Jake Browning took us on a fun ride during his legendary career at Washington. The highs bordered on spectacular efficiency, and even most of the lows were still generally acceptable. But at no point during his college career did we hear experts say “This guy has everything the NFL is looking for.”
If I was to pick the absolute pinnacle of Browning’s UW career, I’d go back to October 8, 2016. Washington had just blown out Stanford 44-6 in front of a national TV audience the week prior, a game in which the then sophomore quarterback was masterful. Browning would then put on an even more impressive show against Oregon in Eugene, throwing six touchdown passes and running for two more in a 70-21 annihilation of the Ducks.
Browning would injure his shoulder the following game against Oregon State (something we didn’t find out until much later), and other than his six-TD effort against Cal two weeks after the OSU game, he would never return to that early 2016 form again.
Okay, we know the history. We know how good he was for much of 2016. We know the ups and downs. Why rehash his UW career?
Because even at his 2016 best, Browning was never a top pro prospect.
Very High Football IQ:
Show me another QB in college football who never looks to the coaches for his audible. When the play comes in from the sideline, Browning has this look about him that says “Yeah, we might do that.” We did a film study in 2016 where Lavon Coleman broke free against Arizona for several big runs. Each time, Browning changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Each time, it was the right call. Most fans don’t give a shit about stuff like that or think it’s any kind of big deal. NFL coaching staffs do care about this kind of thing, and it’s the single trait that can land Browning on an NFL roster.
People often equate accuracy with hitting a receiver in the hands. True, but there is so much more to it than that. There are tons of inaccurate college QBs (Utah’s Tyler Huntley is my favorite example of this) who actually have good throwing arms and could fire a fastball through a hanging tire in the back yard all day long. But they don’t have what’s called “game accuracy,” which involves things like throwing players open and anticipating routes. At the NFL level, there is no time to wait for a player to be open and then fire the ball at them. Those windows close fast both from the secondary and linebackers lurking under the primary coverage. The reason Browning had so much success throwing in college with just an average arm was his ability to read defenders and anticipate routes. When you throw the right pass to the right spot, it can float a little. Browning must have led all of college football in completed floaters outside the hashes.
Those floaters Browning completed in college will show up in the negative column on his NFL scouting report. Browning can actually make all the throws they ask you to make in the NFL, it’s just that most of them arrive with below average velocity. This is especially true on deep throws or downfield throws outside the hashes. He lacks the luxury to spot an open receiver downfield and sling the ball to him at the last moment, as he needs to put his entire frame into a deep pass to get it there. Sometimes, even when he does wind up and let it go, it ends up being an arching rainbow. That won’t work in the NFL. His lack of arm strength also works against his strength of anticipating throws, as he is unwilling to show the same level of trust on downfield route concepts as he does in the short passing game. This resulted in Browning leaving a lot of potential yardage on the field as he opted to throw short or scramble.
Under Pressure/Pocket Presence
This is where things get really fun with Jake Browning. I summarize Browning’s pocket presence with this: Occasionally effective under pressure, while simultaneously on the verge of a complete disaster.
His athleticism is actually quite good. He’s quick with his feet, has excellent balance and has a nifty tuck he uses to make himself small and escape. He has above average straight ahead speed, and is very good at splitting defenders for max yardage while avoiding hits. The disasters come when he tries to do too much. Reversing field, keeping hopeless plays alive, and backpedaling.
One of Browning’s biggest weaknesses from the scouting perspective is his ability to deal with the kind of pressure you can’t escape from. Most notably the kind that is right in his face. He’s tough and will stand in there and take the hit if he has time to unload a decent pass, but he needs more time and space to get the ball downfield than the other quarterbacks in the draft. This forces him to pull it down, which can lead to more backpedaling.
NFL teams know that you cannot fix arm strength issues. They will take every chance that a prospect with a solid arm can learn the things a guy like Jake Browning already knows. But Browning will get the chance to show how valuable he can be on the practice field and in the film room. He projects as a team’s third QB with a possible upside of backup QB if he is able to stay within himself and never attempt some of the crazy shit he did in college.
If he eventually wants to go into coaching, that’s probably where he can stick around for a long time in football.