In this article series, we look back at an individual player from 2014, and try to re-watch every play they were involved in. Using this isolation with a fresh perspective, I am re-charting plays, making notes, and trying to get a feel for if we are missing or confirming a potential Fantasy star in the making…or we try to confirm whether our fading memories, hype, and surface numbers from last season are leading to a twisted perception?
Today’s study: QB Tom Savage, Houston
Full disclosure: In early 2014, after running our computer models based upon his college performance and scouting him on tape, we fully believed that Pitt QB, now Texans QB, Tom Savage was in the argument as the best QB prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Of course, that was a ‘party of one’ scouting call by us…per usual.
If you’re new to FFM, you may be looking to ‘X’ out this page after that opening statement, but hang with me here if you just fell into this article. In fact, if you’ve never subscribed to College Football Metrics, allow me to email you the Tom Savage report from 2014 as my welcoming gift to you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Back to the show…
According to our scouting data from January-February 2014, we felt the national analysts should have loved Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Tom Savage (in whatever order) as top 10-20 overall draft prospects for 2014. Conversely, ‘they’ should have shunned Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Derek Carr.
Of course, the opposite happened.
Just one year later, national analysts (referred to as ‘they’ a lot in this article) are now trying to cozy up to Bridgewater, despite the same people crucifying him pre-draft, especially mocking his Pro Day workout. As well, as soon as ‘they’ saw the Patriots take Garoppolo highly in the 2014 NFL Draft, and how much better he was than their golden boy Ryan Mallett last preseason, they started accepting Jimmy G. a little more. On top of that, I think national analysts are realizing their error on Bortles and Manziel, but not ready to admit defeat on Bortles. ‘They’ are placing a lot on Carr, because he feels like their only win—they may eat that one too, in short order.
Looking at the pre-NFL Draft scouting calls on Bridgewater, Garoppolo, Bortles, Manziel, Carr (minus Savage for a moment)…the football scouting consensus has a record of 1-4 with these five QBs, judging the mood today. Thus, the College Football Metrics computer scouting models are 4-1 by the same logic. Garoppolo is still kinda up for grabs, but anyone who watched the preseason knows he is better than Bortles-Manziel-Carr…so I’m already calling this victory for FFM, as of today. With Carr, I count him as a scouting loss for us now (win for ‘them’) after a respectable rookie season, but I genuinely believe: Come and see me in 3-15 months and let’s find out if we haven’t ‘run the table’ scouting-wise on all five of these guys. We see Carr as average, not sustainably ‘good’, and definitely not a franchise QB.
The one QB, of the six names I am throwing around, that is neither win nor loss for either side today is Tom Savage. He flashed some skills late 2014 preseason in limited time, and was thrown into one regular-season game on the fly in the regular-season. I don’t feel there is enough to make a proper call yet. However, ‘they’ wouldn’t agree. ‘They’ don’t even acknowledge Savage as a legit QB prospect. Bridgewater ‘they’ mocked. Garoppolo ‘they’ mostly stayed away from criticizing too hard because he was an FCS curiosity. Savage…well, he might as well have not even existed in the 2014 NFL Draft.
When Savage was thrust into a critical game in Week-15 last season, no one really cared. The Texans lost. Savage did not ‘go off’, statistically, and he got hurt late in his unplanned debut game—and missed the rest of the season. There was no QB controversy or follow-through to debate. It was over before it started. It fits the narrative—‘just ignore Savage’.
Of course, I am trusting OUR computer models, so I am mostly a Savage-believer. With that being said, you may ask why are we doing a 2014 ‘Rewind’ study of him when there is only one part of a late-season game to even judge (19 pass attempts in three-quarters of play off the bench in Week-15). Why even try to make any sweeping judgements based upon one game?
I think there are two reasons why I wanted to look back this performance:
1) Savage’s debut featured a botched handoff early. A few plays later, he had a poorly mistimed handoff that led to a lost fumble. The game ended on an interception in the two-minute drill. If I went off my memory of this game, I feel like I was left with the vibe that Savage had a few nice throws, but had some embarrassing moments…and the ‘bad’ plays ‘left a mark’ on me…on my soul…in my memories. Most analysts felt the same way, and worse. I didn’t castigate Savage for this effort—I just ignored the game pretty much as ‘rookies will be rookies’.
I wanted to look back at this game a year later, objectively, to see what really happened—if there was something everyone overlooked…something I overlooked.
