|Left Outside||Left Middle||Right Middle||Right Outside||Total|
|16-20||1/1 (1 INT)||1/1 (1 TD)||1/1||3/3 (1 TD, 1 INT)|
|11-15||1/2 (1 INT)||6/7||1/2||8/11 (1 INT)|
|1-5||3/3||3/6 (1 TD)||1/1||7/10 (1 TD)|
|0||6/7 (1 TD)||7/7||13/14 (1 TD)|
|Total||0/0||14/16 (1 TD, 2 INT)||18/24 (2 TD)||4/6||36/46 (3 TD, 2 INT)|
Outside the Pocket: 1/3 (plus 3 throwaways)
Under Pressure: 4/6 (1 INT, plus 2 throwaways)
Red Zone: 8/12 (3 TDs, 1 INT, plus 2 throwaways)
3rd/4th Down: 5/10 (1 TD, 1 INT)
Forced Adjustments: 0
Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon didn’t enter the season on the NFL’s radar. In fact, Gordon wasn’t even a lock to win the starting job in Pullman. Following the departure of Gardner Minshew after his lone season as the Cougars’ starter, head coach Mike Leach went into the offseason pitting Gordon against Gage Gubrud, an FCS All-American who transferred over from Eastern Washington (the same school Vernon Adams played at before Oregon). Gubrud’s FCS credentials were believed by many to be superior to Gordon’s backup experience, but Gordon pulled ahead more and more as the battle raged on, eventually earning him the starting nod for the team’s opener against New Mexico State.
Gordon hasn’t looked back since.
If the season ended today, Gordon would be the best Washington State passer in the Leach era — at least by the numbers. Gordon’s 163.76 passer rating and 8.5 yards per attempt in 2019 would both be single-season highs in the Leach era by a comfortable margin. Likewise, the season-high for passing touchdowns during the Leach era is 38, but Gordon already has 32 in eight games. If Gordon keeps his current pace, he will come in just under 50 passing touchdowns. Leach’s past three quarterbacks — Minshew, Luke Falk, and Connor Halliday — all got NFL looks to varying degrees, yet none were nearly as productive and efficient as Gordon has been through eight games.
But, enough with the macro discussion of Gordon. It’s time to discuss the micro — more specifically, Gordon’s performance in a heartbreaking loss to Oregon. Gordon steered the Washington State offense well enough to deserve a win, even though they didn’t get one in the end.
Through the scope of NFL potential, however, Gordon’s performance can be tough to parse. On the one hand, Gordon’s accuracy, fluid mechanics, and general decision making in this game all suggest he has a pro future, but the conditions with which Gordon played in make it difficult to buy in completely. For one, Gordon faced an average 3.78 pass-rushers on a given play, meaning he saw a ton of three-man rushes. He saw just four plays of five-or-more pass-rushers.
Gordon also threw zero passes to the left-outside portion of the field and just one pass beyond 20 yards, which he did not connect on. The aversion to throwing left is a season-long trend, too, not just a random one-off occurrence against Oregon. Per Pro Football Focus, Gordon has thrown just 15 passes all year to the left-outside portion of the field. Granted, they may chart that slightly different than I do (PFF counts outside the numbers), but even PFF has Gordon down for 59 throws this season to the right-outside portion of the field. The discrepancy is undeniable.
The reason this may be significant is that many quarterbacks are worse passers to their left because it is their non-dominant side, and it could be the case that both Leach and Gordon himself are protecting the offense by not even trying to attempt passes in that direction. It’s hard to say for certain what the disparity is about without talking to either Leach or Gordon, but at the very least, it’s grounds for having some pause with Gordon.
For now, though, we can focus what Gordon did show in Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Gordon’s flexible mechanics permeate throughout everything he does. Short throws, deep throws, from the pocket, on the run — it doesn’t matter the situation, Gordon finds a way to get the ball out as smooth as possible with impressive pace and accuracy. He understands how to snap his shoulders to the target before the throw and release the ball from a firm, consistent release point regardless of what his feet are going. Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and many other top quarterbacks are as accurate as they are from multiple platforms for this exact reason. Gordon isn’t those guys, but it does bode well for him that he shares one of their defining traits.
Here is a rather tame example of Gordon’s mechanics serving him well. Gordon is surveying the left side of the field for most of this play, but wants to come back to throw the deep crosser over the right hash. Rather than needing to recalibrate his entire body, Gordon cocks his shoulders toward the target direction and snaps his torso around with a smooth follow-through. Everything Gordon does is so quick and compact that he can keep his body in sync despite not having his feet “properly” under him.
It’s more impressive to see Gordon pull this off under pressure. Even when Gordon has to completely leave his feet, his upper body mechanics do not fail him.
