2019 NFL Draft: What is Ryan Finley?

11/27/2018
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For whatever reason, Ryan Finley often gets made out to be some superstar. If you’ve watched his tape, you’ll know that he’s far from that. There are people out there that absolutely rip him to shreds because he isn’t Baker Mayfield or Patrick Mahomes. Before we even get going on film, let’s understand that every quarterback class is different. Either way, let’s stop putting unrealistic expectations on quarterbacks.

The quarterbacks for the 2019 NFL Draft are all over the place. There’s very little good, and most of the quarterbacks that are drafted in April will be taken based on their potential. There are teams that have a need at the position, and some for whom there isn’t much of an option to wait another year. With Ryan Finley, there’s not much to wait on.

What you see is what you get, and despite not being a superstar, he’s the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. He’s not steps ahead of the curve when it comes to overall arm talent or ball placement, but he’s one of the smartest players in this draft. Before the 2018 season even started, Finley already had three degrees. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a graduate certification and master’s degree in liberal studies. The haters out there will say, “he’s been in college for like six years, so I hope he’s graduated.” Oh really?

Let’s be fair for a minute. He graduated in three years at Boise State and then transferred to North Carolina State. In fact, he’s taken very similar steps academically to Russell Wilson, who was redshirted in 2007 and then played for the Wolfpack from 2008-2010. This was all before transferring to Wisconsin for one season; he had already obtained an undergraduate degree in communications.

Going back to Finley’s days at Boise State, he was a redshirt in 2013. He then played in a reserve role during the 2014 season and his season was cut short in 2015 because of a season-ending ankle injury. That injury paved the way for Brett Rypien at Boise State, which is intriguing because he’s starting to gain steam ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, as well. However, transferring to North Carolina State was the best thing for Finley.

Since arriving in Raleigh, Finley has won. He’s been part of teams with good defenses, but overall he’s compiled a 24-13 record in three seasons. He’s thrown for 9,753 yards and has 56 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. It’s safe to say that he’s limited turnovers because he doesn’t take a lot of risks (which I know Draft Twitter hates) but he’s also a good decision maker with the football. Let’s jump into some film and find out what Ryan Finley really is.

Pre-Snap Read Leads to Deep Pass 

It’s no secret that I’ve been the biggest Ryan Finley fan on the internet. Before Todd McShay, before anyone. This is where it all started. I spent a summer day in 2017 just grinding film all day (like always), and I came across Ryan Finley and I was actually impressed by him.

Disregard the designed screen to Jaylen Samuel; check out that throw against North Carolina. It’s Twins Right, and all three receivers run verticals. Finley has his choice but rolls with his initial read and places it perfectly in the bucket along the sideline. He notices the blitz coming from the nickel back and then notices the safety slide over the receiver in the slot. This leaves man coverage on the outside, and he trusts his arm and receiver to make a great play, and a great play it was.

Manageable Athletic Ability

There’s a pretty good chance that Ryan Finley tests below average for quarterbacks in the athletic drills at the Scouting Combine. If you base your evaluation of that, then don’t quit your day job. If this is your day job, then please quit and give it to me.

On the play above, it’s a heads-up play by Finley to read the defense and realize that the screen was completely covered. Rather than throwing it away or at the feet of the defense, he tucks the ball and runs for positive yardage. There’s a chance that he doesn’t pull this off in the NFL with the speed that defenses possess, but you have to give him credit for this.

Is that not enough athletic ability for you? Don’t worry, there’s more, but unfortunately, it won’t be Lamar Jackson-fast. that’s why I said manageable, not game-changing.

The term RPO (run-pass option) has taken over football. On the play above, the Wolfpack execute a simple triple-option, but you can also import an RPO into this. Either way, it’s a fantastic read by a quarterback that fits the description of a pocket passer. These are just two examples of the quarterback running with the football, but there are plays of him executing the speed option and running a bootleg.

Maneuvering the Pocket and Extending Beyond It 

We often get caught up in what a quarterback can do beyond the pocket. So many times in a game, we see Aaron Rodgers make incredible plays by getting outside the pocket. Everyone take a deep breath, I’m not saying that Ryan Finley is Aaron Rodgers. Let’s be real, it’s not even close. However, Finley can extend plays beyond the pocket. But proceed with caution:

On the play above, Finley does a fantastic look inside the pocket and then escapes while the pocket collapses. He rolls to his right and makes a good throw on the run. It’s 3rd-and-16, and he finds the receiver (Jakobi Meyers, check him out, too) for 21 yards. He doesn’t necessarily do this on a regular basis, but he makes this look effortless and it’s a promising sign for a quarterback that catches plenty of criticism for the warts in his game.

Earlier in the same game, Finley rolls to his right again. This time, he evades the blitz from the linebacker up the middle. This becomes more of a 50/50 ball between Kelvin Harmon (wide receiver #3) and the defensive back. Fortunately for Finley, Harmon bails him out and it’s a first down. He does fit this throw into the tight coverage, but it’s throws like this from Finley that makes people skeptical of his ball placement ability. He has the option to run the ball, but instead, he decides to throw from his back foot.

Throwing Across the Field 

Going from the right hash to the left hash (and vice versa) and taking advantage of the open field is crucial for a quarterback and the success of an offense. We all know that every play can’t be successful to the short side of the field. But it’s not just that. We want our quarterbacks to be able to make every throw. For Ryan Finley, throwing across the field can be a struggle.

