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Buccaneers 2013 NFL Draft: "Mike Glennon is Matt Ryan"

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a quarterback in the third round as insurance, but what did they get in him? Some people think he's Matt Ryan.

Streeter Lecka

When I first saw Mike Glennon to really study him as a quarterback, the first game I watched was his 2012 outing versus Florida State (a big thank you to Draft Breakdown for putting up all those prospect videos, by the way). Watching that game, I was not overly impressed: his mechanics broke down causing a bunch of erratic throws and some really, really horrifyingly bad decisions and late throws. To cap it all off, he reacted badly to pressure. He flashed arm strength and accuracy, but they were just flashes. Despite a heroic comeback drive at the end, that was a bad game for Glennon.

But going through the other games I came to like Glennon more and more. Outside of that Florida State game, he was much more consistently accurate. He showcases a strong arm, though it's not truly elite, and his ball placement is very good when his footwork is good. That is: he clearly knows where he wants to and needs to hit a receiver, and he consistently throws the ball before the receiver has made his break. Those are all traits an NFL quarterback needs to display to be successful in the NFL.

Still, I wasn't clear on what to think of Glennon. I liked aspects of his game, but there were inconsistencies and worries, especially relating to this reaction to a muddied pocket. And draft evaluators were split on Glennon, too, as they were on every quarterback. I heard comparisons to Joe Flacco, but those didn't work: Glennon has a good arm, but he can't touch Flacco's arm strength -- and that elite arm strength is what makes Flacco special. But when I heard Greg Cosell on the Dan Patrick Show (video - skip to 9:30), something clicked for me:

"You talk to that coaching staff, which is the same coaching staff in college that had Matt Ryan at Boston College, they'll tell you Mike Glennon is Matt Ryan."

That is a really interesting comparison, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I can't talk about intangibles and leadership and work ethic, because I don't know Mike Glennon and I didn't know Matt Ryan in college. But there have been no bad reports about Glennon's work ethic that I'm aware of, and the Bucs are not the type of organization to take a quarterback where the work ethic is likely to be an issue. So let's just talk about what Glennon does that's similar to Matt Ryan.

Comparing Matt Ryan and Mike Glennon

Now, let's be clear: we're not talking about Matt Ryan right now, who's a vastly improved quarterback. We're talking about Ryan when he came out of college. Clearly a very good prospect, and a better prospect than Glennon is now, but not yet one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Ryan at the time reacted badly to pressure, needed functional space in front of him to step into a throw and get the ball off and was less consistently accurate. Over the years, Ryan has worked on those problems and has taken big steps to correct them, to the dismay of many of us Buccaneers fans.

But if we look at the Matt Ryan as he was in college (we can find an example of that here), we can see a lot of similarities to Mike Glennon. Both players have very good arm strength, but it's not elite. Glennon's may be a little better than Ryan's, actually. Both players have a quick and very natural throwing motion and mechanics. They both throw a very pretty, catchable ball. Both of them have enough mobility to move within the pocket and be useful on bootlegs and rollouts, but neither is much of a runner or scrambler. Both of them are also tall, lanky quarterbacks with a powerful arm.

And yes, arm strength matters for a number of reasons. You will find yourself in third-and-long situations, and in those situations you will have to take a deep drop, and drive the football into tight windows. That's one reason. Another reason is that you need to be able to make all the throws to really expand an NFL offense. If you have Andy Dalton or Matt Barkley as a quarterback, you can forget about throwing a deep out, for instance. It just disappears from your playbook. A third reason is that arm strength allows you to get away with late throws more easily, because the ball simply arrives faster, leaving less time for defenses to close on holes in coverage.

Matt Ryan and Mike Glennon also have the same issues. Neither of them throws a good ball if they can't step into their throws. Neither of them reacts very well to pressure, even though both will stand there and take a hit to get a pass off. And in both cases, most errant passes occur because of that issue. Glennon does have one issue that Ryan did not have, or had to a lesser extent: bad decision making. Glennon trusts his arm and squeezes balls into tight windows, and sometimes those windows are a little too tight, as Bucky Brooks highlighted before.

