Florida Gators fans are going to be tuned to SEC Network on the afternoon of April 14 to watch their team compete in the 2018 Orange and Blue Debut.
For sure, there are things that fans will be able to learn about the team. What will the defense look like under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham? Will the coaches at least pretend that special teams is a priority? But obviously the focus of most fans will be the offense, specifically the QB battle.
But it may be that Gators fans will be watching the wrong QB battle.
On that same day on the Big 10 Network, Ohio State will be staging a QB battle of its own as 4-star (91st nationally) redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins, 4-star (280th nationally) redshirt junior Joe Burrow and 4-star (56th nationally) redshirt freshman Tate Martell fight to be the next Buckeye’s signal caller.
Back in March, Zach Abolverdi indicated that Burrow may transfer if he doesn’t win the job with the Buckeyes. Burrow would be immediately eligible to play as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility left. Considering Haskins passed him on the depth chart last season and that Martell is the highest ranked of the three, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s the route Burrow decides to take.
So the question is whether a guy who would have been second or third on the Ohio State depth chart is an upgrade for Florida?
The Statistical Case for Burrow
I was asked by Twitter user @jab2375 a couple of weeks ago whether I thought Burrow was a good option. My initial reaction was that if Florida is yet again relying on a graduate transfer then the Gators are in trouble.
I said this because I think graduate transfer and immediately think of Austin Appleby or Malik Zaire, decent QBs who had definitive flaws you could see in their statistical profile. But when I looked deeper, it became clear that Burrow is not Appleby or Zaire.
If you have read my previous work, you know how much stock I put into high school accuracy. If you haven’t read it, suffice it to say that looking back at history indicates two things: First, high level offenses almost always have QBs with high (> 65%) completion percentages. Second, high school completion percentages of most QBs are within 2-3 percentage points of their completion percentage in college.
So what do Burrow’s high school statistics look like?
Consider me interested. These aren’t just good numbers. These are elite numbers.
The top offenses in the country last year (by yards per play against FBS opponents) were Oklahoma and Central Florida. UCF QB McKenzie Milton ranked sixth in completion percentage (67.1) while Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield ranked first (70.5). Of the top 10 offenses, the average completion percentage was 63.9 and the average national ranking was 31st.
Based on what has happened historically, Burrow should be able to step in and put up elite accuracy numbers. And his numbers aren’t just a product of a bunch of dump-offs, as he averaged nearly 13 yards per attempt his senior year. This is someone who is throwing the ball down the field.
I believe this even stronger after I looked at what Gators fans should expect from Emory Jones were he to start his freshman year. That analysis showed that you have a pretty good idea of whether the accuracy will transfer after three starts at the college level.
While Burrow hasn’t started any games, he has thrown 39 passes in mop-up duty at Ohio State and has completed 74.4 percent of those passes with a QB rating of 153.1. Yes, we need to understand that he’s come into the game late and isn’t playing against the best defenses. But still, his accuracy has thus far transferred to college and that’s what we would want to see.
And while I would consider Burrow a pro-style passer, he is not stationary. His high school stats tell that tale as well.
You don’t average over 5 yards per rush by being stationary, particularly because yardage from sacks is counted against rush yardage in high school and college football.
So the statistical profile says that Burrow is an accurate passer, has the ability to throw downfield, has enough running ability to be a weapon in the run game if needed and he doesn’t throw interceptions (63 TD to 2 INT his senior year).
Film Study of Burrow
So if all of that is true, why would Ohio State choose to go with Haskins or Martell? Well, I don’t think there’s any doubt that those two have more physical tools. Martell ran for over 1200 yards and threw for over 2300 his senior year in high school. And Haskins can do this.
Haskins outruns a defensive back (Khaleke Hudson, number 7) to the corner. You’re not going to see Burrow do this. He does show some mobility in the pocket, but he doesn’t have a second gear that Urban Meyer likes his QBs to have.
