Everett Golson is one of the more interesting players in college football.
Golson first got to Notre Dame in 2011, when he redshirted for his first season. Tommy Rees led the team to an 8-5 record that year, before Golson beat him out for the starting job in 2012. During his first season as a starter, Golson was a key piece on a team that went undefeated before the National Championship game against Alabama.
That was the point when Golson's college journey turned in the wrong direction.
He wasn't the sole reason that his side lost the National Championship game to Alabama, but he was essentially helpless as they were blown out 42-14. In spite of that loss as a team, there was plenty of optimism about Golson developing into a high-quality starter ahead of the 2013 season. Yet, in May, Golson was suspended because of an academic violation.
He wouldn't play a single game in 2013.
Now, in 2014, Golson is 21 years of age and again the starter at Notre Dame. Through three games, Golson has been very productive. He has completed 62 of 96 pass attempts for 780 yards with seven passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. As a team, Notre Dame have swept aside each opponent while averaging 36 points per game.
There is little doubt that Golson is a quality college quarterback, but he isn't mentioned much when it comes to NFL outlook. A large reason for that has been his absence, but now that he is back on the field he is worth considering.
Against Purdue, Brian Kelly and his staff spread the defense out and allowed Golson to get rid of the ball quickly to receivers underneath.
This approach gave the young quarterback plenty of opportunities to show off his ability to make quick decisions and throw with anticipation. This is something that was highlighted on his first touchdown throw of the game in the first quarter.
The offense comes out with four receivers and one running back, a personnel group that was prevalent throughout the four quarters of the game. On this occasion, three of those receivers are bunched together at the top of the screen against just three defensive backs. Because of the alignment before the snap and the route combinations that Golson is aware of, the quarterback knows that he will likely throw the ball to his receiver in the flat if the defense plays man coverage.
However, the defense drops into zone, which makes the read slightly tougher.
When Golson gets the ball at the snap, he is immediately looking at the space between the safety to that side of the field and the outside cornerback. The outside cornerback is dropping towards the pylon, while the safety is holding his position and squaring his shoulders to the inside receiver who is breaking down the seam.
As the deep safety moves infield with the inside receiver and the outside cornerback moves outside with the flat receiver, the slot cornerback isn't looking at the ball as he tries to feel out any receivers close to him. At this point, Golson begins his throwing motion to drop the ball into the space between each defender. Golson's motion is very poor on this play as he drops the ball to his waist and spreads his feet too far apart. This wasn't a recurring issue throughout the game, but it did show itself on occasion.
Golson's pass is too high, but because he let the ball go early and accurately diagnosed the defense at speed, there was never any concern about a potential turnover on this play. The receiver makes a relatively easy adjustment on the football for the score.
Kelly deserves a lot of credit for the design of his offense, but that shouldn't take away from Golson's intelligence that has helped him avoid turnovers. Making such quick decisions and throwing with anticipation consistently isn't as easy as some NFL quarterbacks make it appear.
In this offense, Golson wasn't asked to consistently manage a pocket against Purdue, but he did still have a number of opportunities to show off his comfort.
Although Golson is a very good athlete, he doesn't possess a natural instinct to scramble when his first read isn't available. He shows good patience in the pocket and a willingness to hold the ball while adjusting his feet and moving his eyes from receiver to receiver. The one concern from this game was his consistency. Golson had a couple of moments when he appeared to panic after initially showing comfort in the pocket. His feet and his eyes stopped working in sync and his quality of service to those around him suffered.
While the offense was mostly predicated on shorter throws, Golson did take a number of intelligent deep shots down the field. From his own end zone in the second quarter on 3rd-and-10, Golson adjusted to edge pressure in the pocket before throwing a deep pass to one of his taller wide receivers down the left sideline. The pass was slightly underthrown, but seemingly by design as the cornerback had his back to the ball with the receiver in a good position to attack it over him.
In the fourth quarter, Golson couldn't connect with another receiver in the end zone after manipulating the deep safety with his eyes. His accuracy could have been better, but it was another smart shot from the quarterback. His longest completion came on a similar play late in the second quarter.
