FanPost

Clausen's Year to Year Improvement is Significant

I've heard Jimmy Clausen was a "film room rat" but I took it with a grain of salt because I didn't think his coaches would say anything different. I know some people can't stand him but let's try to set aside personality issues for a second and take a look at what the guy did from year to year.  Did he actually play like a film room rat?  Here's how you can tell.

With Marc Bulger released, the Rams are certain to get another QB by trade or draft, rather than go with Feeley.  And whether the new guy is Sam Bradford or Jason Campbell or anyone else, remains to be seen.  The reason I looked at Clausen in particular is because I think he has great upside for the particular reason that besides his play, he has improved so significantly in his college years while working one of the hardest offense in the game.

After Clausen's Junior year, Pro Scout KC Joyner noted how he made great decisions with the ball and "displayed superb ability"  to read a defense. Some guys will say that's the Charlie Weis system, but what lead to his improvement from Freshman to Sophomore year (and then again from Sophomore to Junior year) is really another question, and is the biggest reason why I think he's already shown he's pro material.

To me, as a coach, I know if he really was immersed in the film andplaybook side of the game you're going to see him play with an ever increasing grasp of the system.  You're going to see someone raise his own standard of play, not compared to the rest of the country but to himself.  You have to become a student of the game to make big strides and stay out in front of the guys who are defensive students of the game on the other sideline, the ones that are actively working on figuring you out.  To settle for just getting what improvement comes through practice and in-game experience is essentially to lose ground in the world of D1 football.

Notre Dame had a very similar system to what the Rams are trying to do, which would make things even easier on him if he came to St. Louis, but aside from that everyone understands that an NFL offense (and defense) will offer a challenging learning curve. Most QB's need a good 4 or 5 years, preferably behind someone who knows what they're doing, before they reach their potential. Some guys never quite get it. And every coach wants to see whether a prospect has the ability and inclination to jump into the new offense and learn it like second nature.

So in trying to get a little insight into whether or not Clausen would be able to improve as much in the Pros as he did in college, I took a look at what he did at Notre Dame while trying to learn their offense. Don't bother looking at the numbers on their own or compared to Sam Bradford's, because that won't tell you as much as you think it will. Look instead at how this one player played from year to year while picking up the pro style offense that Weis taught him -- that's where you might find evidence of what he will do if he was handed a Rams playbook.

Year Comp Att Comp % Yards Yards Per Att TD INT Sacks Rating
2007 138 245 56.3 1254 5.12 7 6 35 103.85
2008 268 440 60.9 3172 7.21 25 17 21 132.49
2009 289 425 68.0 3722 8.76 28 4 24 161.43

Frosh to Soph:
What first jumps out at me is the huge increase in Passing Attempts from freshman to sophomore year.  On first glance, someone might think that increase in attempts could explain the increase in Completions and Yards, but it sure doesn't account for the increase in Yards Per Attempt or Passer Rating, or the solid 33% decrease in Sacks. If anything, you'd expect more Sacks to go along more attempts. The difference is he was obviously getting a good grasp of how the system works from his line's protection to his receiver's routes.

Secondarily, we see more INT's in his Soph year but the ratio is much better, from .85 to .68.  Doesn't sound like much, and his Frosh year is a pretty limited sample, but it's basically a 25% improvement.

Soph to Junior:
Here's where we see a startling decrease in INT's.  From 25-17 to 28-4 is not just elite compared to the rest of the country, it's elite improvement when compared only to his own history.  Here's where you really see where he has started to master the complex Weis pro offense. From .68 to .14 is a fairly amazing jump.

A slight decrease in attempts is obvious but hitting even more targets accounts for his bettering the Completion Percentage.  That decrease in attempts would make you think he should have had less yards, but his Yards Per Attempt has risen steadily from year to year too, an overall increase of well over 50%. That's another fairly amazing number that doesn't happen by accident, and the fact that it's consistant means it's not a fluke.

Summary:
Take them all together, as they come: more attempts and less INT's. Better average and percentage. Every year. Steady across the board improvement, but don't confuse "steady" with "small", his improvement in key areas came in big chunks. Understand, this is one of the hardest offenses to run in today's college football game.

These large stats improvements are directly related to improving your knowledge of where your 2nd and 3rd receivers are just as well as you know where your OT's are. There's no way this kid improves his performance by leaps and bounds on a team lacking in offensive weapons unless he's buried in the playbook and living in the film-room, and that's exactly what you want in a rookie QB.

I'm not sure why guys think success in college can sometimes mean someone has less upside.  I don't see the connection there at all. All I see is that he has proven he can overcome challenges that other QB's have yet to face, namely grasping a complex pro offense. The fact that he was tutored by the same guy that developed Tom Brady certainly shouldn't be a reason the downgrade his potential. 

He might have a private school kid attitude that grates on some folks, so if that's important to you then sure, feel free to hate him. Just realize if he can carry a team as bad as the Irish, you'll forget why you ever hated him in the first place if he came to the Rams.  No matter where he goes, he'll never have to play for the 40th ranked offense again, or 87th, whatever they were.  Some NFL coach is going to be very happy when Clausen gets their playbook in his hands.

 State source - ESPN http://espn.go.com/ncf/player/profile?playerId=231813 

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