With over a week to go before the 2013 NFL Draft is finally here, one name has been linked to the Buffalo Bills for as long as Doug Marrone has been head coach. The team is in a full search for their next young quarterback, to which many make the argument that Syracuse's Ryan Nassib is their guy at some point of the draft.
When I first went through my quarterback evaluations in January, I didn't come away with the type of impressions that some others in the draft community did when it came to Nassib. I ranked him as the seventh best quarterback in this year's class.
Some draft analysts are saying that Nassib could be the best quarterback the draft has to offer, so I wondered if I missed something. That's the beauty of having so many people looking back to see what each player has to offer: differing perspectives that make you want to go back and look again just in case.
In the case of Ryan Nassib, here are some of the things I took away.
Strong Arm - He's got the zip necessary and can get a ball out to the target quickly with the snap of his wrist. He can rear back and dart one in to his receiver on difficult intermediate throws. Possesses the prototypical NFL arm.
Intermediate accuracy - In the intermediate area, this is where Nassib really shines though. If he can put some heat on the pass, he can get it to his receiver in stride more often than not. It's not an every play consistency (he will miss, sometimes badly), however he shows enough in this area to be an upgrade over the last Bills quarterback.
Anticipation - It's very simple. Some quarterbacks throw to their receivers when they're open, and others see the player about to be open and deliver the ball while the receiver is still coming out of his break. Once again, in the intermediate areas, Nassib excels in this part of his game. You can tell he has a good grasp of both his receivers' tendencies and where the play is headed. It's an important trait for an offense like the one Nathaniel Hackett runs.
Pocket escapability - Nassib is very active in the pocket, and feels the pressure. You'll see him ducking under outstretched arms and trying to dart out of the pocket to make a play with his feet. He has good enough speed to get out of dodge in time.
Zone-read experience - The current darling principle of the NFL, Nassib has perhaps the most experience of any of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class in the zone-read game. He can sell it quite well, which makes up for his average foot-speed.
Deep throw accuracy - This is a big hangup for me with Nassib. Granted, this is an exaggerated example, but the only thing I can relate his deep-ball throws is giving an outfielder fly ball practice by chucking it as high and far as you can. A commonality of his deep throws are that the receivers often -- not always, but mostly -- have to slow up and wait for the ball to get to them. Even on a throw where one of his teammates' defenders fell in coverage, Nassib's receiver had to come to a dead stop to bring in the ball. If Nassib is going to be the starting quarterback, you are going to need wideouts that can go up and battle to bring the ball down when you're trying to hit them deep. A potential for a lot of interceptions unless this improves.
Touch throws - I've seen examples where he can hit on his touch throws, but it's not nearly enough to keep out of the 'dislikes' category. If Nassib isn't putting velocity on the pass, the accuracy dramatically dips with his throws. Not every throw is going to be one where he can rely and fire out a fastball, especially with the type of coverage in the NFL.
Standing tough in the pocket - Although he is quite good at getting outside of the pocket when danger arises, there is an argument to be made that he does it a bit too prematurely. It seems like he needs space in that pocket to operate the way he wants. That simply doesn't exist consistently in the NFL, especially in a league that's trending towards much more aggressive defensive looks. At times, he'll do a bit of a jump throw that he gets away with, but it obviously gives a defense that much more time to react than stepping in to a throw and taking a hit would. I'd like to see him bail out less.
Busy feet - Perhaps this is just a pet peeve for me, but Nassib's feet are very, very busy in the pocket. There are drop-backs where it's more exaggerated than others, but at times it looks like he's hopping around as he's looking for his target. I wonder if it is a timing mechanism one of his early coaches taught him to slow him down a little bit. To me, it's a problem because he'll take a hop to square his feet towards the target before he delivers most throws. That's half a second that could be avoided if he was a little bit more smooth and relaxed in the pocket. I think it's a fixable thing, but it's not something I see from quarterbacks in the NFL.
Giving away the deep ball - When Nassib has to deliver a deep ball to his receiver, you'll notice a shoulder dip. He has used the pump fake with this before, but the dip could immediately signal an aggressive safety to head towards the sideline in attempt for an interception. It won't happen every time (which is why I'm listing it last), but deception is a key part of any offense. Anything you give away can turn in to an immediate disadvantage to your game plan.
In going back to look at Nassib, I'm here to admit my initial thoughts on him were a little off. While he has his deficiencies, he is a better prospect than both Mike Glennon and Landry Jones. However, with as many deep-ball problems as he has, I have a hard time ranking him ahead of players that can get the ball there, and offer other intangibles to help boost their draft stock.
With that said, it is hard to fully know these prospects without getting the chance to understand their knowledge of the game by person-to-person meetings. He could excel over a Geno Smith or a Tyler Bray in those categories, players that I have ranked as third and fourth best.
My concern with Nassib is quite rudimentary. If he struggles as much as he does in throwing the deep ball, teams will do the exact same thing to him as they did with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills. They'll move in and attempt to force them to take shots down the field. Thankfully for Nassib, he has the intermediate accuracy to not make this in to such a damning issue.
I think Nassib can start in this league. However, if he wants to have a long career as a starter in the NFL, the deep ball has to get better. I know he has the arm -- I've seen it. I just don't understand why he doesn't use it on those throws. And if he were to come to Buffalo with the same head coach and offensive coordinator, you'd have to wonder just how much they would try to change that part of his game.