Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta is an obvious choice for the Patriots in this year’s draft for many reasons.
Lauletta has all the intangibles that a team looks for in a quarterback. He was considered to be a team leader and was elected captain twice at Richmond. His father, Joe, was a quarterback at Navy in the 1980s. Throw in former High School lacrosse player for good measure, and on those facts alone, Bill Belichick is already interested.
On the field, Lauletta keeps checking boxes for the Patriots. He’s a fast processor, an accurate passer, has a quick release, and throws with excellent touch and anticipation to the intermediate part of the field.
Yes, the former Richmond quarterback has a similar playing style to the Patriots’ former prodigy Jimmy Garoppolo and the background of Belichick’s dreams, but like any prospect, there are flaws in his game.
The primary concern with Lauletta that could determine both his fate in this draft and the NFL is well below-average arm strength. Lauletta struggled to push the ball downfield in college, and although he threw the ball well at the Senior Bowl, it’s a legitimate fear when projecting his ceiling as a quarterback.
Below, I’ll go over both the strengths and weaknesses of Lauletta’s game and determine if this is as perfect of a marriage as it appears.
Throwing With Anticipation
The hallmark of Tom Brady’s game and the Patriots’ offense over the last 18 seasons has been throwing with anticipation over the middle of the field. What that means is throwing the ball to a spot downfield knowing that the receiver will eventually be there and catch the football. That takes a combination of accuracy, trust in your receivers, and the ability to anticipate the openings in a specific coverage. Lauletta checks all three boxes, and you see him making throws like the two plays shown above on a regular basis.
Fast Processor/Quick Release
Lauletta had his fair share of built-in reads in college, but his processing speed and quick release are legit. Lauletta showed the ability to make both pre and post-snap reads, and often gets the ball out quickly and on time. The first play featured here is one that stands out. The defense is going to send a blitz by the middle linebacker playing off the ball. Lauletta sees it coming from a mile away and shows that tight/compact release to complete the pass to his tight end in the space vacated by the linebacker.
Red Zone Savant
If you followed the Senior Bowl, you probably have already heard about the show that Lauletta put on both at practice and during the game. The red zone is where Lauletta’s ball placement, sound decision making, and touch can shine. Lauletta can zip short passes into tight windows for touchdowns and also throws some ridiculous fades with the perfect amount of touch. He’s money in that area of the field.
Throwing on the Move
Up next is Lauletta’s ability to throw on the move and use his athleticism to beat opposing defenses. Lauletta is an underrated athlete, receiving the second-best SPARQ score among quarterbacks in this draft class (104.8, 66.4 percentile), but his ability to throw accurately on the move is even better than his rushing ability. Richmond ran its fair share of rollout passes to shorten the length of Lauletta’s throws to the sideline, and Lauletta responded by delivering passes with perfect ball placement. He also was terrific at finding open receivers downfield on the move. On the first play, Lauletta breaks the pocket to avoid the rush and delivers a perfect pass to the back pylon across his body. Not many college quarterbacks have that kind of accuracy or footwork on the run.
Throwing Receivers Open vs. Man Coverage
Another area where Lauletta’s accuracy and football I.Q. shine is throwing receivers open against man coverage. Lauletta doesn’t have good arm strength, but he makes up for it on throws to the sideline by avoiding defenders instead of trying to throw through them. Both throws featured here are terrific manipulations of the coverage and are thrown in perfect spots with the right amount of pace.
Lauletta’s ceiling as a quarterback will likely come down to his ability to improve his arm strength in the NFL. There are times on tape that make you question Lauletta’s ability to fit the ball into tight windows and make sideline throws even at the collegiate level. Lauletta had trouble driving the ball outside the numbers (first play) and there are also legitimate concerns about his deep ball (second play), which tops out at around 50 yards. The biggest concern on the deep ball is that Lauletta needs to change trajectory on the throw to have enough arm to get it there, essentially resulting in an arm punt. Arm strength can be overrated when evaluating NFL prospects, but there’s a certain threshold that needs to be met, and Lauletta is close to being on the wrong side of that threshold.
There are a few things that Lauletta can work on with his mechanics to improve his arm strength. On the whole, Lauletta has excellent footwork in the pocket, but at times he throws with a wide base and uneven shoulders. That causes the ball to sail on him, and his footwork limits the amount of zip that he can generate on his throws from his lower body, especially on drive throws downfield. One way Tom Brady improved his arm strength on drive throws by improving his footwork and arm mechanics, maybe Lauletta can do something similar.
Batted Passes at the Line of Scrimmage
Another area where Lauletta can improve is an odd one for a six-foot-three-inch quarterback. On film, Lauletta has a bad habit of having balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. Some of this has to do with the nature of Richmond’s short passing game, but he’ll need to be better at changing plains and throwing between the trees at the next level. There’s no reason from a height and release standpoint that Lauletta should have this issue.
Takes Too Many Sacks
Another concern with Lauletta was his pocket awareness which led to a number of sacks last season. The clock inside Lauletta’s head needs to move a bit faster at times and he has a tendency to scramble instead of taking a sack, throwing the ball away, or even staying calm in a clean pocket by NFL standards. This a common problem for college quarterbacks but the good ones improve in this area quite a bit in the NFL.
Throwing Into Tight Coverage
Finally, many of Lauletta’s interceptions last season were a result of him throwing the ball into tight coverage with limited arm strength. Lauletta had 12 interceptions in 11 games last season which leaves room for improvement, and his decision making can be streaky on throws downfield. He’s going to have to be a more conservative quarterback that’s aware of his limitations as a thrower at the next level.
The Patriots were in the middle of a playoff run when the Kyle Lauletta hype train began in New England last January.
Lauletta’s fast processing skills, accuracy, and feel for the game make him a viable option to be Tom Brady’s eventual successor.
And his weaknesses as a quarterback are similar to what scouts said about both Brady and former Patriots’ backup Jimmy Garoppolo (i.e., arm strength).
However, despite their similarities, the NFL starter that Lauletta best resembles is not Brady nor Garoppolo, but rather Redskins quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith, the #1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, was a better college prospect than Lauletta, but their strengths and weaknesses are very similar.
Like Smith, Lauletta is an accurate passer and an underrated athlete, but he struggles to drive the ball downfield and has a below average deep ball. Smith and Lauletta were also an 80.9% match based on their height, weight, and workout numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to mockdraftable.
Comparing Lauletta to Alex Smith is no insult, and may even be a bit unfair to Smith. The former Chiefs signal caller has been a starter in the NFL for over a decade and is a three-time Pro Bowler. Even if you don’t believe he’s capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl, his production and longevity are well above-average.
Smith’s 2017 season also serves as a great example of how a quarterback’s play can be elevated by an excellent supporting cast and coaching staff; something Lauletta would have in New England.
Odds are that Lauletta won’t be as good as Smith, and we already know he won’t be as good as Tom Brady, but he has usable traits that could translate nicely to the Patriots’ offense.