2) I was in a discussion yesterday with a rabid Houston Texans’ fan: My Dad. We agreed, that the Texans have a playoff shot in 2015…if they can get something from their QBs. Which means, to me, they have no shot in 2015 the way they seem to be going. Of course, the national conversation focuses all on Hoyer-Mallett, because of course it does…Tom Savage doesn’t exist. However, I know this to be true, and I’ll put our previously mentioned 4-1 record vs. ‘their’ 1-4 record, double or nothing on the bet that Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett will fail, and both have no business as starting QBs in the NFL on purpose.
Uptight, old-school head coaches love ‘game managers’, so I fully expect Brian Hoyer to start and dutifully run the plays that are called while Houston tries to win with heavy running plays, short passes, staying out of third & long, and capitalizing on a good-great defense. It’s not a crazy plan. However, Hoyer will eventually fail. His Cleveland time was a mess besides a few game stretch early 2014 season where he didn’t throw picks/picks were dropped/some games were won—which initially caused every football analyst in America to howl about how Hoyer ‘must’ be signed to a deal as the Browns franchise QB.
‘They’ also loved Ryan Mallett. When Hoyer fails to delight one and all in 2015, Mallett will be screamed for by the fans. I guarantee you Mallett is not a starting NFL QB. Nice arm, no instinct, his reign will be over as quickly as it begins. It’s another one for ‘L’ column coming for the scouting mainstream…actually, it is already an ‘L’, but ‘they’ haven’t fully admitted it yet.
If I know Hoyer is not the answer, and if I know FOR SURE Mallett won’t make it 1-2-3 games without being exposed (like he was last year after one-half), then by logical deduction—why not Tom Savage? Why isn’t he even being considered in this preseason 2015 race between two below-average and/or terrible QBs (Hoyer-Mallett)?
I wanted to re-watch his one game event in 2014 for any new cues, pro or con.
Allow me to note one last thing before you read on: You might already be speculating that I’ll be predisposed to ‘pump’ Savage in my ‘Rewind’, because he was one of ‘my guys’ last year. You might think I’m inclined to make excuses for him and ‘see what I want to see’ on tape. You’re not crazy to think that, I believe the biggest problem in football scouting are scouts and analysts who have their minds made up before they even look at a few plays…and then don’t alter an opinion when the reality changes. It’s wise of you to be skeptical.
Let me to add this: I am trying to scout football for living. For my readers, for my private Fantasy-Dynasty clients. It does not profit me to hold onto a bad scouting position. How much business will I drum up or retain, if I publicly proclaim something one way out on a limb, and it goes on to be wildly wrong over time?
The football fandom will excuse the Kiper-McShay-Mayock-Jaworkski’s of the world when they highly endorse a Blaine Gabbert (for example), and he turns out not just to be mediocre or lacking, but that it looks like he has never played football before. You’ll wait for their next QB scouting analysis with baited breath, and ‘they’ will get a nice raise each year by their employers…regardless. If I go to bat for Bridgewater-Garoppolo-Savage and go against Bortles-Manziel-Carr, and if had been the one with a 1-4 or 1-5 record on my scouting calls…I’d be about out of business. So note, if/when I say something positive on Savage from his NFL debut in 2014—I’m not doing it to make myself feel good or stubbornly hold on to ‘bad cards’.
In all my ‘Rewind’ reports this year, I am really looking back at the 2014 activity on all the players I’ve re-researched trying to disprove my initial theory or emotion going in—not to just rubber stamp my preconceived notions. If I find something wrong with Savage in this ‘Rewind’, and shift positions on Savage’s future, then I need to let ‘my people’, the FFM-CFM faithful, know so they can adjust accordingly. Covering for Savage is not an option for me.
With that, my opening statement on the actual Tom Savage ‘Rewind’ study (a scant 1,500+ words in)…
If anyone bothered to look, they would have seen a promising young QB at work coming off the bench in Week-15 for the Houston Texans. It was a performance that should have made analysts push Savage into the “Whose the Texans starter for 2015?” discussion. Instead, per usual, his 2014 one-game event was ignored—or worse yet, remembered for a mishandled handoff, and thus ‘they’ deemed Savage as ‘unworthy’. I’m here to tell you, based on that Week-15 glimpse, the Texans should be shoving aside Hoyer-Mallett and giving Savage all the attention with the first-team.
Bill O’Brien, I assume (but hope he won’t), will do what most old-school head coaches do: He’ll minimize risk at any cost. He’ll look at the Texans as a team that can sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 if the defense rises up and they run the ball effectively, and as Brian Hoyer manages the game smoothly. O’Brien will likely not come at 2015 with a mindset of trying to ‘make things happen’. Rather, he will operate to ‘minimize turnovers/risk’.
