John Skelton: What Do the Arizona Cardinals Have in the QB?
With a Christmas day win against the Cowboys, John Skelton has now tied Derek Anderson as the Cardinals' winningest quarterback of 2010.
His second win came in just his third NFL start, and it also saw him throw his first career NFL touchdown, a 74-yard bomb to fellow rookie Andre Roberts.
In his four NFL games, and three starts, Skelton, a rookie out of Fordham, has passed for 570 yards with one TD and one interception.
With the quarterback picture in Arizona up in the air for 2011, Skelton now has just one more game, against San Francisco at Candlestick Park, to cement himself as a real prospect for next season and to demonstrate to the Cardinals brass that they need not seek out the services of a rookie QB in the first round of next year's draft.
For the Cardinals, they must now assess what they have in John Skelton and how quickly they can develop him into an NFL-calibre quarterback.
The Good: Big Arm Means Every Down Is Touchdown Territory
Going into the draft, John Skelton was known primarily for one thing—his big arm.
In his first two games he was not given much chance to demonstrate that.
However, as seen by his 74-yard touchdown to Andre Roberts against the Cowboys, his arm is every bit as big as we were led to believe.
Skelton found his fellow rookie Roberts in wide-open space and delivered an inch-perfect pass to his receiver, who caught it in stride.
This is something the Cardinals have not seen very much this season. Derek Anderson, who also came to the Cardinals reported to be a big passing quarterback, had not been able to demonstrate his ability to find players down the field and had consistently disappointed fans. All too often his long passes were far beyond the reach of his receivers
Rookie QB Max Hall's arm strength was never known for being particularly impressive, so the plays designed for him were always shorter routes.
In Skelton, the Cardinals appear to have found a passer who can deliver killer blows from anywhere on the field, which certainly increases Arizona's chances of being productive.
It keeps defenders on their toes, knowing that if they blitz and miss, Skelton can and will deliver a 50-plus-yard strike that could just go the distance.
The Good: Moving Through Progressions Increases Cardinals' Options
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One of the Cardinals' biggest problems this year has been the defence's ability to read them.
The Cardinals have, by necessity, been forced to lean heavily on their star receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, and when the defense knows when and where the passes are coming, picks are plentiful.
Derek Anderson and Max Hall both showed an inability to deviate from their primary target, and the majority of their turnovers came from their staring down their intended receiver.
Skelton has not been immune to this, and his pick against Carolina came from doing exactly that. However, generally, he has shown the ability to quickly read coverage and select the receiver most likely to make the catch. He has completed passes to 10 different players in his three games starting.
Skelton, sensibly, tends to lean on one player more heavily than others, making Fitzgerald his primary target in his first two games, and Andre Roberts on Christmas day, but does so to force defenders to stop them, not because he is unable to complete passes elsewhere.
Although the plays offered him have been somewhat limited compared to a true NFL playbook, Skelton has used this to his advantage, learning the progressions and spreading the ball around nicely.
The Good: Presence, Poise and Composure Means He Looks Like an NFL Starter
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They are often called the intangibles, those little things which make you look at one player and think, "He's got a great career ahead of him," and another and think, "I just can't quite see it."
You can't capture them in the combine, and they will never show up on a stat sheet, but whatever these things are, John Skelton has them in abundance.
He stands tall in the pocket, moves around well and generally makes good reads. He avoids defenders and completes passes on the run.
He has avoided sacks much better than any other Cardinals quarterback this season. He has also thrown just one pick in his three starts, and while he has fumbled the ball twice, he looks fairly sure-handed when he has the ball.
It's those things which made his teammates vote him captain during his last two years at Fordham.
There is something about John Skelton which allows you to look past the problems—and as you'll see, there are plenty of them—and believe in him and his ability to lead the team.
He is already winning the locker room to his cause.
"You know what? I really like his mentality," said star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald of Skelton. "He doesn't really show too much emotion. He doesn't get too high, too low, and he plays within himself. I like that about him. I see him as being successful and I'm going to do everything I can to help him."
Like I said, you can't quite put your finger on it, but there is something about Skelton which makes you believe in him.
Whatever it is, however, it's working.
Perhaps it's his willingness to put his body on the line for the cause, Skelton has certainly been unafraid of taking hits, and making them too, for the good of the team.
Perhaps it's his unselfish nature, which has seen him reluctant to take any credit for himself, or his hard-working, no-nonsense mentality, but whatever it is, Skelton feels like the sort of player who can lead the Cardinals for the foreseeable future.
