November 2016 – Eye On the Future : Vernon Adams Jr.

“Well Vernon Adams clearly is a guy who can be dangerous on the run and on the move. And if he’s going to be the Montreal Alouettes starting quarterback going forward…I’d like to think that you’re going to see an offence tailored a little more to his skillset. Moving the launchpoints around. Getting him throwing on the move. Giving him an option to run or pass.” Duane Ford TSN Colour Guy during Adams’ start v Stampeders*

Last winter Vernon Adams was STILL hoping to be picked up by an NFL team. His size (5’11” 200lbs), his speed (4.83-40) and his hand size (8.75 inches) were the MAJOR obstacles standing in the way of Adams’ NFL aspirations. But while the NFL is OBSESSED with these measurables, we generally get those players, supremely talented or no, who somehow fall between the cracks:

“I know some of the measureables aren’t there,” said Montreal general manager/coach Jim Popp. “He’s not quite the height that people are looking for. But he sees the field tremendously, is a great competitor and someone we think is worth an investment for our future.

“The way it is, is this: The NFL can have who they want, and the CFL has to adjust,” he added. “We don’t get every measurable. We take football players. We take football players that have performed in the past, no matter what the measureables. That applies to most of the guys in the CFL that you play with and win with.”

Here’s a LONG article by someone lobbying for Adams to be picked up by his NFL team the San Fransisco 49’ers:

Should the Niners draft Vernon Adams, Jr.?

Oregon’s little known transfer QB blew away everyone at the East West Shriners Game. Chip Kelly coached at Oregon. A match made in heaven?

Oregon’s senior transfer quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. flew under almost everyone’s radar this year — until Saturday. In the East West Shrine game, he went OFF, throwing 6-9 for 191 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in limited time to lead the West to victory.

That includes the longest touchdown pass in Shrine game history, 93 yards to Purdue’s Danny Anthrop after Adams bought several seconds of time with his trademark elusivity.

Adams also threw two red-zone bullets, including a beautiful 10-yard timing pass to Geronimo Allison, and ran twice for 18 and 6 yards. He was named MVP of the game, and for a time was trending worldwide on Twitter at #5.

“Why haven’t I heard of this guy?” you might be asking yourself. Well, he played his first three years (plus a redshirt season) at tiny FCS Eastern Washington University before transferring to Oregon for his final year of eligibility. Then he failed a math final which he couldn’t retake until August 13th, two weeks before the season began. In the first game against his old school EWU, Adams broke a finger, which caused him to throw erratically in a 3-point loss to #5 Michigan State the following week. Then he missed a month while his finger healed.

He was strong for the rest of the season, including impressive wins against USC and Cal (where he outplayed top prospects Cody Kessler and Jared Goff). But when he finally regained the national spotlight in the Alamo Bowl against TCU, he suffered a head injury and left the game in the second quarter. Oregon led 28-0 when he left the game, and lost 47-41 in triple overtime.

The 49ers were the only team NFL.com listed as talking to Adams before his standout performance, so presumably they are well aware of his charms. Should they draft him?

Here are the pros and cons as I see them. I should note that I make no claim to be an draft expert or scout, though I did cover Adams from the Autzen Stadium press box for 3 of his games this year. He was super fun to watch.

PROS

1. Elusivity

Adams has an incredible ability to escape pass rushers and buy time to make a play. He is often compared to Russell Wilson, also 5’11,” but may actually be better at escaping pressure.

***

2. Footwork

That elusivity starts with his footwork. Adams’ feet are constantly moving, which enables him to bounce off of would-be tacklers and reset himself for throws downfield.

3. Eyes downfield

Unlike many mobile quarterbacks, such as RGIII and Colin Kaepernick, who like to run as soon as the pocket breaks down, Adams has a great knack for keeping his eyes downfield and finding a receiver who gets open. USC cornerback Adoreé Jackson summed up what it was like to try to defend those extended plays:

“It felt like they went on forever.”

4. Field vision

Even as he dodges rushers, Vernon had a remarkable knack for finding the man who gets open in Chip’s system. Given his lack of height, I have to think this comes from an intuitive understanding of where receivers in Chip Kelly’s system will end up. Much taller QBs such as Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford were not nearly as effective playing for Chip in Philadelphia.

Adams also uses his eyes to look off defensive backs, and throws accurately and quickly, at least on shorter throws. (Some still question his long range arm strength.)

