One of the Los Angeles Rams biggest takeaways from a disappointing 2022 season should be whether or not the team can be competitive, going forward, if Matthew Stafford is shelved for multiple games. And who should step up in his stead, a known quantity veteran or a draft and groom rookie?
While Stafford has a long history of toughness and durability, he’ll be soon be 35 years old and in the last four seasons, has missed a full 16 of 64 (25%) games. This stretch could be viewed as simply an outlier in a long career, or the start of the downhill stage in a physically demanding job.
If you decide it is the latter, then certainly a veteran appears to be the answer. But if an early shutdown and a long offseason to convalesce fortifies fans confidence in Stafford’s full recuperation, then the draft may be the way to go. It should be noted that in the two previous season’s (2010 and 2019) where Staff missed numerous starts, he followed up those years with solid, if not stellar performances.
What are the traits of an NFL backup QB?
Pretty much the same as a starter, elite arm, ability to quickly read, process, and act, enough athleticism to navigate tight spaces in the pocket, and have that ultra-competitive edge. But where the better backups separate is that they need to keep that competitive edge while swallowing their ego and buying into the fact that they won’t be (maybe never) a regular starter. The backup candidate has to love the purity of the game and be happy with a willingness to be part of something bigger than an individual piece. Maybe looking forward to carving out a coaching or personnel career.
In 2023 it would seem that the ability to be a playmaker with your feet as well as your arm is a requirement. Amongst this years 14 playoff qualifiers, seven had quarterbacks with over 300 yards rushing and two more were just under. For reference, the Rams had only one running back with over 300 (Cam Akers with 786). With increasing frequency, NFL offenses are designing plays to get quarterbacks into space, therefore running skills should not be ignored.
Size is always important, but in the case of backups, may be somewhat overrated. A quick calculation from the year-end rosters on Pro Football Reference, shows that the average non-starter is 6’ 2” 219 lbs. The shortest was 5’ 11” (only one under 6’) and there were eight at 6’ 5” plus.
With the Rams 2023 draft capital, finding a heir apparent to the starting job is not realistic, but there are a few later round prospects who could offer some value. Using my own draft board as a point of reference, there is a clear delineation between the top seven prospects and the next talent tier. Although it’s still early in the process and there will undoubtedly be draft risers as the all-star games and workouts play out, three under the radar quarterbacks look as if they have the traits to play in the NFL.
Jaren Hall- BYU
A natural and plus athlete. Hall played two years on the BYU baseball team and possesses a strong arm. He’s not a big guy, measuring 6’ 1” 205 lbs. and will be 25 years old as a rookie. In 2018, 19, and 20, he sat behind Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Basing the two players production on just their college stats, one would have a difficult time deciphering which was a top pick and which was a probable Day 3 selection.
On film, Hall shows patience in the pocket on longer developing routes. Overall, the BYU offense had a horizontal tilt to it and Hall did a fine job of getting the ball out on time and win accuracy. His throwing motion is loose and fluid with good anticipation. Where he stands out is his ability to create while running the ball, whether in evasion or by set play. He looks to have good speed, both burst and long, open field moves, and can throw while moving left and right.
A lot of the BYU offense was predicated on a shorter pass game with predetermined reads, so he will have to show that he can comfortably go through the progressions as a pro. He’s had a couple of concussions, broken ribs, hip, and lower leg injuries over his college days. He shows potential but needs polish in a pro scheme.
Hall would be a nice match for the pre-Stafford Rams offense, making quick reads and spreading the ball out amongst the playmakers. He has the maturity, leadership, football IQ, and athleticism to wager a late round draft pick.
Jake Haener- Fresno State
Stated his college career at Washington. At 6’ 1” 205 lbs., Haener his not physically imposing or an elite athlete. He shows an all-around solid game and impressive will to win. Some of his best performances were when he and the Bulldogs stepped up in class for games with power conferences. He missed four games in 2022 with a high ankle sprain, but came back to win seven straight games and a bowl victory over Washington State.
Haener has plus arm strength and stellar accuracy. He’s mostly a pocket passer, stands steady in the pocket and makes his reads, throws with good anticipation and is comfortable zipping it or putting air under deep throws. Not afraid to throw into tight windows. The pass blocking struggles he played behind highlighted his escapability and improvisation. Although not a true playmaking threat as a runner, he is agile enough to escape the rush, keeps his eyes working downfield and can pass both on the move and off program.
A bit of a draft darling, who has been getting plenty of run, Haener will get a big stage in the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft Combine. Like many young signal callers, he can lock on to receivers too often and will have to work on making reads and getting the ball out faster. On film, not many examples of Haener just throwing a pass away when guys are covered. He is always trying to make the play downfield. Don’t take it wrong, he is an aggressive thrower, but not a scatter-shot, wild gunslinger. He only threw 18 interceptions over a career 1085 pass attempts and completed 68.2 percent. Haener may not have a sky high ceiling, but does have a higher floor.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson- UCLA
Has certainly shown the ability to make quick decisions in Chip Kelly’s frenetic offense. For a player who takes off out of the pocket so often, he flashes that he can make multiple reads. Arm strength may not be elite and it’s hard to find a lot of film of deep throws, but he gets good zip on intermediate throws. Good accuracy into tight windows and puts the ball in position for receiver to catch and run.
When he plants, rotates and throws, it’s a thing of beauty, but he can can tend to hurl off balance. He tossed 10 interceptions in 2022. Some of that is technique and staring down receivers on long developing routes, just as much is about his emotional and aggressive nature. Six picks came in two games and another in the last 40 seconds of a blowout. He does need to learn to amp it down a little and play more under control.
Thompson-Robinson is listed 6’ 1” 205 lbs. and at the college level he was able to attack tacklers head-on and hustle downfield to block, do that as a pro and he’s liable to be separated from his thoracic wall. That said, you have to love his competitive grit, stack that grit with an innate ability to create with his feet and you have a low risk/high reward proposition. Watch film of possible top five draft picks Bryce Young and CJ Stroud, put them into UCLA film, and then vice versa. The two stars are deserving of their draft position, but is the value better with them at #1 and #2 or Thompson-Robinson at #225 plus?
Are they an upgrade over what the Rams already have?
The cute answer is yes, because only the starter, Matthew Stafford, is under contract. John Wolford (UFA) and Bryce Perkins (RFA) got thrown in during the lowest point of the Rams season and fair or not, could not spark the team. Wolford has now been in the NFL for five undistinguished years and Perkins three, how much more can they develop?
All three prospects offer an upgrade in arm strength and are older, mature rookies with success at winning games. Jaren Hall looks strong in a shorter, quick-read offense, Jake Haener fits into the Rams current vertical and longer developing scheme, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson needs a package that can utilize his open-field running skills as well his arm.
Should the Rams decide to use a draft pick on a quarterback, he should be developed as QB#3 to start. This would entail signing a veteran free agent to start camp as the primary backup, but if the rook shows the requisite skills and maturity, let the vet go. As the season plays out and disaster strikes, there is seemingly always a street free agent that can be acquired (ie. Baker Mayfield in 2022) in an emergency situation.