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Joel Stave - A Longer Look

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I never thought I'd do any sort of write-up on Joel Stave, because well, with Teddy starting and Stave battling for 3rd string, who cares? Well, now that Teddy is down, and the prospect of the Vikings offense with Hill at QB thoroughly depressing, it's time to take a longer look at Joel Stave- hopefully something Mike Zimmer will also do Thursday night against the Rams.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Stave has all the physical tools to be a good QB in the NFL- he's got the size, the arm, and decent mobility for a pocket passer.  And yet his record at Wisconsin suggests he has never really learned how to use them well.

Stave is built like Ben Roethlisberger at 6'5", 230 lbs., with big 10.75" hands, and has a nice throwing motion, good lower body footwork, but has been inconsistent overall with his mechanics, and nowhere near the production of Big Ben in college.  A better overall comparison for Stave would be Tom Savage, who the Texans took in the 4th round in 2014.  Here are Stave's measurables compared to the rest of the 2016 QB class:

He definitely has the desired measurables, particularly the physical traits, that you want in a QB.

Overall, Stave was 613/1031 passing (59.5%) for 7,635 yards in 41 starts (44 games played), 48 TDs, 37 INTs,  and a 129.9 QB rating in his college career.   Stave was also an Academic All-Big 10 every year at Wisconsin, and scored a 28 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, so generally seems to be a smart guy.

Here are some draft profiles of Stave to give you a better look at his pros and cons:

NFL.com Draft Profile

Pro Football Spot Profile

Dynasty Football Warehouse Profile (I know, but it's there)

Overall, you get the impression that while Stave throws a good ball and has good arm strength, he also has some fixable mechanical issues.  He has a nice delivery, but also some problems with accuracy.   Smart guy, but make poor decisions at times.  Good rhythm passer with good timing, but doesn't have good touch on his throws.  In short, for every ying there is a yang, for every strength, there is a qualifier or off-setting weakness.

And so it is with his overall reputation at Wisconsin as well.  He has won more games than any QB in Wisconsin history, but also seems to be regarded much closer to Christian Ponder in Minnesota than Teddy Bridgewater in Louisville or Minnesota.  What also seems apparent is that despite the success of Russell Wilson- whom Stave replaced- the Wisconsin offense that Stave was a part of was not one a QB was likely to star in- much like the Viking's offenses post-Favre.

Wisconsin ran a run-first offense behind Melvin Gordon and a stout offensive line with a complementary short- to intermediate pass game for Stave's first three years, although coaching and/or offensive scheme changes were nearly annual while Stave was there.  Stave was not a play-maker, nor was he asked to be.   While he had a good offensive line during those years, he never had much of a receiver corps.  Stave's last year, which included another coaching change and key losses at RB and offensive line, was a little more QB-centered, pro-style, west coast offense.  But the offensive line struggled at times with pass protection, and Stave's WR corps was lackluster.  Still, Stave went 10-3 as a starter and was named Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl- a 23-21 win over USC which he led Wisconsin on a game winning drive after he took a cleat to his nose.

Wisconsin's passing game was more west-coast style- not a lot of deep routes/throws from the tape I watched, but a lot of passes to backs out of the backfield, slants, and intermediate curls- which Stave throws very well.  Where Stave struggles more with accuracy is on the outside routes, where he tended to throw back-shoulder passes inside on several occasions.  He also struggled at times with accuracy to backs out of the backfield.   Stave does well though in bootleg and roll-outs, and seems to have good downfield vision.   Despite his 6'5" height, he had a couple passes batted down in the games I watched.   Here are a couple games from last year against top college teams- Alabama and USC in the Holiday Bowl.

After watching Stave's preseason performances so far, you notice some similarities to these college games.  His best passes are over-the-middle, usually curl routes.  He throws a nice ball, but I wouldn't say he has a Favre-like gun either.   Similar to Teddy in his velocity I think.   He has good pocket presence when the pocket is collapsing, can extend a play some with his mobility, but struggles to avoid a sack when an o-lineman is beat early.  He led some good drives, didn't notice him holding the ball too long, nor panicing in the pocket.  He seems at his best at a little faster-paced rhythm.

What I haven't seen from Stave yet is his deep ball.  Play calling was pretty conservative with Stave in preseason so far, which I hope will change against the Rams now that Teddy is out - to show more of what he can or can't do in the passing game.  Hope to see him more in two-minute drill and red-zone, and throwing more outside routes too.

But so far, against 2nd and 3rd string guys in preseason, Stave does not seem overwhelmed.   He seems a lot like Taylor Heinike last preseason- some promise, but needs more reps and experience.  I suspect Stave will likely get most or all the reps against the Rams, as Hill is now the starter and will likely be rested the last preseason game.

Of course all of this leads to the question:

What if Stave plays well against the Rams?

The easier part of that question is he definitely leapfrogs Heinike on the depth chart, if he hasn't already.   Does he leapfrog Hill?  I doubt it.  Although I wouldn't say it's 100% that he doesn't either.   My guess is that with extended playing time against the Rams, Stave will either make or break his case as a QB capable of starting if need be.   Zimmer and company want to know if Hill goes down or is ineffective- both very distinct possibilities well supported by recent history- whether Stave can go in and be competitive.   That will probably drive how hard they'll pursue bringing in an outside QB.

The other part of the question also has to do with Mike Zimmer's attitude about Shaun Hill.  My guess is that despite the standard, 'we have confidence in our backup to come in and do the job if called upon' response to media, that Mike Zimmer doesn't have much confidence in Shaun Hill.  Zimmer made it clear that Hill was Norv's pick when they brought him in, and he basically deferred to Norv's judgement at the time.  But now that Zimmer is taking more interest in the offense, he is taking a more hands on approach to personnel on that side of the ball.

