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2020 NFL draft: Previewing the future of quarterback evaluation

Related: What the Patriots and other NFL teams are really looking for at the combine

When he was addressing the assembled media members on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, Philadelphia Eagles head coach (and former quarterback) Doug Pederson mentioned that everyone in the room was trying to find the next “diamond in the rough.”

That phrase might be more accurate than even he could have thought, when it comes to the future of quarterback evaluation.

Every team might be looking for their version of Patrick Mahomes right now, but quarterbacks like that do not just row on trees. Perhaps, however, they grow on the baseball diamond. If you think of the various traits that make Mahomes special, his ability to make off-platform throws bot inside and outside of the pocket certainly stands out.

In today’s NFL, that is becoming more of a necessity. Given the athleticism of NFL defenders and their ability to pressure quarterbacks early and often in games, it is foolish for NFL quarterbacks to expect to throw from clean pockets on any given Sunday. Couple that with the usage of run/pass option designs, which require quick throws made from a variety of platforms, the ability to change the arm slot and drop the arm angle is becoming a pre-requisite at the position.

Another quarterback who has already demonstrated this ability in the NFL is Kyler Murray. The rookie quarterback showed a similar aptitude for dropping his arm slot and fitting throws in and around defenders when pressured in the pocket.

What do those two quarterbacks have in common? Diamonds. Specifically the baseball diamonds. This was something that Kliff Kingsbury, who has coached both quarterbacks, elaborated on when he spoke to the media on Tuesday morning. “Yeah, throwing off different platforms, for those baseball guys, it comes really naturally to them.”

Another quarterback who has shown an ability to deliver on those off-platform throws is Washington State prospect Anthony Gordon. After waiting behind Luke Falk and Gardner Minshew, the JUCO prospect got his chance to start for Mike Leach and the Cougars this past season, and put up prodigious numbers. His background in baseball is something that he called upon when asked about his ability to throw from different platforms:

I attribute a lot of it to baseball. I grew up a baseball player, my whole life, didn’t start playing football until my freshman year of high school. A middle infielder too, so you are a lot of the time turning double plays from real awkward angles, any way you can get it out as quick as you can. So once I started playing football I figured out pretty quickly that there’s a fine line between baseball and football but you can use your baseball background to your advantage. I’ve definitely done that. Going to junior college as well, my junior college coach always encouraged me in being able to get the ball out from a bunch of different angles, it really helps against pressure and getting the ball out quick.

Perhaps the baseball diamond is the best place to start looking for that next diamond in the rough?

Murray and Mahomes might be the two most recent examples of this phenomenon, with the ability to translate their baseball days into a career on the gridiron as a quarterback. Gordon might be the next example of this, and when studying his film you can see examples of him making throws that seem right out of a Mahomes video package.

Thinking back through football history provides a few other examples of this as well. Russell Wilson, another quarterback known for his ability to make some off-platform throws and to deliver in scramble drill situations, has a baseball background of his own. Wilson was drafted after graduating high school by the Baltimore Orioles with the fifth pick in the 41st round of the 2007 MLB draft. He passed on entering the Orioles’ organization and instead enrolled at North Carolina State, where he played both baseball and football, but he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft, and appeared in 32 games as a second baseman (there’s that middle infielder connection) with the Rockies’ Class A Short Season affiliate.

The 1979 MLB draft saw the Kansas City Royals select two Hall of Famers for their organization. Sadly for the Royals, both of those picks are enshrined in Canton, and not Cooperstown: John Elway and Dan Marino.

Then there was another quarterback drafted in the 1995 MLB Draft: Tom Brady.

Maybe there really is something to this base thing after all.

Mark Schofield is in Indianapolis all week to cover the combine for Pats Pulpit. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter @markschofield.