Don’t hate O’Brien. He’s only doing what 80%+ of current NFL coaches were raised to do by their coaching forefathers. It’s in their DNA. It’s why Chip Kelly will win 10+ games a year forever at any level…because he does things contrary to the 80%. Steve Kerrwon a title in basketball in his debut season with a team shooting three’s heavily and having a little fun—allowing the players to miss shots, but imploring them to keep firing because they will eventually click given how good of shooters they are, and over time they strategy will pay off with the right shooters. Most old-school hoop coaches coach a team to NOT miss a shot as best they can. Kerr encourages them to let it fly because the amount the positives are planned to overcome the negatives with talented players. The NFL old-school coach version of the uptight, old-school basketball coaching style is worshiping the ‘grinder’, game-managing QB who put in 20-hours a day, throws short passes, and stays away from turnovers. God help the team with a game-managing QB if they get in 3rd-down situations that call for a big-time passer to step up…because the over-coached ‘system’ melts down in these tough spots because the QB cannot be trusted to ‘make things happen’.
Tom Savage is a deadly three-point shooter in this basketball-football analogy, and he is more than just a one-trick ‘specialist’.
I’m not saying Savage is so good, that he’ll lift the team to the Super Bowl in 2015 and everyone lives happily ever after. I’m just saying—he’s the best chance at it for the Texans right now…by far. There is zero chance of Houston shocking the world with Hoyer or Mallett…but Savage is north of zero on that spectrum–which makes him a superior choice over Hoyer or Mallett, if you really want to build something long-term. It’s the reason why I think we might actually see him take over sometime this year.
I probably just jinxed Savage from ever getting a chance to make it happen. Seriously, I would bet against Savage getting a serious look—I know the NFL all too well now.
Let me walk you through a couple of spots from Savage’s one 2014 game, to point out why I am so encouraged by what I saw on the tape…
Setting the scene: Week-15 Texans at Colts…After one-quarter, the Texans were tied with the Colts 7-7. Houston entered the game with a 7-6 record, and with playoff hopes alive. Indy, with a win, was looking to obtain the division title. Both teams with motivation. It was a heavyweight battle through one quarter.
Early in the 2nd-quarter, Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to scramble out of trouble, and injured his foot—done for the season. Ryan Mallett was already done for the season with a pectoral issue. The last hope, Tom Savage, enters into this war…ice cold off the bench—and never having seriously worked with the 1st-team.
I was reading a brief ESPN story on Savage just a few days ago, and it mentioned this game as Savage having a QBR of 13 in this game–and marring him with the words ‘he even struggled with handoffs’. I’m glad I re-watched this game. It really wasn’t anything like the media pushed it as. But you have to look. You have to want to see. ‘They’ don’t. ‘They’ already made up their minds before this game.
First, let me deal with the ‘bad plays’. Basically, in three-quarters of play, Savage was judged by the analysts on three specific plays (judged by analysts who already pre-judged him, so they fit these events to their narrative).
1) On the second play he was involved in he went one way for a handoff, and Arian Foster went another. A broken play, and Savage was then stuffed for -5 yards.
The broken play looked completely goofy. It wasn’t off a little…it was off by a lot. The first reaction is to scoff at Savage because it makes sense in our pea brains—new QB in the game cold, his second play of the game, and a botched play…of course it is the rookie’s issue, right? The announcers jump on Savage with ‘rookie grace’ and light ribbing…but then upon the replay they discover something—the entire O-Line plus Savage went one way…and Foster went the other. Upon further review, the TV analysts blame Foster. In the media, it’s noted as a ‘struggled with handoffs’ moment assigned to Savage.
2) A few plays later, Savage tries to handoff to Foster off-tackle. He doesn’t get there fast enough, he hits Foster in the side with the ball and fumbles…and lost the ball to Indy. It was most likely a Savage mistake…one you’ve seen made plenty of times by rookie/young QBs in a debut working in their first couple of series.
This is the one true handoff ‘botch’ for Savage in this game—there are no others. However, the mainstream football analysts make a judgement call on Savage from this game is him being so incompetent that he can’t even handoff the ball right…it’s unfair, and incorrect based on this one game.
