Many pundits and fans alike believe the New England Patriots will look to address a post-Tom Brady world in the 2019 NFL Draft. Having taking some private meetings and Top 30 visits with a number of passers in this class, evidence does support that contention. One of the passers the Patriots have been linked with - most recently as a player they might consider in the first round - is Will Grier from West Virginia University. Would the Patriots, despite glaring needs at tight end and wide receiver (among other positions) take a chance on Grier in the first round? There are some things to like, but also some things that might give Bill Belichick a bit of heartburn.
As with some of the other passers in this class, Grier’s path to this moment has taken a winding road. A highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school, Grier was named Mr. Football USA and the Parade All-American Player of the Year, coming out of Davidson Day High School in Davidson, North Carolina. Grier was rated as a four-star recruit and the number two dual-threat quarterback nationally by Rivals.com. As one might expect, a player with that kind of pedigree had no shortage of scholarship offers, and Grier was recruited by a bevy of SEC schools including Auburn, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, as well as Wake Forest and North Carolina.
Ultimately, Grier became a Gator. As a freshman he lost a battle with Treon Harris to backup Jeff Driskel, and redshirted his first year on campus. Harris and Grier renewed their battle the following season, this time for the starting job. While Harris started the season opener, Grier saw action as well and quickly the job became his. Grier had somewhat of a breakout game in a big victory over Mississippi, a game where he threw for four touchdowns in the first half, the first Gator passer to do that since Chris Leak.
But Grier’s breakout season came to a screeching halt in October, when he was suspended by the NCAA for a year after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance. Grier stated that he tested positive for Ligandrol, an over-the-counter supplement, and claimed that he did not know the supplement was banned. He then made the decision to transfer, eventually enrolling at West Virginia University.
Grier sat out the entire 2016 season and after being granted a waiver to play in 2017 (there were concerns that since some of his suspension time occurred during his transfer waiting period, he had not served the full suspension) he became the starting quarterback for the Mountaineers for the 2017 campaign. He started 11 games for West Virginia, and while his season was cut short due to an injury to his throwing hand, he completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns, with just 12 interceptions. Grier returned to campus for his senior year, and improved on all of his production numbers from the 2017 season. He completed 67 percent of his throws for 3,864 yards and 37 touchdowns, throwing just eight interceptions. This effort earned him an invitation to both the Senior Bowl, and the Scouting Combine.
Grier is married to Jeanne O’Neil Grier and the couple has a daughter, Eloise Marie Grier, who was born in 2016.
While Grier’s playing style and aesthetics as a passer might be a bit unorthodox, digging into the tape uncovers a quarterback who checks off a lot of the traits NFL scouts and evaluators look for at the QB position. Starting with the mental aspect of the game, Grier combines a great balance of aggressions with decision-making and processing speed, and this enables him to challenge some windows and make some throws that other quarterbacks in this class might shy away from. Take, for example, this touchdown from early in the season against Tennessee:
At first blush, it seems like Grier is making this throw into a crowd of four defenders. But when you walk back through the play, it becomes apparent that there is a method to Grier’s perceived madness. He knows that the two defenders trailing the receiver cannot catch up to hsi target. He also knows that if he puts this throw on the money and on time, the cornerback cannot peel off the backside receiver in time to make a play on the football, and the safety cannot rotate down from his deep spot to make a play on the ball either.
Here’s an example of his processing speed:
The Mountaineers run two half-field concepts here. On the left they have the Dagger concept, pairing a seam route from the slot receiver with a dig route from the boundary player. On the right they run a variation of the Drive concept, with the underneath receiver running the shallow as the deeper receiver throttles down when he finds grass. (For those wondering, both of these concepts are in New England’s playbook). Grier (#7) checks the left side to read the seam, before working back to find the receiver throttling down. He does this while subtly climbing and moving in the pocket. These are some of the subtle parts to playing the position that Grier displays, but is not widely known for.
