This is part one of Cincyjungle's three part comprehensive look into the Bengals search for a new quarterback. It's a pretty safe bet that one of these eight quarterbacks will be wearing stripes next season. I plan on giving you every bit of information on these players that I can find. Hopefully together, we will figure out who's the best fit to carry this franchise into its next chapter.
The Quarterback position on the Bengals is easily the hardest to predict at this point. We can mostly agree that Palmer will not play for Cincinnati ever again. Add that to the new offensive system under Jay Gruden and unsettled labor negotiations that could delay the start of free agency, and you have a complete mess. The Bengals are also making no secret about it; they will be drafting a quarterback somewhere in the first four rounds of the NFL draft. This 2011 class of signal callers are talented but diverse. What player will fit the mold of Jay Gruden's offensive system? We know it will be a west coast offense, but what does that mean?
"The popular term "West Coast Offense" is more of a philosophy and an approach to the game than it is a set of plays or formations. Traditional offensive thinking argues that a team must establish its running game first, which will draw the defense in and open up vertical passing lanes downfield; i.e., passing lanes that run perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.
Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense differs from traditional offense by emphasizing a short, horizontal passing attack to help stretch the defense out, thus opening up options for longer running plays and longer passes that can achieve greater gains. The West Coast Offense as implemented under Walsh features precisely run pass patterns by the receivers that make up about 65% to 80% of the offensive scheme. With the defense stretched out, the offense is then free to focus the remaining plays on longer throws of more than 14 yards and mid to long yard rushes." -- Wikipedia
So what are the skills needed to be a successful west coast quarterback?
"One of the most obvious requirements for a quarterback in the West Coast offense is have the ability to pass. It is important to realize that arm strength and being able to pass are not synonymous. Some players can throw a football 80 yards, but they aren't good passers. Good passing involves accuracy, timing, and throwing a ball with enough touch so that it is catchable. Good passing also requires understanding both the West Coast offense and the receivers in the West Coast offense, and having a great sense of anticipation.
While it is certainly admirable to be able to throw a ball on a line for 35 yards, if the ball is off target or arrives in such a way that it is difficult to catch, such an ability is of dubious value. The fundamental goal of passing a ball is to make sure it's caught by the intended receiver.
One of the more important criteria for assessing the potential of a quarterback to play in the West Coast offense is to what extent does he have the ability to throw a complete inventory of passes from screen passes to times, short passes to medium-range passes and down-the-field throws. Not having a complete inventory of passes in his arsenal does not eliminate a quarterback from a West Coast offense team's considerations, but it can be a meaningful factor." -- Football101.com
With the criteria set, lets take a look at the quarterbacks who I have ranked 8-6.
8) Ricky Stanzi - QB - Iowa - 6'4" 223 lbs - 32" Arms - 10" Hands
Strengths: Stanzi is a 3-year starter for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He has a good build and skill-set for an NFL quarterback. Stanzi won't stand out in a group of athletic QBs, but he makes up for it with great intelligence, accuracy, touch, and anticipation. I'm not saying Stanzi isn't athletic. In fact, he can usually make pass rushers miss and escape the pocket and run for positive yardage. He has patience before he takes off, Stanzi will maneuver the pocket by sliding left and right until he finds an open guy. Playing at Iowa, Stanzi regularly took snaps under center (which is rare for a college QB these days). His drop-backs looked balanced and re-fined, allowing him to set-up and be ready to throw the ball at any moment. Stanzi stands tall in the pocket while scanning the field and going through his progressions with a sense of ease and calmness. He will take a hit too. When he knows where he's going with the ball, Stanzi has a very quick release and high delivery. He gets the ball in front of his receivers so they can run after the catch. Most of his throws were within 20 yards where he was his most accurate. I saw a lot of slants, screens, outs, and drags. All throws that you would see in a west coast offense. Stanzi had full control of the offense at Iowa. He had the right to change plays at the line as he saw fit. Iowa's offense was also a successful run first type. As a result, Stanzi developed an excellent play-action fake. I saw him completely fool the defense and cameraman multiple times. He even sells the real run plays by acting like he still has the football. Iowa's offense also asked Stanzi to roll out of the pocket frequently. He actually looked good doing this. It didn't matter if he was rolling to his right or left. Stanzi can throw off balance and without setting his feet. He uses his mid-section to create enough torque to get the ball to his target on time while on the run. Stanzi also throws the best fade routes I've seen in this QB class. He puts just enough air and touch on the ball to land it just over the receivers shoulder. Iowa's offense uses the tight end regularly, which would make Jermaine Gresham happy I'm sure.
