April 09, 2010
On the occasion of his first workout for NFL teams (and private workouts for specific teams in the last week), the specter of Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen's "pro-readiness" is once again touted as the primary reason Clausen will make a sizeable and fairly immediate impact on the professional team that drafts him. On the negative side, some point to his alleged personality issues - I'll stay away from those since I don't know the guy, but his inability to make consistent throws over 20 yards in the air has me a bit concerned. Personally, I think Clausen should give a decent share of his NFL signing bonus to receiver Golden Tate (seen here on Clausen's right at the aforementioned workout), for going severely vertical on all those deep floaters and making the young signal-caller look better on the long stuff than he actually is.
Still, Clausen's tutelage under Charlie Weis does give him several advantages over the spread offense quarterbacks around him in this draft class. Mostly, it's the little things. He can look off the safety. He can progress through his reads and make the right choice most of the time. And mostly, he has a comfort level under center that guys like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow most certainly do not. Primarily, that's because the other quarterbacks named played almost exclusively out of the shotgun.
According to this excellent blog post by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert, Clausen threw from under center on 113 of his 425 attempts, which means that he operated out of the shotgun 73 percent of the time. That may come as a surprise to those who want to peg him as the "safe pick" in this draft because he isn't one of those rootin', tootin' spread offense wackos. Seifert also details that McCoy threw from under center 12 times in 2009, while Bradford and Tebow each did so exactly once.
But just as Clausen would seem to be in the lead when it comes to the NFL switch, the ground is shifting beneath his feet. As I wrote in the Washington Post last August, the NFL has seen the percentage of shotgun snaps increase exponentially in recent years. In the decade from 1999 to 2008, shotgun snaps on all plays (run/pass/penalty) went from 3,848 in 1999 (12.4 percent of all snaps) to 10,073 (32.3 percent) in 2008. In 2007, the New England Patriots were the first team to take over 50 percent of their total snaps from shotgun, and theirs may have been the greatest offense of all time.
Clausen may still have a bit of a head start when he hits the NFL, but that isn't what it used to be. If he doesn't come to the game with the same skill set possessed by, say, Colt McCoy, he may find himself getting passed by when the real world hits. There are those who wonder if Clausen hasn't been coached to his absolute ceiling.
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