No doubt, this is a good defensive play, but Ryan Finley shows some lack of arm strength and ball placement. It also looks like he mistimes this throw from the moment the receiver breaks out of his dig route. You can see that the receiver has to come back to this pass and, while the defensive back makes a great play on the ball, it should be noted that the pass should be in front of the receiver. Once he turns toward the sideline, the pass should be going to that sideline and into the hands of the receiver. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. This is just one example in which Finley is questionable when throwing across his body and into the longer side of the field.

On the next play, it’s simple. Questionable ball placement and arm strength on a throw across his body. All I wanted to see was some really nice zip on this throw and for the ball to be in front of the receiver. Instead, there was too much air on this pass, and the receiver had to come back for the ball. These are throws that will get intercepted or broken up on a regular basis in the NFL.

Lastly, this is a pass across his body, and yes, it’s completed, but it’s under-thrown. The biggest concern is Finley’s platform. He doesn’t step into this throw the way he should, and that’s why there’s limited arm strength on this specific throw. It’s great to complete the pass, but this throw will be taken to the house at the next level.

Doing Too Much Leads to Questionable Decisions 

You can’t discredit a quarterback for trying to make a play, but sometimes it’s no bueno. Every quarterback has those moments in their career, and Ryan Finley is no different. The play below is Ryan Finley trying to do too much, and bad things happen, when that’s the case.

It’s 3rd-and-goal and the Wolfpack have a four-point lead. Finley has to understand that he needs to throw this away or just take the sack. Even though he’s going for the touchdown, he takes away three points from his team (pending the kicker making the field goal). We already know he’s got questionable athletic ability, but he can manage beyond the pocket. However, he throws off of his back foot and stares at the flat route the entire time. This is a questionable decision from a veteran quarterback, and it’s clear he’s just doing too much.

This isn’t Ryan Finley questioning himself; this is him not trusting himself. Most evaluators question his arm strength, and this is proof of him not trusting it himself. He has a receiver wide open at the top of the screen, and rather than unloading to the open target, he decides to change it up and throw it deep down the field into tight coverage. Had he thrown to the fade route at the top of the screen, it would have been a first down and there might have been a touchdown. Instead, Finley overthinks this and questions himself, and this becomes an interception.

Improving Ball Placement and Lower Body Questions 

It would be wrong of me to sit here and say that Ryan Finley can place the ball anywhere on the field. As I’ve shown, he will struggle in certain spots. However, he can fit the ball into tight spots, and it’s impressive when he does. Whether he becomes consistent with it or not, that’ll be key.

It’s a back shoulder throw, and Finley places this pass perfectly and puts some zip into the throw. The Wolfpack runs a variety of back shoulder throws and passes along the sideline. Finley has shown that he can make any of those throws, but he’s just not as consistent with them as you’d like him to be.

This next throw is where he puts some arm behind it. He almost puts too much behind it, but fortunately, Kelvin Harmon is capable of coming down with the pass. Again, he’ll need to find that consistency when throwing the football, especially when throwing deep down the field.

This might be the best throw from Ryan Finley I’ve ever seen. He looks left, but his eyes move him downfield, and then his arm does the rest of the work. This ball couldn’t be placed any better, but pushing this ball about 40 yards down the field shouldn’t be much of an issue for him at the next level.

What’s Left for Ryan Finley? 

There’s very little left for Ryan Finley to do on a college field. North Carolina State will have their bowl game, and I would assume he’ll play in it, but the bigger storyline is what he does and how he approaches the pre-draft process. Going into the final week of the college football season, Ryan Finley was invited to the 2019 Senior Bowl, and it’s official, he has accepted and will be in Mobile, Alabama come January.

The way Finley performs during the Senior Bowl will be crucial for his draft stock because it could help solidify himself alongside Justin Herbert from Oregon (if he declares) and Daniel Jones from Duke (if he declares). While at the Senior Bowl, Finley will compete with two quarterbacks from the Big Ten; Trace McSorley and Clayton Thorson. All three will have plenty of attention aimed in their direction.

The development for Ryan Finley will be interesting and will be a process that I monitor closely. Going into the season, he was my top-ranked quarterback. His arm strength is questionable beyond 40 yards down the field and his ball placement can be sporadic, but he’s been one of the more consistent quarterbacks in college football, and when comparing him to others in this class, it’s clear that he’s got an advantage over some of them. He develops well in the pocket, he throws from a good platform, and it’s relatively consistent. He does a good job processing but can get stuck staring down receivers or second-guessing his initial read.

Just remember that when you start watching Finley or any of these quarterbacks, the bar shouldn’t be set from the 2018 quarterback class or the 2017 quarterback class. Take this class for what it is. There’s some potential, but there’s plenty of issues with all of the quarterbacks. Finley has his flaws, but the positives outweigh the negatives. There’s a chance that Finley doesn’t get drafted in the first round, but he’s the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft. I’ll stand by that, and I think that a team searching for wins now will consider him. Those teams could be the New York Giants or Jacksonville Jaguars, but whoever the team is, they’ll take Ryan Finley for what he really is, and it could lead to more consistency for a struggling offense.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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