The Quarterback Position Under Kelly (Part II)

In Part I of this series, I discussed how the Eagles current Quarterbacks fit into Chip Kelly’s new offensive attack. In Part II, I looked into each possible FA prospect or trade target and evaluated each. Below are my thoughts and analysis on what they could bring to Philadelphia. Enjoy.

Free Agency
Free Agency officially starts on March 12 at 4 PM. This means that by 4 PM on March 12th, teams must decide whether or not to exercise any options on current players, submit qualifiers for their own restricted free agents and make sure their top 51 player contracts are under the salary cap (Only 51 contracts count towards the offseason salary cap under the new CBA). I identified total of 32 potential free agent QB’s. The one caveat is that these are only potential free agents. Some of them may be resigned or franchise tagged prior to March 12. For now, though, I am assuming that these players will be available to the Eagles. Note: Many of these players will not be included in my analysis because they are either never making it to free agency (Joe Flacco) or they are just plain bad (J.P. Losman). As a testament to how bad this group is, out of 32 QB’s, I only identified three true free agents that are even worth your time (and even that is a stretch).

Matt Moore:
I have to admit that I was not particularly excited about the prospects of Matt Moore, but after looking over his career and watching the film of the one game he played in this year against the Jets, I walked away slightly intrigued. Moore has never been on a winning team in the NFL which could have a lot to do with his below average career thus far. With the one, legitimate opportunity to be a starter in Miami in 2011 (not counting 2010 in Carolina where he started six games for a terrible 2-14 team), Moore had a respectable year completing over 60% of his passes for 2500 yards, 16 TD’s and only 9 INT’s and led a below average team to six wins in 13 games.
Moore has an adequate arm and does a decent job getting the ball out quickly, something that I think will be important to Chip Kelly. He also does a good job of throwing his receivers open, meaning he is not waiting for them to get separation from the defender before he makes his decision to throw. While I am pointing out positives, I would hesitate to go any further. Moore’s ceiling is probably just slightly above average. He tends to struggle with his decision making when under pressure and is absolutely no threat to run, something Kelly might want.

One of the other intriguing things about Moore, though, is that he has experience in the type of up-tempo offense that Kelly likes to run. He practiced all season and started one game in Joe Philbin’s up-tempo offense for the Dolphins this past year. Is Moore a realistic option for the Eagles? I think it really depends on what he wants. At this point in his career, he has not quite been relegated to a backup only role but he will most likely not be handed any job either. If he insists on starting, he will not be here. While I was intrigued by what I saw on tape, Nick Foles would still go into camp as my starter based on his potential. I would, however, let Moore compete for the job. He is a team player who could bring leadership and perspective coming from another up-tempo offense (which may be a rude awakening for some players). If he is okay with what would most likely be a backup job, he could be a good insurance policy for Foles or any Eagles starter.

Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson was a project draft pick coming out of Alabama State in 2006. The Vikings fell in love with him mainly because of his legs and arm strength. He had the highest ball speed and 40 yard dash of any QB at the combine that year. After a few disappointing seasons early in his career, Jackson seemed to be finally finding consistency in his game in 2008 but then ran into a little bit of bad luck, named Brett Favre. Jackson played sparingly over the next two years before becoming the starting QB in Seattle for a year in 2011. The year in Seattle was the best season of his career, although, it was still nothing more than mediocre. Jackson spent the 2012 season as the third string QB for Buffalo and did not see the field once. Through six years in the league, he has more turnovers than touchdowns and couldn’t even get himself activated at any point during the 2012 season.

Jackson does have above average speed for a QB, though, and would certainly allow Kelly to run the read option. Unfortunately though, at this point in his career, he is nothing more than a younger, cheaper version of Michael Vick. I mentioned before in Part I of this series that the read option offense creates an excellent play action game, which is part of the reason both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have had so much success in San Francisco. So isn’t it possible that Kelly’s offense could help Jackson in the same way? Well, Jackson spent four years in Minnesota with Adrian Peterson. If he couldn’t find success with play action there, I think that about sums it up. Jackson may not be a bad option as a backup QB in the right system, but if the Dennis Dixon rumors are true, I think he provides just as much if not more than Jackson.

