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Setting the quarterback board: Brett Rypien might be the best fit for the Patriots in the 2019 draft

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Rypien makes plenty of sense as a developmental option for New England.

NCAA Football: SERVPRO First Responder Bowl-Boston College vs Boise State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

If you have been anywhere near football media or #DraftTwitter the past few weeks, you have likely been witness to the growing chorus of voices making the case for Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien. After four seasons as the starting quarterback for the Broncos, Rypien has his eyes trained on living up to the family name in the NFL. Opinions on him are mixed, with the #DraftTwitter world proclaiming his greatness, while those closer to the league seem more standoffish. Here is a look at Rypien and a case for his fit in New England with the Patriots.

Biography

Rypien’s path to Boise State was rather straightforward. Rypien attended Shadle Park High School in Spokane, and while in school he broke all sorts of records for Washington state high school football, as well as some school records that were once held by his uncle, former Washington Redskins’ quarterback and Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien. The Rypien family is known for its athleticism. In addition to Mark, Brett’s other uncle Dave as well as his father Tim rose to prominence in a different sport, as Dave played for the Canadian national baseball team and Tim made it to the Toronto Blue Jays AAA affiliate.

Rypien took over as the starting quarterback for his high school midway through his freshman year, and while the team struggled that first year, Rypien and his teammates enjoyed a breakout season during his sophomore campaign. That year he threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, numbers that he would go on to surpass each of his next seasons. By the time he left high school behind, Rypien held state records for career passing yards and completions (records previously held by another Boise State quarterback, Kellen Moore) as well as single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns, again breaking records held by Moore. Rypien also graduated early form Shadle Park, with a 4.0 GPA and as the class valedictorian.

Rypien was viewed rather well by ranking services, and was considered the top quarterback in the state of Washington and was graded as a four-star recruit by both Scout and Rivals. He entertained scholarship offers from eight different schools, including Mississippi State, Washington and Washington State, but settled on Boise State.

Rypien enrolled early on campus, as the Broncos needed to replace Grand Hedrick at the quarterback spot, as the two-year starter was graduating. Rypien wanted to compete for the open spot, and while he gave it a run, he lost the preseason camp battle to...Ryan Finley.

Rypien was redshirted, but he would not keep that status for long. Finley broke his left ankle during Boise State’s third game of the season, and Rypien came on in relief, and would never look back. He entered that game against Idaho State and led the offense four scoring drives, becoming the first true freshman to play in a game for the Broncos since 1993.

Since entering that game, Rypien has been under center for the Broncos ever since. He will leave school with yet more records under his belt, including becoming the Mountain West’s all-time leader in passing yardage, completions and 300-yard passing games. He eclipsed Moore’s number of 300-yard passing games at Boise State with 17, becoming the school’s all-time leader in that category. He also ranks second all-time at Boise State in passing yards, completions and attempts. The Broncos went 40-13 with him under center over his four years in school.

Strengths

Typically when someone studies a draft prospect, that process is a snap-to-finish proposition. You watch the entire play from the beginning to the whistle and evaluate how the player handled his responsibilities from both a mental and physical perspective.

Studying quarterbacks is a different proposition. For QBs, the battle begins as they leave the huddle and execute in the “pre-snap phase” of the play. Consider, for example, one Tom Brady, he of the newly-created Twitter account and oh yeah six Super Bowl titles. Think about everything Brady does at the line of scrimmage, from identifying defenders, calling out blitzers, adjusting the protection, calling out audibles, and everything else he does. Starting the analysis of Brady at the snap would miss much of what he brings to the Patriots’ offense.

With Rypien there is a certain parallel. By the time he entered his senior season - his fourth as the starter for the Broncos - Rypien had earned the trust of his coaches to be responsible at the line of scrimmage with protection calls as well as audibles. This matters in today’s NFL. Yes, many college quarterbacks get last-minute adjustments from the sidelines, whether via hand signals or oversized posters with Shannon Sharpe’s face on them. Yes, coaches like Sean McVay can use the radio headset to communicate with their quarterback deep into the play clock. But that is not a foolproof system. Just ask McVay about Super Bowl LIII, and how the Patriots’ defense defeated that system by using two calls in the huddle and adjusting after Jared Goff’s headset turned off. At some point, a QB is going to have to stand on his own two feet back there and adjust his offense.