Weaknesses: Stanzi's arm strength is average. On deep outs, he has just enough strength to reach his target. He has to throw it early and anticipate his target getting open. His accuracy didn't suffer much on the deep throws, but naturally it wasn't as good as his short to intermediate throws. His five and seven step drops could be a little faster. I watched him against Arizona and he was sacked four times in a row. It was obvious passing downs because Iowa was trying to score, but something like that shouldn't happen. I already said he does a good job of making defenders miss while in the pocket, but he has to actually see the rusher first. Too many times I saw him take blind-sided sacks because he didn't feel the rush. I said in Stanzi's strengths that he had the ability to change plays at the line. I started keeping track of how successful the "changed" plays were. In five games, He changed about eight plays. Most of them were checked into a running play, and most of them were stuffed. Take from that what you will, but maybe the defense was out-smarting him? Sometimes I noticed that Stanzi would look onto a target and it didn't seem like he would care. He would try and fit it in regardless. Without knowing the play call, I can't really tell if he's waiting for something or just playing reckless.
Final Analysis: I think Stanzi would be a perfect west coast QB. He has experience with most of the responsibilities that will be asked of him in the Bengals system. His arm strength is really his biggest weakness, and it's not all that bad. Plus, he has the frame to add 10-15 lbs., which would create more strength and power eventually. With every year, Stanzi continually got better and took better care of the football. I think he could be a better pro than he was a college player.
2010 Stats: 221 of 345 - 64.1%, 3,004 yards, 25 TDs 6 ints, 19 sacks
Games Watched: vs Arizona 2009, vs Michigan 2010, vs Penn St. 2010, vs Arizona 2010, vs Mich St. 2010, Senior Bowl
Projection: Most people list him as a 4th - 5th rounder, but I think he could go as early as the 3rd round.
7) Colin Kaepernick - QB - Nevada - 6'5" 233 lbs - 33.5" Arms - 9" Hands
Strengths: Kaepernick has been called a poor man's Cam Newton. He can run as good as any QB in this class and might have the strongest arm of the bunch. The ball just jumps from his hand. With his cannon for an arm, Kaepernick can make any and every throw on the football field. He's just an overall good athlete, especially for a QB. He can sit in the pocket or take off and run for huge gains when he feels the pressure. He's also not afraid to take a hit while running as he looks for as much yardage as possible. While in the pocket, he usually lets the pass rusher come close and then Kaepernick will spin out of there and take off down the sideline. He does the same for screen and swing passes. He will suck in the defenders and really wait until the last possible second to get rid of the ball. Which allows for backs and receivers to earn big gains. Kaepernick was asked to roll out and throw on the run often. He doesn't need to set his feet or regain his balance to make throws. His arm and body create enough power to still throw the ball through a brick wall. He really makes it look effortless. He's not all arm strength. Kaepernick can accurately throw the ball on all levels when he has to sit in the pocket. He keeps the ball upper chest height, steps up hard and generates extra power with his legs. He appears to have a good feeling and timing with his receivers on all routes. I have seen him make checks and play changes at the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: It wasn't exactly the spread offense. Kaepernick played in the pistol formation, which keeps the quarterback in a semi shotgun at all times. This only really asks QBs for a 3-step drop and throw. So footwork is something Kaepernick will have to work on. His throwing motion is quick and effective but it looks weird. There is defenitely some wasted motion. I would best describe it as a "pitchers" motion. I feel like Kaepernick relies on his feet to bail him out. I've seen him look at his No. 1 option and then take off. He takes his eyes away from downfield and instead looks for an escape route to run. His accuracy as a whole is just average. He missed some routine throws underneath that he should make. His deep touch is just slightly off, resulting in missed opportunities to make big plays. In the Senior Bowl, Kaepernick looked like an average athlete when he took off and ran.