Jason Campbell
Throughout his journeyman career, Campbell has been unspectacular but reliable. Although his starting days appear to be over, he can still provide solid depth at QB for almost any team. Through all of the years watching him in Washington to the film I watched of him in Oakland and more recently in Chicago, one thing has consistently stood out to me about Campbell. He will never completely put you out of your misery with bad plays or turnovers but he will kill you slowly by simply not making enough plays when needed. What stood out to me on film was that Campbell struggles to make quick decisions and trust his judgment. Many of his throws are just a little too late because of a slight hesitation. Maybe this has to do with a lack of trust in his receivers? Going all the way back to Washington, his receivers have probably changed more often than his shoulder pads so I suppose that could be a valid excuse. Campbell also appears to have a bit of a long wind-up and slow delivery. Although he makes up for these traits slightly by being less of a risk taker, he is probably not a good fit for Kelly’s scheme which I think will require that type of quick decision making.

Dennis Dixon
If the rumors are true, Dixon will be reunited with his college coach in Philadelphia sometime very soon as his Ravens recently defeated the 49ers in Super Bowl 47. Dixon was the starting QB at Oregon in 2007 when Kelly was named the new O. Coordinator. Together, they jump started the Oregon offense as Dixon delivered a Heisman worthy season before injuring his knee and missing the remainder of the year.

Bringing Dixon in to compete cannot do any harm as he does have experience in running the read option under Kelly. Asking him to be the starter, however, even for a short period of time is pushing the envelope. Keep in mind that Dixon is currently a practice squad player on the Ravens who has started only three career games for Pittsburgh and only because Big Ben was either injured or suspended. Unless Kelly simply cuts and pastes his Oregon offense in Philadelphia, Dixon could be a major liability. In his three career starts, he threw for 402 yards with one touchdown, two INT’s and a completion percentage over 59%. Although his completion percentage is above average, it should be noted that Pittsburgh developed a game plan to build his confidence. This is done by throwing many short passes which, of course, helps raise the completion percentage. This is not necessarily bad,  but it does not give any real insight into his ability to punish NFL defenses for cheating up to stop the run like Kaepernick and RGIII have been able to do this year.
Among the positives, Dixon has a very live arm and can make all the necessary throws down the field. After watching one of his starts in Pittsburgh, however, he appeared to have trouble putting the right touch on the ball. He threw some crisp balls on intermediate or deep passes, but looked awkward trying to put the right touch on the ball in the short passing game. He also has the ability to run or at least make the defense account for him as he ran for over 500 yards in his senior year at Oregon. Although, his legs look like #2 pencils that would snap in half if hit by an NFL linebacker so he may not want to do too much of that. Overall, Dixon can bring some value as a backup and possibly contribute in various sub packages but that is probably the extent of what he can bring to the table.

Trade Targets
It’s obvious that the future leader of the Philadelphia Eagles is not in this year’s free agent class. So where should they go from here? Is there anybody on the market that the Eagles could explore trading for? To answer this question, I scoured through the roster of all 32 teams looking for someone who could possibly be more valuable to the Eagles than their current team. I came up with three players who intrigued me enough to look into further. Two of the players are obvious, but the other is someone whose name I have not heard mentioned in relation to the Eagles.

Alex Smith
Smith is the big name this year and seems to be the fan favorite at this point to become the next Eagles QB. All signs point to the 49ers attempting to trade him this offseason since they have obviously found a pretty decent QB in Colin Kaepernick. There is also a decent chance he could end up as a free agent as well, as other teams may be reluctant to trade for him if the 49ers plan to release him. He is owed $8.5 million in 2013, a nice chunk of change, but as the top player in a weak FA market for a QB hungry league, Smith could still end up with a hefty price tag even if he is released.
Smith has done a lot to help himself in the last two years. After a completely underwhelming start to his career, Jim Harbaugh & company have done wonders for Smith. In the past two years, Smith has thrown for almost 5000 yards, 30 touchdowns with only 10 INT’s. In addition, before being benched this year for Kapernick, Smith had a completion percentage over 70% which was the league’s best this year. These stats have been mentioned time after time by every different analyst, but I have a stat that has not been mentioned. Of Smith’s 153 completions this year, 80% of them were within ten yards of the line of scrimmage which greatly enhanced his completion percentage. Of passes over ten yards, Smith has completed only 53% which is below average, although, still a career high for him. To dig a little deeper, I went back and looked at prior years’ statistics. In doing so, I noticed that Smith’s completion percentage, as well as almost every other statistic, has risen to career highs in the last two years since Harbaugh became head coach. Why? Harbaugh developed a system predicated on running the football and creating mismatches and advantages at the point of attack by outnumbering the defense with blockers. This offensive attack also happens to create a significant advantage in the play action passing game. The success of play action in that offense took the pressure off of Smith and put it on defenses. I think Smith’s success is more a product of the system then him coming into his own.