This video breaks down Rypien (#4) doing just that:

Rypien’s mental acumen for the position extends into the play as well. One of the ways you can tell if a quarterback has a handle on the offense as well as the coverage is how well he can manipulate defenders with his eyes or even his full body. Rypien is a master manipulator, and for the Broncos QB it comes in many forms. Take, for example, this play against Troy University. Rypien and his target are going to connect on a quick slant-and-go, and watch how Rypien uses his shoulders and a subtle pump to get the cornerback out of position for just a step:

That is all it takes to get the cornerback a step out of position, and for Rypien to then drop in a perfect throw in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

Here is another example of Rypien’s ability to move defenders with his eyes. Think for a moment back to the Patriots’ regular season victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. On two different occasions in that game, Brady froze the free safety in the middle of the field before throwing a vertical route to the right side. First he hit Chris Hogan, then later he hit Rob Gronkowski to set up the game-winning field goal. Now, freezing a Cover 1 free safety before throwing a vertical route to the boundary is perhaps the easiest - yet most identifiable - example of a QB manipulating the defender. Given the space the FS would need to carry to make a play on the throw, it looks more impressive than it actually is.

But there are rare occasions when freezing that free safety actually matters, and it does on this throw from Rypien against Colorado State:

Here, the Rams show a two-high safety look before rotating to a single-high safety at the snap. Rypien still moves the free safety, or gets him to open his hips to the middle of the field before throwing the go route along the right sideline, but in this instance the safety never really strays from the hashmark. So with less ground to cover, the safety actually could make a play on this throw. Rypien’s manipulation, and then the perfect throw, prevent that chance.

Now let’s talk about accuracy. Completion percentage is not the perfect statistic to use when measuring a quarterback’s accuracy, but for those who want to start there, Rypien leaves Boise with a career completion percentage of 64%, and he posted a mark of 67.3% - a career high - as a senior. What stands out more with Rypien is the ball placement he displays to all levels of the field, from the deep passing game, to the intermediate passing game, along the boundaries and even in the quick game. On throws to all areas of the field, Rypien continually demonstrates both good placement as well as a solid understanding of defensive coverage, scheme and leverage.

We can begin in the deep passing game. On this deep throw for a touchdown against the University of Connecticut, Rypien comes out of a play-action fake (with his back to the defense) moves the backside safety with his eyes, before dropping in a perfectly thrown deep ball on a post route for the score:

Now, ball placement in the deep passing game is more of a general accuracy than a precision accuracy standard. But the closer you get to the line of scrimmage, the more ball placement matters. Now look at this throw on an intermediate seam route against Troy:

Rypien’s throw here is perfect. He appropriately balances touch with velocity, dropping this in over the trailing defender but well before any other defensive back could make a break on the route. Now, throwing the seam route to the slot receiver is a pretty big thing in the New England offense, and Rypien has that club in his bag.

Now let’s talk about the boundary throw. We will have more on Rypien’s arm strength in a moment, but here against Troy you see the quarterback identify the inside leverage from the cornerback and then drive in an out route along the sideline with precision placement, before taking a shot:

Finally on the issue of accuracy, we can turn to throws in the quick game. Patriots fans know full well that the New England offense likes to keep throws near the line of scrimmage whenever possible, but that is when ball placement is at a premium. Yardage after the catch is the goal when teams run quick game or West Coast designs, and the quarterback’s placement plays a huge role in whether a quick game concept goes for a big gain, or the receiver is immediately tackled. Or sometimes it is more subtle, with the quarterback simply moving his target away from lurking danger in the form of an underneath defender.

This throw from Rypien on a quick game concept is a prime example:

Boise State runs a Stick variant on this 4th and 3, and Rypien makes the right read for the situation. But he throws this to the inside shoulder of his target on the quick out route on purpose. If he leads the receiver, he will lead him right into that defender with outside leverage. A great understanding of situation and coverage.

Now, we mentioned arm strength. It is true that this is an area where some question if Rypien can make it to the next level. I would posit that Rypien has demonstrated - on film - that he can make the kind of throws that check the arm strength box when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks. I say on film, because one of the stories coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine was the QB velocity numbers, that saw Rypien and Will Grier tie for the top showing with 59 miles per hour. I always take those with a huge grain of salt, and rely more on what we see on film as well as what we can see studying them in person (if applicable).

One of the standard benchmarks for evaluating arm strength is the “deep out pattern.” Typically, NFL scouts want to see if the quarterback in question can drive the football into the receiver on a deep out route, at about a depth of 20 yards. This throw of Rypien’s checks that box in my opinion:

In their game against UConn the Broncos face a 3rd and 13 just inside Huskies territory, on the 46-yard line. Rypien takes the shotgun snap and uses a crisp three-step drop, hitches and uncorks the deep out route from the left hashmark to the right sideline. He lets this pass go from the Boise State 47-yard line, and drives it down to the UConn 25-yard line where he hits his receiver perfectly just before he steps out of bounds. This throw comes on a near-line, with great velocity and spin to it, covering at least 28 yards, but Pythagoras tells us this throw covers a greater distance.