Grier also demonstrates the ability to remain calm in the pocket despite looming pressure or a blitz scheme from the defense. On this play against Baylor, the defense shows pressure and then blitzes him from the backside. Grier remains calm in the pocket and throws a backside hitch in the face of the pressure for a solid gain:
Here’s another example of Grier staying calm in the cauldron. On this play against Iowa State from 2017, the Cyclones bring pressure in the interior at the snap. But Grier trusts that his protection will hold, and after resetting his feet drops in a perfect deep ball on a post for a long touchdown:
What stands out here is the footwork. Grier remains fluid on his feet despite the pressure look, which gives you a window into the mind of the quarterback. He knows the protection will hold so he remains ready to throw, and when the opportunity is available he unloads for the deep touchdown.
He also has the ability to speed up his decision making when facing pressure. On this play against Kansas, the Mountaineers run a variation of the Spot concept. The Jayhawks bring pressure, and Grier makes a quick read and throw here on the slant route:
Forced to speed up his process, Grier makes a quick decision and a perfect read and throw, squeezing this through multiple defenders. Again, appropriate aggression, even on a shorter throw like this.
Grier also has great vision for a quarterback. He is able to spot receivers breaking free late downfield either when the coverage is initially good or he is forced to create in a scramble drill situations. On this play near the start of the 2017 game against Iowa State, Grier faces good coverage initially from the defense. But he buys time in the pocket, sliding a bit to his left, before finding one of his shallow routes breaking free vertically in the scramble drill:
He also has the ability, similar to passers such as Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, to make throws from an array of platforms and using a variety of arm angles. Here is just one example. Against Kansas Grier makes this quick snap throw to the flat off of a run/pass option concept:
Grier is able to get this out quickly, looking more like a second baseman turning the double play than a QB in the passing game.
He also displays some other things that help him as a passer, from a keen reading and understanding of leverage from defenses as well as quick decision making when he deciphers man coverage in the secondary.
Here’s another example of Grier running a design that is right out of the Patriots’ playbook. The past few seasons New England has been using the Yankee concept - a maximum protection, two-receiver route design pairing a deep post with a crossing route under it - with a great deal of success. Here is Grier running that against Baylor:
What is impressive about the execution on this play is Grier’s read on the fly. The defense drops into a Tampa 2 coverage, with the linebacker getting depth under the post route to squeeze that underneath, and with the two safeties working to squeeze that route as well, the post is not really an option. But the crosser underneath is, and Grier knows to replace the dropping linebacker with the crossing route. The receiver throttles down and Grier throws him to a stop, rather than lead him into the backside linebacker.
Finally, we can come back to the mental approach. Grier’s aggression is a big selling point with him. He will make aggressive, yet appropriate, decisions as a passer. The New England offense is a balance between appropriate risks and safer throws, and Grier has the mental makeup to operate in such a system. This is a fine example of Grier balancing the aggressive nature that he has with the need to protect the football at times. On this play against Kansas, the Mountaineers run a Switch concept. Grier works through a trio of reads, checking the post, then the comeback and finally coming to the crossing route.
Multiple reads and forgoing a riskier option for the safer checkdown at the end. If Grier brings this consistently to the NFL, he might reach his potential as a QB.
At the outset, Grier’s aggression does come with a dark side. Because is willing to take some chances with the football at times, more than other passers in this class, there is a potential for him to make some mistakes as he adjusts to life in the NFL. Now, I think it is appropriate to qualify this weakness a bit. In my opinion is it much more preferable to have an aggressive quarterback to mold, rather than a conservative quarterback. It is easier to get a risk taker to dial things back, that it is to get a risk averse QB to become more aggressive. Think about Mahomes. One of the knocks on him was that when he got to the NFL, the risky throws he attempted in college would burn him on Sundays. But he learned by watching Alex Smith and was able to dial it back a bit. Conversely, look at Smith. While he has been more aggressive at times, when the game is on the line there is still a tendency for him to remain cautions. The playoff loss to Tennessee a few years back is a prime example.
