Marcus Mariota is the ideal, right? If the Eagles could realistically get one quarterback in this draft, he's the guy. He's Chip Kelly's ultimate guy. It's not Jameis Winston who, despite his ability (and always super important fan allegiance to the Eagles growing up), presents significant off-field red flags and whose track record in that capacity goes against everything the franchise preaches about character and culture. After those two, the consensus is that the talent at quarterback drops off a cliff.
For, like, 64 hours Cardale Jones was the hottest name based on an unprecedented three-game whirlwind and the next Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Daunte Culpepper rolled into one. Then he announced he was staying at Ohio State for one more season. Brett Hundley is skipping the Senior Bowl, but he's another guy who will get linked to the Eagles because of his combination of size and athleticism. That said, I don't like him nor any of the other quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl as much as I like Blake Sims. I think he's the third-best quarterback prospect in the draft and an intriguing option at the most important position in professional sports -- a position that, in my opinion, is the most vital need for the Philadelphia Eagles, since I've made it clear I don't think Nick Foles is the long-term answer. He'll be the starter at the beginning of the 2015 season, but I strongly feel you're going to get the player closer to the one you saw in 2014 than the one you saw in 2013, and that the franchise is stuck on a hamster wheel. Some people will agree with that assessment, others will disagree. That's fine. Only time will tell which faction is correct. Either way, the Eagles absolutely cannot go into next season with the same three quarterbacks on the roster. Can we at least all agree on that? Ok, cool. Now I want to break down the good and bad with Sims, and which traits appeal to me most.
Reminder: If you're not talking about Blake Sims as a target for the Eagles in the draft, you're wrong— Dan Klausner (@dklausner) December 6, 2014
I got a tip from a friend, whose opinion I deeply respect, back in late September that I should give Blake Sims a look. I wasn't prospect-watching yet but decided what the hell. I tuned in live for the Alabama-Ole Miss game the following weekend to get my first exposure to Sims. The very first offensive snap of the game for the Crimson Tide, he showed off his ability as a runner (he played running back at first) out of a "full house" set. As always, the video cuts contained herein are via the lovely, phenomenal, doing-God's-work fellas at draftbreakdown.com. Click here for Sims' library on the site. Unfortunately, trying to put all the GIFs into this post froze the whole thing and caused a "connection error," so we had to call an audible. I'm just going to post the full-game video cuts with a log where you can find the plays I'm referencing, and I'll link the GIFs to the timestamps to be opened in another window.
Ole Miss (October 4)
0:12 -- Sims keeps the ball on the zone read, follows his blockers, sticks his left foot in the ground and accelerates through the crease that develops just outside the hash marks for an easy eight-yard gain on first down. I would've liked to him stay on his feet and try to make the second-level defender miss to break off an even bigger run, however, since he's shown he's more than capable of snapping jock straps (as you'll see later). I know the play might feel "meh" on its face, but just remember this is a staple in our offense and that the Eagles don't have a quarterback on the roster who can do this consistently in order to maximize the potential of Kelly's scheme. It's now an advantageous 2nd-and-2 situation, and the entire playbook is at your disposal.
Greg Cosell has spoken at length before about what makes Russell Wilson so special as a mold-breaking, dynamically mobile quarterback, and that is his basic instinct: pass first, run second. Most often, the inverse is true for a quarterback of Wilson's ilk. I see the same pass first, run second instinct with Sims. His eyes do not drop at the first hint of pressure, and he does not abandon his progressions while immediately shifting into gotta-take-off mode.
0:44 -- The pressure isn't overwhelming, but there is penetration up the middle to disrupt the pocket. Sims keeps his head up and feet ready even as he dances around. He looks to each part of the field and at every read even as he starts rolling, before tucking and running. Though he comes up short of the first down by a yard, I like that he exhausted all possible passing scenarios before taking off (and as the replay showed, everyone was blanketed).
1:02 -- Let's take a look at Sims as a passer. On this next instance, he shows the pass first, run second instinct again. Prior to the throw, he has pressure up the middle. Sims steps back to give himself that extra split second while the routes develop, resets his feet, and, with the defensive end closing in, lofts a touch pass to O.J. Howard before the cornerback can get there to make a play on the ball
2:27 -- Throwing with anticipation and into a tight window. Now, at first glance, this seems like a horrible decision by Sims with two defenders right there, including the safety as a "robber." It's a pass that should have been intercepted by Cody Prewitt. However, if you listen to the broadcast during the replay, you realize that the receiver lost his balance at the top of his route (when Sims released the ball) and therefore couldn't finish it or "stump back to the quarterback at all" upon turning around. If he does, he's in position to make the catch instead of Prewitt. Then again, here's what you also notice on the replay, and it's not a good look for Sims: Had he waited on his progressions, he would've seen Amari Cooper get inside the flat-footed cornerback on a post and separating down the seam for an easy touchdown.
