Monday, March 23, 2009

Nate Davis: QB of the Future?

According to published reports, the Colts were the only NFL team to watch Ball State QB Nate Davis (6013/226/4.95c) work out at his Pro Day. Not surprisingly, this — not too long after the Colts worked out USC QB Mark Sanchez — has led Colts fans to believe that the team is not just looking for a better back-up than Jim Sorgi, but also an eventual replacement for Peyton Manning.

It makes sense. Manning will be 33 tomorrow, and he looked very mortal this year after a bursa sac problem that began before the season slowed him down considerably. Everyone, all at once realized he won’t actually last forever. So it makes sense for the Colts to invest in a young passer with upside — as the Patriot did with Matt Cassell — but is Davis the guy? Let’s look at the pluses and minuses.

• Great arm, with stunning accuracy on deep passes
• Quick release
• Good footwork and overall athleticism
• Excellent college production (1,124-678-9,233-74-22 passing)
• Is a viable running option
• Very tough and durable

• Short
• Overall mechanics are lacking, especially on short passes
• Will fumble
• Played in spread offense and very rarely took snaps from center
• Did not play as well in big games or against tougher opponents
• Has been diagnosed with a learning disability
• Plays with glove on his throwing hand and does not use laces, despite coaches’ advice

I’d have to say that Davis has the tools to be an effective NFL starter if he develops. His height doesn’t bother me (he’s taller than Drew Brees). Nor does his lack of experience behind center or against top competition, because those things can gradually disappear with experience in the NFL.

But what does bother me about Davis is between his ears. And I’m not talking about the learning disability. While natural intelligence is a nice thing to have, it doesn’t always translate to the field; and Davis’ decision-making process as a football player seemed as unimpaired as most prospects at his stage of development. The alarming thing is his reluctance to heed his coaches’ advice. While Davis has had undeniable success throwing the ball, he has done so while ignoring some basic fundamentals. It makes one wonder how good he could be if he took the gloves off and used the laces. It also makes you wonder if he’ll listen to his coaches as a pro.

And that’s the key. If Davis is to develop, it will only happen if he realizes that his coaches (and potential veteran NFL quarterbacks) know more about the game than he does. But if he didn’t listen to Stan Parrish and Eddie Faulkner when his draft status (ie. pay day) was on line, what makes us think he’ll listen to Jim Caldwell, Tom Moore, Frank Reich and Manning after a contract is signed? It has nothing to do with a learning disability; it’s about maturity. And coming out as a junior when he clearly had a lot to learn didn’t help anyone believe he was maturing.

Personally I’d like to see the kid succeed, but I realize he’s a lottery ticket at this point. He’ll never be a Manning, but if he responds to coaches, he could maybe be a Jay Cutler type, or an Aaron Rodgers — a guy whose physical talents often transcend his occasional lapses and shortcomings. More likely he’s a Joey Harrington — the guy with the live arm who just doesn’t have the patience or discipline for the NFL game. And, or course, there’s always a chance he’ll be an Akili Smith — a guy who just doesn’t belong in the NFL at all.

Like all gambles, a talent like Davis is only worth an investment you can afford to lose. It’s tempting to say the Colts should draft him in the third round because they haven’t gotten anything decent out of a third-round pick in years, but I think that’s still too steep. I’d be very impressed if the Colts managed to get Davis with no greater loss than a fourth rounder. Keep in mind there are three guys in this draft with the potential to be a franchise QB in the NFL, and Davis is the only one who won't cost a first rounder.

Note: It’s not a huge deal that other teams did not attend Davis’ Pro Day; he went through all the workouts at the Combine and it's not uncommon for teams to stand on what they saw there.

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