Can QBs from the spread offense adapt to the NFL?

Now that the quarterbacks (minus Blaine Gabbert) have worked out in Indianapolis at the NFL combine, the questions—and the debates—will begin on the spread offense at the college level. Think of the top prospects on this year’s draft boards: Newton, Gabbert, Mallett, etc. For the most part, they played in a variations of the spread attack. These aren’t “pro style” quarterbacks.

And now we will discuss whether or not it translates to the NFL game. Let’s break it down and hit on the key points that are being brought up in draft meetings across the league when grading QBs in the spread system. Because the offense is a big part of the college game, and the NFL has to adjust.

Grade talent over offensive system

Cam NewtonICONCam Newton played in a spread system at Auburn with limited pass reads.

One league scout I talked to on Sunday said he grades the player—over the system he watches on tape. Similar to when Kevin Kolb came out of the University of Houston. What you are getting through the draft is the talent, the skill set over the offense the prospect played in on campus. You can develop the rookie once he gets into your system—but you can’t teach raw talent at the QB position. That will always sell in the pro game.

Teach mechanics

We always talk about a spread QB having to go under center—but it is more than just taking the snap as the NFP’s Greg Gabriel discussed. NFL coaches will have to teach technique, the five and seven step drop, plus throwing mechanics once the QB has his feet set in the pocket. There is work to do with a spread QB that played in the gun in college—because they don’t drop back to throw the football. However, you can coach that with time.

Reading defenses

In the spread offense, the majority of QBs are taught to read half of the field. That isn’t going to fly at the NFL level. On top of that, there are no soft zone defenses on Sunday, with CBs sitting off at 8-yards giving up the underneath game to manage the spread looks. Without a doubt there are exceptions, such as Sam Bradford as a rookie in St. Louis, but you still need to prepare for some teaching time in the film room to adapt to the NFL game. A major step in the process.

Time to develop

As one scout told me, we expect these rookie QBs to come in and play like veterans. Patience is the key when you are dealing with a QB from the spread system. It takes five years for a QB to really understand the pro game, minus the special talents of a Peyton Manning. Give them time to develop and lead an offense on Sundays. Don’t think of them as opening day starters when you draft them. Instead, you are drafting for the future of your franchise. Keep that in mind.

There is some familiarity in the NFL

Look around the league—because you will see signs of the spread offense. Although it is much more complex in terms of route progressions and coverage reads, we see the empty and wide open looks on offense in the NFL today. Not convinced? Go back to the Super Bowl tape and check out the Packers. The spread offense is making its way into the NFL for good. There will be some crossover for these rookie QBs.

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