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2017 Preview

Ranking The Arm Talent In The Big 12

Ranking the Big 12 quarterbacks by arm talent alone. The results are pretty surprising.

Getty Images - Brett Deering

Ranking The Arm Talent In The Big 12

Arm talent is a single point of evaluation for a quarterback. It is a fairly obvious and easily recognized at the top and bottom level. However, there are many variations in the middle. NFL talent evaluators consistently tout and elevate quarterbacks who can “make every throw.” It is a baseline in evaluation, a box that is checked. It implies some level of accuracy on the throws, but does not involve the totality of quarterback play.

A quarterback with elite arm talent can make throws to all the zones on the field. The zones are as follows:

  • Flat/Middle Drag — 0-5 yards sideline to sideline
  • Out — 5-16 yards from the numbers to the boundary
  • Curl — 5-16 yards from the hash to the numbers
  • Hook — 5-16 yards from hash to hash
  • Deep Out — 16-27 yards from hash to sideline
  • Deep Middle — 16-27 yards from hash to hash
  • Deep — 27+ yards

Each zone requires multiple throw types in order to be effective. A lower level of arm talent can get the ball in to each zone, but may be limited in the type of throw that they utilize. For instance, one player may be able to throw from the far hash to the opposite deep out zone with velocity and with touch while another may only be able to reach that zone via a lobbed touch pass. Both require accuracy and both can be effective.  However, the preference is to have a quarterback with the arm talent to make multiple types of throws in to that zone in order to maximize the routes that can be utilized to beat the defense.

A quarterback that can “make every throw” forces the defense to defend every route. A quarterback with lesser arm talent allows a defense to sit on certain zones and routes, and can be forced to make throws that are higher risk for their arm profile.

For the purposes of this evaluation of Big 12 quarterbacks, additional traits — like leadership, mobility, foot work, anticipation, etc.– that make up a complete quarterback take a back seat. Instead, I offer my rankings of the Big 12 quarterbacks based on their arm talent alone.

That does not mean that number one is the best quarterback in the Big 12 and number 10 is the worst. It simply means that number one has the best physical tool from which to develop the balance of the quarterback traits needed to become elite. For number 10, it means that the player has to be very strong in other categories in order to be effective. See Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, and Alex Smith for examples of quarterbacks with lesser (though still strong) arm talent, but who excel in other areas.

Let’s get to the rankings. There are some examples, where available, for each of these, but understand that each guy has thrown many passes and it is possible to find counter points with all. But, based on a large sampling, I have pulled out a couple of throws that illustrate where I think the arm talent lies for each player.

1. Jacob Park, Iowa State

Surprise. First on the list is Jacob Park from Iowa State. He is not ranked with some of the other returning quarterbacks in the conference, but when looking at arm talent alone, there is not a better quarterback in the Big 12.

Park gets bonus points for accuracy in to zones that are difficult to reach. He allows Iowa State to threaten every level of the field with different types of throws and routes. He also does a nice job of moving in the pocket to insure that he can get his feet set and make on-balance throws.

This throw happened early in the season and illustrates the point. He moves slightly off of the far hash to set his feet.  Then fires a dart to the opposite deep out zone. This is a 32 yard pass, to a back shoulder target. The pass does not allow the defensive back enough time to make a full recovery. Unfortunately, the receiver drops a ball that hits him the hands. This is an elite level pass.

Similar throw here. Park sets his feet and fires a back shoulder bullet that reaches the receiver before the defender knows a pass is coming his way. This pass travels 35 yards on a line to the sideline. Throws like this are hard to defend and stresses the deep coverage skills of the defense.

2. Zac Smith, Baylor

Smith should be tied for arm strength and his arm may be better than Park’s. But, he is slightly downgraded due to a lack of accuracy. He can hit every zone on a line, but has yet to show much touch in to the zones. That said, his arm is electric. He started putting it together in their bowl game against Boise.

This pass features a 42-yard pass, on a line, to a vertical route. The pass outpaces the defender and is well placed for the receiver. This is an impressive ability and makes the Baylor offense even more dangerous. It indicates that the type of throws we saw Park making above are available to Baylor when Smith is under center.