Rypien is a tough quarterback. We saw that in the earlier video breakdown, but he is a QB who is not afraid to “stare down the gun barrel” in the pocket and absorb a hit when it leads to his team having a chance for a big play. We also saw that on the deep throw against UConn, where he takes a shot after the throw. Here against BYU in 2016, we see him active in the pre-snap phase and staying calm in the cauldron, dropping in a perfect deep throw from a collapsing pocket:

Finally, to put it all together Rypien is a quarterback who does the little things well. This video breakdown I did of him a few seasons ago covers this in depth:

A veteran, experienced and refined passer in a class that might lack that kind of player.

Weaknesses

Now, I would love to sit here and tell you that Rypien is a flawless quarterback prospect. Few are. He comes with some weaknesses and concerns that are worthy of discussion.

First, he can be prone to some pretty tough mistakes as a quarterback. A prime example comes from Boise State’s 2017 bowl game against Oregon, in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl. Just before halftime in that game the Broncos were driving, with a chance to perhaps take a 31-7 lead into the locker room before halftime. However, Rypien underthrew a fade route in the end zone, and it was returned the distance for a touchdown:

Part of the reason for the mistake there? He stared down the route and telegraphed his intentions. For someone as adept as he is with his eyes, he will need to get even better in this regard.

Handling pressure is another area where Rypien will need to improve. If there are occasions where his accuracy dips, it is response to pressure in the pocket. Whether he is forced to speed up his process, or whether he is forced to reset his feet and throw, those are the moments when his accuracy can take a hit.

Rypien is not a tremendous athlete, and is more in the “functional athleticism” realm of the quarterback position. If he is forced to try and escape the pocket or create on his own, the results are usually mixed at best. He’ll need to rely on subtle pocket movements to create space and escape pressure, which brings us to the previous point.

We mentioned the arm strength issue with him. Now, in my opinion he checks that box but there could be a scheme limitation with him, limiting his effectiveness in more vertical passing offenses. Take, for example, this throw against Colorado State:

At first blush this is a very impressive throw. From the far hashmark to the front corner of the end zone, between the cornerback and the safety in a Cover 2 scheme. Rypien challenges the turkey hole and delivers on a fourth down situation. This is an NFL throw. Now, he does put more touch on this pass than velocity, but it works.

Barely.

Would this throw be sufficient in the NFL, against professional defensive backs? Perhaps not. The athletes will be quicker and that window will close much faster than Rypien expects. I still believe that his arm would be more than enough for New England’s offense as currently constructed, but I understand the hesitation some have.

Finally, there might be a size concern with Rypien. At the combine he measured in at 6’2” 210, which “[f]alls below normal minimum standards for size” according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. In addition, his hands measured in at just nine inches. This is one of those measurements that sends you back to the film, and you can see instances of his hands perhaps being an issue for him. Weather is one instance, and in the Mountain West Championship game this past season against Fresno State, Rypien struggled at times in the wet and snowy conditions. Rypien even lost the football early in the game when attempting a throw on the move, and the play was ruled a fumble.

You also see instances of him losing fumbles in the pocket, which might be attributable to his hand size. Take, for example, this play against Wyoming from 2016:

Rypien does not exactly take a huge shot here, but the minimal contact on this play dislodges the football, and the Broncos lose the fumble. The play goes for a safety, and with under two minutes remaining before this play, Wyoming goes on to win the game and the safety is the deciding factor. That is an instance where perhaps the combine measurement illuminates an actual area of concern.

Foxborough Fit

As we outlined during the discussion of Ryan Finley, Rypien also checks all seven of the Parcells rules, which the Patriots at time have valued when evaluating the quarterback position. He was a multiple-year starter, he was a senior who is on track to graduate. He completed over 60% of his passes, he had a greater that 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio while in college, starter 30 games, and won more than 23. So he checks those boxes.

More than anything else, however, think about the things New England values on a trait basis, and the aspects to the position that Brady brings to the table. Mental acuity in the pre- and post-snap phases? Rypien has that. Accuracy? Check. Manipulation? Check. Pocket toughness? Check. The traits the Patriots value are the traits that are Rypien’s strongest selling point as a quarterback. Finally, his style of play fits with what New England does on offense. Play-action designs, timing and rhythm throws, a balanced approach between the quick game and schemed shots downfield. Rypien fits extremely well with what the Patriots look for at the quarterback position.

The Bottom Line

Again, Rypien is the polished, refined, experienced passer in a class lacking many options in that mold. Does he have the ceiling of some of the other QBs in the group? Of course not. But for a team like the Patriots, who do not need an immediate starter at the position but are in a situation where they can mold and develop their next quarterback, Rypien might be the best fit in this class.