Gordon does not get to plant his feet forward and drive into this throw. All of Gordon’s power and control has to come from his upper body. Similar to the last example, Gordon aims his front shoulder toward the target. Gordon’s upper body rotation is as smooth as ever, allowing the ball to come out at a comfortable release point in perfect harmony with his hips fully coming around. The smooth rotation and stable release point make it easy for Gordon to control the ball without being able to plant his feet the way he may have wanted to. As a result, Gordon is able to feather a perfect ball over a defender into his receiver’s hands. Unfortunately, the receiver did not make good on Gordon’s efforts and the pass was dropped right into a defender’s hands for an interception. This goes down as a knock against Gordon in the stat sheet, but on film, he could not have made a better play than this one.
Gordon’s mechanics are not bound to the pocket, either. While it’s probably true that most quarterbacks are better in tune with their mechanics on the move because the conditions force them into natural motions (as opposed to “learned” technique in the pocket), Gordon is particularly smooth outside of the pocket.
Once again, Gordon takes his feet out of the equation and does everything with his upper body. Gordon not being able to set his feet or fully aim his shoulders at his target saps some of his arm strength because his rotation can not be as forceful, but he still manages to get the ball out from a comfortable release point and follow-through with it despite getting clobbered by a defender. The ball floats right where it needs to be, giving the receiver just past the sticks strong opportunity to reign it in. That’s a tough throw and all the little details that went into Gordon pulling it off should not be taken for granted.
As all of these plays also highlight, Gordon’s ball placement is fantastic. Gordon is not just a guy who gets passes in the general direction of receivers. He understands how to find the exact weak spot within zone coverages or feather a ball in perfectly to allow for seamless yards after catch. Gordon checks the accuracy box marked: makes it easy for his wide receivers. Not every QB prospect, even the “top” prospects, can say the same.
Not only does Gordon fit this between the safeties, but he lifts the ball just high enough to clear the linebacker while keeping it just low enough to not force the receiver to leap for the ball. This pass walks the tightrope of getting a pass in quickly enough without sacrificing control in any way. Gordon threaded a number of throws like this around defenders in this Oregon game.
In other instances, Gordon does not need to throw around defenders, per se, but he needs to lead his receiver away from them. Setting up yards after catch through ball placement requires the quarterback to hit the wide receiver in stride and allow their momentum to carry them away from the defender trailing/around them. If a receiver has to stop or slow down to catch the ball, chances are they will not have a good time trying to pick up yards after the catch. Rarely does Gordon impede on his receivers’ ability to gain extra yards.
This throw has to be right in stride or else the receiver gets dragged down one way or another. If not the defender trailing behind him, one of the other few Ducks defenders in the area would have been able to close the gap if the receiver had not been able to stay in stride. Alas! Gordon puts the ball just out in front of the receiver’s frame for an easy catch and smooth transition into becoming a ball carrier. Maybe Gordon won’t spark a 50-plus yard gain every time he leads a wide receiver properly, but the extra few yards here and there throughout the game go a long way to boost the Washington State offense, even if it can not be easily quantified.
Gordon’s endless barrage of accurate passes was not the only feat he could hang his hat on in this game. While Gordon did not show a whole lot more than a baseline understanding of Leach’s offense for most of the game, Washington State’s final two offensive plays of the game provided a peek into Gordon’s ability to learn on the fly.
Leach called the same play twice in a row here. He did so not out of stubbornness, but out of having faith that his quarterback could correct the mistake he made the first time around. In the first play (third down), Gordon drops back and eyes the No.3 to trips (innermost receiver) splitting the two underneath defenders. Gordon hesitates to pull the trigger, though, and closes the window on himself before forcing the receiver to move elsewhere. Leach calls the play again on fourth down and Gordon fires to the same receiver he missed the first time around, giving Washington State the go-ahead score. The Cougars defense could not hold on the ensuing possession, but Gordon’s ability to quickly learn from his mistakes in a crucial moment in the game is impressive.
It seems an asinine thing to say considering Minshew’s early NFL success, but Gordon is the best quarterback Leach has coached at Washington State. While production alone makes a strong case for him, Gordon also leads the pack in accuracy and is mechanically the most natural thrower of the bunch. The redshirt senior keeps his wits about him under pressure and has proven to be a plenty capable captain of Leach’s offense, too.
Still, “Leach’s best quarterback” is more of a euphemism for “better than a sixth-round pick” than anything. Both Minshew and Falk were sixth-round picks — Minshew for his lack of size and arm strength, and Falk for his lack of, well, where do I begin? Gordon is going to measure in bigger than Minshew and he has a more impressive arm than either of the two former Wazzu QBs. Between production, size, requisite arm strength, and fluid mechanics, it doesn’t take much stretching of the mind to imagine an offensive coach banging the table for Gordon in the fourth or fifth round. With a handful of other Air Raid quarterbacks finding success all over the league, in a handful of different styles of NFL offenses, Gordon is a quality candidate to be the next to do well for himself as a pro.
Gordon still needs to finish the season strong, but all signs are pointing to a busy spring with the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and NFL Draft. When the process is all said and done, Gordon could ascend to become the “favorite” Day 3 prospect of GMs and analysts alike.