This one made my jaw drop. He steps up in to pressure and delivers a 37-yard strike through a small window for a touchdown. He beats two defenders 30 yards down field with his velocity. That is big time arm talent shown here.

The question with Smith is whether the other parts of his game are enough to hang on to the position. With a new offense in town, Anu Solomon may be a better fit, but Baylor may choose to maximize this arm talent and threaten defenses all over the field.

3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Mayfield isn’t quite on the same level as the two mentioned above. However, that does not mean he doesn’t have a strong arm. His ability to be accurate and generate velocity off of his back foot and while on the move is remarkable. A skill supported by his 70 percent completion percentage. Mayfield is an elite quarterback. His arm talent supports his elite level and he has proven he has the other physical and mental traits required to play at the highest level.

I chose this throw because it shows a strength in Mayfield’s arm. I certainly could have chosen a clip showing him winging a 50 yard deep ball to Westbrook, but this is a subtle throw that takes great arm strength. You can see him pull off a little bit. He has to hit a spot over a defender, but with enough velocity to keep the safety from entering the play. He expertly drops it in 25 yards down field and gives the receiver a nice lead and space to score a touchdown.

While ranked number three, this is still an elite arm talent.

4. Will Grier, West Virginia

Interesting guy here. He is a clear upgrade to Skylar Howard who would have ranked at the bottom of this list.

All reports are that his arm talent will expand the offensive capabilities at West Virginia. Grier’s ability to throw in to the deep out and deep middle zones will add an element that was not there last year.

This throw is to the out zone in to a very tight window. The throw beats the defenders reaction time and shows nice pace and accuracy. Of note is the throwing motion. A hard drive and an exaggerated follow through shows a maximum effort to make this throw. In the spring game, you saw this several times.

He clearly has the arm strength to make these throws with maximum effort, but it is distinct from the effortless look of throws from Park, Smith, and Mayfield. There is no question that Grier has a better arm than Howard did, but he sits just below the elite level of arm talent for the Big 12 conference.

5. Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech

This is probably high for Shimonek. I do not have a clip because he has only thrown a small number of balls in competition. The spring game film does not give you a great look at his arm either.

What I did see though is some real zip in the flat, out, and hook zone. I can’t say that he is in the class of the first four, but I can say that I saw enough to make me think he is the same or better than those that are below. We will see more during the season, but, at present, I believe Shimonek’s arm talent is below the elite level, but perfectly suited for the Texas Tech offense.

6. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

How can any quarterback ranking have Mason Rudolph this low? Only one based on arm talent. He checks the box in every other category, but Rudolph had some injury issues last year that may have impacted his throwing ability, but his arm talent is average for the conference.

He throws deep more than anyone in college football and he is excellent at it. A deep ball is a touch pass. In fact, a weaker-armed quarterback with elite accuracy may be able to throw a better deep ball than a strong arm guy who will have a tendency to put too much on it or not get enough air under the throw.

What Rudolph doesn’t do much is hit the deep out, deep middle, or throw into a tight window. He is an expert at hitting his deep ball and checking down. This allows him to throw to open receivers more often.

I have a few extra examples here because this is a highly regarded player who is ranked sixth in arm talent. Above, you have a throw to the deep out. The presence of a defender forces the throw to be a touch pass, but it is a choice Rudolph makes often. With a higher degree of arm talent, this ball is thrown further to the sideline and with pace. Here we see him throwing within his limitation, but doing so very effectively.

This is a deep out pass that hits for a first down on the near sideline. The receiver is open and the ball is delivered in a great spot. This ball is thrown with anticipation and timing. It lacks the elite pace we would see from the higher rated quarterbacks on this list. Make no mistake, this is a great throw, but I believe it is apparent that this throw had to go to the near boundary. You won’t see Rudolph winging the same throw to the wide side of the field like Park and Smith can do.

7. Kenny Hill, TCU

Kenny Hill. What to do with Kenny Hill?  There are times you think he has elite arm strength, but other stretches lead you to believe he has one of the weaker arms in the conference. That inconsistency is a drag on his arm talent because he has trouble controlling it, or knowing which throw is required.