And now for two plays in a single series that aren't so flattering...
4:29 -- It was a doomed play from the start. No one was able to execute a block (look at #88 O.J. Howard on the cornerback -- gross) and Ole Miss had two defenders there with two more in pursuit. The smart move, especially in this part of the field, would've been to just go forward after making the first defender miss and try to get back to the line of scrimmage. Backing up and then trying to get to the edge was an ill-advised, trying-to-do-too-much decision and turned a one-yard loss or no gain into a six-yard loss. Just like with a throwaway, you have to know when to go down and accept simply moving on to the next down. Speaking of throwaways...
4:51 -- Noooooo no no no no no no no nooooooooo!!! An inexcusable decision. I know Sims is going to his left and this makes for a really tough throw, but you have to get rid of the ball here, even if you just flip it forward or contort your body to throw it out of bounds. What you absolutely cannot do is take a loss of yards to push your offense out of field goal range. The strange thing is that earlier in this same game, Sims showed the awareness to throw -- well, flip -- the ball away before going out of bounds in order to preserve precious yards, although he was going to his natural side in said instance. That was on second down, and then on third down the offense converted by a half-yard with a middle screen. In this case, the four yards Sims lost by stepping out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away made the potential field goal attempt a 51-yarder and Nick Saban elected to punt.
First play of the next Alabama offensive possession, we're back to the good: Manipulation and movement of defenders with eyes and pump fakes.
5:20 -- This is gorgeous. I imagine Sims decided he was going to Howard before the snap -- the good kind of pre-determined throw -- but knew the only way he could get him open was to look towards Cooper to draw the safety that way and subtly pump to hold him. Check out the replay from the elevated camera view.
5:32 -- Instant replay: Look at Cody Prewitt (#25) getting played like a puppet. He's lined up in the box, to the left of the closest hash and in perfect position to cover Howard. Even with the shaded safety over the top of Cooper, Prewitt bites hook, line and sinker on Sims' eyes after the snap. You think the Ole Miss defense was concerned about Cooper? Four guys directed their attention towards him! Sims used that overaggressiveness against them, especially Prewitt, to open up the middle of the field for Howard to run free. Sure, this is on Prewitt, whose football IQ is lacking and he never should have been fooled by all the other crap given the coverage. Still a noteworthy, advanced play by Sims.
6:00 -- Touch pass. This one is placed perfectly in a pocket between two defenders (helps that the safety slipped).
6:34 -- While the eye manipulation and throw to Howard was an example of a savvy pre-snap decision, here's Sims showing a troubling penchant for committing to his first read and going there no matter what. He locks on and doesn't see the underneath defender on the periphery sliding to step in front (this looks like it might be a miscommunication with the receiver, as well, since he's running a slant and the throw was going to be behind him). You'll see the same thing in the Texas A&M game later in this post. It's a problem that cannot be brushed aside and must be used as a mark against Sims for detractors who knock his decision making for being inconsistent. It's frustrating because he'll make some really good decisions about where to go with the ball before and after the snap, and then you'll see these kinds of decisions that make you cringe. That the interception was dropped here does not matter. Process over results at a crucial juncture of the game.
7:20 -- 2nd and 2. Low snap, Sims bends to pick it up while moving back and is able to seamlessly maintain his balance without ever dropping his head. He immediately looks left to his initial two reads before turning to the middle of the field. Sims steps -- well, starts to run -- up in the pocket and has two options: run or pass. Sims definitely would have picked up the first down with his legs and likely got to somewhere in between the 45- and 50-yard line before stepping out of bounds. Instead, he shows off the pass first instinct and fires a tight-window throw to his third read, Cooper, across his body. The ball, though slightly behind Cooper, has enough mustard and elevation to elude the diving defender's outstretched fingertips. Cooper makes the catch and then gallops another 25 yards.
8:08 -- The final play is the game-ending interception in the end zone. I love the decision and conviction from Sims here, as Howard beats his man and is open for what would have been the winning touchdown. However, this ball is too rainbow-y and floated; it needed better trajectory and zip and plays into criticisms about his arm. In fairness, let's not gloss over what a tremendous play this is by the corner, Senquez Golson (also a 2015 draft prospect), who kept his eyes on the quarterback and started to roll off Cooper as he saw Sims load up for the throw to Howard. Shifting into pseudo safety mode, he covers nearly 30 yards in under four seconds, coming to help over the top and beat Howard at the catch point for the pick. Tip your hat to Golson here, as there's no chance Sims could have anticipated or even seen him before releasing the throw.
