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Quacking the Roster: #13 QB Anthony Brown

Breaking down film on Oregon’s options at quarterback

Wake Forest v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Coach Cristobal has repeatedly said that 4-star redshirt sophomore #12 QB Shough is the heir to Justin Herbert’s job and has been practicing with the first squad in fall camp. Extensive video clips of Shough’s 2019 game tape, as well as links to two other evaluators’ film analysis of him, appear in my summer preview of the Ducks.

Shough’s main competition for the job and likely backup appears to be grad transfer #13 QB Brown, a three-year starter at Boston College. He was a mid 3-star (.8517) in 2016 and won the starting QB position as a redshirt freshman in 2017. He played ten games before tearing the ACL in his right knee, then came back from that to start in all 12 games in 2018. He was named the starter again in 2019 and was on track for by far his best season until he injured his left knee about a quarter into the sixth game and required season-ending surgery. In April of this year he announced his transfer; apparently new Oregon OC Moorhead had been in contact with him for some time.

Brown steadily improved as a passer as his career went on:

  • 2017: 9.25 games, 51.9%, 11 TD / 9 INT, 103.5 rating
  • 2018: 12.0 games, 55.4%, 20 TD / 9 INT, 134.8 rating
  • 2019: 5.25 games, 59.1%, 9 TD / 2 INT, 154.5 rating

For context, Herbert’s 156.8 rating and 32 TD / 6 INT numbers in 2019 are only a bit better than Brown’s. The big difference in their stats can be traced to style of play: Herbert has a 66.8% completion rate which is largely borne of quick easy throws with plenty of screens and RPOs; Brown’s offenses were almost entirely mid-to-long downfield passing out of play-action or bootlegs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 13 Kansas at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brown’s three years at BC coincide with one of the great running backs of recent memory: AJ Dillon, selected in the 2nd round of the last draft by the Packers, who had 38 rushing TDs and 4,382 career rushing yards at 5.2 YPC with the Eagles. In those three years, 29.7% of plays and 28.4% of BC’s yards were simply handing the ball to Dillon.

Defenses knew what a threat he was and had to crowd the box, and BC played out of a lot of heavy run formations, under center with multiple tight ends. Brown had plenty of opportunities for play-action passing against man coverage with no safety help, and about 45% of all his passing plays came on 3rd & 4th downs with 6 yards or more to go - that makes for a lower completion percentage but also a lot more deep-shot possibilities.

On my tally sheet, Brown completed 70% of his attempted passes 20+ yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Partly that’s a product of the offense being so run heavy with safeties drawn into the box, but interestingly about half of all deep shots came out of shotgun. What jumps off of the tape is what a strong, accurate arm Brown has that can paint the whole field.

The reasons for deep downfield incompletions run the typical gamut (pressure affecting the throw, a misplaced ball, pocketing a DPI flag, etc.). The only thing I saw more than once or twice were wide receiver errors - it wasn’t a particularly talented group; all six WRs were low-to-mid 3-stars. Let’s take a look at a representative sample:

(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any video to watch in ¼ or ½ speed)

  1. :00 - Great throwing form - hits the top, transfers his weight, smooth release in rhythm. Drops the ball right in the bucket 30 yards downfield, and that little hop by the WR is unnecessary. Check out on the reverse angle how Brown is looking off the boundary safety with his eyes to create a one-on-one.
  2. :20 - Identical form, which shows up all over his tape. Receiver just drops a perfectly placed ball.
  3. :33 - This play was added in 2019 when they had an OC change (Loeffler to Bajakian, who pulled their SP+ ranking up about 45 spots), and it looks pretty similar to what Oregon’s been running for years. The design lets him calmly work through his progressions left to right then throw a strike over the middle when the safety and backer clear.
  4. :58 - Here’s the traditional way of generating deep shots, which the pistol adopts by having the QB turn his back to the defense to conceal play-action. The safety just can’t backpedal fast enough to help with the receiver who gets behind the defense. 43 air yards plus 7 from the drop, right into the WR’s hands.

On the other end of the spectrum are the short throws, which at BC were mostly the end of the progression instead of quick outs and crossers for easy yards. Brown throws a pretty catchable short ball, though this is probably the biggest area of difference between BC and Oregon’s recent playbooks - very few RPOs and bubble screens in Boston.

Brown’s completion rate on my tally sheet was 66% for short downfield passes and 97% for screen passes. Most of the incompletions were timing problems with the receiver, though there was a weird run of repeated swats at the line in one game (at Purdue in 2018) that really hurt his numbers but I didn’t see again. Pulling those out, here’s a representative sample of Brown’s range:

  1. :00 - Three hitches, two to the boundary - not my favorite playcall, but when the corner is giving that much space in zone you take it (immediately, note the zero hesitation) and let him make a play for extra yardage.
  2. :13 - Good recognition here when Brown comes out of play-action: the blitzer has created a void and the safety who comes down to fill it whiffs on the releasing fullback, easy completion.
  3. :21 - I only charted 2.69% of all snaps Brown took as screen attempts, which is drastically lower than Oregon or the rest of the Pac-12 and one of the lowest I’ve ever seen. Virtually all looked just like this one, where Brown has to sell the long drop then lob it over several defenders in his face with perfect placement.
  4. :31 - A little sprint out to the field is fairly common in most playbooks, though always a bit awkward going left for a northpaw. Right on target for quick yards.

