The time has come to start looking closer and closer at 2016 NFL draft prospects. The Eagles sit at 1-3, unfortunately, and the chances of the playoffs look very bleak. Trying to stay positive, there is a lot to be excited about in this upcoming draft class, as it is stacked with blue chip talent at various positions. However, it is looking more and more like the Eagles should address the quarterback position relatively early and the quarterback class does not offer a ton of inspiring talent. The best of the quarterbacks, however, is NC State's Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett started his career out at the University of Florida, but eventually had to transfer because then Florida coach, Will Muschamp was set on starting Jeff Driskel, who eventually flamed out for the Gators and is currently at Louisiana Tech. Brissett had to sit after transferring, but hit the ground running when he got to take the reins last season. Brissett had his hiccups in his first season, but he displayed a lot of NFL traits, which is incredibly encouraging considering his lack of experience.
Standing a 6-4, 240 pounds, no one will question's Brissett's size. He is built like an ideal NFL quarterback, possessing great size to help him both in the pocket and when he is on the move. Brissett has an incredibly strong arm, having the ability to truly threaten any level of the field. Brissett does a great job of winning in the pocket, but he also has plus athletic ability that keeps defenses honest. He has the ability to not only extend plays outside of the pocket, but his size and speed make him a dangerous runner in the open field. From a purely physical standpoint, Brissett is precisely what any team would want in their quarterback; Well built, strong armed and possessing dynamic athletic ability.
As a passer, Brissett's mentality is what makes him so good, yet, somehow, also causes pause to a lot of evaluators. Brissett is an aggressive passer. He wants the big play. Having the arm that he does, his mentality often leads to a lot of splash plays that few other quarterbacks in the country will create. Of course, looking for a big play can also risk turnovers. When a quarterback is constantly firing down the field or testing small windows, there is as much downside as there is upside. Brissett also has a tendency to stick to his reads down the field, missing open guys crossing at the shallow and intermediate levels of the field. So, in a way, his style leaves yardage on the field. Of course this is not a good thing, but I think Brissett's defining trait is certainly not a bad thing.
As Eagles fans can attest to, conservative quarterback play is awful. The idea of constantly checking down and looking for the high percentage play is rarely conducive to winning football games. Sure, this "safe" approach to quarterbacking will never directly correlate to losing football games, but offensive staleness and predictability will rarely lead to winning. When you look at any of the great quarterbacks in the NFL like Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, etc. they all have a killer instinct when playing quarterback. The want to rip out the throats of defenses by attacking them in any way, never shying away from small windows. This makes these quarterbacks incredibly difficult to game plan for, because they will attack any defense. Sure, they can check down when it is needed or play conservatively when needed, but the mentality that they have at quarterback cannot be taught...
Brissett has that mentality.
He wants the big play. He wants to put the ball 40 yards down the field, in between two defenders for a touchdown. He'll shrug off hits in the pocket and fight to extend a play so he can pick up a first down with his arm or feet. He has the game-breaking mentality and he has the tools to execute those big plays that he wants. When looking at quarterback play, it is important to evaluate them holistically rather than on a per play basis. It is the final product of a quarterback's game that defines their success, not any individual play. The fact is, you want a QB who will look for the big play on a regular basis, because even though they may make mistakes, their upside will outweigh the mistakes made. I would much rather coach occasional conservative play into a quarterback like Brissett than try to coach aggressive play into a "game manager" type of quarterback, because that just is not possible. Guys like Alex Smith will always be that type of player, Sam Bradford will likely always be that type of player. It is few and far between that you will see those quarterbacks successfully threaten defenses verticality or test smaller windows. Give me the quarterback who already does that and let him hone the necessity and efficiency at which they do that.
Brissett is not a perfect passer, he is far from it, but he has the mentality and the skill set to be an high level NFL quarterback. The truth is, through five games this season, Brissett looks a lot better working through his reads and working the intermediate levels of the field. His anticipation when hitting shallower receivers still needs work, but his improvement over the course of 18 games is incredibly impressive. Another thing that needs work is his ability to identify key match ups pre-snap. For instance, if he sees two defensive backs covering a trips formation, he should be able to immediately exploit that matchup and sometimes he misses it. However, I think that is something that comes from experience. Aside from pure passing, Brissett has to work to improve his natural feel for the pocket. He does not play scared in the pocket, far from it, but he needs to improve his awareness in terms of knowing when to get rid of the ball or to climb the pocket. These are things that come with experience, though, and the most important thing to me is that he is never playing scared.
NFL Comparison: Physically, Brissett reminds me of Brett Hundley, who was a three year starter at UCLA before getting drafted by the Packers on day three of the 2015 draft. Unlike Hundley, Brissett seems like a much more natural passer and seems a lot more comfortable and less rigid. He is not as dynamic as a runner as Hundley, but he absolutely is dynamic enough to make defenses respect the threat of his legs.
If the Eagles are in the market for a quarterback come time for the draft, which seems very likely, I love Brissett's fit here. He is functioning in a spread offense at NC State and should be comfortable running similar concepts at the NFL. His ability to stretch the field helps improve the entire offense and hopefully he will continue to work to improve his ability to pass at the intermediate levels of the field. I think his learning curve at the NFL will be large relative to his style, but in the long run, his style of play provides much more upside for an offense than it does downside. On top of everything he provides as a passer, he also gives the Eagles an added dimension as a runner, which will not only impact the coverages that he faces but it will also open things up for other running backs and make the zone read even more dangerous. I would be ecstatic about Brissett in Philly and I think the staff should be too.
See for yourself and make your own judgements!