Thanks to some free time and access to all the preseason games, I observed the four first round rookie QBs -- Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden -- in their first ever NFL appearances. Remember, it's limited action in a meaningless game and a lot can change when real bullets start flying. Here is my immediate take:
Andrew Luck: This guy is the real deal. The first thing that strikes the viewer is how composed he is. Right off the bat, you can tell he has tremendous football IQ. The thing that impressed me the most was how well he moved within the pocket. His offensive line did not do a very good job protecting him, but it did not faze him at all. He knew when to step up, when to sidestep, and when to abandon the pocket, all with keeping his eyes down the field. Luck also displayed the ability to go through his progressions. He looked like a seasoned veteran out there.
As far as physical tools go, he is pretty thickly built. Unless Luck has a low pain threshold, he will end up being the most durable of all the rookie QBs. For such a big guy, he moves pretty easily and displayed that on a scramble. In terms of spinning the ball, I saw a very accurate QB. Nearly every incompletion was a drop or a throwaway when under duress. I cannot remember one bad ball thrown. While he probably has the weakest arm of the four QBs, I would not say that it limits him. Furthermore, I think he displays such excellent touch on the ball when necessary and that can make it falsely appear that he lacks arm strength. Overall, I would say he has average arm strength, but his vastly superior quarterback IQ will always compensate for it.
Most Impressive Play: 1st & 10 at the Rams 33 yard line with 4:08 remaining in the second quarter. With WR Quan Cosby lined up in the slot, Luck finds Cosby streaking down the seam for a 32 yard gain. The inside linebacker is in trail coverage with deep safeties over the top. Luck puts the absolute perfect amount of touch on the ball, and places it on Cosby's back shoulder, purposely on the opposite side of the trailing LB. The ball travels 28 yards in the air and sets the Colts up at the goal line.
In terms of the offensive structure, he fits Shanahan's scheme like a glove. The Redskins were starting three replacement linemen in the game, so they weren't able to really establish the run when Griffin was in the game. However, you can tell that running the stretch zone plays will open up a lot of bootleg opportunities.
When asked to pass, Griffin was able to operate from under center and in shotgun. I thought he was able to go through his progressions well and hit a secondary receiver in stride. Consequently, he was able to hit a few intermediate passes to Pierre Garcon, who appears to be RGIII's top target this year. I did not see one poorly thrown ball.
While the offensive line was poor in run blocking, they were very effective in protection. That being said, I wish they weren't because I was not able to gauge his pocket presence. Maybe it was the design of some quick throws or his ability to get rid of the ball in time, but I did not see one instance where he was necessitated to step up or to the side while in the pocket. Additionally, the good protection also prevented me from seeing his running ability. Consider me impressed overall, but I would give an "Incomplete" grade for his pocket presence.
Most Impressive Play: 1st & 10 at own 43 yard line, 8:20 remaining in the first quarter. RGIII excellently uses his cadence to draw an offsides from the defense and gets a "free" play. On a play-action pass, Griffin hits Pierre Garcon for an 18 yard gain over the middle. The ball travels 18 yards in the air. What grabbed my attention was how good his play fake was. He did a great job of selling it, and the linebackers started going downhill to attack the perceived run. As a result, Griffin has a giant window to flick the ball to Garcon. While a play-action play usually has an easy read, the fact that he was able to get the defensive line to jump and get the linebackers to take false steps shows off some veteran savvy.
Going back to the athleticism, I thought he did a great job of getting outside the pocket on the bootleg, showing a solid amount of quickness. I was also impressed with his arm strength and delivery.
I do have a few reservations about Tannehill at the moment. Primarily, he was the only QB of the four to be playing strictly against the backups. That being said, he had a pretty unheralded supporting cast to throw to and was able to move the ball down the field with consistency. Kudos to him. However, I found his accuracy to be a little suspect at times. He had a few easy misses in there and did not give the receiver a chance to catch the ball. While he looked comfortable in the pocket, he did not seem to go through his progressions quite like Griffin or Luck. That is probably to be expected, however, since he is after all a rookie and originally came to college as a wide receiver. I can see the long-term tools, namely arm strength and physically looking the part, but I do not know how much impact he can have this year.
Most Impressive Play: 3rd & 11 at own 29 yard line, 8:30 remaining in third quarter. Tannehill throws a ball that travels 17 yards in the air to Roberto Wallace, who is streaking down along the numbers. Wallace picks up 20+ yards for the first down. This might have been the best throw from all four QBs. Without having access to the "All-22" camera for preseason, I cannot be certain on the defensive coverage, but it appeared to be a Cover 2 shell. Either way, Tannehill is able to zip a tight spiral with enough arc to go over the corner but enough speed to have it arrive before the safety meets the receiver. The timing, the touch, and the arm strength necessary to pull it off had me saying "Wow!" That was a throw that some QBs simply cannot make.
There are certainly some things to like about Weeden. He has a compact throwing motion and seems to have a solid release. He also has enough arm strength to make a lot of NFL throws.
However, I saw more negatives from him versus the other three QBs. For starters, I thought he was the least composed QB when it came to being under pressure. Going against the Detroit Lions front four is no picnic, but he either held onto the ball too long or left the pocket too quickly. As far as the former, that is what led to a sack and forced fumble he let up. Weeden appeared to have one too many hitches and it cost him. I also caught him staring down a receiver on a comeback, and it almost led to a pick six because the cornerback read it all the way. Lastly, I thought he had the least effective play-action fake of the group. It did not persuade me, and on film it did not convince the linebackers either. In my opinion, it did not look like he really extended his arms on the fake and it came off a little haphazard.
Weeden is probably ready to be a non-replacement level starter from the get go and is an upgrade over Colt McCoy, but does he have any upside whatsoever? If I am a Browns fan, I become even more puzzled at my hapless franchise. It's the NFL and who the hell knows what could happen, but I would be surprised if he ever becomes an above average QB.
Most Impressive Play: 2nd & 7 at own 43 yard line, 1st quarter. Weeden connects with WR Travis Benjamin down the left sideline for a huge 32 yard gain. The ball travels 32 yards in the air. Weeden recognizes 1 on 1 coverage with Benjamin and drops it perfectly in the bucket for him, placing the ball away from the corner where only Benjamin can get it. The ball is thrown such that no deep safety could make a play on the ball yet not too far out of bounds that Benjamin cannot get both feet in. That is not an easy throw, but he executed it flawlessly.