Brissett's size, escapability and arm strength invokes Ben Roethlesberger comparisons. Photo via CarolinaBlitz.com
The Patriots added nine new players to their roster this weekend via the NFL draft. Therefore, I'll be spending this week going over college film to get a closer look at the new Patriots and what they might add to the roster. After starting with a look at top draft pick Cyrus Jones, I'm shifting over to the offense today and taking a look at the newest quarterback on the roster: Jacoby Brissett. Given that I'm evaluating his projection at the NFL level, I decided to focus on his perfomance against top notch competition, leading me to watch his tapes against Clemson, Florida State and Mississippi State. All game film is courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com
Moose with mobility
The first thing that stands out with Brissett on film is his imposing size. At 6'4" and 231 pounds, Brissett is massive for a quarterback. The two names that immediately popped to my mind were Ben Roethlesberger and Dante Culpepper as, like those aforementioned two, Brissett is big and strong enough to get throws off even with defenders draped around him.
Pure size is a good attribute (it certainly helped him withstand a great deal of punishment in the tapes I watched), but Brissett combines it with a degree of mobility that makes him difficult to defend. He lacks the speed to break big plays on the ground, but showed a knack for creating positive plays with he legs, be it by extending the play or on designed quarterback keepers.
Brissett found himself under heavy pressure for most of the three games I watched and, despite taking plenty of unavoidable sacks, he displayed an uncanny knack for making defenders miss and extending plays. He almost always made the first man miss when under pressure on the tape I watched, but often got corralled due to his protection completely breaking down. A good example of this comes at the 8:53 mark of the Clemson game, where Brissett spins his way out of one tackle and ducks his way out of the next two tackle attempts only to be brought down by the fourth Tigers defender to get a shot at him.
While there were plenty of times where Brissett impressively made defenders miss only to get sacked, there were also a number of Roethlesberger-esque escapes to extend the play. This play against Clemson serves as a great example. On 3rd & 18, Brissett senses backside pressure and escapes the pocket, stiff arms the pursuing linebacker to the ground and then delivers a strike across his body to convert the first down despite the aforementioned linebacker (Giants fourth round pick BJ Goodson) grabbing at his legs.
That play was merely the most spectacular of many highlight reel plays Brissett made despite facing heavy pressure. The 3:18 mark of the Mississippi State game sees him step up to avoid interior pressure and evade one tackle attempt before finding open receiver on the scramble drill and taking a big hit to deliver an accurate ball for the first down. At 0:11 in the Clemson tape, he steps up to make a free rusher off the edge miss, is forced to cut back into a waiting defender due to interior pressure and fights off the hit just long enough to get off a checkdown to his running back. At 8:04 in the same game, he makes a free blitzer from the secondary miss, takes off outside the pocket, once again stiff arms poor Goodson to the ground, and then riffles a prayer to the end zone that falls just incomplete despite two more Tiger defenders bearing down on him.
While Brissett uses his legs well to elude defenders and extend plays, he also poses a threat as a runner. He doesn't have blazing speed, but is athletic enough to take advantage when the defense gives him a rushing lane. His sneaky elusiveness follows him to the open field, where he has a knack for using subtle fakes and well-timed cut backs to maximize his yardage. He also finishes his runs with authority and, while his toughness on the field is obvious, Patriots coaches will likely try to discourage his tendency to seek out contact.
In fact, Brissett was a bit over-reliant on his legs in college. Some of that was by design, as the Wolfpack offense included some option concepts and plenty of designed QB keepers (see his rushing touchdown on an option play at the 0:20 mark of his Clemson film), but Brissett developed a bad habit of ducking down at times in the face of pressure and running right up middle, often into the waiting arms of interior defenders. Mistakes like that (which occurred multiple times through these three games) are correctable, but an example of the learning curve Brissett faces as he takes his game to the next level.
While Brissett's size and escapability are clearly a long-term asset, there were times when his tendency to extend the play bit him in college. He got away with a few dangerous attempts to throw it away while getting hit, but not the throw that opens his tape against Mississippi State. On what appears to be a busted play, Brissett gets hit almost immediately when he attempts to roll out on a bootleg and, instead of taking the sack, heaves an inaccurate, last-years-Peyton-Manning-esque duck that gets picked off by a waiting defender. Plays like that are inexcusable at the NFL level and will keep him glued to the bench until he eliminates those unnecessary risks from his game.
Brissett's size comes in handy in short yardage situations. At times, the Wolfpack used him essentially as their goal line back, letting him use his big body to push the pile on designed QB draws and sneaks. At the 4:08 mark of the FSU game, he pushes his way into the end zone on a sneak from over a yard out. At the 7:59 mark vs Mississippi State, he keeps it, makes one defender miss with a crafty cutback and drags the second one three yards into the end zone.
Another way Brissett's mobility shows up on film is his ability to throw on the run. The Wolfpack rolled him out on designed bootlegs plenty, partly to take advantage of his athleticism and partly to help mask their struggles protecting him. Brissett was sometimes too eager to take off with his legs rather than waiting for his receivers to uncover in college, but his accuracy was generally pretty good and occasionally great when throwing on the run. For example, check out the 1:27 mark against FSU, as he rolls out to his right and delivers a dart on the move to an open receiver for the first down. Power arm
Another trait that jumps out at you in Brissett's tape is his arm strength. The Wolfpack offense called for plenty of throws to the sidelines and deep outs, longer throws that require plenty of zip on the ball to complete. Brissett excelled at those throws, displaying above average arm strength even for the NFL level. His film is littered with examples, but one standout throw comes at the 6:13 mark of the FSU game. Facing third & 11, Brissett shows excellent patience in the pocket, calmly waiting for his routes to develop before absolutely ripping a lazer over the middle for a first down conversion. There are a number of NFL starters incapable of making that throw.
