Note from Josh: In an effort to offer even more detailed evaluations, I reached out to Eric Stoner who offers a slightly different perspective on prospects than I do. Eric is excellent at explaining the positives and negatives of prospects' mechanics and their issues facing different types of alignments and coverages. His first article looks at Tennessee junior QB Tyler Bray, who flashes tremendous skill but struggles in certain situations. I'll pass it off to Eric to tell us why...
I've been highly intrigued with Tyler Bray as a prospect since the Volunteers played the Gators last season. During that game, Tennessee lost then sophomore receiver Justin Hunter on the first drive. Bray showed a ton of grit, helping to keep the game close while getting hammered behind a completely overmatched offensive line - not to mention, the velocity he could put on some of his throws absolutely jumped off the screen. While the rest of Bray's year was derailed by injury, I thought the arm talent and pocket toughness he exhibited in that game against Florida could lead to a potential breakout season if Bray could iron out other facets of his game.
Bray is 6'6 with a lanky build. Despite his height, however, he too often throws while shifting his weight backwards and/or dropping his elbow, making his actual release point much shorter. Further, he has a tendency to pat the ball while waiting for his receiver to get open and can be prone to dropping the ball down to his hip and winding up. All of this elongates his throwing motion, giving defensive linemen a chance to get their hands up and defensive backs time to break on the ball. Also concerning is how slow-twitch of an athlete Bray is. There is no economy to his movement - everything is slow, elongated, or deliberate. He also has a bad tendency to lock his front knee and whip his body and back leg around upon releasing the ball. All of this causes him to go through spurts of erratic accuracy.
Against Florida last Saturday, Bray finished 22-of-44 with 247 passing yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. As the stat line suggests, his performance was up-and-down. The one thing that stood out was that Florida did not afford Bray any easy throws. He faced almost no zone coverage, with the Gator corners playing physically and challenging the Vol receivers on every snap. Almost every single throw Bray attempted was "covered," and when you watch the game through that prism (and consider the poor down and distance situations Bray had to work with), it was actually a very admirable performance.
Bray's mechanical inconsistencies reared their head at ugly times, however. His first deep attempt was thrown off his back foot for no reason, turning Justin Hunter from a receiver to a defensive back. His two interceptions were bad (but not completely egregious) decisions - protection goofs share some of the blame. The first came as the result of a hurried throw: a free blitzer off the edge caused Bray to rush a Shallow Cross and into the hands of senior Larentee McCray, who was dropping into the middle as a Robber from the left defensive end spot. The second came on a Post/Dig combo. Bray and JUCO transfer WR Cordarelle Patterson had gotten a lot of mileage out of the Dig against both NC State and early against Florida. On the interception, Bray pump-faked the Dig to Patterson, getting Matt Elam (who was playing as the deep safety in Cover 1) to react up, opening up the Post route to Justin Hunter over-the-top. Bray got hit as he released the ball, however, sending up a duck that Elam was able to intercept. That's not to say Bray is without fault on this play, either, as an additional ball-pat and his windup release contributed to not getting the throw off a split-second quicker.
While the Volunteers ultimately came up short, Bray continued to show a lot of positive qualities. He's got an absolute cannon for an arm, and it really shows up against Florida with how much tight, press-man coverage they play. He displays a willingness to make very difficult throws over the middle and outside the numbers. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell talks often about how there is no measurable or quantifiable stat for a quarterback who is willing to throw his receivers open against tight man coverage. Some might complain that he stared down targets, but Tennessee ran a lot of slow-developing isolation routes vs man coverage. The Gators ran Cover 2 Man and Cover 1 Robber with press coverage almost exclusively (for two years straight) against Tennessee, so this type of aggressive decision-making was necessary for the Vols to have any semblance of success on offense. To put it quite frankly, Florida (from both a gameplan and talent perspective) made Bray and Co. work much harder for passing success than N.C. State did in the opener.
Ultimately, though, Bray still needs to show improvement in a lot of different areas before he can be deemed worthy of a top-10 (or first-round) selection in the NFL Draft. He needs to become quicker in every facet: speeding up his drop, reads, and delivery while also cleaning up his mechanical issues. If he shows progress in these areas over the course of the season, however, he could be someone whose stock soars.