Every year I create a development plan to identify areas of improvement and create a comprehensive plan to attack those areas. I am always eager to learn from past evaluations, it’s the reason I started the “Hindsight is 20/20” blog series. In 2018, I wanted to look back at current greats in the NFL that I didn’t have an opportunity to scout coming out of college. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, and Adrian Peterson. I wrote 20 historical evaluations, many of which you’ll likely see in my scouts blog in the future. I did these evaluations intending to identify traits that made them exceptional pros and deficiencies that they were able to overcome. Understanding what plays in the league helps to identify draft prospects and project future success. I did have the benefit of hindsight in my evaluations but I tried my very best to avoid bias and objectively scout the player coming out of college. The film was grainy and the game has certainly evolved but traits remain (fairly) constant.
QB #17 Philip Rivers, NCST, 2004
Year of Report:
Aligns at QB for NCST. Rt handed thrower. Great size, sturdy frame. Highly productive 4 Yr starter. 72% completion percentage his SR season. Franchise QB. On the field, he is a smart, competitive, instinctual, and productive QB with excellent accuracy, DM, and anticipation but lacks great arm strength, throwing mechanics, and mobility. Throwing mechanics are poor. Low, sidearm, push release. However, release is short and really quick. Displays a mastery of the offense on tape. Constantly communicating and checking to get in the appropriate play. Incredibly clutch performance vs FLST despite loss. Made big-time throw after big-time throw. Exceptional poise and grit. As a passer, he is beyond his years. Decision making is excellent. Displays the ability to work through his progressions and find the appropriate target. Consistently finds the open receiver. Excellent feel for where his receivers are at all times. Ultra-decisive, quick decision-maker. Gets the ball in his playmaker’s hands. Recognizes pre-snap advantages and attacks. Destroys blitzes by identifying the blitz and utilizing ultra-quick release to get the ball to his playmakers in space. Takes what the defense gives him. Wins with death-by-1000-cuts. Takes underneath throws until the defense begins to crack deep. Finds his check-downs in the face of pressure. Doesn’t force the football. He will pull and attempt to run if no throw is available. Smart with the football. Minimizes his turnovers by not forcing the football and throwing it away when necessary. Picks apart zone coverage. Excellent feel for soft spots in zone. Occasionally gets aggressive and can be careless outside the pocket attacking the MOF. Anticipation is excellent. Throws with great timing and anticipation. Gets the ball out prior to the break. Throws to soft spots in zone where only his receiver can get it. Poised in the pocket. Doesn’t panic and does a great job getting the ball out in the face of pressure. He is tough as nails. Will hold the ball until his WR opens up and takes some big hits to make a throw. Pocket awareness is very good. Stands tall in the phase of pressure. Not fazed by the blitz or an unblocked rusher. Has a really good feel for surrounding pressure. Uses subtle movement to find space to throw within the pocket. Particularly good at stepping up in the pocket. Will pull the ball and attack the LOS to manipulate coverage then find the open receiver. Below average mobility. No threat to run. Arm strength is sufficient. Despite release, he can add plenty of velocity to rip tight windows it just requires a little strain. Can rip the honey hole vs cover 2. Touch is excellent. Will occasionally rip the deep throw rather than add a little air but effective none-the-less. Shows great ability to add air and decrease velocity to layer football. Accuracy is excellent at all levels. Can place the ball with pinpoint accuracy. Throws away from defender leverage where only his guy can make a play on it. Will occasionally throw without his feet which does affect accuracy but overall, he throws a consistently catchable ball. As a runner, he’s a non-factor. Pocket passer who isn’t going to create with his legs. Very good in sneak situations but that’s the extent of his run value. Was utilized in short-yardage draw situations. His size plus strength allow him to fight through some contact. Overall, some may be turned off by his throwing motion and just average arm strength but this guy does everything else at an exceptionally high level. He’s ultra-competitive and continuously makes the right play with the football in his hands.
Year 1 Role
Could start right away given experience and refined position specifics.
Long Term Role
Franchise QB Long-Term
Big, smart, competitive, & productive QB w/ excellent accuracy, DM, & anticipation. Poor throwing mechanics & just avg arm strength.
"Potential Elite Starter"
What The Tape Says
I did eight historical quarterback evaluations; I was most impressed by Philip Rivers college tape. The group included the likes of Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, and Eli Manning. Honestly, I had no idea his tape was so good. Prior to watching his North Carolina State film, I would frequently think about how he was selected #4 overall despite having the worst throwing mechanics in the history of football. I thought “how did his mechanics not turn scouts off”, and then I watched the tape. One game in and a few things became abundantly clear, first, he was the best anticipation thrower I had ever seen, and second, he was highly accurate at all three levels. After watching another game, his poise and pocket awareness jumped off the tape. By game three, he had shown enough positive traits to feel confident that his mechanics and arm strength were non-issues. Hindsight allowed me the benefit of realizing that he was also a natural leader with toughness and an unmatched competitive spirit. I reckon that came through during the interview process. All of a sudden there was so much to like. I imagine road scouts visited NC State and came away with nothing but praise to report back to leadership. I’d imagine the words/phrases like “competes”, “leadership”, “durable”, “tough as nails”, and “LOVES the game” were frequent when his name was brought up in draft meetings. Rivers finished his career at NC State with a record 51 career starts, 95 Touchdowns, and over 13,000 passing yards. He was quite a conciliation price for a San Diego Chargers team being shunned by football royalty known as the Manning’s. Rivers had an exceptional and long-lasting career, one that, in my opinion, is deserving of an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Takeaways for Future Evaluations
This one is quite clear, watch the tape before making any determinations about a player and their ability to play at the next level. Or, in other words, don’t judge a book by its cover. His mechanics were certainly a hurdle that needed to be overcome but, had I just taken the time to watch a few games, I would have realized how easy his evaluation actually was. Rivers had so many elite traits that compensated for an unorthodox throwing motion. This wasn’t his only deficiency; athletic ability and a lack of mobility would have been a concern (although not nearly as big a concern in 2004 as it would be today). His rare anticipation, accuracy, touch, decision making, competes, and leadership was more than enough to make for a relatively easy projection. The reality is scouts are told to find what a player can do, not what they can’t because sometimes the easy part is identifying things to not like.