But I do believe that Burrow has a more polished passing game.
This is a frozen rope of a throw from Haskins, but he throws right into the teeth of the coverage. Michigan is in a single high safety look shaded towards the receiver at the top of the screen. He is able to fit the ball in the tight space over the corner and beneath the safety, but he gets his receiver decked.
In a single high safety defense, typically the safety has deep responsibility in the middle of the field. If that were the case, then Haskins made the right throw. But the safety doesn’t drop into the middle of the field because Haskins turns to the right immediately upon receiving the snap.
This is the kind of throw that coaches look at and think, “If I can teach him to read the safety and harness his ability, we’ll be unstoppable.” The problem with that line of thinking is that I think knowing where to go with the ball is a skill just as – if not more – important as arm strength.
Here’s pretty much the same defensive look that Burrow faced the season before.
It’s subtle, but Burrow doesn’t give away that he’s throwing to the outside immediately. In fact, it looks like he’s reading the safety right from the snap. In this case, the safety does play a deep centerfield and so the throw to the outside is open.
If you watch that throw, you see why Burrow doesn’t have the same ranking as Haskins or Martell. His arm is good, but isn’t going to wow anyone. It’s decent and he fits the ball in, but he’s not going to throw anyone open.
That’s very apparent in this next play.
Burrow does some really good things on this play. He comes off of his primary read and looks out into the flat at his running back. Seeing that the running back is covered, he comes back to a third read and delivers the ball against one-on-one coverage. He just doesn’t have the arm strength to get it there and it should have been intercepted.
This will come back to bite him eventually. At some point, you have to fit the ball into a tight space, and Burrow will struggle with that in a way that Martell and Haskins will not. But one thing you’ll notice with Burrow is that he seems to be throwing to receivers who are wide open a lot of the time.
On this throw, Burrow sees 2-deep coverage, which means he has a linebacker in one-on-one coverage on his inside slot receiver. Easy completion to set up third-and-short.
On this play, Burrow sees the tight end release but the defensive end still rushes the passer. That means the safety has to come across the formation to cover the tight end. Again, it’s an easy completion to set up third-and-short.
And while I mentioned that Burrow is not Haskins or Martell when it comes to running the ball, he’s not a stiff.
Burrow not only escapes the pocket on this play, but he is able to make an additional man miss downfield. Nobody is going to mistake him for Kadarius Toney, but this is something you could easily see as being very effective in a Dan Mullen offense.
If you constantly see a QB throwing to wide open receivers, it can’t always be because of a broken coverages. Defenses have to make choices about what they want to give up. It is the QBs job to exploit those weaknesses.
Burrow does this really well. His high accuracy numbers are not because he fits the ball into tight windows. It’s because he reads the defense well and delivers the ball decisively to the right place.
Haskins and Martell have better arms and better running ability. For those reasons, I don’t think Burrow is going to win the Ohio State job. In fact, I would say that Feleipe Franks and Emory Jones probably both have better running and throwing skills than Burrow if we’re just looking at how they look in shorts and a t-shirt.
But Burrow delivers the ball to the correct man much more often than other QBs. This is why he is accurate. It’s why he put up the numbers he did in high school. And it’s why he has succeeded, despite not having a cannon for an arm or a 4.4 40-yard dash time.
I have no idea whether he is going to transfer or not, and I have no idea whether Dan Mullen wants to bring him on board or not. But he should want to, because Burrow is the kind of elite QB who can turn a program around quickly.
With all of the noise surrounding recruiting rankings – and how heavily I subscribe to them – this is one situation where I don’t believe that the ranking matches the skill set. Burrow may not have an NFL-caliber arm. But he doesn’t need that to be an elite college QB.
So if you’re following my Twitter feed next weekend, chances are you may see some comments about the Buckeye’s spring game. I’ll be rooting like crazy for Tate Martell and Dwayne Haskins.
Because man, would it be nice to have Joe Burrow in Gainesville.