Stock Tips: Week 10
By David Seigerman
It's not often that a potential prospect sees his draft stock rise after a bye week.
The market for quarterbacks with Air Raid offense pedigrees might have expanded this weekend, which would benefit a guy like Baylor's Bryce Petty. That's because Sunday was perhaps the greatest day ever enjoyed by the fraternity of Air Raid alumni:
* Case Keenum threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns to Andre Johnson, bringing a spark to the struggling Texans offense.
* Geno Smith had his first pick-free game in a month and got the "W" against Drew Brees and New Orleans.
* Nick Foles did something no one has done since wy back in the days of Peyton Manning and Week 1 -- actualy, something only five players had ever done prior to this season -- by throwing for seven touchdowns. In one game. More than he had in seven games in 2012.
No, none of these guys are playing an NFL offense with Air Raid roots like they ran in college (at Houston, West Virginia and Arizona, respectively). But prior to Sunday, Air Raid QBs had precious little success adjusting to NFL offenses. Beyond the occasional flash from a John Beck or Kevin Kolb, there hadn't been much evidence to support the theory that guys from that system could make the leap to the next level.
That's because the advantages the Air Raid creates in college cannot exist in the NFL.
First off, there's the limited playbook. The Air Raid shrinks the playbook and the number of formations it asks its quarterbacks to learn. It prioritizes reps over variety, drilling quarterbacks endlessly on fewer plays.
Also, the Air Raid is designed to threaten defenses every which way: vertically, horizontally, underneath, basically making it impossible for a zone-oriented team to cover. It forces defenses into man-to-man, then employs a series of man-beater routes. Most college teams (outside Gainesville) don't have the DB talent to play man all over the field.
Air Raid quarterbacks line up, find the favorable matchup in their pre-snap read, and exploit it. Hence the tens of thousands of yards, and more than a handful of Heismans these guys rack up.
None of those systemic traits benefit a quarterback when he makes the jump to the next level. It teaches him to win games in college but doesn't prepare him for a professional career. He may have all the physical tools -- though the Air Raid has evolved, in part, to create favorable conditions for the non-blue chip prospect-- but NFL coaches have legitimate cause to wonder whether a quarterback from that system can handle the volume of plays and the fluidity of personnel and the nuances of reading a defense, particular post-snap.
If nothing else, Sunday showed that quarterbacks with Air Raid on their resume needn't be discounted as potential NFL starters. It's not exactly the dawn of a new day -- Smith, after all, is completing less than 58 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown only eight touchdowns to go with his 13 interceptions.
Still, the more the NFL teams incorporate spread concepts into their offenses, the easier it will be for Air Raid quarterbacks to find work.
Which brings us back to Petty, who just enjoyed his last leisurely Saturday, with Baylor on a bye before the toughest five-game stretch on its schedule (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas). And teams might begin looking at him in a new light.
Not that they hadn't noticed him already. Petty has ideal size (6-3, 230), and scouts love the placement of his throws. He's not merely accurate; he throws catchable balls into coverage and sets up his receivers to gain yardage after the catch. That's a critical trait for an Air Raid quarterback; the entire premise is based on getting the ball to receivers in space, the way Smith did with Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey last year. Petty might not have the zip to drive passes through the tightest of windows, but his touch on intermediate and deep throws is what draws the most praise these days.
The concern about Petty -- well, aside from a lack of experience and the undeveloped footwork mechanics that comes with that territory -- is that he's a system quarterback. From that system.
Baylor's offense isn't dogmatic Air Raid. It relies on the run more than its precursors have. Having a running back like Lache Seatrunk gives Petty a dimension other quarterbacks haven't had at their disposal; he has play-action opportunities that have to keep a defense honest.
Then again, Petty may be more of a traditional Air Raid quarterback than either Robert Griffin III or Nick Florence; he's not near the run threat his predecessors were. Petty has rushed for 78 yards through seven games. In his Heisman-winning season, Griffin rushed for at least that much in three different games. Like Keenum was in college, when he ran once for every 7.4 pass attempts (Griffin's pass to run ratio was 2-to-1), Petty's a passer, and the NFL is always looking for more of those.
He still has room to improve as a passer. The good news is there's been no indication that Petty thinks he's ready to declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. He's a mere seven games into his role as a starter (though he is a 22-year-old redshirt junior who graduated in May.)
Nonetheless, there will be interest in Petty, whenever he decides to come out. And maybe, after what his Air Raid fraternity brothers showed on Sunday, there will be one less question in scouts' minds about him.