Patrick Devlin, QB, Delaware
RS Senior, 6’4″, 222 lbs.
I want to continue my examination of the top draft eligible quarterbacks for 2011 by talking about Pat Devlin, who I believe to be the top senior quarterback in the country. Devlin doesn’t get as much press as Jake Locker or Christian Ponder have since he plays at the FCS level. That’ll probably change once the draft season begins and the All-Star games and combine take place. And anyway, Devlin isn’t your typical no-name small school prospect. Much like Joe Flacco, he transferred from a big Pennsylvania program to Delaware in order to start without having to sit for a year. He was a blue chip recruit, Elite 11, and PARADE All-American quarterback in high school.
Now Devlin hasn’t had the best of starts to his senior season. He broke his left wrist in the second game of the year and then suffered a concussion on a dirty play which forced him from the game this past weekend against conniving, unscrupulous JMU. But Devlin is as tough as they come, played with the broken wrist anyway, and has been cleared to play against Maine this weekend. Here’s all you really need to know about Devlin to get a sense of just how tough he is. In the game against South Dakota State, he broke his wrist in the first quarter, but nearly finished the game anyway, going 14-25. Then two weeks later, he shredded my beloved Richmond Spiders playing with an adjustable cast over his gimpy left arm. It was just an impressive performance all around which effectively opened my eyes to him as a prospect.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any single game cut-ups style youtube videos like we’ve had for the higher profile prospects. We do however have a pretty good highlight video created by user brlloyd from his 2009 season, so you’ll at least get to see him throw the ball.
2009 highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4SBu8S3IFI
Devlin has a big, strong frame capable of standing tall in the pocket and throwing hard. Mechanically, he is an excellent passer. He shows off nice footwork in the pocket, keeping his feet active, steps smooth, and he can step up and reset quickly when he feels the rush. He shows off this skill as well as his patience as a passer on the play at the 2:10 mark of the youtube video. He’s a coordinated athlete and generally plays with excellent balance and weight distribution, and he looks really good driving off that front foot and stepping into his throws. He’s got a nice, compact throwing motion where the ball comes out at a high point and he delivers it with impressive wrist snap, spinning it hard and with good velocity. Devlin is absolutely capable of making the full repertoire of NFL throws and threatening a defense deep.
But Devlin isn’t just a thrower. He’s got nice touch underneath and when throwing on the run, and often places the ball where his receivers can pluck it and take off. Throughout that video, you see Devlin make throws into tiny windows and tight coverage because his receivers didn’t give him much separation. His placement on his deep ball is beautiful, nearly always dropping the ball over the receiver’s correct shoulder. And Devlin certainly isn’t afraid to aggressively attack a defense over the middle and give his receivers a chance to make plays. Look at that pass at the 1:00 mark of the video where he put the ball up in the air just over the hand of the DB, and his receiver rewarded his trust by making the spectacular catch. I also love Devlin’s timing and accuracy on his bucket throws. You can see him complete a few gorgeous ones at the 1:35 and 1:40 marks of the video.
One thing you can’t gather from this video is how mature Devlin is as a pocket passer. Devlin is a good decision maker who does a nice job going through his progression reads. His coaches rave about how intelligent and hardworking a player he is. They say Devlin can break down plays on film, pick up on tendencies, and diagnose coverages as quickly as they can. And though Delaware likes to go to a shotgun spread formation most of the time, Devlin’s situation is a bit unique in that the coaches let him read the whole field. He’s given a great deal of freedom and responsibility in his offense, and the coaches are clearly comfortable leaning heavily on his arm and decision making ability. For the most part, Devlin has thrived in his role, and is the undisputed leader and star of his team. It’s not all roses and sunshine with Devlin though. Talented as he is, there are still legitimate concerns about his level of competition and background in a shotgun spread offense. Teams will also want to make sure there are no serious lingering effects of his concussion and broken wrist. Certainly, NFL defenses will be much faster than what he faces each weekend in the CAA, and the pressure on him will be more consistent. Also, the difficulty of the transition from a college shotgun spread to an NFL offense can never really be overstated. But you know what? I’d honestly be more concerned about the level of competition someone like Sam Bradford faced in the Big 12 where his team completely overmatched every opponent at every position except Texas and Florida, and he got to play pitch and catch into 15 yard windows for two seasons. Delaware isn’t so flush in talent, and Devlin has had to learn to make plays on the run, under duress, and into tight windows. Plus, Tony Romo and Joe Flacco have blazed enough of a trail for FCS players in the NFL that the level of competition complaint becomes less of a focus. And clearly Devlin is an NFL caliber talent from a physical standpoint. Just go back to his senior year of high school where he was an Elite 11 invite along with first round picks Matt Stafford, Josh Freeman, and Tim Tebow.
What he entails for the Redskins
The NFL player I would compare Devlin to is clearly Joe Flacco. Devlin has a similar talent level, skillset, and build as Flacco, and he comes from the same college program and offensive system. That means Devlin could be a fairly early pick, and I don’t think it’d be a stretch to see him come off the board in the teens much like Flacco did. As I wrote in the Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck vignettes, I think the status of Donovan McNabb’s contract over the offseason will ultimately determine how seriously our front office searches for another quarterback. Personally, I think Devlin could be a solid choice in the first round even if McNabb gets a four year extension. McNabb has had a lot of surgeries over the years and he’ll soon turn 34. It’d be nice to have a talented backup and successor like Devlin to learn under McNabb for a few seasons before he decides to hang it up, or for when he goes down with injury. If a team wants to handle a quarterback transition gracefully, they need to plan ahead like the Packers did in 2005. But is it cost effective to pursue a backup and successor in the first round this year, when there should also be several other impact caliber prospects available at other need positions like CB, OLB, WR, DL, and OL? What if McNabb ends up staying healthy and playing for longer than anyone anticipated? I think the quarterback in question would have to be a pretty special prospect in order to justify drafting him in the first round when there is a chance he might play out his rookie contract without ever becoming the starter. But having too many good quarterbacks is hardly an actual problem, and if Mike Shanahan hand picked and drafted Devlin, that would be enough of an endorsement for me to get behind that draft pick. Devlin’s combination of arm strength, accuracy, mobility, and intangibles would make him a good fit in any NFL system. In summation, I believe Devlin is a very good prospect with loads of potential as a future starter, and one who looks the part of an NFL quarterback.