Fri, Oct 05, 2018
By Jim Nagy
Penn State QB
Penn State suffered a disappointing 27-26 loss to Ohio State, but senior QB Trace McSorley did everything in his power to lead them to a victory. Throughout the game McSorley looked like the best player on the field, which is why he is our Reese’s Senior Bowl Offensive Senior of the Week.
When a prospect lacks size or speed, open-minded scouts often look for “compensating factors” that will allow a player to overcome the physical deficiencies — McSorley has plenty of those. While some NFL teams might knock him for not having ideal size or elite arm strength, the smart teams will focus on his high-end football intelligence, toughness and competitive nature. While it’s difficult to quantify or define, McSorley just has the “baller” quality that good evaluators of the quarterback position usually place the most emphasis.
As he did coming out of high school, when his favorite school, Virginia Tech, wanted him to play safety, McSorley will likely face doubters when he enters the pre-draft process. The good news for him is that players of similar stature and skill-sets have already proven it is possible to play QB at the next level. Two players that have helped themselves tremendously at the Senior Bowl in recent years are Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
When it truly applies, it is always beneficial for scouts to draw comparisons to players they have seen in the past. Those comparisons help the team’s decision makers — who maybe haven’t seen the player yet — get a visual picture of the prospect’s body type and talent. One “player comp” that is already widely being used in reference to McSorley is Mayfield.
Most scouts we have spoken with do not have as high of grades on McSorely as they did on last year’s Senior Bowl standout and No. 1 overall pick, however, they do see similarities when it comes to size, athleticism and grittiness. One area where scouts see a difference is arm strength. A year ago, many people questioned Mayfield’s arm until they saw him live and then most realized it was good enough. The key word being “enough."
Perhaps the most overrated physical trait at the QB position is arm strength. Not everyone is going to have a rifle arm like Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, but as long as they can make all the throws, then it’s good enough. A scout that saw him play live in State College last week described McSorley’s arm as “sneaky” and “better than you think,” which is exactly what guys were saying last year at this time about Mayfield.
Two ways that quarterbacks can excel without big-time arms is by throwing with anticipation and touch. One thing that stands out about McSorley’s game is that he routinely gives his receivers chances to make plays down the field and in the red-area, even when they are covered. In two of the biggest plays of last week’s game — WR Juwan Johnson’s 31-yard, one-handed catch down the left sideline in the first quarter and true freshman TE Pat Freiermuth’s 2-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter — McSorley’s timing and trust of his teammates paid off.
As a runner, McSorley is athletic and rugged enough be a legitimate dual-threat. He has better contact balance than you would think, and his high school lacrosse and basketball background is evident with the way he weaves through traffic.
We will get to judge for ourselves when we see McSorely play live against Iowa at Beaver Stadium on October 27.
Notre Dame DE/DT
There were a bunch of impressive defensive performances last Saturday, Boston College’s Zach Allen had 4 TFL and 2 sacks and Kentucky OLB Josh Allen had 4 TFL and 3 sacks, but none were more impressive than Tillery’s 4-sack effort in Notre Dame’s 38-17 win over Stanford.
We saw Tillery play live a few weeks ago against Wake Forest and he flashed in that game, but he took to it to a different level last Saturday against the Cardinal. It is very rare when you see any player get the quarterback four times in a game, let alone by someone that aligns as an interior DL as much as Tillery does for the Fighting Irish.
NFL teams place a premium on certain hard-to-find talents and perhaps the one skill-set at the top of that list is interior pass rusher. Physically, Tillery fits the prototype when it comes to being long, twitched-up, and powerful and scouts that want to sell him (to a GM or head coach) as a three-down player will point to last week’s game as Exhibit A when it comes to his upside as a rusher.
Unlike most taller interior DL that project mainly as 3-4 five-techniques, Tillery (listed at 6-7, 305 lbs.) is not simply a run-downs player. Scouts oftentimes refer to big 4-and 5-techs as “fence post” players because all they can generally do is hold the point-of-attack and play at the line of scrimmage, but they will need to come up with another descriptor for Tillery.
What makes Tillery different from a skill-set perspective is that he has the lower body flexibility and initial explosion to actually get upfield and be disruptive. Most of the time, longer-bodied players simply are not built for generating a great first-step but Tillery’s unique combination of suddenness and length make him a complete mismatch for the vast majority of college guards. The other aspect of his pass rush that cannot be overlooked is his ability to finish at the quarterback. While there are plenty of big-bodied inside players that can push the pocket, very few have the coordination and short-area maneuverability it takes to beat a block and then actually get the QB on the ground like Tillery can.
After a performance like last Saturday, Tillery will now be facing the question of why he does not show that type of dominant ability on a week-to-week basis. NFL teams tend to pick players apart, especially on top-round picks, so it will be important for Tillery to sustain a Stanford-like level of play the rest of the season. Going back to our live game view against Wake Forest, he flashed disruptive potential but it was not consistent throughout the game.
In our opinion, Tillery, who had only 4.5 sacks his entire junior season, is just scratching the surface. The players that generally benefit most from playing in the Senior Bowl are the dominant HWS (height, weight, speed) athletes that simply take over in 1-on-1 situations. In my 20 years coming to the game as a scout, players like former Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Dwight Freeney and current Denver Broncos perennial Pro Bowler Von Miller come to mind as players that could not be blocked in OL/DL pass rush drills.
|Jim Nagy is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He spent 18 years in the National Football League. In his time in the NFL, Nagy worked as an area scout in the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions, as well as in a national scouting capacity for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a part of six Super Bowl teams and four Lombardi Trophy winning clubs (Green Bay Packers XXXI, New England Patriots XXXVIII and XXXIX and Seattle Seahawks XLVIII).|