Dare We Dream Of Rome (Odunze)?

| April 24th, 2024

Let me be honest with you — I haven’t allowed myself to think about Ryan Poles drafting any of the ‘Big 3’ Wide Receivers (Marvin Harrison Jr, Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze) for two reasons:

  1. It’s seemed more and more likely over time that all three of those WRs will be drafted by #8 (with Atlanta trading out of their pick and allowing a WR-needy team to jump Chicago)
  2. If one of those WRs did fall to 9, it’s seemed like an obvious Ryan Poles move to subsequently dangle that 3rd WR as a trade chip for the WR-needy team described in Atlanta’s deal above, giving Ryan Poles a few more picks in the 2024 draft.

This logic made sense to me for a long time. But a few things happened yesterday that have me wondering if Ryan Poles has an explosive move planned for mid-Thursday night.

First off, when asked about whether Ryan Poles felt any need to add picks in this draft he had this to say:

Is that gamesmanship? Could be, but Ryan Poles has a habit of being unusually honest with the media in open sessions. I’ll never forget standing at Poles’ presser at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine where he all but told the media that he wanted to trade #1 overall before the start of Free Agency. Within days, the pick had been dealt.

But Poles (potentially) sticking at #9 doesn’t automatically signal interest in Odunze being the pick. The Bears could easily stick at #9 and take any of the popular pass-rushers on the board — names like Byron Murphy, Jared Verse, Dallas Turner come to mind.

But search presumed #1 Overall Pick Caleb Williams’ social media, and you’ll find a budding relationship blooming with he and Rome Odunze — is this a smoke screen? Or a smoke signal? You tell me.

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Eat Your Vegetables, Draft Jared Verse

| April 22nd, 2024

Florida State EDGE rusher Jared Verse is as safe as safe picks get — he’s strong as an ox, plays the run & pass effectively, and at 23 years old he likely doesn’t have much untapped potential left in his game. What you see is what you get.

The numbers back up Verse’s on-field production — between Verse, Dallas Turner, and Laiatu Latu, Verse posted the clear best Run Stop Rate while still posting a Pass Rush Win Rate in-line with the best names in the draft. With Verse, versatility is the name of the game.

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Jayden Daniels Looks Hauntingly Familiar

| April 16th, 2024

I’m happy to host this piece by Kyle Morris, a football statistician and a personal friend of mine, as he explores the dangerous details within Jayden Daniels’ advanced scouting profile.

If you’re a football fan who loves data, this is the article for you. If you aren’t a football fan who loves data, this article is still well worth your time — the insights held within it are core in discussing the ever-raging Bears’ QB debate, and Kyle does a great job numerically illustrating what I think the tape shows about each QB mentioned.

Kyle also has a podcast, which I’ll link right here. Enjoy the article, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

The NFL is a copycat league — each year the best teams’ philosophies and schemes are copied by desperate imitators. This desire to imitate leaks into personnel as well, where teams will use player comparisons (also known as “comps”) as a shorthand for talking peers into (or out of) college prospects each year within the NFL Draft cycle. Throw an Aaron Rodgers “comp” on Zach Wilson and people salivate — after all, it’s easy to get excited when you envision Aaron Rodgers playing for your team.

But has Zach Wilson been Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Of course not, because these comps can often become misleading — one player might resemble another player physically, but have a completely different playstyle. Two players might have the same weakness, but may compensate for it in different ways. Stretch your comps too far and you run the risk of disaster, ultimately committing to a prospect based on who you believe he might be without an accurate assessment of who he actually is. 

One of the more popular comps in this year’s NFL draft class is that LSU’s Jayden Daniels is the next Lamar Jackson. On the one hand I consider this progress as we’re not that far from Lamar Jackson entering his own NFL draft derided as a one trick pony whom some executives suggested should move to wide receiver. Even a year ago Lamar’s contract demands were deemed excessive and many felt he wasn’t “quarterback-y” enough to sustain his success over the terms of that contract. The fact that Lamar is now a two-time MVP winner that’s inspiring teams to turn over every stone looking for the next iteration of him is undoubtedly progress for the game and NFL front offices.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Jayden Daniels is the next Lamar Jackson. 