The Bad: Completion Percentage Is Not Good
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Sitting at 2-1 in your first three games starting is nice. It's very easy to focus on that statistic above all else.
However, there is no getting around the fact that John Skelton has not completed a whole lot of passes.
In fact, on 101 attempts Skelton has completed just 46 of those passes, a 45.5 completion percentage, with a passer rating of 62.7.
Lets not kid ourselves.
No team can win too many games when your QB is completing less than 50 percent of his passes.
You simply cannot count on two or more pick-sixes every game.
All of the Cardinals quarterbacks have suffered this season, and it is not solely Skelton's fault.
Far too many good, catchable passes have been dropped by players who should know better—Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston have been responsible for more than their fair share of these. However, it is also not possible to entirely blame the receivers either.
A little too often, Skelton, Anderson and Hall have all thrown wayward passes.
While Skelton's passes are less dangerous than those thrown by Anderson, the fact remains that his passes are not always on the numbers. They are a little too often just a bit too far left, or right, for a receiver to catch in stride.
Too often receivers are forced to break their routes to chase down a ball which was not where they expected it to be, and that is a problem.
It is, of course, hard to call this a deal breaker. Skelton spent most of the season working out with the practise squad. The more time he spends with his corps of receivers, the more likely he is to learn the plays as they are supposed to be.
But it is something the Cardinals need to consider.
I have made my feelings well known. I think that the Cardinals should draft A.J. Green for next season, and I'm sure that will help Skelton's or any quarterback's numbers improve, but he needs to work on his accuracy if he is going to have a long career in the NFL.
The Bad: Limited Playbook Means Limited Options
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Many fans have wondered aloud why John Skelton wasn't started earlier.
He has led the team to a 2-1 record in the last three games, and the season could have been very different had he started three or four weeks prior.
However, coach Ken Whisenhunt has been in no doubt. Skelton lost out to Hall and Anderson not because of his skill, but because of his inability to learn the full, NFL-style playbook.
The difference between college and pro play-calling is a big step up, without a doubt. However, Skelton played college football at Fordham University, a school which is not considered a football powerhouse by anyone's standards.
For Skelton the step was bigger than for most—so much so, in fact, that undrafted free agent Max Hall overtook him in preseason, almost solely because of Skelton's struggles learning the plays.
Now Skelton has been thrust onto the big stage, he has performed well.
But he has done so against some of the league's worst teams, using a playbook which is almost unrecognisable compared to that of most pro football teams.
This poses a real problem for Coach Whisenhunt, as a limited playbook also limits a team's ability to succeed against the better teams in the league. It is also a problem which only gets worse over time.
The more games they play with a small playbook, and the more game film opponents have to study, the more they are able to predict the Cardinals' moves.
Skelton needs to be able to learn a much bigger playbook over the summer and must enter training camp with at least two-thirds of the Cardinals' plays memorised if he is to have a chance of succeeding long-term at this level.
The Ugly: Inconsistent Spirals and Unusual Throwing Action
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One thing that many fans, coaches and experts have noted is that John Skelton has a decidedly unusual throwing motion.
His spiral is not particularly tight, and his passes tend to wobble in flight. This has never hurt his ability to deliver quick, long passes, but it may have contributed to the fact that his passes are not the most catchable.
It may have nothing to do with it, and he certainly would not be the first successful quarterback to forge a successful career in spite of not throwing the ball in an orthodox way; take Kurt Warner, for example.
However, with John Skelton, you do tend to look at his throwing motion and feel that it is a learned, bad habit that, if corrected, would make him an even more potent passer.
I may be wrong, but it's hard not to look at his passes and think that, because he's been successful enough to this point, no one has ever pulled him up on it and corrected his fundamentals.
The thing is, I've watched it a lot, and I can't really put my finger on what about his throw is odd, only that something about it looks a bit weird, and it may well be hurting his ability to excel and hurting his receivers' ability to catch the ball.
Then again, maybe it's not.
Of course, if he is named starter or even primary backup, Skelton will spend a lot of time with the Cardinals coaching staff, and they will decide if this is something which needs correcting or not. However, the simple fact of the matter is, right now at least, he certainly doesn't throw the prettiest passes.
Maybe that's okay. I'd certainly take another prolific, if unorthodox passer, over someone with a nice, tight spiral who can't complete a pass.
Whatever the case, his passes are, for want of a better word, ugly.