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Clausen Re-evaluation and Draft Projection

Opinions change. Mine certainly has regarding Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. My opinion has actually changed twice during the combined college football season and subsequent NFL draft process. My opinion of Clausen changed roughly mid-season, and again this evening as I finally got to see the video of Clausen's pro day.

I started the college football season extremely high on Clausen. After his first four games, I formulated my thoughts on Clausen in various FanPosts here on Buffalo Rumblings, and also on Mocking the Draft, which I'll share with you after the jump.

Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame (Junior). The best pro prospect in college football at the QB position, IMO. Great build. Powerful arm with a nice motion that doesn’t change from throw to throw. Throws with velocity on the ball and make every pro throw. Accuracy is excellent both in the pocket and on the move. Hits receivers in stride. Sometimes underthrows deep routes, but almost all QBs do that from time to time. Played hurt against Purdue and without Michael Floyd, but still came back to win the game. Doesn’t get flustered in the pocket. Re-sets his feet and makes the throw like a pro already. Trusts his arm too much and sometimes throws deep into double coverage. Already appears to me to read the entire field and can go through his progression with ease despite playing in a pro style offense. This undoubtedly comes from Charlie Weis’ coaching. Plays with a calm swagger. Both Clausen’s and the Irish offense’s body language indicates that they feel that Clausen not only can but will win the game. This normally comes with proven QBs like Bradford or Tebow, so Clausen’s ability to create confidence is more impressive considering Notre Dame’s recent average play the past two years. Mental qualities were under question earlier in his career, but his understanding of where to go with the football leads me to believe that he’s spending lots of time in the film room. Still, more of a tough guy QB than a thinking QB. Tough and will play hurt. Mobile and can run for good yardage, but won’t be confused with Vince Young. Clausen is NFL-ready now and is a Top 5 pick lock unless something dramatic happens. Day 1 starter who can lead a team. Anticipated draft range: Top 5 pick.

After this, I started to sour on Clausen. I re-examined his arm strength, and noticed that he wasn't putting as much velocity on the ball as I originally thought. Many Clausen passes were completed due to the abilities of his receivers (Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph). I also started to wonder how much of Clausen's success was due to great coaching. Many college quarterbacks are manufactured by great coaching and drafted high; Jeff Tedford at California is famous for this. I started to see Clausen's success as partially due to Charlie Weis. Sometimes arm strength is generated through technique. After seeing Clausen throw so many jump balls, I questioned Clausen's natural ability to generate velocity on the football.

Today, I saw something that changed my mind. I'm a bit frustrated at myself for not noticing that Clausen wasn't fully striding into his throws all year. Mike Mayock reported this. After re-viewing some video of Clausen, and then looking at the video of his pro day yesterday, there's a big difference. Clausen stepped into this throws well yesterday. When a passer steps into his throws, that allows for torque generation from the legs, hips, and torso. That's what I saw from Clausen today.

I don't believe Clausen has a Kelly, Elway, or Stafford type arm. His arm is good enough to play in bad weather. I'd like to see Clausen throw in Buffalo, or at least in a windy situation, to see the results. I also have questions about his hand size in relation to strip sacks. And no fan can interview Clausen, so determining whether the reports on his personality and attitude are true or not are really just specualtion by anyone not in the interview room.

Draft Projection
Buffalo's chances of drafting Clausen are slim after Clausen's pro day. I don't see Clausen getting past Cleveland. The Browns own the seventh overall pick, and Mike Holmgren has publicly said he doesn't want Clausen. Really? Why would he make a statement like that? Smells like smoke to me. Mike Lombardi is reporting that Holmgren's public comments are different than what he told Clausen personally.

At some point, Cleveland is going to transition to a West Coast offense. Brian Daboll, their current offensive coordinator, is an Erhardt-Perkins coach. Whenever a strong personality moves to a new team, and personnel and coaches from a previous regime remain, change comes slow but it happens. Bill Parcells played with a 4-3 defense in Dallas initially. Eventually they transitioned to his prefered 3-4 defense. It's only a matter of time before Cleveland is running a West Coast scheme. Holmgren's influence is too strong for that not to happen.

Jake Delhomme isn't the same player he once was. His leadership remains, and his ideal role would be a stop-gap starter that eventually transitions to back-up. Seneca Wallace understands the West Coast scheme, and can get a team through a short stretch of games as a starter. This scenario leaves Cleveland without a long-term starter.

Clausen's polish makes him a good fit in a West Coast scheme. Can he improve his footwork and mechanics? Certainly. He doesn't have to focus on them as much, though, and can put more focus in other places. Clausen's been exposed to an NFL system. The jump to a West Coast system would be easier for him than any other quarterback in this year's draft. More than anything, Clausen's accuracy sets him apart and makes him the perfect fit for the West Coast offense.

Summary: Clausen can play in Buffalo, and Buffalo should select him, as long as he interviewed well and his foot checks out well in Indianapolis. This might not happen, though, as Cleveland would be foolish to pass on Clausen.