Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Does the run and shoot hurt a skill player's credibility nowadays?
The Yahoo Blogs are token food for thought most of the time, but MJD pointed out the snub that two Texas Tech players got, and the furor that resulted from Tech coach Mike Leach. Tech QB Graham Harrell put up prolific numbers during his senior year, but did not get drafted in any of the NFL Draft's seven rounds. A tryout with the Cleveland Browns did not yield a contract offer.
For those who don't know, Texas Tech employs a pass-happy spread offense with several receivers in lieu of blockers and runners. Tech throws on 1st down, throws on 2nd down, throws in its sleep and I wouldn't be surprised if they threw during kicks and punts. Coach Mike Leach recruits around this system and brings in hordes of receivers to go with his durable quick thinking quarterbacks. Harrell himself threw 50 times a game and rang up over 5000 yards passing, simply prolific at any level but incredible given Tech only played 13 games this season.
However, there are several knocks for players who come out of such a system.
- QBs are considered too one dimensional: They typically read defenses looking to stop the pass since it's so obvious what they're going to do. Such a QB may struggle in an NFL offense where he's going to see more diverse defensive sets and will need to make calls at the line, isn't accustomed to elements involving the running game such as play action, and may not know as well as other QBs when to audible between pass and run plays.
Also, the offense's M.O. allows QBs to ring up massive numbers because they throw every down, every game. Graham Harrell is not a 5000 yard passer in a typical two back offense. Is he even an average passer in a two back offense?
- Starting receivers in the system have an easy time ringing up big numbers because they get thrown to so much, and due to the spread out nature of the offense they don't take as many hits since defensive backs can't focus on them and tee off the way they could in a standard offense. It's hard to keep a receiver like Michael Crabtree in the crosshairs when Graham Harrell has four other targets he could easily burn you with. As a college corner, you could lock down Crabtree and still get shredded.
If an NFL corner can lock on Crabtree all night, with only one other wide receiver on the field, does Crabtree make 8 catches a game? Can Crabtree take a few bumps at the line of scrimmage and still make catches? Does he get up after that first bone crushing hit from a safety on a crossing route, and still have a good game? Can't say: He's never been the focal point of an offense... simply a piece of a bigger system.
CBS Sports helpfully broke down the legacy of Texas Tech QBs in Mike Leach's system:
- Cory Hodges threw for over 4000 yards in 2005. So did Sonny Cumbie in 2004. You might be able to fill a room with all the fans in the world who have heard of either player since.
- BJ Symons nearly reached 6000 passing yards in 2003, throwing for 5883 and 52 touchdowns. But he never played a down in the NFL, though he did log considerable time in the now defunct NFL Europe.
- Kliff Kingsbury was the last truly prolific Tech QB, ringing up 3400+ yards during Leach's formulative years of the program in 2000 and 2001 before a strong 5000 yard senior season. He did get drafted in the 6th round of the 2002 draft by the Patriots and rode the bench for four NFL teams before he hung it up.
Clearly, the NFL was never impressed with Leach's QBs, which explains why he's so angry with the league. Even the talented receiver Crabtree fell to the 4th round in this year's draft. Leach claims the league just drafted poorly.
But of the thirteen active NFL players from Tech, the only skill position players that have significantly produced are receiver Wes Welker and (curiously) fullback Sammy Morris. None of the aforementioned Tech QBs are active NFL players today. Could it be that players from a run and shoot system don't translate well to the two back and West Coast NFL offenses of today?
NFL teams have tried the run and shoot system (the Lions, Oilers and Falcons during the late 80's and early 90's) and found success, but also found the system had its limits. All three NFL teams I mentioned played in domed stadiums with Astroturf, which helped the speed players that fuel the run and shoot. These teams often got rolled when they went on the road and played outdoors against tough opponents, where the elements could easily throw off passes and the grass conditions could throw off timing.
For example, when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1991, their two playoff wins prior to the Super Bowl came at their cold, muddy home field (RFK Stadium) against the Falcons and the Lions, both teams rendered impotent by the muddy conditions before the tough Redskins defense finished them off.
Tech does play outdoors, but their home surface is turf rather than grass, which helps the speedy receivers, and their home campus (Lubbock, TX) is in a warm location. The adjustment to the NFL's colder confines, mostly on grass fields, has to be a concern when scouts first set eyes on these Tech players who ring up prolific numbers. Add in an unconvincing performance at the scouting combine and a lackluster track record of NFL success, and maybe those draft decisions aren't as poor as Mike Leach makes them out to be.