I think the biggest difference I see between Brown and Herbert’s film is that Brown is much, much more eager to try and thread the needle on intermediate throws. Longtime readers will know that’s a welcome change for me, though it also means putting the ball at more risk. (Brown’s actual interception count is about right compared to film, I saw an equal number of them as crazy flukes that weren’t his fault as I did dangerous passes that maybe should have been picked.)

So odd as it is to say, my biggest praise for Brown is also my biggest criticism — his intermediate completion rate is the lowest of all categories, 64%. Overall I think it’s a net positive — my understanding is that it’s easier to coach a hot QB to cool it than it is to instill confidence — and I see a lot of confidence to work with:

  1. :00 - You could argue that the TE should have come back to the ball and fought for it more, and the pressure the line is giving up certainly speeds up the timing, but in my opinion Brown just shouldn’t have thrown it - the CB is well positioned in zone to make this play.
  2. :20 - A lot of trust in the slot receiver on this throw to secure the ball with the safety that close.
  3. :30 - Given how tight the coverage is down the sideline, the window Brown has to place this ball in is very small - he’s got to throw it away from the CB so he can’t make a play on it but close enough that the WR won’t go out of bounds or hit the pylon, and the WR has to catch it airborne and thus survive hard contact with the ground.
  4. :56 - This clip shows off quick recognition and decision-making — the defense is in zone and so the CB has the TE drifting outside short and the LB needs to switch up and handle the outside receiver slanting in over him. The instant the backer messes up and shifts his weight forward onto the TE, Brown fires the ball at the receiver who hasn’t even cleared him yet.

Although BC’s offense didn’t feature him as a runner very often, Brown is certainly capable of rushing with pretty good quickness and punishing the defense if they don’t honor his threat in the read-option game. Those have been big parts of Oregon’s offense for a long time and I don’t expect that’ll change if Brown is taking snaps:

  1. :00 - While it was pretty rare, when the defense left it open Brown correctly chose to keep every time except once that I tallied. Here the weakside ILB really screws up pursuing the back hard and leaves the back door wide open, and Brown gets an even clearer shot when the DE loses outside leverage.
  2. :26 - BC snaps the ball quickly to get a short-yardage pickup on a QB sneak, the graphic is wrong and it’s actually 2nd & 1. Such plays were the majority of QB “runs” that I tallied from Brown; they were 100% successful.
  3. :32 - QB draws like this one tended to be surprise plays (most gave the camera operator trouble, this one is the least problematic clip I have), and Brown sells them well. We haven’t seen the QB draw at Oregon in a long time but in my film review of OC Moorhead I saw that they were a big part of his early career and I’d like to see them make a return.
  4. :46 - The other half of the read-option game — Brown correctly sees that the ILB is hung up a bit on his run threat and so hands off the ball, that delay is enough for the back to keep about two yards clear of him for the entire run. I never saw Brown keep a ball he should have given, nor did I ever see him mishandle a ball on a direct handoff.

I also like Brown’s intangibles - pocket presence, knowing when to scramble and when to throw it away, and ability to throw accurately while on the move:

  1. :00 - This is operated from under center, but the same basic bootleg/flood play out of the pistol has been a common part of Oregon’s playbook for the last two years. Correct read, accurate throw while off-platform, cool with two guys in his face. Also check out the little hop to avoid getting tripped up by the second-string running back.
  2. :20 - I charted a 7% sack rate per dropback, a pretty good number. Most were either total blindsides or like this one, where Brown dodges initial pressure and it takes a second guy getting through to bring him down.
  3. :28 - Another rollout, the especially impressive thing here is that Brown shuffles his feet to fake like he’s going to keep it to draw the linebacker down, then pops it over him when he ducks his head out of the throwing lane.
  4. :36 - Reader, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see a QB just throw the ball away on a half-roll when nothing’s open instead of doing something dumb with it or taking a sack.

There are only six QBs in the Pac-12 who have more than a half-dozen FBS starts in their careers. I’ve done thorough film study on all but Jake Bentley, the transfer from South Carolina to Utah, and I’d put Brown ahead of everyone on that list except USC’s Kedon Slovis. Some were more highly rated out of high school and some have more electric, memorable plays. But in terms of experience, arm talent, decision-making, and all the intangibles you want in a QB, I think Brown is a more complete package at this point. If he is indeed the backup to Shough, I don’t think any team in the conference will have a better combined first and second option at quarterback.

Miami v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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