Kyle Lauletta May Be the Real Leader of This Year's NFL Draft Quarterback Class

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 3, 2018

South Squad Kyle Lauletta, of Richmond, during the South's team practice Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Mobile, Ala., for Saturday's Senior Bowl NCAA college football game. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room: Kyle Lauletta is an FCS phenom and offseason all-star whose resume looks a lot like Jimmy Garoppolo's if you don't dig too far. He played lacrosse in addition to football in high school. Both his father (a quarterback) and uncle (a punter) played at Navy, where Bill Belichick's father, Steve Belichick, served as a scout and assistant coach.

Lacrosse? Navy ties? Garoppolo similarities? We might as well pencil Lauletta in as a Patriots draft pick and heir apparent to Tom Brady, right?

Lauletta won't turn that opportunity down by any means. But he isn't buying the narrative, either.

"It's easy to write," Lauletta says. "And sure, it looks good on paper. And it makes some sense: There's a lot of connections there.

"But who knows if Bill Belichick is even considering me? Maybe he thinks I'm no good."

Belichick almost certainly does not think that the three-year Richmond starter and Senior Bowl MVP stinks. But the Patriots head coach hasn't pinched Lauletta's cheeks like some long-lost nephew this offseason. And it isn't as though Lauletta grew up hearing old Belichick stories around the Thanksgiving table.

"I didn't even know about the whole connection until recently," he says.

Lauletta's family didn't push him toward the U.S. Naval Academy, especially after he established himself as a pro-style quarterback in high school.

"I am not a triple-option quarterback," he says.

He was raised with some military discipline, but none of the coming-of-age novel stuff.

"Drop and give me 20? No, no, no," he jokes. "My parents were very strict and no-nonsense. They made sure I had my head on straight."

Football was always Lauletta's first passion, but a lacrosse injury hurt his power-conference stock. A PCL tear in his junior year forced him to attend major-program throwing camps wearing a knee brace. That shunted him into the low-priority group of recruits, limiting his options to some smaller FBS programs and top FCS contenders like Richmond.

But what happened after Lauletta reached Richmond should interest the other 31 NFL teams as much as it rings all of the Belichick bells.

Kyle Lauletta completed 63.5 percent of his passes and threw for 73 touchdowns in his four years at Richmond.
Kyle Lauletta completed 63.5 percent of his passes and threw for 73 touchdowns in his four years at Richmond.Chet Strange/Getty Images

Lauletta chose Richmond because he wanted to double major while playing football, a brutal feat to accomplish at an FCS program. Specifically, Lauletta was intrigued by Richmond's School of Leadership Studies, which sounds like a fancy code name for watered-down management classes for athletes. But that isn't the case.

"Students use the academic lenses of anthropology, economics, history, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, and religion to examine the worthwhile topic of leadership and explore fundamental questions about who we are, how we live together, and how we influence the course of history," according to the program's website.

If that sounds hardcore, you should hear Lauletta describe the deep-dive research projects he engaged in when he wasn't busy leading the Spiders on the football field. 

"They teach people how to be influential," he says.

The coursework is rigorous and collaborative, covering everything from ethics and data analysis to diversity studies. The leadership program is also full of aspiring leaders, so when it's time to assemble teams for collaborative projects, rooms full of strong personalities must find ways to subsume egos and work together.

"The leadership school is full of extroverted, confident people who aren't afraid to speak up, give their opinions, collaborate," Lauletta says.

That sounds like an NFL locker room: Dozens of alphas, all of whom are used to being a dominant voice in through high school and college, are suddenly thrust together to achieve a common goal. Majoring in leadership sounds like the ultimate off-field training for an NFL quarterback prospect who soon may command a corps of hardened veterans.

If nothing else, Lauletta is never at a loss when teams ask him about his leadership style.

"What we learned at the Leadership School is that you're not supposed to have a specific style," he says. "The best leaders tailor their message to who they are dealing with.

"I told teams I don't have one particular style. I'm gonna change the way I handle these people based on what motivates them and who they are."

Such an answer might frighten some old-school coaches. But forward-thinking coaches are bound to dig Lauletta's research-driven approach to leadership. Coaches like Belichick, for example.

Hold on. We said we weren't doing that.

At the Senior Bowl, Lauletta threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns, impressing NFL scouts and coaches in attendance.
At the Senior Bowl, Lauletta threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns, impressing NFL scouts and coaches in attendance.Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Even the most advanced leadership curriculum on earth won't make Lauletta an NFL quarterback. The 6'3", 215-pounder doesn't have Josh Allen's howitzer arm, the major-program spit-polish of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen or the Heisman highlights and jaw-dropping stats of Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson.

But Lauletta proved he could handle NFL-caliber competition at the Senior Bowl, throwing three touchdowns during the game after a week of outshining other quarterback prospects (including Allen and Mayfield) on the practice field.

Lauletta, who can describe leadership-program research projects in precise detail months after the fact, can still remember the exact play calls and read progressions for his Senior Bowl touchdowns.

His 75-yard bomb to D.J. Chark came on a play called Spread Right Gully Pass F-Bow.

"That was an alert throw that we had not thrown in practice all week," Lauletta recalls. "It just popped."

Lauletta's red zone-strike to Deon Yelderafter he was forced to look off his primary read and escape from a pass-rusher—was Gun Fork Left Flank, 73 F Raffle Gotti, Alert Aruba. 

"It's like a snag concept," he said. "That was the third read. The tight end bodied him up and boxed him out, so I bought a little time and fired it in there."

Those weren't Richmond plays that Lauletta called in the huddle for three years. They were Bill O'Brien Texans plays he had to absorb and execute after four days of practice.

"I love that offense," Lauletta says. "It was a blast to learn from him."

You know what other team runs Bill O'Brien's style of offense? The Patriots.

OK, that's the last one. Promise!

Lauletta is trapped behind the major-program superstars in this year's quarterback conversation, but that isn't a new experience for him. He was relegated to third-string quarterback in middle school, so he switched to running back and linebacker to get on the field.

"Obviously, I thought I was better than them," Lauletta says. "But what are you going to do? It still pisses me off a little bit that I was third string."

At Downingtown High School East, Lauletta had to wait his turn at quarterback behind his older brother. Then came the knee injury and the tepid response from colleges. Even Richmond asked him to try out twice, making him compete head-to-head with another recruit before it offered him a scholarship.

"My whole life, people have been telling me, 'You can't do it,'" he says. "So it's been very gratifying proving people wrong."

Lauletta is a likely Day 2 draft selection who will begin his career on an NFL bench. But it takes a different set of skills to succeed as a prospect who isn't getting fast-tracked into a starting role.

Second-tier prospects don't succeed by displaying a rocket armif they had one, they wouldn't be second-tier prospects. Instead, they must master the playbook quickly, make sound decisions and accurate throws on the practice field and earn the confidence and respect of teammates.

Lauletta, the son of a backup quarterback turned naval commander, majored in how to lead leaders and put those skills into practice at the Senior Bowl. He's exactly the kind of quarterback who eventually rises through the ranks to outperform the guys with big arms and big reputations.

Every team is looking for a quarterback like that. Not just the Patriots.

    

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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