Final Analysis: He's a for sure project. Take him if you don't plan on starting him for two years. Let him learn and sharpen his natural skills. Kaepernick's potential is through the roof, so it all depends on a team's patience. He could be the best QB from this class in five years, but it might be a bumpy five years.
2010 Stats: 233 of 359 - 64.9%, 3,022 yards, 21 TDs 8 ints, 10 sacks
Games Watched: vs Missouri 2010, vs Boise St. 2010, vs Boston College 2010, Senior Bowl
Other Notes: Kaepernick was adopted into a perfect situation.
Projection: I've heard late 1st, but more likely he's a 2nd round pick. For the Bengals situation, I wouldn't take Kaepernick until the 3rd round, but he's projected almost exclusively on the potential player he could end up being.
6) Ryan Mallett - QB - Arkansas - 6'7" 253 lbs - 34.5" arms - 11" Hands
Strengths: As a passer, Mallett is probably the best in the class. He's tall and has a big arm. He has a well-balanced drop-back and keeps his head and vision forward as he goes through his motions. In the pocket, he is a very patient quarterback while keeping the ball at chest height and ready to throw. He will stand tall and go through his reads and take a hit in exchange for a completed pass. At Arkansas, Mallett has taken snaps from center and was asked to make NFL throws, which he did with ease. Outs and deep out routes are no problem. Mallett has a very strong arm and decent accuracy at all levels. I was surprised with Mallett's tough on screen and swing passes. He put the ball right where the receiver needs to it to turn up field and run. He uses a move that looks like an NBA fade away, where he drifts away from the pass rush and uses his Go-Go gadget arms and legs to get the ball over the defender. Also, he is not a complete statue in the pocket like it's been reported. It's not that Mallett can't move in the pocket and avoid the pass rush, he slides left and right to give himself that extra second to throw. I also love Mallett's play-action fakes. He really uses it effectively. It's very hard to tell when he has the ball. His height and high release help him to get a good arch and touch on his fade routes, while also keeping defenders from batting his passes at the line.
Weaknesses: Maybe you can be too tall at the quarterback position. Mallett is all of 6'7" and it hurts him as much as it helps him. When he has to go from one side of the field to the other in his reads, Mallett really struggles to reset his feet and throw on time. When he can't step into a throw, Mallett's passes tend to sail high. His release is only average in speed. His drop-back is slower than average. He offers nothing running the football and is routinely caught by defensive linemen. His accuracy drops considerably while throwing on the run. His accuracy can be scattered at times, but I think this could be because his feet can't get set quick enough or he's throwing off balance. His receivers also dropped a lot of balls in the games I watched. It didn't look like he was throwing it too hard. Those struggles I can see. I can't confirm the reports of Mallett's drug use and personality issues, but I can imagine that it will affect his draft stock.
Final Analysis: Mallett is a top 20 player as a football player and quarterback. Teams will do their homework on the character concerns. If they find anything, he could fall into the third round. Mallett is a bad fit for the Bengals west coast offense, but that doesn't mean they wont take a chance on him. If he's available in round two, the Bengals could see that as a value pick.
2010 Stats: 266 of 411 - 64.7%, 3,869 yards, 32 TDs 12 ints, 25 sacks
Games Watched: vs Georgia 2009, vs Alabama 2010, vs Miss St. 2010
Other Notes: Ryan Mallett thinks he's somebody else?
Projection: Coming into this draft process, Ryan Mallett was considered a first round lock. Fast forward three months and Mallett would be lucky to get a call at the end of round one.