NFL Draft question: will the spread spread?

Well, another NFL draft is in the books.

It occurs to me that we’re about to see an interesting experiment unfold in the next few years with regard to the fate of quarterbacks coming out of college pro-style offenses vs. college spread option quarterbacks.  This year we saw two junior quarterbacks picked in the top five, including a kid in Mark Sanchez who only had fifteen collegiate starts under his belt.  What they had in common was that both played in pro-style offenses at Georgia and Southern Cal.

It’ll be worth watching to see how the three high profile quarterbacks in next year’s draft – Bradford, McCoy and Tebow – fare.  And, of course, how they develop over time in the pros in comparison to Stafford and Sanchez.

But the other issue here is whether the NFL finds itself over time adapting more elements of collegiate offenses to better utilize the quarterback draft pool.  Chris Brown (of course) has some thoughts about that.

… College coaches’ jobs are to win football games and succeed in college, not to run an offense the pro guys like. And, while some scouts might chafe at having to evaluate a guy who stands in the gun all the time with four or five wide, Kubiak at least recognizes that it is their job to succeed with whatever colleges are being produced. But all this — and the whole article — assumes an answer to Chase Daniel’s question:

“I’ve been telling some coaches I think that’s the way the game’s going,” Daniel said.

Is Daniel right? Or are these pro guys right? The best you get is Jim Zorn saying, “But they also find the whole game is not played that way at this level. It’s just not.” “It’s just not,” of course, is not an argument (it’s just not). But let’s assume that he is right that the all-spread (and this article is about the pass-first spread, not just the spread-to-run) is inappropriate for the pros: why? Is it the speed? The specialization of talent?

Chris doesn’t have an answer to that, and neither do I.

And that’s why I’ll be interested in following the NFL career of Pat White.  The Wildcat offense is the trendy offensive development of the moment in the pros and it will certainly be intriguing to see White given a shot to run it in Miami.  But the real question for me is whether he’s limited to running a exotic scheme for a few snaps a game, or whether he’s given the opportunity to develop into something more – either by becoming a full-blown NFL quarterback in the traditional sense, or as a result of Miami, or some other team, making a leap and embracing the spread as its primary offensive scheme.

Because if this experiment – and that’s pretty much what it is at this stage – succeeds and Pat White, or someone with a similar skills package, becomes part of the status quo at the next level, that’s going to make it easier for a college coach to sell himself and the kids he’s looking at for his program that the spread attack isn’t merely a way to win on the college level, but something that his players can immerse themselves in without giving up their dreams of playing on Sundays.

And that’s going to have a significant effect on the college game’s approach to the recruiting and development of offensive talent.  We’ll see where this goes.


Filed under College Football, Strategery And Mechanics

10 responses to “NFL Draft question: will the spread spread?

  1. kckd

    Wasn’t the pass “spread” already tried once by a few teams including Atlanta and Houston back in the late eighties and early nineties.

    Why is it not still around if it can succeed.

    Seems to me those teams were fine moving it up and down the field, but couldn’t score TDs in the redzone.


    • The “run and shoot” is dead as an NFL offense, but, as Chris Brown points out, a lot of its concepts are still utilized.


    • The Realist

      The Greatest Show on Turf won a Super Bowl not too long ago. They were pass first. One problem is the accumulation and retention of sufficient talent to keep something like that going long-term is near impossible with free agency and a salary cap. Look at Arizona now. They can’t keep both Fitzgerald and Boldin.


  2. The Realist

    I think the only way for us to truly know is for Urban Meyer to go to the NFL. I think he would be a perfect fit in Oakland. They like speed, he likes speed… a match made in heaven. Al Davis, get on this.


  3. dean

    The fact that Chase Daniel and Graham Harrell didn’t get drafted tells me the spread isn’t spreading like wildfire.


  4. Joe

    The true “Spread” cannot work in the NFL because the QB is the highest paid and most important player in all of sports and the risk of injury to him is too great.

    The true “Spread,” like the option before it is predicated on the threat of the QB running the ball at any time. It just cannot work in the NFL because of the investment in QB’s and the plethora of 6’4″ 260 lb wrecking balls on defense.

    The spread that we see now is nothing more than a way to get favorable 1-on-1 matchups, which is what great offensive football has always been about. But, you will never see a true “Spread” because there cannot be a running QB in the NFL who has any longevity.


  5. Nola Dawg

    I was always under the impression that one of the big reasons Rich Rodriguez has had so much success with the spread with less talent than mainstream schools (Tulane vs and LSU or USC) was because the spread’s purpose is to isolate players 1 on 1. This is, as Joe stated, predicated on the ability of the quarterback to run, otherwise the defense has an extra player. But even more than that, I always believed the spread worked to exploit mismatches between a few very talented players (Pat White, etc.) and either less talented or less experienced defensive players, with the understanding that it takes more talent or knowledge to make an open field tackle as a corner than it does to break one. Obviously, this would rarely be the case in the NFL. Am I way off base here? Thoughts?


  6. Mike In Valdosta

    Gimmick ball, whether Urban Meyers’, Spurrier’s, or Rodriguez’z are designed to take advantage of mismatches and get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. They do not require great offensive lines because of the quick release.

    Example, you have one truly great athlete, none of your other ten would play for your opponent. You try to spread field and isolate your best player. Logically, this gives you the best chance to win. It also creates a lot of arguments that start with “We would have won if so and so had not been hurt.”

    Those match ups are even harder to come by in the NFL. I never thought MeyerS would make it work in gainesville. But we still heard that argument regarding Teapot being hurt the day of the dance.

    Personally, I would rather watch Oklahoma drills in practice as to watching 2 spread teams “compete”.


  7. Siskey

    I think that it could happen. An example of the NFL changing is the new reliance on “tailbacks by committee.” Most of us grew up watching one guy run 30+ times a game and seeing that player in some cases have a long career and in others fall apart after a season or two of this. Now teams mitigate this by splitting those carries to two or more running backs so the players don’t carry it as much but the running game is still successful. Maybe there will be a day when Quarterbacks are not the most well paid player and are instead more interchangeable. I don’t know if this will happen but I am sure that if one team ever has success with it then it will take off and be copied by the rest of the league so it will be interesting to see White at Miami and wherever Tebow ends up next year because those two best represent the spread quarterback.


  8. MacAttack

    Don’t get me wrong, having kids drafted HIGH and having kids playing well in the NFL are important….and helpful to recruiting

    But, I do get the feeling that we love this argument because UF keeps kicking our ass

    If Richt needed to do something that was college-only and not used in the NFL….I would sure hope he would do it as him WINNING is more important than his kids winning at the next level, imo