5. Intelligence

Watch any interview with Adams and you can see the shrewdness in his eyes. While he did fail the math test that set back his entry into Oregon, he also picked up Chip Kelly’s system with amazing speed once he was allowed in. Part of that intelligence is his knack for avoiding contact. He slides very effectively to avoid unnecessary hits. He puts into practice Chip’s mantra for quarterback running: “Touchdown, first down, get down.” In other words, don’t run a yard farther than you need to and avoid hits.

CONS

1. Height

Adams is only 5’11, by his own admission. There are a couple NFL QBs of that size who have succeeded, notably Russell Wilson, but not many in recent years. And Chip Kelly is a big believer in sticking to his measurables, though he picked the similarly sized Mike Vick over Nick Foles (6’6″, 243) in an open competition when he started in Philadelphia. I watched that competition, and everyone agreed that Vick simply outplayed Foles. It was only an injury to Vick, the fastest quarterback to ever play in the NFL, that gave Foles his opportunity. But once he got that chance, Foles literally put himself into the Hall of Fame by playing at a record-setting pace for the last 8 games of the 2013 season.

2. Weight

Adams is barely 200 pounds, which raises serious concerns about his durability when NFL-sized defensive lineman will be doing their best to sack him with extreme prejudice. Noted QB scout (and Oregon Ducks watcher) Bruce Feldman notes:

Despite his shrewd play, Adams has taken off on some ill-advised runs, including the play against Eastern Washington where he finger was broken on a late hit.

3. Hand size

Chip Kelly focuses on several measurables, and hand size is a key one. Adams has very small hands, at 8.75″ compared to about 9.5″ for an average NFL QB. Russell Wilson, while no taller than Adams, has much larger hands (10.25, a full inch and a half larger). Then again, Logan Thomas has huge hands (10.75″) and where has it gotten him?

4. Durability

Even in college, was injured twice in his one year at Oregon, missing part or all of several games. It won’t get any better against the bigger and much faster tacklers in the NFL.

5. Genetics

While Adams is clearly a gifted athlete, he carries sickle cell trait. That was a factor in him missing the road game at the University of Colorado, which has a mile-high stadium.

—————————————————————————–

Given all of that, where does Adams stand for the draft? Before today he was considered a late (5th to 7th round) pick, possibly even a UDFA. He would be a steal for San Francisco at that level, given that he’s already a proven success in Chip Kelly’s legacy system, largely unchanged at Oregon.

Today’s great performance, if combined with a solid combine, might move him up to 3rd or 4th round, and frankly he would less of a solid bet at that level. For all his skill, there are solid reasons to think Adams is not rugged enough to survive as a starting NFL quarterback.

I see his ceiling as a potentially great backup quarterback — not rugged enough to risk for 16 games a year, but plenty smart and focused enough to be ready to come in on short notice, and talented enough to win a tough playoff game against a strong opponent. That would be worth a fifth round pick maybe, but not a third or fourth.

After 2 1/2 full games in the CFL, we can start to see some of these predictions manifest themselves at the professional level:

1. Elusiveness

While Adams may not have the flat out speed of a Mike Reilly or our own Rakeem Cato, his ability to avoid potential tacklers is perhaps Adams’ greatest natural gift. In NORMAL circumstances, this is a useful skill to possess, when the pocket breaks down and everything turns to boom boom. With the Alouettes’ troubles on the offensive line this season (YES…I’m talking to YOU Jacob Ruby), that skill ALONE can turn a shit-fest into a winner.

Assuming Zeke doesn’t get his way and the Alouettes DON’T start 2 American offensive tackles next season, Adams’ ability to make people miss MAY be a lifesaver.

2. Durability

In his 2nd career start, Adams Jr. was injured and had to be replaced by Rakeem Cato. Although Cato played magnificently, Adams was officially accorded the win. Adams MAY have won his 1st three starts as an Alouette. But it’s worth remembering that he ONLY managed it with a HUGE assist  from his backup. His injury history, the history of a similarly sized, similarly talented quarterback in Darian Durant, should be enough for these Alouettes to INSIST on a qualified “PlanB”. THIS assures Chappers and the Als offence of a similarly “styled” quarterback to take over when needed.

Rakeem Cato would seem to be that guy. And while Rakeem may BALK at being considered ANYONE’S backup, he should remember that at the beginning of their careers, MOST of the greats backed up SOMEBODY. As QB body counts mount every season, who KNOWS what the future will bring? By the same token…WHO KNOWS what the vagueries of Jim Popp’s addled gridiron consciousness will spew forth…in ANY given situation? It’s not for nothing that a TSN cameraman gifted us with a lingering view of Rakeem Cato on the sidelines, last game of the season. It could conceivably be the last time ANYONE sees him in a football uniform…EVER. Jim Popp has WAY too much power IMNSHO.