Sure, there are superficial similarities between the two — no one can deny that Jayden is an electric runner, managing almost 4,000 rushing yardss in his (excessively long) college career (I’m using PFF rushing data, which does not do the archaic NCAA method of removing sack yardage from a player’s rushing total). Both are Heisman Trophy winners. Sadly, that’s about where the resemblance ends.

Let’s start with the rushing, since that’s clearly what drives this comp for most — to put it simply, we have never seen any quarterback in history run the ball like Lamar Jackson has. During his college career Lamar Jackson averaged 126 Yards Per Game on the ground and 8.6 Yards Per Carry. Those numbers are simply preposterous. Daniels has averaged 71.9 Yards Per Game and 7.5 Yards Per Carry. Those numbers are very good, in fact those numbers rank Jayden 5th in Rushing Yards Per Game out of 114 drafted or draft-eligible QBs.

However, the gap between Jayden at #5 and Lamar at #1 is greater than the gap between Jayden and former Purdue quarterback David Blough, who is 71st on the list. Daniels is in the territory of guys like Josh Dobbs, Trey Lance, and Marcus Mariota — all guys who can certainly be an asset for an NFL offense on the ground, but don’t even come close to affecting defenses to the extent of Lamar Jackson. 

More concerning to me than the difference in their raw production on the ground, however, is the difference between the two’s running styles. Lamar is a notorious home run hitter, his breakaway speed and ability to outrun NFL defenders with sub 4.3 speed has allowed him to remain healthy as he’ll often avoid the crushing blows that looming linebackers would love to subject him to. In college, Lamar’s Breakaway Run% (percentage of rushing attempts that went at least 15 yards) was 42.3%. For Jayden Daniels, that mark was just 17.7%. Jalen Hurts, another largely successful NFL running QB, managed a Breakaway Run % over 30%.

Hurts and Lamar also averaged fewer Yards After Contact than Daniels, who averaged over 4 Yards After Contact per carry (Lamar was at 3.9 and Hurts was just 2.9). At first glance Daniels’ willingness to fight for yards after contact is an admirable trait, but the difference in Yards After Contact and Breakaway Run % tells is that Daniels is taking hits significantly more often when he runs than Lamar and Hurts, and that’s not a recipe for NFL longevity. This is especially concerning when you consider that Daniels has a slight frame with considerably less mass to absorb those hits compared to Hurts and Lamar. And when you watch Daniel’s tape, to borrow from The Athletic’s Nate Tice, you’ll see Daniels take jaw-dropping hits that resemble Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame. 

Once you move beyond rushing statistics and into throwing the football, the difference in playstyle between Daniels, Lamar, and Hurts is even more drastic. Lamar’s much lambasted “inaccuracy” in college was largely a function of his extreme aggressiveness — Lamar had a career ADOT (Average Depth of Target, i.e. how many yards in the air the ball traveled on a per throw basis) of 11.9 yards, 4th highest of the 114 QBs mentioned before. Daniels was much, much more conservative, with a career ADOT of 9.1 yards ranking 76th.

Lamar also loved to pound the intermediate and deep middle of the field, with 24.5% of his non-screen passing attempts going between the hashmarks at a depth of at least 10 yards down the field, the 11th highest rate of any of the first or second-round QBs taken since 2015 along with the presumed top 5 of this year’s QB class. Jayden Daniels targeted the same area of the field just 18.1% of the time in his career, the 5th lowest rate among QBs in that group, above only Christian Hackenberg, Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, and Justin Fields. Attacking the middle of the field is a vital skill for almost any successful NFL passers, as that is where defenses are often most vulnerable and where big chunk plays are available. Middle of the field passing requires throwing with anticipation and without hesitation, however, and many more conservative passers are unwilling to navigate that heavily-trafficked area. In that regard, it’s hard to find two players more dissimilar in terms of aggression than Lamar and Daniels.