3) The game ends in a two-minute drill, Houston down by seven. After a near-miss big play, it’s now 4th-down…and then Savage throws his only pick. No Disney story ending here. Savage ends the game with no TD passes and the one (game-ending) INT. It’s easy to judge Savage as ‘bad’ from the box score…and if you already thought he was ‘bad’ anyway.
Lost in that interception moment is the play/EVENT that occurred right before the sad ending…
Before the picked pass, it was 3rd & 3 with less than two minutes left in the game. Houston down by seven. Savage drops back and throws a deep ball right on the money to DeAndre Hopkins streaking down the sidelines. Hopkins has a step on the CB, but it’s still tight coverage…and Savage puts the ball in a perfect spot again—a placement where Hopkins is not forced to speed up or slow down…and the CB cannot reach it either. It’s ‘placed’ perfectly in Hopkins hands, in stride…for a moment. The Safety over the top comes in after the momentary catch and blasts Hopkins’ upper body, and jars the ball loose…incomplete. Had the catch happened, it would have been 1st & goal with 1+ minute left.
To make matters worse, as Savage threw the pass…he was hit low by a D-Lineman. Arguably, a flag should have been thrown. Savage is hit in his plant leg by a 300+ pound missile, and he hyperextends his knee. He would miss the rest of the season due to the injury, but he would not miss the next play. Savage limps off into a timeout. The Punter is in the next camera shot as the ‘next man up’ at QB. Savage hobbles back onto the field. 4th & 3, and he fires a sideline prayer to Hopkins…but Vontae Davis jumps in front to pick it off—ball game. Savage had to make the throw quickly. He had to get a 1st-down…he had to stay in the pocket because he couldn’t move. If the ball were thrown a split-second earlier and he might have connected with Hopkins. Instead, Savage is deemed the goat, when he should be an admired ‘battler’. He won’t be admired, because the media is ignoring him—and thus fans have written him off as well. No one cares. If Derek Carr does the same thing, under the same circumstances the interception and overall effort would have been heralded as ‘gutty’.
The three supposed ‘bad plays’ just mentioned for Savage left a nasty taste in everyone’s mouth, but it’s really not fair. One was not his fault…it was Foster’s. His game ending pick was thrown standing on a leg that was hurt to the point of ending his season. Can we cut him an ounce of slack?
I think people should cut Savage some slack not just because those ‘bad’ plays were arguable on Savage, but because Savage was really, really promising all around in that game…better than I remembered.
In our early 2014 scouting report, I said that Savage was the best medium-deep ball thrower in the 2014 NFL Draft class. He walked in cold Week-15, never having played with the 1st-team, on the road, in a huge game, and completed two 30+ yard passes. Those connections were because of HIS arm and talent. It was not because some bubble screens were taken for 30+ yards, but it was passes where the ball traveled 20+ yards into the receiver’s hands perfectly. They were not easy throws against a prevent defense either–no, these were tight coverage throws, subtly timed/placed where only the WR could catch it—that’s a gift Savage has…and the national analysts are oblivious to it.
Look at these splits on passes thrown, traveling 20 or more yards in the air last season:
6 of 29 (20.6%) for 274 yards, 1 TD/3 INT = Brian Hoyer 2014
1 of 8 (12.5%) for 41 yards, 0 TD/1 INT = Ryan Mallett 2014
2 of 4 (50.0%) for 65 yards, 0 TD/0 INT = Tom Savage 2014
For context or fun…
10 of 42 (23.8%) for 360 yards, 3 TD/5 INT = Blake Bortles 2014
14 of 54 (25.9%) for 543 yards, 2 TD/1 INT = Derek Carr 2014
13 of 40 (32.5%) for 377 yards, 4 TD/4 INT = Teddy Bridgewater 2014
11 of 50 (22.0%) for 394 yards, 7 TD/6 INT = Nick Foles 2014 (a TD pass every 7.1 throws where the ball goes 20+ yards in the air)
22 of 62 (35.5%) for 843 yards, 13 TD/1 INT = Nick Foles 2013 (a TD pass every 4.8 throws where the ball goes 20+ yards in the air)
FYI, Foles deep ball numbers are only rivaled by the likes of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, et al. But I’m sure it’s all Chip Kelly’s short passing game system that made Foles such a great deep ball thrower.
Completing passes where the ball travels 20+ yards in the air is one of the most complicated tasks a QB has. Most of them can play Chip Kelly’s style—short and sweet…and safe (which is smart on Kelly’s part—it minimizes the QB’s weaknesses/value). Rare few can do what Rodgers-Peyton-Brady-Luck-Foles can do…drop back, read multiple options, not crumble under pressure (as they wait for routes to run, thus pass rushers have more time to get to them), and throw passes on the money to convert big plays at the right time (not just against a prevent defense).