Since this is a situation when the offense is working against the clock with no clear running threat in the backfield outside of Golson himself, the defense gives the offense a cushion underneath to work with. The one deep safety is offset to the bottom of the screen, because the cornerback to that side is creeping up to the line of scrimmage. Golson is eventually going to throw at that cornerback, but he doesn't immediately look to that side of the field.
When he immediately gets the ball at the snap, Golson appears to look to his left while backpedalling. The defense is being predictably cautious, so they are only rushing four players on stunts that are easily picked up. Golson has time to keep his eyes to the left side while his receivers' routes develop.
With his extra time in the pocket, Golson resets himself and brings his eyes closer to the middle of the field. He holds them there for another moment, before slightly altering his feet and shoulders to angle his body towards the right sideline.
Even if it wasn't directly a result of Golson's movements before throwing the ball, the deep safety was nowhere near his intended receiver at the snap.
Golson was able to show off his outstanding arm talent as his pass travelled more than 30 yards in the air and sustained high velocity throughout. While the pass arrived high, it travelled at a good trajectory to make it a very catchable pass. On initial viewing, it appeared that Golson simply overthrew the ball, but it's possible that he was expecting the cornerback to be covering the receiver because he appeared to let him go down the sideline late in the play.
Although he proved to be a little rough around the edges in this game, Golson came across well as a pure passer when considered as a prospect in this game. He should have much greater tests in October as Notre Dame are set to face both Stanford and Florida State.
Both Stanford and Florida State should be able to get more pressure on him. Against Purdue, Golson handled pressure relatively well. He primarily relied on his athleticism to do so though.
Golson isn't an Andrew Luck or Colin Kaepernick caliber of athlete; instead he shares more physical traits with Russell Wilson, including the size concerns. He is a very comfortable mover in all situations with the fluidity and quickness to quickly adjust either in space or in tight areas. When he gets running lanes to attack, he can easily exploit them.
His rushing touchdown in this game, his fourth of the season, came on a play when he was pressured in the pocket. He had a receiver open down the field, but it would have required a difficult throw while being hit. Instead of attempting that pass, Golson broke into space with good balance and accelerated to the pylon.
Unlike Kaepernick or even Cam Newton, Golson didn't have the blazing speed once he hit space, but his smaller frame made him more comfortable when asked to adjust and turn out of the pocket.
Probably the most appealing aspect of Golson's athleticism is that he doesn't just extend plays to run down the field. Instead he sustains eye-level and tries to find open receivers down the field for big plays. Early on in the game he was immediately pressured when his right tackle was beaten. Instead of panicking, he shook the defender in the pocket with his quickness, ran into the flat and created a throwing lane to find his open running back down the sideline.
Later on, he made a very similar but more impressive play.
On this occasion, it wasn't a blown block from his right tackle that gave created the pressure from the right side of the offense, it was a corner blitz. The defense didn't hint that the blitz was coming before the snap, but when Golson saw the linebackers dropping to the other side of the field, he turned his head to locate the free rusher coming his way.
Golson squared up to the defender and shook him with his quick feet. He took a wide arc around his desperation tackle attempt and surveyed the field while doing so. Although a running back was wide open in the flat to that side who Golson must have seen, he didn't rush to throw him the ball. Crucially, this is a 3rd-and-eight play so Golson needs to throw the ball downfield if the opportunity arises.
Checking down in this scenario is less likely to be successful until more defenders commit themselves to the threat of the quarterback scramble or drop deeper with the receivers running routes down the field.
Importantly, Golson doesn't wait to stop and reset his feet until he is at the goal line. Instead he gives himself more space and time to look back across the field by planting his foot early. In a scenario where most quarterbacks rush their feet and their reads, Golson is very calm and isn't perturbed by the incoming defensive tackle.
When he can't find a receiver down the field who he wants to throw the ball to, he adjusts his feet again and turns towards the sideline. The running back is now close to the first down marker and wide open. Golson throws him an accurate pass on the move that he turns into an important first down.
Much like Marcus Mariota of Oregon does, Golson extends plays to find receivers down the field rather than scramble himself. It's a very valuable trait in the NFL because it's easier to out-quarterback teams at that level than out-athlete them.
The draft process likely won't be kind to Golson because of his size and suspension, but based on this game against Purdue, he definitely has the talent to be a quality NFL player at some point.
Of course, having the talent and realizing it on that level are two separate concepts.