Ever since the New England Patriots traded away Jimmy Garoppolo, the team is in the market for a backup quarterback to develop behind Tom Brady and potentially groom to take over for the future Hall of Famer one day. Luckily for the Patriots, this year’s draft offers plenty of options at the position and solid depth all over the board. One of the potential mid-round targets for the team is Washington State's Luke Falk.
Let’s take a closer look at Falk, who set multiple Pac-12 records during his four years with the Cougars including most passing yards (14,486), passing touchdowns (119), completions (357), and attempts (534) in a career.
Name: Luke Falk
School: Washington State
2017 stats: 12 games, 357 of 534 (66.9%), 3,593 yards, 30 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
Size: 6035, 215 lbs, 32 arm length, 9 1/4 hand size
Combine numbers: 26.5” vertical, 8’7” broad jump
Expected Round: 3rd/4th
Strengths: Falk has the ideal size you are looking for in a quarterback in terms of height and also comes with adequate hand size (the same as Garoppolo). While not a great athlete, he displayed a feel for what is going on around him and moved around the pocket accordingly if need be – something that often happened at Washington State due to the inconsistency of the team's offensive line. Falk, however, still put up impressive numbers.
Part of this has to do with him being a good natural thrower of the football that plays with well-developed mechanics: Falk has a quick throwing motion and release and sets his base soundly because of his footwork. He generally is an accurate passer that places the football well on crossing patterns and tries to throw away from defenders. The 23-year old also has a nice touch which makes it easier for receivers to project the trajectories of passes.
Falk also tried to keep his eyes downfield at all times and showed an ability to manipulate defenders with them. He also displayed a willingness to go through his progressions when the play development dictated it (something he was not forced to do often, though, do to the scheme he played in) and comes with plenty of experience when it comes to running a no-huddle attack and playing out of shotgun formations.
While it was not perfect, Falk also made mostly good decisions with the football in his hands based on what the defense gave him – all while not being afraid to give his receiving corps a chance to make a play on the ball. Furthermore, he is highly committed to his craft and molds his diet and workout regimen after his favorite player's: Tom Brady.
Weaknesses: Despite throwing more than 500 passes in college, Falk lacks experience as a drop-back passer given the Air-Raid scheme he played in: He aligned mostly in shotgun formations and threw a mere 11 pass attempts out of drop-back sets. He also was not forced to go from one read to another regularly and instead often had one target plus a safety blanket in the short or intermediate areas to fall back to.
The biggest issue with Falk's game might be his inability to maintain a consistent technique when pressured: He showed a tendency to get jumpy which in turn led to mechanical breakdowns in his footwork and by extension pass attempts off his back foot. Falk also was inconsistent as a passer when moving off the spot as he often failed to reset his feet properly when scrambling out of the pocket or climbing it.
He also tended to hold the football for too long and stare down his targets, which both might be tied to his inexperience in going through his progressions quickly. Speaking of “quick”, Falk also needs to add more zip to his passes: Due to a lack of arm strength, he often tends to float footballs instead of shooting them which in turn makes them easier to get picked off by undercutting defenders.
What would be his role? Until Tom Brady decides to end his legendary career, Falk would serve as a backup quarterback. The Washington State product, with multiple years of experience in the system, would then likely be the primary candidate to take over as the next starter.
How many downs can he play? Three, but early in his potential career with the Patriots he ideally would only see playing time during preseason and blowout games.
What is his special teams value? Virtually zero. He could take over Tom Brady's spot as an emergency holder on field goal and extra point attempts – but nothing more.
Does he have positional versatility? Falk's versatility, given the position he plays and his lack of athleticism, is rather limited: He is a classic pocket passer.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? With Tom Brady projected to continue his career after the 2018 season, Falk's role would depend on current backup Brian Hoyer: If the Patriots opt to go into the year with three quarterbacks on their active roster – Hoyer being one of them –, he would likely be elevated to second-string in 2019. If the team lets Hoyer go earlier, Falk would immediately serve as the number two and his role would not change until Brady's retirement.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Brian Hoyer, who currently serves as the Patriots' lone backup quarterback. Falk might potentially have to beat out another quarterback as well, if one is brought in through undrafted free agency.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots have a need to add a quarterback behind Tom Brady. Falk looks like a solid investment considering that he fulfills the criteria formulated by head coach Bill Belichick’s mentor Bill Parcells, who wanted quarterbacks to be 1) three-year starters, 2) seniors, 3) graduates, 4) 30-game starters, 5) 23-game winners, 6) 60+% completion passers, who are coming with 7) a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Him being one of the few passers to fall under Parcells' criteria is neat but far from the only reason why New England might be interested in Falk. After all, the Patriots would get themselves a long-term backup and potential future starting quarterback that would be inserted into an ideal situation: Falk would join a top coaching staff that could help him transition from the Cougars' offense to the Patriots' option-based Erhardt-Perkins scheme.
The Patriots would also be able to drive down a road they went before when they made Jimmy Garoppolo a second-round pick in 2014: Let Falk sit and learn behind Brady to possibly hand him over the keys when the time comes. At this point, Falk would ideally already be able to effectively run New England' offensive machinery and become more consistent as a traditional NFL passer.
Why not the Patriots? Falk is a project that needs plenty of work to become an efficient passer at the next level, especially coming out of Washington State's Air-Raid scheme. New England would have to feel confident in his abilities to learn a new scheme and the mechanics associated with working as a drop-back passer on a regular basis both in the passing and in the running game.
If this is not the case or the team simply does not predict that he a) will be able to elevate his game when inserted into the Patriots offense, or b) will get more consistent with his mechanics under pressure, then it could opt to go with another mid-round quarterback option. Richmond's Kyle Lauletta or Western Kentucky's Mike White might both not have Falk's ceiling but are potentially safer projections.
Verdict: Despite looking like a boom-or-bust prospect due to his shortcomings, New England might very well see enough in Falk to invest one of their mid-round selections in him. After all, the 23-year old comes with many of the attributes the team is looking for in terms of size, production, and experience. And even though he would need time to learn the intricacies of playing quarterback at the next level, his sound mechanics and commitment to improving make for an interesting prospect that could very well hear his name called to become a member of the Patriots.