Unlike many strong-armed quarterbacks, Brissett has some sense regarding when to put some extra mustard on the ball and when to use more touch. While still best when asked to throw it on a rope, there are some nice touch passes on all of his tapes. One such example comes at the 7:09 mark against FSU, where he rolls out to his right and, despite having to retreat due to oncoming pressure, manages to arc in an anticipatory throw to a location where only his tight end can make a play on it. He's rewarded, as the tight end makes a spectacular diving catch to convert a first down.
Brissett's arm was a little too strong for his own good at times. While he did an overall fantastic job of avoiding interceptions last season (his total of six is remarkably low for the amount of pressure he faced), there were times on film when his trust in his arm got him into trouble. He's fortunate to avoid an interception at the 5:00 mark against Clemson, where he tries to squeeze in a sideline throw against triple coverage. He does get picked off at the 2:48 mark against Mississippi State after a similarly poor decision to try to force a ball into a zone occupied by multiple defenders (his mental mistake there is exacerbated by a poor, underthrown ball).
While those occasional mental brain-farts can be costly, Brissett's overall management of the game and decision making was pretty good on film, especially when evaluating it in the context of the pressure he was under. His 43-11 touchdown/interception ratio over the past two seasons as a starter certainly illustrates that. His completion percentage (59.8% as a starter with the Wolfpack) was clearly hurt by a high number of pressure induced throwaways, often after impressive individual efforts just to gain enough space to wisely manage a heave out of bounds.
Furthermore, there were a number of deep passes that he overthrew, seemingly preferring the slighter chance of his receiver catching up to throw over a contested play and potential interception. Per NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, Brissett only completed 23.1% of his attempts of 21+ yards, a frustrating number given he flashes arm talent to make deep throws like the dime he drops at 9:36 of the Mississippi State game (the fact that his receiver fails to hold onto the ball shouldn't diminish how great of a throw he makes there).
Fortunately for Brissett, the deep ball has never been a major part of New England's offense. In fact, Tom Brady was statistically one of the league's worst deep ball passers for years before showing recent improvement.
To recap, Brissett has a canon, but is a bit of anomaly from the stereotypical "big armed passer". Instead of using his howitzer to chuck it deep, Brissett's arm strength is best utilized riffling intermediate passes into tight windows. When he sets his feet and displays proper mechanics, he's capable of delivering the ball into windows that many other pro quarterbacks can't. "He can make all the throws" has become a scouting cliche at this point, but it's one that applies to Brissett. Finally, while Brissett has the arm to get away with his willingness chuck the ball into tight windows in the short and intermediate zones, his approach becomes dramatically less aggressive on lower percentage, downfield throws, where he's often content to essentially throw it away rather than give the defensive back a chance to make a play.
I wouldn't go as far as calling Brissett an inaccurate quarterback. The majority of his throws are located well and give his receiver a chance to make a play, particularly when afforded the luxury of a clean pocket. Here's one more fantastic example of that, this one coming from a valiant comeback attempt in the Clemson game.
However, calling his accuracy inconsistent is a fair and valid criticism of his game. I've already covered his tendency to overthrow the deep ball, and how some of that can be attributed to a turnover averse approach. However, he also has a tendency to occasionally underthrow and one-hop his attempts to the sideline. While the velocity on such throws (3:10 in the Mississippi State game is a good example of this problem) rarely suffers, scouts believe his over the top delivery occasionally gets out of whack and sends the ball on a downward trajectory. It's a technique issue which will likely be a focal point of his development during what should be (knock on wood) essentially a redshirt year for him as the third stringer.
In addition to that, Brissett's film suggests that he could use a year to get acclimated to the intensified speed and complexity of the pro game. While he generally made good decisions with the ball, there were times when Brissett appeared to be a little mechanical and slow with his progressions. A good example comes at the 0:05 mark against Clemson, when the defender gets a good jump on a throw telegraphed by Brissett staring down the receiver and breaks it up. He also had moments where he failed to detect looming blitz threats, leading to plays that were doomed from the start. NC State's offense had pro concepts in it, but was still relatively simple, especially compared with the notoriously demanding New England playbook. It's worth wondering if NC State's inability to protect him might have stunted his mental development somewhat, as he spent more time relying on his physical talent to escape rushers than dissecting the defense from the pocket.
That's certainly not to say that Brissett isn't capable of continual improvement in these areas. He comes lauded by none other than the notoriously hard-to-impress Bill Parcells for his dedication and approach to his craft. If he fails to develop, it's hard to believe it will be from lack of effort. Furthermore, Brissett's tape flashes his capabilities of doing all of these things: making progressions, reading defenses, showing good anticipation and awareness, and delivering the ball accurately. It's a matter of being able to do so at a higher and more consistent level now. The physical tools are clearly there, and he'll have the opportunity to fine tune his flaws while learning from some of the best at their craft in Belichick, Josh McDaniels and, of course, Tom Brady. Given the upside his physical talent brings and the importance of the quarterback position, his selection appears to me to be a worthwhile roll of the dice.