So if Jayden Daniels isn’t Lamar, is he someone else? While no two players are exactly alike, there are a few players I think resemble Daniels more closely than Lamar, and neither comp is probably what Daniels’ fans (of which there seem to be far more than I expected in the league) want to hear. 

One major warning sign with Daniels is that when under pressure in the pocket throughout his college career, Daniels primarily does two things — he either either takes a sack or he takes off running. Often, the latter has led directly to the former.

Pressure to Sack Rate, a measurement of how often a QB turns pressures into sacks, has become of the most important & stable statistics for college prospects over the last few years. Generally QBs want to keep this number under 20% in college, as there are very few successful NFL passers who survive long while operating above that mark. As I mentioned, this stat is very stable: whatever a guy does in this department in college is very unlikely to improve in the NFL (though it may get worse). Daniels pressure to sack rate for his career is 24.5%, which is 108th out of the aforementioned 114 QBs in our data set. The list of passers in his neighborhood is not particularly encouraging:

While many of the QBs in this area were late round picks who haven’t received significant NFL playing time, the ones who have played have all been below average starters or worse so far in limited action, and all of them have taken an above-average amount of sacks. Given everything we know about Pressure to Sack Rate and history, it is almost certain that Daniels will struggle with taking sacks at the next level. 

On plays where he doesn’t get sacked, Daniels primary response to pressure is to scramble. Daniels in his career scrambled on 25% of his pressured dropbacks, tied for the highest of any would-be first or second round pick since 2014 with Trey Lance, who had almost 1500 fewer career dropbacks than Daniels, so Daniels had the highest number of total scrambles overall by far. Scrambling in response to pressure is not an inherently bad thing for a runner of Daniels’ ability, as Lamar Jackson (17.2%) and Jalen Hurts (21.1%), and Kyler Murray (16.1%) are successful NFL QBs with top 10 Pressured Scramble Rates in that time, but Daniels scrambling at a significantly higher rate than those three (and even more than Justin Fields (19%)) while being as noted as a less elusive runner opens him up to increased hits from defenders. 

While scrambling under pressure may not always be a problem (though I strongly suspect scrambling more often than Lamar Jackson, the greatest scrambler in history, is a problem), scrambling from clean pockets is a much more troublesome sign. Unfortunately Daniels has the highest clean pocket scramble rate of any prospect I’ve studied, taking off running without being pressured on almost 1 out of every 10 dropbacks, at 9.4%. Jalen Hurts (9.1%), Jacoby Brissett (8.5%) and Justin Fields (8.2%) are the only prospects to even hit 8% in that department, and while Hurts has largely mastered that impulse behind an outstanding Eagles offensive line in his career, Brissett and Fields have both run themselves into trouble at a fair clip. Scrambling from a clean pocket in order to create when receivers aren’t coming open downfield isn’t an inherently bad trait, many of the successful mobile QBs in recent memory did so about 5% of the time on average in college, but scrambling almost 10% of the time from a clean pocket is almost certainly the result of a QB growing impatient or skittish within structure and breaking the play before allowing it to develop. 

Combine the Scramble Rate with the Pressure to Sack Rate and you find that Daniels only attempted a pass on just 50.6% of his pressured dropbacks (and that number actually fell to 48.1% in his final season). I was only able to find six college QBs since 2014 that were drafted in the first three rounds or received significant NFL playing time who attempted a pass under pressure less than 60% of the time: Sam Howell, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Jayden Daniels, Hendon Hooker, and Malik Willis. While all of these quarterbacks are relatively early in their playing career (and Hooker has yet to see the field at all), those that have played thus far have taken an obscene number of sacks, suffered injuries from countless hits, or both thus far in the NFL.

