Shutdown Corner - NFL

OK, I give!

In response to all the nastygrams from those who were displeased that my Top Five Combine Quarterbacks post didn't include Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour: no offense intended. I like LeFevour a lot, but put Tony Pike at No. 5 as I like his arm quite a bit more. But LeFevour has a lot to offer, and it's time to talk about it.

When I wrote a piece about Eastern Washington quarterback Mike Reilly(notes) for the Washington Post last year, I talked to Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN's NFL Matchup about how to analyze quarterbacks from small schools. How, I asked, should I pick apart the NFL-ready skill sets of quarterbacks who are facing Ball State and Alcorn State as opposed to Alabama and Florida? Greg, who's been watching game tape for a living since 1979, told me that you have to separate the skill set from the scheme and the opponent, and those words have stuck with me.

When looking at quarterbacks and trying to project them at the NFL level, a few things are required. The quarterback in question must make multiple reads in a big hurry. He must handle snaps under center and from the shotgun with about equal skill (or potential skill -- it's a good thing for all the spread offense-based quarterbacks that the percentage of NFL shotgun snaps has exploded in the last few years). And most of all, no matter how much we talk about Drew Brees(notes) and other guys who succeed in the pros by throwing underneath routes for high completion percentages, he must make what are called "stick throws" -- he must have the ability to hit receivers in tight windows anywhere from 12 to 20 yards. No matter who a quarterback is facing, that stuff either shows up, or it doesn't.

LeFevour comes into this next phase of his football life with a couple strikes against him. First, he played almost exclusively in a spread attack, and the pro lifespan for most spread quarterbacks is nonexistent. Second, there are legitimate concerns about his arm strength -- he impressed a lot of people by scoring two touchdowns in the Senior Bowl, but he also had observers slightly concerned with the ducks he threw during practices. More than anything, he'll need to show that he can hit those downfield throws with consistency at the combine.

LeFevour has been working with Zeke Bratkowski of Athletes' Performance Institute on taking the ball under center, and he knows he has something to prove that all spread quarterbacks do. The NFL has seen these touchdown machines before, chewed them up, and spit them out. Witness Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, who set the NCAA record with 134 passing touchdowns in three years as a starter, couldn't make an NFL club, and was last seen in the Canadian Football League.

"You're going up against the best and I was able to have some productivity," LeFevour said of the Senior Bowl performance. "I realize I have some work to do and there's not going to be as limited defensively at the next level as they were in this game. This is Pro Bowl rules."

NFL history is full of those stories, especially as the spread has grown in popularity. The combine is where Dan LeFevour will first try to transcend the status quo.

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