That said, it is possible to elevate him higher on the list, but a throw like what is shown below is what places him here.

This is a throw from the far hash to the deep out zone. It is well placed, but thrown with a loop and more like a deep touch pass. It is a good two steps down the ladder from what we saw from Park or Smith. In fact, if the safety is a half a step better, then this is an interception. There is simply too much time for the defender to react and get back in the play.

For Hill to be effective, his coaches need to give him throws that accentuate his strengths instead of putting him in a position to have to make throws outside of his arm talent range.

8. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State

Jesse Ertz is one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, but that’s because he has a fabulous command of the offense and is a top 7 runner in the conference. However, his arm talent is at a lesser level.

Ertz was hurt much of the year, so an evaluation is a bit unfair. I suspect we will see better throws throughout this year, but given what we have seen, this is where he ranks.

We see a nice throw here to an open receiver in the out to deep out zone. There is enough room that the pass does not have to be fit in to a tight window, but we see a little float on the ball and some wobble at the end of the throw. Ertz is great at staying within his limitations, but there are limitations. It is a great thing that Kansas State runs the type of offense they do as it is a perfect fit for their quarterback.

9. Shane Buechele, Texas

I suspect many would have ranked Buechele much higher on this list. However, he belongs here as will be demonstrated below.

Observers of Texas last year saw the young freshman throw a lot of RPO’s and short screens with a smattering of deep balls. The problem for Texas coaches was that if he was forced to throw to the middle of the field in to the deep middle or the edge of the hook zone, then he struggled. The bottom line was that Buechele had trouble attacking certain zones on the field due to a lack of arm talent.

That isn’t suggesting he does not have FBS arm talent, he does, but it is suggesting that there are significant limitations that need to be improved for Texas to threaten defenses in the passing game.

We see another throw from the far hash to the out zone on the wide side. This throw is not as deep as others we have observed. It is easy to see the effort level is high on this throw. Also, it is easy to see a floating ball that struggles to get to the receiver. There is an underneath defender, but this is a throw that the top four on this list make with ease and with significantly more pace.

Beuchele has to get stronger, which is likely given that he was an 18 year old kid making this throw. More importantly, the Texas offense, like TCU, can’t put him in a position to fail by forcing him to throw outside of his arm limitations.

10. Peyton Bender, Kansas

I am not sure if Bender will be the starter at Kansas, but it is likely. He and Carter Stanley have similar arm profiles that would put them in the Kenny Hill range on this list.

They are here because I am giving them an incomplete. Stanley showed some FBS level arm talent last year, but the sample size was very small and his passing options were limited. I have seen some high school film from Bender, but it can be a bit deceptive given the level of competition and relative openness of the receivers.

Bender was in the Elite 11 mix which indicates he has solid arm talent. He may very well be a contender for a higher ranking here, but the spring game film was limited and it was hard to make an evaluation based on the highlights we were given.

An incomplete for now, but there is potential with both of these arms.

Translation

The interesting thing about evaluating arm talent in the conference is how it can translate to the field. Iowa State has an advantage with Park at quarterback. Whether or not he can bring the other elements required for high level quarterback play is a major question. If he can, then they will have a chance to win games that most think they will lose handily at present.

Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield are the elite quarterbacks in this conference, but their relative arm talent is quite disparate. Both of them are excellent in all the other characteristics, and they have a huge amount of success and experience to draw upon. The only question will be how NFL evaluators view them. It is likely a team or two will fall in love with the complete package and draft one or the other in the first two rounds of the draft.

If I had Rudolph’s size and brains, and Mayfield’s arm talent and throw-on-the-run ability, in one guy, you would be looking at a sure fire first pick in the draft.

The other interesting item here is the situation at Texas and TCU. Both have quarterbacks with limited arm talent. Both have yet to show that they can work within their limitations to maximize their effectiveness. Both have highly regarded recruits sitting in the back-up spot that could take over if they stumble. It is possible we see both Ehlinger and Robinson taking significant snaps during Big 12 play.

Agree or disagree, arm talent is an interesting element of a game to observe while watching Big 12 football. It can provide game changing plays and be an element in big wins for a program.

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