Why Vernon Adams Deserves a Chance in the NFL Draft
Imagine a quarterback who's a bit undersized. Standing at 5'11", he's not going to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
He transferred prior to his final season of college ball, taking advantage of the NCAA's graduate-school transfer rules. On his new team, he managed to record one of the 10 most efficient single seasons in the history of Division-I college football.
By now, you probably know these words describe Russell Wilson. Each word of that, though, could also apply to Oregon's Vernon Adams.
If you follow college football closely, you probably heard comparisons between Wilson and Adams last winter, as well, when Adams was deciding where he'd wrap up his career after a spectacular few seasons at Eastern Washington. Based on what Adams did in his time with the Ducks, those comparisons don't figure to shed themselves too quickly.
The issue with Adams is that he's not generating nearly the same amount of buzz that Wilson did out of Wisconsin. When ESPN's Mel Kiper released his latest big board, Adams wasn't in the top 10 among quarterback prospects. Why waste our breath discussing him, then?
He was just that good.
Let's take a deeper look at Adams' 2015 season with Oregon to see what this rekindled hype is all about. Then we'll discuss whether or not all of that is enough to earn a spot in the hearts of NFL talent evaluators.
In Elite Company
One of the similarities mentioned between Wilson and Adams was having one of the 10 most efficient seasons in college football history. That wasn't simple hyperbole; Adams actually went bonkers last year.
Adams' 2015 season ranks 10th all time in adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), a metric which meshes touchdowns, interceptions, and yards per attempt together. Only 15 people have ever posted an AY/A higher than 11, and Adams finished the year at 11.17. That'll work.
Things start to look even more impressive when you look at the players immediately ahead of him. The nine players who had better AY/A's than Adams include five former top-two picks (Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and Cam Newton). Another -- sitting in fourth place -- is Wilson, a third-round pick turned Super Bowl champion.
When we did our investigation of which stats matter most for collegiate quarterbacks, we found that AY/A and passing efficiency rating both had significant correlations to NFL success. Adams was merely 12th all-time in passing efficiency rating, so clearly that's a red flag. Can't trust the guy now.
The other telling collegiate stat was the number of games played, defined as the total number of games in which the player attempted at least 10 passes. Adams excels here as well, meeting that mark 43 times between his years at Eastern Washington and at Oregon. That's 20 more games than consensus top-three quarterback Carson Wentz had at North Dakota State and more than both Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch, the other two in that top three. There are no concerns with experience at the quarterback position for Adams.
One of the comebacks with regards to Adams is that he only had one year at the top level of college football to showcase his skills. Injuries limited him to only nine games with at least 10 attempts at Oregon, so why should we believe in his efficiency stats?
It turns out Adams was dropping silly sauce when he was at Eastern Washington, too. His 173.8 career passing efficiency rating there is the second best in FCS history, trailing only San Diego's Josh Johnson at 176.7. If you're concerned about his abilities as a college quarterback, you probably shouldn't be. He's been doing this for a while, and Oregon just gave him a bigger stage to flash his filthiness.
This doesn't mean Adams is a sure-fire NFL bargain waiting to happen. And this is where we find our issues when it comes to Adams.
Scouts Know What They're Doing
Let's go back to that look at the stats that matter most for predicting NFL success. We've mentioned games played, AY/A, and passing efficiency rating. The one that hasn't been mentioned is NFL draft position, and that may be the best predictor.
Prior to last year's Super Bowl, I looked at how often quarterbacks who were taken after the first round are successful in the NFL. The answer? It's pretty unlikely.
At that point, only six quarterbacks drafted later than the first round since 2000 had been in the top 10 of numberFire's Total Net Expected Points (NEP) on multiple occasions. When we include data from the 2015 season, 48.13 percent of all top-10 quarterbacks in Total NEP have been former first-round picks. Wilson is the exception, not the rule.
This means we likely shouldn't be actively searching for guys like Adams, where the stats and the scouts tell vastly different tales. Doing so will lead us down a rabbit hole that would result in more banes than boons.
Let's go back to the all-time AY/A rankings. The quarterback directly behind Adams on that list was Kellen Moore. Like Adams, Moore had a superb statistical profile coming out of Boise State, fulfilling every category we look for in a college quarterback's efficiency and experience. However, the scouts didn't view him in this light, and he only has two starts in four NFL seasons to show for it.
As much as I would love for this to be the case, great collegiate stats don't always lead to NFL success. They do at a decent rate when combined with scouting, but beyond that, the success rate isn't high enough.
So how should NFL teams be handling Adams when it comes to the NFL draft? That would seem to be the multi-million dollar question.
Adams Deserves a Chance
There's still a lot of time that will pass between now and April's draft. That means plenty of time for evaluation and the changing of opinions. It would seem wise to spend some of that on a guy like Adams.
Scouts may not love Adams now, but whenever someone is able to post numbers as grotesque as Adams' at multiple levels, they are at least worthy of extra examination. His height is far from ideal, but that is not the lone predictor of NFL success.
The main takeaway here is that Adams is, at least, deserving of attention throughout the draft process. If he gets brushed aside as being a small-sized, system quarterback, then that would seem to be an unfair evaluation of a potential truly talented passer.
It's entirely possible that when the scouts dig deeper, they find that Adams' skills do not translate to the NFL level. If that's the case, then it's time to accept that it wasn't meant to be and move on. However, when you show throughout your collegiate career the superb efficiency that Adams showed both at Eastern Washington and at Oregon, you have at least earned yourself the right to a chance.