Every season, talented quarterbacks who become NFL success stories fall out of the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Nick Foles, AJ McCarron, Case Keenum, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Orton, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady are all fairly recent non-first round pick success stories. Meanwhile, guys like JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Jake Locker, Tim Tebow, EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert, Josh Freeman, and Johnny Manziel are selected with first round picks, falter, and settle into backup roles or find themselves out of the league. Quarterback success is determined not by draft position, but by position fit. Franchises that are able to find a good fit for their system at the position are successful. Teams that are not are destined to fail.
Heading towards the 2018 NFL Draft, many teams are seeking the future faces of their franchises. While some NFL front offices will risk their reputations and futures on extremely high 1st round selections at quarterback, recent history shows that at least one non-first round pick at the position will emerge as a viable NFL starter. To me, the best value pick in the 2018 NFL draft is Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta. As an FCS player for a competitive yet non-elite program, it is easy for a player like Lauletta to fall through the cracks; NFL.com has him rated as a "priority UDFA" (link here ). I've also seen him projected as high as the third round following an extremely strong showing at the Senior Bowl. That being said, if I am an NFL front office, I am extremely comfortable investing in a non-first round pick at quarterback who could emerge as one of the best quarterbacks from this season's draft. In fact, Lauletta is a prototypical Bill Belichick-type player who could hear his name called by a team like the Patriots this spring.
Lauletta is an accurate, intelligent player who emerged as a leader at Richmond; he was named team captain in two consecutive seasons. He also stole the show at the Senior Bowl with higher profile players such as Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen in attendance. This player has the intangibles necessary to be a strong starter in the league in the right system. Working through his negatives from his NFL.com scouting report, some scouts have questions about his arm strength. Then again, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, and Tom Brady were knocked by scouts for a perceived lack of arm strength. Know who had great arm strength according to scouts? JaMarcus Russell. Arm strength isn't everything. At the same time, Lauletta gets criticized for a lack of mobility. Then again, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are not extremely mobile athletes. While it is too early to project Lauletta as an NFL star, he has the potential to emerge as an extremely solid starter in the right system.
Quarterback is not my strongest position as a scout; I'm most capable with defensive front seven players and with running backs. That being said, I have watched a ton of film on Lauletta. As a prospect, I feel that his absolute floor is that of a Kyle Orton-style player. An extremely capable, consistent backup who can win games as a starter, especially in the right system. However, this kid also has a high ceiling, and could emerge as an extremely competitive NFL starter. Upside is at least that of a Blake Bortles or even a Tony Romo. Scouts look at lots of things, but to me, the most valuable assessment of Lauletta's talent comes from watching film. What does the tape say?
As a passer, Lauletta is a patient, intelligent quarterback who is comfortable calling audibles and at the line of scrimmage. Off the field, he has a reputation as a film rat, and this not only contributes to his ability to read opposing defenses but also will endear him to NFL coaching staffs. He showcases quiet feet, and patiently works through his reads instead of staring down a single receiver. He also shows a tendency not to hear ghosts, and is usually calm under pressure. In fact, in some cases on film, he looks more comfortable throwing under pressure than he does in a firm pocket. Lauletta lacks a single "wow" trait, such as a cannon arm or blazing speed, but the complete picture is what matters. He is a consistent, capable player who is a student of the game and appears to be extremely coachable. Scouts will dock him due to the lack of that single, elite "wow" trait, but coaches will fall in love with his combination of solid traits.
His negatives are not a huge problem. He gets critiqued for an awkward throwing motion, and tends to wind up on long throws. There are questions about his arm strength, and he will attempt to make a more difficult short throw into coverage at times rather than throwing into weaker coverage downfield. Also dealt with a torn ACL in 2016, which is a question if he emerges in a system where he is asked to run the ball on a regular basis. To me, the argument that Lauletta played in the FCS and therefore at a "lower level of competition" is a weak critique; players like Carson Wentz show that the FCS can produce high-caliber NFL players. Lauletta is not a quarterback for every system or every hole, but he is an extremely good fit for many offenses. If I was an NFL executive, how would I approach him?
To me, Lauletta's best fit is a team like Pittsburgh, San Diego, New Orleans, or New England where there is an established, experienced starter on the tail end of their NFL career that Lauletta can learn under for a season or two before taking the reigns. His negatives can be effectively addressed by a capable NFL coaching staff, and his football IQ will allow him to emerge as a quality player, especially in a stable offense. In college, Lauletta had four different offensive coordinators in four seasons. This is a player who is capable of absorbing different offenses. With a stable franchise, Kyle Lauletta has Pro Bowl potential after a season or two of development. Much like Tom Brady, as an NFL prospect, there are questions about Lauletta as an athlete, and there's no one thing that makes a scout stop and go "wow."
However, "wow" factors are not everything. JaMarcus Russell's arm strength propelled him to the 1st overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. His lack of other strong traits led to his quick demise as an NFL starter. To me, Lauletta has a combination of traits that make him an extremely intriguing NFL prospect, and he's a guy that will likely be available on Day 2 of the Draft. If he falls to Day 3, I will lose at least some faith in the NFL community, since to me Lauletta is worth picking in the second or third round. Where might Lauletta fit best?
To me, Lauletta is the prototypical Bill Belichick quarterback prospect. He's an intelligent, consistent player with a strong work ethic who loves watching film. That should intrigue Belichick, but it gets more interesting than that. Lauletta is a huge lacrosse fan and also played the sport. Belichick is extremely interested in lacrosse. Lauletta's father and uncle played for the US Naval Academy. Steve Belichick (Bill Belichick's father...if you are unfamiliar with his reputation as a scout, you need to look him up) coached and scouted for the Naval Academy. To me, Lauletta is a Jimmy Garoppolo-type prospect; small school player, high football IQ, shined at the Senior Bowl...I expect him to be on the Patriots radar this spring.
At the end of the day, Kyle Lauletta may be the best value at quarterback in the entire 2018 NFL Draft. He doesn't have the hype surrounding a player such as Darnold, Rosen, Barkley, or Allen, but he also won't (at this point) cost you a first round draft pick. The top few quarterbacks in the draft will likely fall into unsettled situations such as Cleveland, and this could help a guy like Kyle Lauletta experience the most success out of this year's draft class at the NFL level. At this point, he's not a guaranteed franchise quarterback, but the intangibles are clearly there. He can be, especially if drafted into a stable situation. I'm excited about Lauletta as an NFL prospect, and you should be too. Mark my words, in the right situation, this kid has the potential to be special, and even in an imperfect situation he will be an extremely capable backup, at worst.
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