Texas A&M (October 18)
0:13 -- Here's another tight-window throw on a designed rollout, this time with perfect placement.
0:23 -- Check the instant replay from the end-zone camera. In order to have a chance to be completed, this pass must be thrown behind the receiver since there's a defender in place to make a play if the throw leads him. Talk about a feel for the nuances of being a passer.
0:56 -- Tight-window throw on a rollout again, this time for what should have been a touchdown, but the ball became dislodged when the receiver hit the ground and was ruled incomplete after review.
1:22 -- It's a real shame about the drop because two plays later Sims shows one of his major flaws again: Pre-determined throw, one-read lock, tunnel vision, not seeing the defender cutting underneath. This should have been a 98-yard pick-six return.
Sticking with the Texas A&M game further, I want to examine three straight plays that really made a positive impression on me. The first...
3:38 -- Sims shows off patience in the pocket, the ability to go through his progressions and arm/deep accuracy. No pressure, and he's able to get to his third read with ease. Look at Sims set his feet, align his body and load from his base as he unleashes a gorgeous bucket throw. The ball travels 55-plus yards in the air, leads the receiver in stride and should have been caught.
3:48 -- Anticipation, tight-window throw on second down. Sims sees the matchup he wants with DeAndrew White in the slot running the slant. Back foot plants upon receiving the snap, quick release at the break, ball is delivered with velocity and perfect placement but goes right through White's hands.
3:53 -- More pass first, run second instinct, this time on third down to continue the drive -- and, guess what, the very next play was his electrifying touchdown run. Sims gets outside the pocket with some space in front of him. A less instinctive and mature passer would take off and try to get to the sticks on his own. What does Sims do? He keeps his eyes downfield as he puts the defense in conflict with the threat of the run, directs Cooper to an open space and then on the move fires a 20-yard strike for the first down.
Remember what I said about Sims being an ultra talented runner? Click on the 4:03 link below for the ridiculous touchdown on the drive from which the above three plays were lifted.
4:03 -- Are you kidding me? It's like I'm watching vintage Shady. Sims harkened to his running back days and broke ten ankles while leaving five jockstraps in his wake. He jukes three defenders AT ONCE behind the line, then darts right to open space and presses the hole to suck in #16 before exploding laterally and leaving him grabbing at air. Then he does the same exact thing to the last level defender, except from right to left, before motoring the final 30 yards for the touchdown. Beautiful, sexual, I know it made me squeal with excitement. If you love football and athleticism, this is the kind of play you watch on a loop with Chris Berman screaming "WHOOP!" in the background. A truly special display of skill from Sims, who has that quick acceleration and legit speed; I expect him to run in the 4.5-4.55 range in the 40-yard dash. Before you pick your jaw up off the ground, here's the end-zone camera view.
LSU (November 8)
1:35 -- It wasn't an auspicious start at all for Sims to this game. His early ball placement was poor, and he made some downright bad decisions -- including this one under pressure, when he's normally so calm and collected. Dude, what the hell? This should have been a pick-six for Danielle Hunter. Speaking of Hunter, here he is again, batting down a pass at the line. This happened one other time against LSU but not at all against Ole Miss or Texas A&M. Normally Sims is very Drew Brees- and Russell Wilson-esque in how he mitigates his height disadvantage with both his over-the-top release and how he navigates the pocket to find throwing lanes or rolls outside of it to do so.
3:19 -- Someone get Trent Dilfer on the line, we've got a DIME! (Nevermind the drop by Cooper)
Another trend I noticed with Sims in the three games profiled here: The plays he makes on third down.
3:39 -- Hanging tough in the pocket, here's a stick throw by Sims to Cooper in a square of defenders right before he gets hit by a free blitzer coming off the edge.
4:01 -- Some insane, back shoulder, Aaron Rodgers-type wizardry right here. An awesome play by Cooper to twist and make the catch while tightroping the sideline, yes, but this is the definition of a pro throw into suffocating coverage. Perfectly placed. Undefendable. And oh look, it's on third down again.
4:13 -- Ready for another dime of a touch pass Sims makes that his receiver drops? PUT UP BOTH OF YOUR HANDS AND CATCH THIS FOR THE TOUCHDOWN!
4:42 -- Dearest Chip: Please, please, PLEASE add this dimension to our offense. Thank you.
5:16 -- Time for the dropped-perfect-pass trifecta (this one on third down).
5:27 -- Rollout strike to Cooper, as he's turning his head around, for the fourth-down conversion.
5:38 -- Just like with the interception to end the Ole Miss game, it feels like Sims' ball here hangs in the air for an extra split second and enables the cornerback to whip his head around and get his hands in there to disturb the catch point. It's still a drop by White, but the throw adds to the degree of difficulty.