3. Arm Strength

THIS is a difficult but CRUCIAL aspect of quarterbacking in the CFL. Some quarterbacks like Ricky Ray can be RUTHLESSLY efficient from the pocket, but will see an ENORMOUS drop in productivity with the slightest decrease in arm strength. Others SPECIALIZE in broken plays and throwing on the run. Adams would appear to belong to the latter category. While NOT necessarily deficient as a passer…Adams has a long way to go before WOW-ing us with the kind of passes Rakeem Cato has reeled off, on the few occasions he’s actually had the time to go DEEP.

Cato is a natural passer. THAT much is clear. That can be an ENORMOUS advantage against certain defensive teams. ESPECIALLY in the Canadian game with our out-sized playing field AND focus on the aerial attack. As a natural scrambler, Adams may NOT be that BONE-FIDE passer, but his elusiveness makes him no less effective, AND even MORE so against TOUGH defensive squads with an aggressive pass rush.

Adams and Cato can BOTH execute ANY running/option play Chapdelaine might devise. BOTH fit the description of a MOBILE quarterback…only in different ways. ASSUMING coach Jock gets the go ahead to create the playbook that will direct next year’s offensive team…such a “dynamic duo” could do a LOT of damage across this country.

Jim Popp needs to do his job (for once) acquiring talent for this offence. Signing young, dynamic targets to complement the EXCITING talents we have at quarterback is the NEXT logical step. The Alouettes look to be headed in the right direction…faster than many might expect.

4. Intelligence and “Upbringing”

While NOT many have noticed it yet, Adams seems to have an uncanny ability to catch defences with his “cadence”. EXTREMELY unusual for a rookie quarterback:

THIS has to be one of the subtleties to his game insisted upon by the remarkable NCAA coaching Adams received from Bo Baldwin, at Eastern Washington…QB whisperer of such CFL QB stars as Matt Nichols, Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell.

Do you believe Adams can be a franchise quarterback in the CFL?

Baldwin: “Absolutely. It’s not going to shock me. That guy he’s something else when you turn the lights on. He went to the Shrine Game and lit it up. Every time he’s played. When he was healthy for Oregon he was 6-0. When he was here with us he broke records. He threw seven touchdowns against a [Washington] Huskies team that had three first-round [NFL] picks. You got your quarterbacks that I call driving range quarterbacks. He looks really good, he’s striping it on the range, he’s got all the gear and he gets on the first tee and he hooks it left and you can’t believe it because he was hitting it so good on the driving range. That’s kind of like the guys who can look really good, but when the heat is on and the battle is going and things are flying around you, then what’s going to happen? It’s kind of like going to the first tee. Vernon’s just the opposite. You may not ever be totally wowed in practice, but when the game starts and it’s going he’s one of those guys that gets a lot better when the game goes. He’s the best quarterback to play here. That’s not taking anything away from those other guys – I just believe that. It’s hard to say that, but that’s true. I won’t rank the rest of them, though – I’m not willing to do that. Nope. Not going to do that.”

Duane Ford AGAIN after Adams’ 1st half against Calgary, Week 19…summarizing what I’ve been literally SCREAMING about the Schonert/Calvillo offence, for close to two seasons with Cato under centre:

“The ‘instigator’ for them WAS Vernon Adams when he started using his legs a little bit, getting on the move, throwing on the run and so on. Things really seemed to pick up and it got that Calgary defence off balance. Cause as pass rushers they couldn’t just tee-off and kind of head for that spot, 5 yards behind the center as a launchpoint.” 

 

 

*You know, despite the OBVIOUS embarrassment factor, TSN play by play guy Rod Black and his sidekick Duane Ford have been right there with me last two years, making declarations like this about Rakeem Cato, and the incompatibility between Calvillo’s pocket passing offence, and Cato’s skillset. When he mentions the same thing about Adams, I was literally screaming at the TV (I tend to do that a lot). When Cato ran for 72 yards, a MERE quarter later, one couldn’t help DROOLING over the prospects of Chapdelaine creating such an offence, such a playbook, tailored to two such GREAT athletic talents.

***Not sure I EVER saw even the GREAT Doug Flutie complete a 15-yard pass…45ft with his left arm, while fighting off a defender with his RIGHT. FUCKING SICK!

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