American Football

NFL Draft: Matt Waldman on the 2024 QB class, the development fallacy, and much more

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Seattle Seahawks v Tennessee Titans
Drew Lock | Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

If you want to be smarter about NFL quarterback play, read — and listen

Matt Waldman of ‘The Rookie Scouting Portfolio’ is perhaps the best skill position analyst in the business. I have the good fortune every year before the NFL Draft of interviewing Waldman, and it is always a fascinating, insightful — and long — conversation.

Waldman, if you don’t know, exclusively studies the skill positions of quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and running back. He does so with an understanding and depth I think is unmatched in the industry.

We covered a wide array of topics in a recent two-hour conversation. Both parts are currently available on the Big Blue View YouTube channel and can be accessed at the bottom of this post.

On former NFL quarterback Kurt Benkert’s recent comments on ‘Up & Adams’ that the Giants were not a good situation for Drake Maye (or, by extension, other rookie quarterbacks in need of development) …

“I don’t think it’s really that much different than any other organization with the exception of a small few. Why pick on the Giants when you can pick on the entire league and the history they have of just being craptastic with developing quarterbacks because they don’t understand the position – no one really does – because there’s so many variables to developing it no there’s no template for a good quarterback.

“I would just say that when it comes to the Giants I wouldn’t necessarily want to pick on them. I would rather just kind of pick at the league.”

The fallacy of development in the NFL …

Anyone close enough to the NFL understands this dirty little secret. The league talks about development but does very little of it. Time constraints lead to learning plays and schemes, not working on technique, and improving small fundamental details. Players have to do that on their own, before practice, after practice, and during the offseason.

“I talk about this on my podcast all the time and I’ve been doing it for years. It’s true. That’s what scouts tell me, it’s what quarterback coaches tell me that I’ve done consulting with [tell me], it’s what former players have told me, and it happens even at the college level, too. These guys are brought in for their athletic ability and they’re expected to work on their own time.

“What made Payton Manning great is that he understood how to work and he was always figuring out how to work smart and work hard, and you have to do both. You can be a hard worker, but if you don’t know what to work on or how to work on it to really ingrain it you could spend two to three times the amount of time as someone who is able to learn it in half the time, and that’s something that young guys don’t get.

“Most players now get individual private instruction, especially quarterbacks, and it is taught to scheme and game plan because so much is put into it the playbooks are big, the execution that they’re trying to look for is huge. [San Francisco 49ers coach] Kyle Shanahan said this year we expect our players to come in and be able to play, so the players need to learn on their own and it’s one of those things that a lot of these players don’t figure out until it’s too late.”

The Drew Lock story: A cautionary tale of what happens when you don’t learn and improve on your own …

In reference to players learning — or not learning — on their own, Waldman told a terrific story about Drew Lock. It is especially relevant since Lock is now a member of the New York Giants, his third organization in six seasons.

“I remember evaluating him [Lock] and saying he looked like a kid who’s very talented who at some point in his during his high school career and college career he was probably told by outside quarterback coaches, by coaches in his program things that he could work on to become the best quarterback he could be and get more ready for the NFL. When he came to the league Payton Manning called him up and said anything I can do for you, you let me know. It’s easy for me to say as a 54-year-old man in hindsight what I would have liked to have done if I were able to be in Drew Lock’s situation at that point because I probably would have said with the wisdom I have now, which is unfair to Drew, but would have been ‘can I live in your garage, do chores for you, whatever I need to do and basically spend as much time as possible reviewing film with you and having you reviewing my game and you showing me what conceptually I need to get better at and work and how to work at my craft technically and conceptually to get better.’ But from what I was told is that he said thanks and didn’t call him back.

“Then, three years later when Teddy Bridgewater was brought to town to compete for his job with him that’s when he called Payton Manning.”

As it turned out, Lock’s father confirmed the accuracy of Waldman’s initial collegiate scouting report on Lock.

“His dad told a sideline reporter, I love my son he’s a great kid he’s a good guy but we’ve been telling him for years here are little details you need to work on, here are things that you need to get better at when you get to the NFL this is going to be different and he just smiled and nodded, but he didn’t work at those things and it’s kind of catching up to him. You can see in Seattle when he had some nice games, you kind of get the impression that it’s kind of clicked in his head that, oh yeah maybe this is how I need to work. Doesn’t make him a bad kid, doesn’t make him a bad player, it just means that he had to get better at his job and maybe didn’t know how, and maybe it didn’t register what was being told to him because it’s easy for people to tell you the NFL is a lot tougher.

