting Profile (Weaknesses)

Coming out of high school, Clausen was a very polished quarterback with a very high skill set, but his freshman campaign at Notre Dame showed us many weaknesses that needed to be worked on.

The biggest knock on Clausen is that he is very slow and not a good runner. Although this may not be terribly important as he is a pure pocket passer, this lack of mobility has led to more sacks and less opportunities via broken plays than one would like.

Also, his lack of speed directly affects his escapability in the pocket as he sometimes loses his feet and leaves himself in bad positions to make plays downfield.

Another huge weakness in the past was that Clausen would turn and run away from oncoming defenders when his pocket collapsed, often resulting in drive killing sacks of ten yards or more.

As far as throwing the ball is concerned, Clausen has a bit of a long wind up and had problems in the past with staring down receivers. This weakness, coupled with his burden to carry the offensive load for Notre Dame, was the primary reason he threw seventeen interceptions last year.

Many people, particularly those outside of Notre Dame, have also questioned Clausen's attitude and leadership abilities. He has come off as cocky, brash and arrogant while being labeled as someone who cannot lead his team to a big victory.

Scouting Profile (Strengths)

It is important to note that Jimmy Clausen has made tremendous strides over the past year in improving his overall game, and particularly his weaknesses.

He will always be rather slow, but he has showed tremendous development with his receiver progression, pocket presence, attitude and leadership.

Gone are the days of running away from blitzing defenders, and Clausen now feels pressure extremely well and steps up into the pocket or side steps in order to make a play. He also does so while keeping his eyes down field in order to find an open receiver or make a smart play of throwing the ball away.

Further, Clausen has virtually cut out staring down receivers from his game and is exceptional at keeping his eyes down field, going through his progressions, and checking down if nobody is open.

In general, Clausen has been much smarter with the ball and decision making, as evidenced by his high passer rating and only two interceptions and one fumble.

He also possesses a great set of overall mechanics. Now that he has improved his pocket presence, footwork and decision making, Clausen brings the total package (minus the threat of running).

Clausen is ready to throw quickly by keeping the ball up near his ear always waiting to fire a pass away. What's more, he sells the play action fake very well and shows nice fluidity and form in various three, five, and seven step drops.

With regards to pure passing ability, Clausen is probably at the top of the list throughout college football. He has a very strong arm, incredible accuracy, shows nice touch on short routes and screens, as well as throwing one of the best deep balls in the country.

Although his delivery is somewhat long, the amount of zip and speed Clausen puts on the ball makes up for that fact. This enables him to set his feet and deliver accurate and hard thrown out routes and other patterns.

Perhaps most of all, Clausen's maturation as a leader and his seemingly changed attitude are night and day from when he rolled into the College Football Hall of Fame in a limo announcing his commitment to Notre Dame. It could be that Clausen was simply confident, not cocky, and in the past was not ready to assume the leadership role his position entails.

Today, he is getting praised for his toughness as he battles a season long turf toe injury, has been named a team captain, and has rallied Notre Dame in the last five games, bringing home three victories in the process all while being his teams MVP.

Summary

In my opinion, Jimmy Clausen will be coming back for his senior season at Notre Dame and he will most likely be the top quarterback taken in the 2011 NFL draft.

When it comes down to it, I believe Clausen still has too much to prove at the college level and leaving early would leave too much on the table, despite the luring of riches in the NFL.

A possible run at a title, real shot at the Heisman, all the returning starters, a chance to break school records and cement his legacy with the likes of Hornung, Theisman and Montana; and a possible epic showdown in his native southern California against the Trojans to conclude the 2010 season, is way too much fun and responsibility to pass up.

I don't think money will be as much of an issue since Clausen's family is said to be very well off, and you would think he would be confident enough that he will earn a big contract by playing well in the NFL anyway.

By all accounts, Clausen and Washington quarterback Jake Locker are probably the two best choices for the "franchise" label. It's no surprise that both are getting great reviews, as they are now the top two quarterbacks on Todd McShay's draft board despite both being juniors.

In my view, any NFL team probably couldn't go wrong with either guy. Clausen reminds me of a slightly less talented version of Dan Marino, while Locker seems to be a more athletic version of Ben Roethlisberger.

Will Clausen succeed in the NFL? We won't know for sure until years from now, but I like his chances. He will have to adjust his game to the speed of the NFL and make up for his lack of mobility, but he has the arm and smarts to do so.

I know there are a plethora of scouts drooling over his ability to stretch the field, throw accurately, and throw the deep ball with precision. But here's to hoping he stays one more season in an Irish uniform.

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