Drink in that QB data above, and go back to Savage…he had the best completion percentage of the listed sample at 50.0%. Now, don’t freak out. I know it was only four passes. My point is—there is realistic hope with Savage, and he was giving you tiny glimpses of the possibilities in this game. He definitely wasn’t embarrassing himself at all. I’m also not overvaluing/basing everything on the four deeper passes vs. Indy, because I scouted him quite a bit in college. I already knew he was a top medium/deep ball threat pre-NFL days, and now here he is in 2014 cold off the bench, never having worked seriously with the 1st-team, and in a playoff-like game he’s planting deep balls in perfect spots to his WRs. It’s not a new thing for him…it’s just amazing how he immediately started connecting in this bizarre debut.
Oh, and one of his two long ball ‘misses’ from that game—a perfectly thrown deep ball to Hopkins, who had it clean for a moment.
Tom Savage is a starting NFL QB talent, especially on Houston’s depth chart right now…but he won’t even be considered.
Old-school coaches want game managers.
It would take ‘balls’ to turn the team over to Savage a la Tom Brady-Drew Bledsoe from many years ago—to purposefully groom an overlooked QB prospect, and let him take his bumps now in order to try to compete with the juggernaut that is division-rival Andrew Luck by mid-season 2015 or maybe in 2016. Bill O’Brien probably feels he doesn’t have that long to find out. If he eschews the conventional wisdom, and pushes Savage, and the team starts 1-4 this season…the coaches, the owner, the city, and all the Brian Hoyer-loving analysts will freak. Just like ‘they’ did in Seattle with Russell Wilson his rookie year…bellyaching for ‘their’ hero to replace the youngster when things were a touch rocky out of the gates—‘they’ clamored for the illustrious Matt Flynn. The NFL, and its fans, are the most unrealistic expectation mob you’ll find gathered around any entity.
It’s not just the deep throw prowess with Savage either. What the analysts who pick on his bad handoffs don’t discuss is when Fitzpatrick went down in the Indy game, Savage throws on a helmet and starts practicing snaps with the Center in a hurry—and he enters into the game, and it’s 3rd down & 4 with Savage is in his debut moment. On his very first NFL play, Savage adeptly sidesteps a collapsing pocket and rifles a pass to a tightly covered DeAndre Hopkins. Savage throws it in a place only Hopkins can catch it for 8-yards, and a first-down.
What ‘they’ completely ignore in this debut game is that Savage threw eight passes on 3rd-down, and he completed four of them for 1st-downs. He converted 50% of his 3rd-down throws off the bench in tight coverage and massive pass rush pressure all game. He fell short of converting an additional first-down by less than a yard on one other 3rd-down throw (to Foster), and one other throw was the Hopkins deep ball catch that got hauled in for a moment, and then knocked out of his hands. Savage was a hair away from converting six of eight 3rd-down passes for 1st-downs…which is stellar given the situation.
Savage has an arm strength and rapid release like a poor man’s Dan Marino. He made one throw in this game falling off his back foot with all arm—a pass that shot out to the sidelines quicker than some QBs can step in and fire a pass on purpose. There is something here to work with in Tom Savage…something that demands more examination.
Tom Savage is a very good NFL QB prospect. I know this from his college data, and now I am reenergized from re-watching his 2014 debut.
Tom Savage is in a perfect situation in 2015 to surpass two lightweight QBs ahead of him.
However, there is a 50% chance Tom Savage NEVER plays a snap the next two seasons with Houston…and that’s your Dynasty/Fantasy Football dilemma. He has talent, but I’m not sure whether the Texans will fully invest in it. Unless you’re a QB who has been blessed by the mainstream football gods—you get no grace period in the NFL. Blake Bortles and Jake Locker are afforded something Tom Savage is not…because of draft status and who/how many pre-endorsed them. It’s the NFL reality. If Savage gets a shot, he better be a ‘hit’ quickly.
What do you do with Tom Savage for Dynasty/Fantasy Football purposes?
Hell, if I know.
I just know if he gets a fair shot—Savage could be the Texans’ franchise QB today, and go on to be as good as any QB from the 2014 draft class. If your league favors TD passes (6pts per pass, long TD bonuses) then get excited if Savage gets a shot. If you own DeAndre Hopkins PRAY for Savage to take over.
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