A late Spring Look At Who Should Win The Second String Quarterback Job For The Lions In 2017
The Detroit Lions have drafted a quarterback in the sixth round of each of the last two drafts, Jake Rudock in the 2016 NFL draft, and Brad Kaaya in the 2017 NFL draft. Their paths to Detroit were vastly different: Jake Rudock was expected to not be drafted at all before his final season of college football in 2015, while Kaaya was the consensus number one overall pick until a disappointing 2016 season led to his draft stock drastically dropping.
This article will take a look at game film from the two quarterbacks to form a hypothesis about which one is more deserving of the opportunity to be the Detroit Lions’ quarterback in the event that Matthew Stafford is hurt.
Statistics in final college season: 3017 passing yards, 64% passes completed, 20 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Jake Rudock is a very accurate passer. Most of the time, he isn’t going to have a huge impact in the deep passing game, but he is very efficient when picking apart defenses with short passes. Here is an example of his accuracy on a play from last preseason. The Lions run a slant play on a two point conversion attempt, and Rudock perfectly places the ball between three defenders, resulting in the ball being caught in the endzone. Rudock’s precision accuracy in the short passing game makes him a good fit for the Lions offense.
Here is an example of really good mid range passing accuracy from Jake Rudock. On this play against the Bengals, Lions tight end Orson Charles is lined up in the slot and runs a crossing route. He gets open on the left side of the field, and Rudock does an excellent job of not only completing the pass to him, but hitting him in stride, allowing Charles to pick up some extra yards after the catch.
One of the biggest edges that Rudock has over Kaaya is mobility. Jake Rudock it good at scrambling out of the pocket, and even running with the ball. He finished his senior season of college with four rushing touchdowns, and we saw his scrambling ability numerous times last preseason. Here is an example of his mobility from a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh blitzes, and Rudock recognizes this. The Lions do a good job of picking up the blitz, and Rudock scrambles out of the pocket and rushes for 20 yards.
Jake Rudock lacks a strong arm. He has limitations for where he can throw the football. He isn’t able to accurately force deep passes between defenders like Stafford can. If Rudock were to start for the Lions, they could need to eliminate virtually all deep passes from their playbook. Here is an example of where lacking arm strength hurts Rudock. In this preseason game against the Bengals, Rudock tries to force a pass downfield between double coverage. The pass comes up well short of the Lions receiver, and is easily intercepted.
Rudock did not have a good game against the Bengals last preseason. Here is another bad throw from him in that game. Again, he tries to fit a pass into way too tight of a window between two Cincinnati defenders. He simply does not have the ability to make tight throws like this, and he needs to understand that. This pass should have been intercepted, but Rudock gets lucky and the defender drops it.
Even when Rudock gets receivers open on deep passes, he simply isn’t very accurate throwing them. An example of this is from a game he played with the Michigan Wolverines against Maryland in 2015. Rudock has a receiver wide open on a post route, and it should be an easy touchdown. This is a throw that an NFL quarterback is expected to make. Instead, Rudock overthrows the receiver and the easy touchdown turns into an incomplete pass. Rudock does not have the arm strength or deep accuracy to run a vertical offense in the NFL.
Statistics in final college season: 3532 passings yards, 62% passes completed, 27 touchdowns, 7 interceptions
Brad Kaaya is a quarterback with more potential than Jake Rudock. He isn’t as consistent, but he has the ability to make “wow” throws that Rudock simply can’t. Here is an example of a great throw from Kaaya. It is from the final game of last season. Miami is in the redzone, and runs a shotgun passing play from the three yard line. Kaaya has a wide receiver open in the back of the end zone behind the zone coverage, and makes a beautiful throw over the top of the head of the defender and into his receivers hands. Kaaya puts the perfect amount of touch on this throw, as he rainbows it right over the defense.
Brad Kaaya is much better at throwing deep passes than Jake Rudock. Kaaya occasionally shows the ability to perfectly place passes when throwing downfield, as he does on this play against Pittsburgh. Kaaya’s receiver is matched up with the Pittsburgh corner one on one, and Kaaya does a perfect job of floating the ball over the head of the cornerback, hitting his receiver right in the numbers resulting in a big gain for Miami. Kaaya easily has the edge over Jake Rudock when it comes to the deep passing game.
Brad Kaaya can throw absolute lasers when he is at his best. On this play, Kaaya is throwing to his receiver who is running a curl route. The receiver doesn’t get any separation at all from the defensive back, but Kaaya still decides to target him anyway. Kaaya throws the ball to the sideline, and to the absolute perfect spot for the receiver to be able to catch it. If this ball is placed anywhere else, it is either out of bounds or batted away/intercepted by the defensive back. When Brad Kaaya is at his peak performance level, he is capable of throwing darts perfectly into tight windows as he does on this play.
Brad Kaaya also lacks a strong arm. He can fit balls into tighter windows than Rudock, but Kaaya is still nowhere near Stafford’s level. Kaaya is very inconsistent with his arm strength, there are plays where he fits passes into tight windows and blows you away. There are also head scratching plays where he throws ducks. Here is an example of the latter against West Virginia. Kaaya’s receiver runs an out route on the outside, and appears to be relatively open. If Kaaya throws an accurate pass to the sideline with some heat on it, this is a completion for a few yards. Instead, he throws a slow, wobbly pass behind the receiver and it results in the ball getting knocked away. Against an NFL corner, this is likely an interception.
Kaaya is also known to have issues with his passing accuracy. In 2016, he completed only 38% of the mid range passes (between 11-20 yards) he attempted. Here is an example of his poor mid range accuracy. Kaaya has a receiver wide open between zone coverage. Kaaya has lots of time in the pocket, and does a good job of spotting the open receiver. Kaaya steps into his throw, but just misses the receiver, as the pass is too high and a little behind.
Although Kaaya has a better deep ball than Jake Rudock, there are still times where he appears to struggle with it, as he does on this play against Pittsburgh. Kaaya has a receiver wide open in the end zone, and lots of time to step into his throw and make an accurate pass. Instead, Kaaya’s mechanics appear to break down and he sails the pass over the head of his open man, missing out on what should have been an easy touchdown for Miami.
Who Deserves The Job Going Into Training Camp?
Jake Rudock and Brad Kaaya are really similar quarterbacks. They are both most effective when they can get into a rhythm throwing lots of short passes. The biggest edge that Kaaya has on Rudock is that he is a much better deep ball thrower. Rudock’s biggest advantage is his mobility, scrambling is a big part of his game, while that is something that Kaaya struggles with.
At this point, Rudock is much more consistently accurate with his passes – you will rarely see Rudock miss open receivers on short or intermediate passes. While Kaaya has more potential and can fit the ball into tighter windows, he still struggles in this area and is prone to occasionally missing on passes that he should hit.
At this point, Jake Rudock should be the Lions primary backup quarterback for two reasons: one is that he is much more consistent than Brad Kaaya in short and intermediate passing, which is very important to Detroit’s offensive scheme.The other reason is because Rudock has a whole year of experience more than Kaaya, Rudock has had a year to learn the Lions’ playbook, and will have gone through an entire season and offseason by the time the final decision on who the second string quarterback will be is made.
I like Kaaya’s potential a lot, but at this point he isn’t as prepared to be Stafford’s backup as Rudock is.
Projected Lions Quarterback Depth Chart:
QB1: Matthew Stafford
QB2: Jake Rudock
QB3: Brad Kaaya