Grier is not, shall we say, teaching tape. The mechanics can be shaky at times, there are moments when he has a long pullback and draw to his throwing motion, and his ball security in and around the pocket leaves a lot to be desired. On the mechanical side, as long as the ball is getting to where it needs to be when it needs to be there, mechanics are not an issue. With Grier, the ball tends to get to where it should on time, so that is not a big concern. The ball security issue will be a problem for some coaches. When creating outside of the pocket or running with the football, Grier tends to leave the ball outside of his frame rather than tucking it away. Some lost fumbles in the NFL might unlearn him of this habit rather quickly. To be fair, it did seem like he got better in this regard from 2017 to 2018. But this play is an example of what Grier might do to give Belichick some grey hairs:
Grier wants to throw this comeback route her, but his wide receiver slips on the route so the QB has to pull the football down. Now, he is a bit careless with the football in the pocket as he tries to elude the pressure, and while he does escape, showing good athletic ability and competitive toughness, he’ll need to do a better job in the NFL of putting that ball away. Also in terms of context? Grier lost a fumble in the pocket on the previous drive, so while he tucks the football away at the end of his run, you’d think he would be a bit more careful with it in the pocket than he is here.
His biggest flaw right now might be assuming. We all know what happens when you assume...but for quarterback what happens is a disastrous interception in the red zone, for example:
Grier meets his running back at the mesh point and then opens to his right first, before coming back to his left to work this Tosser/double slant concept. He assumes, based on his presnap reading of the defense, that he is going to be able to make this throw, because he sees the inside defender and assumes that he is going to carry the inside receiver based on his alignment and stance. Instead, that receiver passes off the inside slant and jumps the outside route. Grier, because he assumed based on his presnap read that the outside slant would be open, gets into trouble. Because Grier has opened to the right side and comes back firing to the left, he does not see it in time.
I do want to talk about arm strength for a second. Some have questioned his arm strength during this draft cycle, but I think those concerns are overblown. First, there is the proverbial “NFL throw,” which Grier displays here on this deep out against Kansas:
Then there is this huge throw against Texas late in the game, reminiscent of the Kyler Murray throw against Alabama:
I think Grier more than meets the threshold for living in the NFL as a passer in terms of arm strength, but given how some have questioned it, I thought it merited quick discussion here.
With his blend of moxie, experience and decision making Grier projects best to a system that incorporates spread concepts into a balanced offensive approach. Imagine for a moment the current New England system with a spread element component, that relies on quick game concepts as well as schemed deep shots. Such a system might be the ideal environment for him. That might be a huge reason for the Patriots’ reported interest in Grier.
Grier’s draft value is difficult to predict, even in this uncertain quarterback class. I could envision him going anywhere from early second round to sometime later on Day Three, although I would imagine that his value is closer to the high end of that spectrum. Some have even mocked him sneaking into the first round, which could happen if a team falls in love with him and wants to secure that fifth-year option. Now, are the Patriots that team, and would they pull the trigger at 32? That is a much tougher question. I’m on record saying that Grier would be the pick at 97, as I shared with Phil Perry on a recent episode of Next Patriots, so 32 might be a bit rich for Grier. Mostly because I believe he’ll get into Day 2 and would be available later for New England, but if he is truly moving up boards….
Turning to the Parcells Rules for a moment, as we have done with the other players in this class, Grier checks off a few of these, although there is a case to be made that he checks off a fifth option. Grier checks off some important ones, as he is a senior who graduated, has a touchdown to interception ratio greater than 2:1 (81:23), and he completed 65.7 percent of his throws, above that 60 percent threshold. He did not start 30 games, and he fell short of 23 wins.
The one tricky category with him is the three year starter threshold. Grier started two-plus seasons over his career. If you want to give him that third year at Florida, before he was suspended, then you can bend the rules in his favor a bit.
There is enough on Grier, from both a tape perspective and a statistical analysis, to make the case that he is one of the top quarterbacks in this class. Wherever he ends up, he is a player that is going to be pushing for the starting job sooner than one might expect.
The Bottom Line
One of the hardest things to train a quarterback to do is to take risks with the football. When you can find a QB willing to take those chances, but do them appropriately, that is often a terrific starting point to build a foundation of development upon. Grier might look like the “ugly duckling” of this group at times, but beneath that exterior is a passer you can win games because of. If teams want to follow the Chiefs’ model of drafting an aggressive QB to learn from a veteran how to dial things back, Grier learning from TB12 might be the ideal next combination in that school of thought.