5:46 -- On the very next play, Sims recognizes the zero blitz, understands he'll have Cooper singled up outside and, within a beat of receiving the snap, calmly delivers an easy, catchable ball on the slant. Cooper does the rest for the touchdown.
6:12 -- Another bucket throw placed perfectly out in front of the receiver. A tougher catch for Cooper, but he should have had it.
7:55 -- Rolling to his left and a tough throw, but this is a pro scenario and there's enough of a window here that Sims needs to drop it in with touch, just as he's shown he's capable of doing. And it's on third down too, which makes it an even more significant miss.
8:11 -- The very next play: An anticipation, tight-window throw... and the fifth drop of the day by Sims' receivers.
9:00 -- This takes place on the drive that resulted in the tying field goal to send it to overtime. To me, it is unquestionably Sims' most impressive throw of the game because he drops it in a tight window between two defenders who are separated by five yards. And what does he get for his brilliance? You guessed it, a semi-alligator arm and drop number six.
9:11 -- Tell me this doesn't remind you of Russell Wilson. The athleticism to not only spin away from the oncoming defender, but then the athleticism to get to the sticks and awareness to reach the ball across the first-down marker on a crucial third down and get out of bounds. Are you convinced yet why I adore Sims as a fit for our offense?
9:31 -- Sims stares down the free rusher but gets the pass off... aaaaaaand drop number seven! Keep this in mind when you look at the box score and see that Sims went 20/45 for 209 yards (4.6 yards per attempt).
I swear, if I were a scout and my GM asked me why he should draft Blake Sims, I'd simply tell him to watch this drive. Undaunted during adversity and makes play after play after play.
9:48 -- Third down after the Cooper drop, 21 seconds remaining. Sims evades pressure and rolls right outside the pocket, directs his receiver to come back towards him to open space and then delivers a low but very catchable throw where only his guy can get it. And hey, he caught it!
10:16 -- After spiking the ball, let's try to make this an even closer field goal and run one more play with 12 seconds on the clock, shall we? Sure, no problem, Sims will just throw a perfect 23-yard out route to the sidelines.
10:26 -- Overtime. Crazy formation. Another deft touch pass from Sims, this one to set up the winning touchdown. Hey, maybe the Patriots watched film of this game at some point during the season and filed away this formation/play to use at the perfect time? You know, like against the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoff.
10:58 -- On the game-winning touchdown throw, Sims, as he is wont to do, puts the ball up for his receiver in a one-on-one situation and tacitly instructs him to make a play.
This article is already way too long and most of you likely won't make it this far, but here's some background on Sims that you should definitely read if you lazily question his intelligence and aptitude purely based on hearing him speak in an interview. He's obviously smart enough, motivated and as hard a worker as you'll find -- the kind of guy you don't count out, the kind of guy you root for to succeed. And here's a sampling of what a teammate and Nick Saban had to say about Sims before the season even began:
"He's a perfect teammate," fellow fifth-year senior Nick Perry said. "He'll do anything to help the team out, help the team win."
"If you look at Blake's career here, he's played every position we ever asked him to play," Saban said Wednesday. "He's done whatever you ask him to do. He's very well-liked by all the players and the team and he's a really good guy to lead. It's really isn't all about him. He does a lot to serve other people."
That Saban quote... I think Chip would like it.
Hopefully you went through each of the plays I featured and understand my reasoning, why I'm so bullish on Sims as a quarterback target for Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles. I know his first half against Auburn in the Iron Bowl was rough, but his second half was stellar. I also know that everyone's lasting impression is his meltdown against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl (I'll break down these games in a followup piece). I can't defend Sims other than to say these things happen, especially with a first-year starting quarterback, and that his flaws were exposed against an Ohio State Buckeyes defense that went on to abuse Oregon's previously unstoppable offense. Sims isn't perfect (and his Senior Bowl weigh-in was not flattering), but he's got an array of traits and moldable skills that should be valued -- and, if drafted, cultivated -- by the Eagles' coaching staff. I sure know I value them and at least would love to see what he could do here. It's a great situation to get drafted into, since he'll sit and learn the scheme behind Foles instead of getting thrown into the fire from the outset. I've waffled between a third- and fourth-round grade for Sims, but when it comes to quarterbacks, I always go with the higher projection and therefore would peg his value in the third round since I think he has starter upside. If the Eagles feel he's their guy, then I would advise they do everything in their power to prevent him from being stolen right from under them by another team -- such as what happened three years ago with a certain incredibly athletic and poised, sub-6'0" quarterback who's Sims' natural comparison and is about to play for his second Super Bowl title in as many seasons.