Willis’ insane sack rate in limited playing time is largely why Tennessee immediately pivoted to drafting Will Levis as their QB of the future and why Levis won the job over Willis when Ryan Tannehill went down this year. Frustration with sacks and a refusal to throw from the pocket on time led Kyle Shanahan to abandon the Trey Lance project despite the enormous price the 49ers paid to acquire him. Fields’ poor pocket presence and high sack rate is a large part of why the Bears moved on this spring. Sam Howell has taken 68 sacks in just 18 career starts. This is not a group that can be associated with anything resembling acceptable pocket presence.

Have you figured out the mystery Daniels comp yet I’m referring to? If you’ve been paying close attention you’ve seen his name pop up a few times. You’re probably very, very familiar with him. I’m talking about Justin Fields. 

Both Daniels (24.5%) and Fields (23.6%) had historically high Pressure to Sack Rates in college. Both Daniels (18.1%) and Fields (17.7%) targeted the intermediate/deep MOF at a well below average rate. Both Daniels (50.6%) and Fields (57.4%) attempted passes at a well bellow average clip when pressured, preferring to scramble (or take sacks). Both Daniels (9.4%) and Fields (8.2%) scrambled almost twice as often as an average first or second round QB from a clean pocket. The similarities are quite eerie, and yet there’s one more comp that I think maybe fits Daniels even better. 

The one area in which Daniels and Fields are very different is their level of aggression downfield — Justin Fields in college ranked 7th in career ADOT out of 114 QBs at 11.6 yards. He went deep on 18.8% of his college attempts, 6th most of any first or second round QB in that timeframe. In total, 42.7% of Fields college passing attempts went beyond 10 air yards, 10th most of the first/second round group. Daniels however went deep just 13.9% of the time in his career, 7th lowest of the group, and his total % of 10+ air yard attempts was just 35%, also 7th lowest.

Despite Daniels’ pretty deep passing statistics this year in his 5th year breakout campaign, the conservative deep passing approach we’ve seen from him throughout his career likely says more about his NFL potential. Guys who aren’t willing to frequently push the ball downfield in college, instead waiting for their receivers to cleanly win outside before pulling the trigger, are unlikely to throw deep a lot in the NFL where 1 on 1 matchups outside are much harder to win and the occasional risk is necessary. The list of highly drafted QBs who went deep as rarely in their careers as Daniels is not a pretty one: 

Now you might see that Patrick Mahomes’ name is on one of those lists and decide to rely on the outlier for hope. I can’t stop you, but I’d strongly argue that if you think Daniels and Mahomes have any tools in common or that Mahomes’ situation at Texas Tech resembled anything like what Daniels has enjoyed during his career, I think you are being dangerously generous. What should concern you is every other name on those lists, and most importantly the presence of Marcus Mariota. 

Mariota, like Fields, appears on basically every list with Daniels. He scrambled from a clean pocket at an above average rate (though not as often as Daniels and Fields), scrambled at an above average rate overall (again not quite as often as Daniels and Fields), targeted MOF less often than those two, and like Daniels was an overly conservative deep passer. His NFL career is a tale of maddening inconsistency as he looked like a surefire star early on only to see his career disintegrate under a parade of turn downs, hits, sacks, fumbles, and injuries. A QB who takes too many sacks and won’t take chunk plays over the middle of the field but also won’t compensate by pushing the ball vertically is just not a very valuable NFL starter, unfortunately. 

In the end, comps in the NFL Draft are a valuable tool — there are only so many ways to operate at the quarterback position and it is likely we have seen similar versions of players before. It’s important however that these comps be grounded in data and reality, and when you do so it’s obvious that we have seen players like Jayden Daniels before, just not in the form of a guy like the reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. Daniels slots much more comfortably into the archetype established by guys like Marcus Mariota and Justin Fields, and if you’re not comfortable with the likelihood of ending up with the next version of those guys, I’d say Jayden Daniels may not be the top 10 QB pick for you. 

As mentioned above, check out Kyle’s podcast! Here’s his episode on Jayden Daniels — enjoy!

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