“I share that because the important point of this is that a lot of players go through this and the NFL doesn’t support that well because they force players in immediately.”

J.J. McCarthy’s ‘rise’ up draft boards …

Another dirty little NFL secret is that players don’t usually rise and fall dramatically on team draft boards, at least not the way they do in media and draft analyst boards. Waldman and I talked about this in relation to the apparent ‘rise’ of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

“It seems to have all coincided with [Los Angeles Chargers coach] Jim Harbaugh singing the praises of J.J. McCarthy, and I’d like to joke, well if he had the stones of Buddy Ryan he’d trade Justin Herbert and get some capital and take J.J. McCarthy [in the draft] and put his money where his mouth is.

“A lot of what’s told to the media at this time of year as we all know is hoping that it generates a narrative and catches on. The problem with that is that there can be a disconnect between head coaches, GMs, and other executive leadership, especially owners. One of the things that I hear most frequently from longtime scouts or former scouts who had a longtime tenure in the league and left the league was that the most frustrating thing as a scout or a scouting director was to do the years of work on these guys and in the 11th hour the owner changes the whole course of the draft because they demand the player they want, and it sometimes can be driven by what they hear in mass media.”

Evaluating what McCarthy is, and what he can be …

“McCarthy is a top-five quarterback in my eyes, in this class he’s my fifth quarterback. He was one of the more difficult evaluations I’ve had to do in recent years mainly because he’s very good in a technique standpoint, he’s got excellent footwork, it’s quick, it’s fluid, it creates a great base for him to throw accurate passes, especially in the short and intermediate game. He has some placement with his passing and decision-making that is very high-end at moments and very low-end at other moments.

“Where Zach Wilson as a good example had a lot of hype he only had low moments I saw on tape and the high moments were things that people said were high moments but I thought, no that’s what every quarterback who is ever going to have an NFL contract, much less a starter, should be able to do. I’ve not seen high moments of processing from this guy [Wilson].

“J.J. McCarthy, while he has some of Zach Wilson’s low moments on his tape with processing and placement, he has a lot of high moments that Wilson never had. His pocket skills are very smooth and the ability to be efficient but dynamic with his movement and then throw an accurate pass is there. Zach Wilson never had that either, so there’s real fundamentals that make him a worthwhile quarterback.”

Why Drake Maye has “the greatest trap door of any of the top [QB] prospects” …

Waldman calls Maye a “Robo-quarterback” who came “straight out of Central Casting” to be a quarterback in the NFL. Meaning, he has everything the league has always looked for in terms of the prototypical quarterback.

Waldman has three concerns:

Pressure

“While he’s tough in the pocket in terms of willing to take a hit he drifts out of the pocket too early and basically ruins the position his blockers have when he didn’t need to so he’ll actually invite pressure that he shouldn’t invite.”

Game management

“It looks like from when you’re watching him look at the field pre-snap that he identifies a coverage advantage for his receiver pre-snap but then goes away from it not to manipulate, but goes away because he doesn’t want to take the quick answer. Instead, he goes to look for the big play, and then when he comes back to that quick answer that he thought he had it’s gone and now he doesn’t doesn’t throw the ball away. It took six games for me to watch him throw a ball away, which even from a college hero ball standpoint that is typical of big arm prospects, Robo QBs like him, I usually see at least one or two balls thrown away per game. The fact that it took him six games that I watched last year for him to throw away his first pass it’s a little scary. That tells you that he’s not thinking cerebrally about managing the game.”

Too much, too soon

Waldman is among those who feel Maye needs to be in a place where he can sit and learn.

“He does make some good throws, he does have some moments of reading good leverage, he’s tough as nails, the vertical game has some real high points to it, love the athletic ability but I don’t think he’s ready for prime time. I’m rooting for players like him to get to sit because you don’t want to see the NFL waste resources. From an individual level, I want to see Drake Maye succeed. Even if I don’t think he’s good now to be a starter, I think he could be good.”

Final thoughts

There is so much more to this conversation than what I have written above. I have, though, already subjected you to more than 2,000 words. If you want to learn about quarterbacks, and other skill position players, listen to the shows below. Even if you have to save yourself some time by playing them at a faster speed. You will be a smarter fan if you take the time.

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