2012 NFL Draft QB Prospect #10: Houston’s Case Keenum

Houston sixth-year senior Case Keenum broke every record you can imagine during his long tenure as the Cougars’ starting quarterback. He’s the NCAA all-time leader in total passing yards (19,217), touchdowns (155) and completions (1,546) and he holds the FBS record for career total offense. However, all that production only has Keenum projected to be taken in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft. Many pro scouts have confessed they wouldn’t consider him a draftable player at all if it weren’t for the records.

Keenum played in a spread offense at Houston and never took snaps under center. During his three and a half years as the Cougars’ full-time quarterback, Keenum threw more than 40 passes per start. Obviously, his records and accomplishments are well-deserved and he’s to be commended for them, but they don’t translate into NFL success.

Most of Keenum’s passes were short, quick routes that he threw right at the snap of the ball from the shotgun without dropping back and so many instant releases made him hurry unnecessarily at times. Getting rid of the ball so quickly kept him from reading coverages and he always just depended on that first read, so his knowledge of defensive schemes isn’t ideal for playing quarterback at the next level.

Three-step drops, taking snaps under center and learning coverages are all things that an intelligent young passer like Keenum can learn, but those things combined with his lack of pro-style football knowledge have all NFL teams leery of him heading into the draft.

Keenum has good pocket presence and he’s fairly athletic, which allows him to extend the play if necessary. He’s good at finding the soft spots in zone coverage, but Keenum often took too many shots downfield at Houston, which kept his completion percentage at a sane 68.5.Those soft spots he found were pre-snap reads as well; he always looked deep if his first read wasn’t there instead of checking down. The only times Keenum actually “checked down” were on plays designed for the underneath receiver. If he had been smarter with the ball in those situations, his completion percentage might have broken records as well and caught the eye of more pro scouts. Playing against weak defenses in Conference USA hid these problems, but playing against fast, deceiving defenses in the NFL will exploit these weaknesses in Keenum’s game.

Like good quarterbacks should, Keenum had faith in his receivers in man coverage and they frequently rewarded him with great catches deep downfield in tight coverage. As mentioned, that happened more often than it should in games against weak opponents, like Rice, who Keenum shredded for 9 touchdown passes in 2011. Although he threw for astronomically high amounts of yards even against stronger opponents like Penn State (532 in the Ticketcity Bowl), Keenum’s reliance on pre-snap reads will likely keep him from being a quality NFL quarterback.

Keenum is what many call a “prayer-heaving” passer, meaning he trusts his receivers a little too much. He either hits the first crossing route in man coverage or throws up a prayer for his receiver deep downfield. Although Keenum rarely threw deep balls into zone coverage, he frequently lofted jump balls into man coverage 40-50 yards downfield. He wisely hit underneath routes against zone coverages, but that was mostly due to pre-snap reads and designed plays to get the ball out quickly.

The only way Keenum can become a quality NFL quarterback is if he sits behind a player like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning for a few years. He doesn’t need a quality passer from which to learn; Keenum needs a future Hall of Famer to show him the ropes of three-step drops, route progression, and patience in the pocket. Keenum is an accurate passer on throws he’s ready to make, but not so much on his “prayers.” With plenty of time and quality coaching, somebody like Brees or Manning just might be able to turn Keenum into a decent NFL quarterback.

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