One thing that I just keep coming back to in watching both quarterbacks is that they need space to step into their throws. If you eliminate the room in front of Ryan's feet, he really struggles, and the same is true for Glennon. Playing behind Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph should help that a little, but there will always be plays in an NFL game where you don't have that space.

There's also this:

Mike Glennon(from

Year School Conf Class Pos Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2011* North Carolina State ACC JR QB 283 453 62.5 3054 6.7 6.9 31 12 136.4
2012* North Carolina State ACC SR QB 330 564 58.5 4031 7.1 6.9 31 17 130.7

Matt Ryan(from

Year School Conf Class Pos Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2006* Boston College ACC JR QB 263 426 61.7 2942 6.9 6.6 15 10 126.7
2007* Boston College ACC SR QB 388 654 59.3 4507 6.9 6.5 31 19 127.0

What does Glennon have to work on?

Now obviously Mike Glennon isn't Matt Ryan or he wouldn't have lasted to the third round, especially not in what is a really weak quarterback class. Most of his issues relate to footwork and reacting to pressure. Too often, Glennon throws an ill-advised pass off his back foot in the face of pressure. And much, much too often he takes a sack where he doesn't need to because he holds on to the ball too long. Those are two issues he has to fix. The third issue: the bad decision making.

That's essentially what Greg Cosell told Doug Farrar, too (listen to the podcast itself, too, there are lots of good notes on Glennon starting at around 21:30) .

When there's pressure around him, he's another guy who does not have very quick feet. And when he has to move, at times, he can't quite get his feet set. So he can't throw the ball properly, and he becomes scattershot. In the NFL, you don't get that open space as often as you do in college. But I watched him against North Carolina, and I thought he did a good job of reading and recognizing coverages."

These are not easy things to fix, and if Glennon can't improve in those areas he won't be a successful NFL quarter. The burden falls on the Bucs' coaching staff and Glennon himself to improve in those areas, and it's impossible for anyone to know at this point whether he'll succeed. If we knew he would succeed in improving, he would have been a first-round draft pick.

There are also a few other warning signs. The statistical projection of Football Outsiders, the Lewin Career Forecast, hates Mike Glennon despite loving Matt Ryan. Now, this is just a statistical projection, but it's worth keeping in mind. The system docks him for his body type (tall but very skinny), the fact that his performance declined in his final season in some ways and probably (though they don't acknowledge this) for his low number of starts. I should be noted that the number of starts is just low because he sat behind Russell Wilson for two years.

Josh Freeman is still better

I want to emphasize this to drive home another point: Glennon won't replace Freeman this year, or probably in future years. Both Freeman and Glennon have some things to work on, but Freeman is much closer to being a good NFL quarterback. For one, he has already done a lot of very good things in the NFL. More importantly, he's a much better mover within the pocket, he has a truly elite arm, better than Glennon's, and he has some issues with pressure -- but far fewer than Glennon. He does not necessarily need functional space in front of him to get a throw off, for instance. Another factor that's easy to forget: it's hard to sack Freeman. The same is not true for Glennon, who won't see tacklers fall off him as much and who isn't as good about throwing away the ball.

Josh Freeman will start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013, as he should, and as has been acknowledged by Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik. Whether Freeman is the starter beyond 2013 will depend on one thing, and one thing only: his progression as a quarterback this season. Just like Glennon, Freeman has things he needs to work on. If he can fix those things, mostly a question of footwork and at times questionable decision making, then Freeman will be the starter beyond 2013 and he'll sign a very lucrative contract.

But if Freeman does not fix those issues in 2013, the Buccaneers could turn to Mike Glennon. And if they do, they had better hope that he will have been able to fix what Freeman was then unable to repair in his own game.

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