BRONCOS

Broncos have a Zoom call with a potential late-round quarterback pick

Mar 22, 2023, 6:48 AM

The Denver Broncos added a quarterback in free agency. They might add another one in the 2023 NFL Draft.

This quarterback class is better than last year, but it does lack depth. That being said, I do like a few late-round or undrafted prospects in this group.

I’m of the mind to take a quarterback every year in the draft. If you find a late-round talent (see Skylar Thompson or Brock Purdy last year), then it helps your franchise in many ways. If a late-round guy doesn’t work out after a certain time of development, just cut him – easy peasy.

On Tuesday, it was reported by Mike Klis that the Broncos had a one-hour Zoom call with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford. Even though the team added Jarrett Stidham in free agency, I think they’ll be looking at quarterbacks on day three (rounds 4-7) of the draft.

So, what’s the scoop on Clifford? Here are some excerpts from my scouting report.

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Certainly Athletic

There is no doubt when breaking down film of Clifford that he’s athletic for the quarterback position. Some are speculating Payton could make him Denver’s version of Taysom Hill. That sort of move would make sense, and I’m surprised more teams don’t try to find that guy.

Clifford has good athleticism for a man his size (210 pounds), and he can pick up yards as a runner with ease. I like the way he keeps his feet upon contact, and Clifford can change direction without losing much speed. I don’t think he’s blazing fast, but he can surprise defenders who expect him to stay in the pocket. Once on the run, Clifford does not look to slide or run out of bounds to avoid contact. Instead, he’ll put his body on the line to make a play.

As you can see, Clifford is as tough as nails. Nobody is going to question his toughness as a runner, and he’s known to absorb a lot of punishment only to keep playing. Not only as a runner, but over the last two seasons at Penn State he was sacked a whopping 47 times. He’s tough, and he’s athletic – and I think those traits help him if (more like when) a team asks him to change positions.

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Bird Dog

Clifford commits one of the ultimate sins as a quarterback; he stares down his receivers. Scouts call this “bird dogging” like a hunting dog would do when pointing towards wildlife. Clifford stares at his targets, and savvy defenders can make him pay for this critical mistake. This habit leads to interceptions or at least pass breakups.

It’s a tough habit to break, and I’m not sure Clifford would be able to do that with limited reps as a camp arm/third-string quarterback. The physical skill set he has is easy to see, but it’s the processing speed that needs to be improved in the NFL. That takes time and repititions I don’t think he’ll be afforded in the NFL.

Besides reading defenses, I’d like to see Clifford improve his footwork. His arm strength is good/not great, but his footwork is bad. He’ll throw off his back foot, even when he’s late with his reads. When he takes off to run (and he abandons ship way too often), his mechanics as a passer really suffer. If he’s going to make it in the NFL as a quarterback, Clifford has to make full field reads quickly and he must drastically improve his foot mechanics and consistency. That might be too much for him to do.

He’s a “see-it, throw-it” type of quarterback, and that’s fine – if your primary read is open. Problems arise when Clifford’s first target is not open. He then will abandon ship (see above) or try to force things to a receiver he wasn’t anticipating making a throw to. Either way, it does not usually end well. Clifford’s game is most erratic, and I think it starts from him locking onto his first read as a passer.

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Truth Behind the Numbers

The offense he ran for the Nittany Lions included a lot of short/screen passes, and those plays inflated his completion percentage in college. Even though he had 351 passing attempts in 2022 in 13 games, Clifford only had one 300-yard passing game. His air-yards-per-attempt was 8.5 yards, almost two full yards less than the best prospects in this class. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare his AY/A to guys like Bryce Young (9.9) or C.J. Stroud (10.9), but it’s an easy way to see how he didn’t take as many shots down the field. Watching the film is the best way to see the design of the Nittany Lions’ offense helped him post a good completion percentage – but one that wouldn’t be sustainable in the NFL.

You can tell a quarterback’s merit by what he’s done on third down and in the red zone. On third down, Clifford’s completion percentage was around 50 percent. Things looked much better on early downs when taking a chance on a short pass or screen play is more likely to work. In the red zone last year, Clifford was great with 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions. When you get to pay dirt, Clifford doesn’t make mistakes but it’s the getting there part that can prove to be difficult.

There is no doubt Clifford put together an impressive resume at Penn State. A closer look at the film shows the “why” behind the numbers. Nittany Lions fans can love him for what he did in Happy Valley, but NFL fans are unlikely to know him as a passer.

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Summary

Clifford is unlikely to be drafted. In fact, I’ve got at least a half a dozen other day three/undrafted quarterbacks I would rather have than him. Of course, I’d rather take a chance on those prospects as a quarterback. I’m not sure Clifford’s best spot in the NFL is behind center. If he’s open to a position switch – and he should be – I could see Payton trying to see if he could be a gadget player who just happens to have “QB” (or someday “TE”) next to his name.

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