While his success cannot be debated, his raw talents can be. Smith has average arm strength. He can make the necessary throws down the field but relies heavily on getting the man to man matchups in the defense. On the other hand, with only 10 total INT’s in two years, it is obvious that Smith is very careful with the football, something we are not used to here in Philadelphia. Another positive is that Smith ran the read option spread offense very successfully in Utah under Urban Meyer and has slightly above average speed to at least make defenses account for him in the option game. Smith is a quality QB worth looking into but only buying at the right price. What will he bring to Philadelphia? Overall, I don’t think he is much more than an above average game manager and don’t think he is the long term answer in Philadelphia. And if he isn’t the long term answer, is it worth bringing him in to manage a season or two until we find the real answer at QB? Unfortunately, Smith can be almost perfect but if the defense is as bad as they are right now, the Eagles may be wasting $8.5 million. Also, is it worth holding back Foles’ development for a game managing QB? These are questions the Eagles will have to answer this offseason.

Matt Flynn
Just last year, Flynn was the big free agent acquisition of the Seattle Seahawks. One year later, he is on the trading block after being beaten out for the starting job by a rookie. Flynn made a name for himself in 2011 by putting up huge numbers (6 TD’s) in a Week 17 shootout with the Detroit Lions. I went back and watched the tape because I was curious and wanted to see Matt Flynn in his glory. I came away somewhat disappointed. I didn’t expect to be blown away by his physical tools but even with my low expectations I was still disappointed. Flynn looked pretty decent on short to intermediate passes to the boundary side (short side) of the field. On long throws or throws to the far side of the field, however, his arm was just not good enough. I realized that part of the reason for his success in that game was the game plan put together by the O. Coordinator at the time, Joe Philbin. Philbin made sure that Flynn didn’t have to make too many difficult throws and he generally kept the play to the boundary side of the field with the exception of a few quick WR bubble screens. In addition, Flynn brings nothing to the table athletically, but one of the bigger factors is his contract. Flynn is expected to make $7.25 million this year for Seattle. To sum it up, he is a slow QB with a weak arm who is scheduled to make a lot of money. I think I’ll take my chances with Nick Foles.

Dominique Davis
Dominique Davis is a little known QB who just spent his rookie season sitting on the bench behind Matt Ryan in Atlanta. While Davis probably isn’t an option to come to Philadelphia and start right away, he does possess some intriguing talents. In two years as the starter at East Carolina University (ECU), Davis threw for over 7000 yards and 62 touchdowns to go along with 14 rushing touchdowns. He did throw a high amount of INT’s but he averaged 44 passing attempts per game. We, in Philadelphia, know first hand how too many passing attempts can negatively affect a QB and an offense. In Kelly’s attack which places an emphasis on running the football, Davis could excel working off of play action. He ran the spread offense in college with some read option concepts mixed in so he already has a familiarity with Kelly’s system.

Physically, he has an above average arm. He is capable of making all the throws, something he proved in an impressive preseason this year with the Falcons. He does not have world class speed but is definitely capable of making a defense pay for guessing wrong in the read option. While preseason performance cannot make a career, it can break it and it says a lot about Davis that the Falcons made room for him on their roster last year after he went undrafted last April. The best part about Davis, though, is his $480K contract. Overall, Davis is a very low risk, high reward player who could be a nice developmental prospect for Chip Kelly. If the Eagles could land him for a fourth or fifth round pick in this year’s draft, he would be well worth it.

Up Next
In Part III of this series, I will delve into possible draft day targets at the QB position. I also hope to explore other key positions throughout the offseason and highlight any options to improve them. I hope you are enjoying my analysis so far. Stay tuned, there is a lot more to come. Remember to follow me on twitter @phllyphootball as I will be posting my thoughts and piecemeal observations on potential Eagles players. I hope you enjoyed Part II of the QB series. What do you think about the players I mentioned above? How do you think they would fit in Philadelphia? Let me know how you feel below in the comments section or on twitter.

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One thought on “The Quarterback Position Under Kelly (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Draft Profile: Matt Barkley | Philadelphia Phootball

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