For the first time in his NFL career, we got an extended look at rookie quarterback Danny Etling in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
As you might expect for a seventh-round pick, Etling struggled, and many of his issues were the same concerns that we saw on his college tape at LSU.
Although expectations weren’t high for Etling, it would’ve been nice to see some improvement on his footwork and ability to throw under duress.
But we did see the rookie do some good things in the Meadowlands.
Below, I’ll go through Etling’s tape from Thursday night to highlight some of the good and bad things we saw from the rookie against the Giants:
Let’s start with the positives, and there were a few despite a shaky performance on the whole for Etling.
One area where Etling shined was on the move, as his athleticism and mobility in the pocket were apparent, even before his 86-yard touchdown run.
In the first quarter, Etling picked up a first down out of nothing with a completion to wide receiver Devin Lucien. Etling does an excellent job of stepping up in the pocket to avoid the pressure off the edge while also flashing some solid ball security skills to prevent a strip-fumble on the play. At first, Etling’s eyes drop as he looks to scramble immediately when the pressure throws him off-schedule. However, the rookie eventually lifts his eyes up to find Lucien, who worked to get open after the edge force disrupted the play. Whether it’s Russell Wilson or Danny Etling, a mobile quarterback is always more dangerous throwing on the move than running with the football downfield, and it was good to see Etling take advantage of his legs to extend a play.
A surprising strength for Etling throughout training camp and the preseason was his deep ball accuracy, which wasn’t something that Etling excelled at in college.
On Thursday night, Etling flashed that accuracy on the deep ball with a pass to wide receiver Paul Turner, who dropped a perfect pass from the rookie. However, it wasn’t the downfield accuracy that impressed me, but rather the processing skills Etling showed on the play. As you can see, Etling’s eyes immediately find the safety, who’s playing in a single-high coverage. As soon as Etling finds the safety shading to his left, he knows that Turner has single coverage on the back side of the formation. He immediately flips his eyes and body to target Turner and drops a dime on the receivers hands. Etling struggled at times with processing speed and finding his backside receivers, but it was good to see him complete the entire process on this play (read, accurate pass).
Although there were a few good things, Etling’s night was mostly filled with learning experiences for the young quarterback.
From a fundamental standpoint, Etling’s footwork remains my biggest concern as it pertains to his future as a serviceable NFL quarterback. If you want to figure out why a quarterback is inaccurate, watch his feet.
One of Etling’s worst throws of the night was a microcosm of his issues with his lower half. As he sits in the pocket, you can see his feet get closer together, which eliminates the balance in his base that you want to see. Then, when he goes to the release the ball, his front foot goes to the side eventually turning parallel to his back foot, a big no-no in quarterback mechanics. The meltdown with his feet causes this pass to an open K.J. Maye to end up nowhere near his intended receiver. The small base in which Etling throws with, and his inability to get one foot in front of another on his release, are fatal flaws for the rookie that was apparent on his college tape as well.
Another area where Etling struggled in college was with handling pressure and holding onto the football in the pocket.
On this play, the Giants pressure Etling up the middle, which is a difficult pressure to avoid for a quarterback. However, at the bottom of the screen, you’re going to see a two-on-one situation with the wideout and tight end Will Tye. The defensive back on the play covers the flat, which leaves Tye open on a snag route. This should’ve been a quick read for Etling, as soon as the defensive back goes with the wide receiver it’s an easy decision to throw to Tye, but his eyes drop, and he allows the pressure to get to him. You can also see Etling put his hand out to try and push the bull rush off of him, which isn’t going to work at this level, instead of moving to his right into a small pocket of space and delivering a quick pass to Tye.
Finally, let’s get to Etling’s two interceptions on the night, both of which present examples of bad decision making by the young quarterback.
His first interception is a panic throw by the rookie. The pocket caves in around Etling and he throws a wild pass downfield with the cornerback in much better position to make a play on the ball than Etling’s intended receiver, K.J. Maye. On this play, the route combination wants to create a rub/pick between the two receivers on the bottom of the screen on a slot fade/slant combination. Etling has Devin Lucien wide open underneath on the slant, but again, the pressure causes him to panic and throw the ball up for grabs.
Etling’s second interception was a worse decision than his first. With the first interception, you can make the argument that he was trying to throw the ball away and didn’t get enough air under it.
But on his second interception, he made a horrible decision.
In Etling’s defense, Lucien fades up the field on the in-cut which is poor route running by the wide receiver. But, as you can see, Lucien is never open on the play. Giants cornerback Donte Deayon undercuts the route almost immediately once Lucien crosses over the middle of the field. From Etling’s viewpoint, it’s clear that Deayon is between him and Lucien, and in much better position to catch the pass than his intended receiver. These kinds of interceptions can’t happen at the NFL level.
The negative takeaways from Etling’s performance on Thursday night are harsh.
The rookie struggled with some critical nuances of the quarterback position such as footwork and decision making, which led to his less-than-stellar stat line (18-32, 157 yards, TD, 2 INT, 4.9 YPA).
However, on the bright side, nobody expected Etling to come out like gangbusters in his first NFL action, and he did show some things that are workable traits.
As the Patriots cut the roster down to 53 players, it will be interesting to see if Etling is among those that earn a roster spot as we head towards the regular season.
From this perspective, Etling’s lack of playing time overall in the preseason, combined with a shaky performance on Thursday night, likely means he’d make it back to the Patriots practice squad if the team waives him.
And that seems like the best course of action for a player that’s a long ways away from even earning a backup role in the NFL.