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Another Scout's Perspective: KC Joyner on Jimmy Clausen

K.C. Joyner, who bills himself as a "football scientist," has evaluated top NFL draft prospects for ESPN.  A couple of weeks ago, he wrote an article titled "Lessons of Brees extended to Clausen."  Here's a recap of the grading. 

First, a little education...

The gold standard of arm strength is the deep out pass, but that throw requires a much different kind of delivery and less touch than many other important vertical passes, such as the go, corner, post and fade routes.

 So I guess it depends on what you look at.

It is pretty much a given that Clausen will be a first-round draft pick, but his arm strength is enough of a question mark to cause his predicted draft slot status to vary significantly. For example, Mel Kiper's initial mock draft has Clausen going to the Buffalo Bills at the No. 9 spot because he possesses "an NFL arm." Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay, on the other hand, has Clausen going in the No. 23 spot (to the Seattle Seahawks) in part because "he doesn't have ideal arm strength."

 So which analyst is right? The odd thing is that they both are on the money.

That's nice. And it's worth mentioning that Kiper changes his mind virtually daily.

So let's get to Jimmy Clausen.  Does he have it or not? 

 After breaking down six of Clausen's 2009 game tapes (at Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. USC, vs. Boston College, vs. Connecticut and at Stanford), I found metrics and scouting notes to back both sides of that argument.

For example, Clausen did a fine job on the 13 deep out passes he threw. Eleven of them were on target (on target being defined as landing within the catching frame of the receiver) and seven ended up being completed. He was also 2-for-2 on the comeback route -- which is a close cousin of the deep out -- so he was on the money on 13 out of 15 of the vertical outside routes.

What do you think of his accuracy and touch?

Clausen also displayed superb accuracy on the long passes that require more arc than the deep out. He was one for two on the corner route and would have been two for two if not for a dropped pass. Clausen also completed the only deep post route he threw.

Throwing into high traffic areas also was an area of strength for Clausen, something that is evidenced by his seven completions in eight attempts on deep in passes.

 What does he need to improve on?

For all of his vertical plusses from a metric perspective, the scouting eye indicated Clausen had some issues on certain types of throws. This was especially evident in the Michigan contest. In that game, Clausen had multiple occasions when he threw a low hard pass when a higher, arced passed would have been more appropriate. It almost looked as though he was trying to show just how hard he could throw the ball and was putting more mustard on passes than was necessary.

That trend didn't show up later in the season, so it might have been an early season psychological issue he has since overcome.

Ah, shows development during the season...love it! 

How about facing the pass rush and throwing under prsssure?

Clausen also had issues when facing a pass rush. The scouting notes indicated numerous instances where Clausen threw passes off of his back foot when the defense did a heavy blitz. The first negative on this front is that he would do at times even when the blitz was picked up, so that leads to concerns about whether he will get what Phil Simms calls "pocket cabin fever" whenever a defense comes after him.

The second negative is that those aerials ended up well short of the mark. That clearly shows Clausen cannot effectively gun a pass downfield unless he has the ability to step into the pass.

Any QB under pressure will need to learn how to make good decisions with the ball -- such as throwing it away or taking a sack.  How's his decision making?

 If the game tape reviews showed both an upside and a downside in terms of Clausen's arm, they were perfectly clear about his ability to read a defense. He made only four bad decisions in 224 passes (a bad decision being defined as when the quarterback makes a mistake with the ball that leads to either a turnover or a near turnover). That equates to a 1.7 percent bad-decision rate, which is a mark that would usually rank among the top 10-15 quarterbacks if it were accomplished at the NFL level, so Clausen gets high marks here.

So, taking all that into account, what's your opinion on him as a first round QB?

The Football Scientist Lab Result: Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have proven that the ability to read a defense is much more important than possessing a cannon for an arm. Clausen has displayed superb ability in that area, and when that is added to his more than adequate skill in placing accurate throws downfield, it equals a TFS seal of approval.

Thanks, KC.  Now go hit up Kiper and tell him he's late on another Big Board update.

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