I suspect the 'coaches decision' to start Hill the 2nd preseason game had more to do with Zimmer wanting to see if Hill should stay or go as it did with Teddy having a sore shoulder, as was said the next day to quell the controversy.  I'm not sure HIll's performance was definitive for Zimmer, but with Teddy on IR he's pretty much stuck with him.  Still, if Hill has not gained Mike Zimmer's confidence, finding ways to win may include someone other than Hill at QB.  Zimmer's comments after the game confirmed (at least to me) that Zimmer had concern about Shaun Hill as a backup QB, and that's why he started him:

“It was great for Shaun to play. We had to take a good look at him – make sure that we’re going into the season with a backup that we feel good about,” Zimmer said. “I thought he managed everything that we did in the huddle. I thought he got the right checks in, and he had opportunities to get the ball downfield. He didn’t panic in the pocket. I thought we gave him a lot of time to survey the field, so it was good.”

Zimmer's comments about Hill strike me as a little unusual.  Those are comments you might make about a rookie in a preseason game- not a 15-year veteran.    It will be interesting to see how Zimmer responds with Hill as his starting QB, particularly after a bad game.  For example, against the Packers.  In primetime.  At home.  First regular season game at the new, billion-dollar, publicly-funded, US Bank stadium.    It's also interesting that Hill was rumored as a potential trade candidate right up until Teddy got hurt.

Zimmer has had few comments about Stave so far, as is typical for a 3rd string QB and undrafted FA trying to make the roster, but the few he's given have been positive.  Chris Tomasson reported this as training camp began:

Zimmer likes what he has seen so far from the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Stave. That likely has played a role in the Vikings’ decision not to bring in another quarterback just yet.

“He throws the ball good,” Zimmer said. “He’s still learning. You’ve got to see (how he does) when people are around him. You’ve got to see how fast he thinks. … He’s got a nice arm. He’s a good athlete, (and he’s) got good size.”

A couple weeks ago in August Sid Hartman interviewed Stave and Norv Turner:

Stave said there's a number of things that he and the staff are looking to improve in his play.

"I think I can keep getting better with my feet," he said. "That's one thing that [quarterbacks] coach [Scott] Turner is on me about, after every throw just about it's, 'Quicker with your feet, quicker with your feet.' The quicker you are with your feet, the quicker you can get the ball out of your hands. I think that's one area where I can really improve a lot."

Said offensive coordinator Norv Turner: "When things come up the way we expect it to and he has a clean pocket, he obviously showed he can stand back and throw the ball and be effective. Right now, when it comes up different, or it gets speeded up, he has some technical things, footwork things, he has got to get better at so he can continue to be accurate."

Overall it seems the coaching staff is pleased with Stave's progress, and his play in easy situations, but need to see how fast he can develop in the not-so-easy situations a QB is likely to face many times over the course of a game.  Hopefully Stave will show-up well in that regard against the Rams.

It will be interesting to see Stave match-up against the #1 pick in the draft - QB Jared Goff- who may get his first start for the Rams, as their #1 QB- Case Keenum- will likely sit.   Interestingly Sean Mannion, currently #2 on the Rams QB depth-chart, very comparable to Stave in almost every respect, has been mentioned as a trade candidate for backup-QB-needy teams including the Vikings, could also get the start for the Rams, providing another very useful comparison for the Vikings coaching staff.

At the end of the day, one of the key questions for the Vikings coaching staff is who can deliver a credible passing game defenses must honor.   The Vikings offense becomes very predictable and one-dimensional very fast without a credible intermediate/deep passing game.  Norv's offense is predicated on being able to throw the ball downfield.  When that doesn't happen, it stagnates.  It also puts the Vikings offense in an untenable situation- being forced to play catch-up and pass-  if ever the defense allows an early lead- see Seattle regular season game last year.

I don't think anyone can be confident in Shaun Hill's ability in that regard.  There is no basis for it.  No history.  No consistency.  That's why he's been a career itinerant backup, and seemingly has drawn more scrutiny from Mike Zimmer this preseason.

One can say the same thing about Joel Stave.  But he has demonstrated the physical traits.  He has the ability to make big-play throws downfield.  He hasn't shown it much, but given the opportunity can he step up?  Even modest success could go a long way in allowing the rest of the Vikings offense to be more effective, and force defenses to cover more of the field - a central tenet of Norv's offense.

My hope is that Norv and Zimmer give Stave every opportunity to make throws downfield- the more the better.  I hope they keep first string receivers out there longer for that purpose too.

At this point nobody can be certain how well Stave will respond in what is likely the most important game of his fledgling pro career.  But if he shows he has what it takes, even if only with mostly 2nd and 3rd string players, he may prove to be the better option for the Vikings offense than Shaun Hill in Teddy's absence.  He may also prove to be a better backup when Teddy returns next year, while Hill will almost certainly not be extended.

It's far from ideal, but finding a way to win when your starting QB goes down involves taking some calculated risks.  Bill Parcells went with 3rd string QB Jeff Hostetler after Phil Simms went down late in the 1990 and won the Super Bowl.    Tom Brady was a nobody when he took over for Bledsoe early in 2001.   I'm sure Bill Belichick could have traded for a veteran QB as a safer option rather than go with the 2nd year backup whose NFL passing career stood at 1-3 for 6 yards at the time.  Yes, these are exceptional cases, but how many times has that seemingly reliable, aging veteran backup QB led a team to a Super Bowl, or even a nice playoff run?

Audentis fortuna iuvat.