NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: Savage

Pittsburgh's Tom Savage has the arm strength, moxie and confidence to develop into a starting quarterback, says longtime NFL head scout Dave-Te' Thomas. Thomas breaks down Savage's game in 14 phases and compares him to an established starter in Part 1 of a series.

Teams need to hit "home runs" with their first- and second-day draft selections, but around the mid-rounds, you will see unknown players start to filter into the draft process. These are players that scouts are convinced only need some patient coaching to develop into a quality starter at the professional level.

That scout's commitment to those players requires that evaluator to work hard in convincing his organization's decision-makers to take a chance on the sleeper-type athlete. Below is one quarterback who seems to have emerged as the sleeper of the 2014 draft class.

Tom Savage

University of Pittsburgh Panthers

University of Arizona

Rutgers University

6:03.6-245

Body Structure

Savage has a well-built, natural frame with good arm length, broad shoulders, developed chest, good bubble, thick thighs and room to add more bulk. He has a strong, thick lower body frame, but must be conscious of his weight, as any additional bulk will likely impact his overall quickness.

Athletic Ability

Savage has good athleticism, with nimble feet, but needs to run with better vision, as he tends to run into defenses rather than trying to elude (minus 319 yards rushing on 167 attempts). Still, he has a very lively arm with a quick, fluid throwing motion, but he has to learn how to slide and avoid the rush. He does show good accuracy throwing on the move (when working in a spread offense). He also displays good balance and body control in his pass set up. He is the classic drop-back quarterback, but you would like to see him be more effective running the QB draw.

Football Sense

Savage is an excellent student who quickly retains plays. He shows good mental alertness on the field and is very good make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He spends the extra hours in the film room studying tapes and is a tough competitor and unquestioned leader of the team. He knows the offense as well as the coaching staff and shows confidence in his arm strength to make all of the throws. His very quick throwing motion is evident and is very alert to stunts and zone coverages, and has worked hard to cut down on costly interceptions (just 2.5% of his tosses have been picked off). He is the type of player that will have no problems grasping the mental aspect of the playbook, but needs to play within the system rather than trying to carry the entire team on his shoulders, much like he tried to do during his 2010 season at Rutgers.

Competitiveness

Savage is an outstanding competitor, but sometimes tries to carry the weight of the world too much. The game is very important to him and it is second nature to him to do the little extras to make himself better. He played behind a suspect offensive line at both Rutgers (please folks, Anthony Davis was not "all that" as his left tackle during Savage's Rutgers days) and Pittsburgh and does take some unnecessary hits (see 2010 North Carolina and 2013 Virginia and Virginia Tech games), but still shows a willingness to stretch the field and hang tough under a fierce pass rush. He has had some issues staying with one organization, having attended three major colleges, playing for two of them. Still, he practices hard and competes with the same intensity in the game. He simply hates to lose and will play with pain. While he takes loses personally, he is never the type to blame others. He shows very good physical and mental toughness, reminding some of Phil Simms in his prime. He is the type that would probably slap General Patton, if it meant assuring total victory.

Set Up

Savage has more than enough foot speed in his drop back, evident by his 4.97-second 40-yard dash and 1.73-second 10-yard retreat skills. He shows balance and body control on the move and consistently sprints back to his pass set point. When under center, he moves quickly and is ready to throw at the end of his drop. He shows very good upper and lower body mechanics and a quick push away from the line.

Reading Defenses

While Savage is generally consistent on all throws, he will tend to force the ball under a fierce pass rush (see 2013 Virginia and Florida State games). He makes very good decisions on his short and intermediate throws, but most of his interceptions come when he tries to throw the ball up down field. He is an intelligent athlete, but some of those long throws make me question his judgment, at times. It is not like he throws into coverage often, but when he does, his errors come in bunches. He just needs to settle down and not try to carry the team on his shoulders too much.

Release

Savage shows good focus and has the ball ready to unleash it down field. He has a tight circle and flicks the pass out quickly. He carries the ball chest high and does a nice job of stepping into his throws, but will sometimes rotate his hips too much on his long tosses. When he sets his feet, he throws a tight spiral with a fluid, natural motion. It is rare to see him generate a long throwing arc, but when he does, he doesn't always follow through. He is best when he utilizes a ? over-the-top release.

Arm Strength

Savage can make all the throws, but is better served in a pro-style offense. When utilized in the spread offense in the past, it limited his opportunities to go long more often. He does a nice job of hitting his receivers in stride on short and intermediate routes, even when he falls away from some of his tosses. He puts good zip on the ball over the middle, showing the overall arm strength to have good success at the next level. He is better when taking a three-step drop and flicking the ball out quickly than when using a five-step approach (line deficiencies result in costly sacks). When he needs to, he can put good zip or touch on the ball. Still, he is more effective on intermediate throws and needs some foot technique refinement to generate better power behind the long tosses.

Accuracy

Savage throws a catchable ball underneath and does not make the receivers adjust in the routes. Even when rolling out, he shows good touch on his short and mid-range throws. He throws perfect fades, but must improve the trajectory on his wide-open streaks. His problems occur when he does not step into his long tosses well. When he sets his feet, Savage is capable of getting good placement on the deep ball, especially when he puts it on the outside shoulder of his targets.

Touch

Savage shows good anticipation and timing throwing over the middle, but would be much more effective if his offensive line would give him time to throw. He trusts his receivers and has a good feel for when they are going to get open. He does a good job of hitting his targets coming out of their breaks, as his passes come out with good touch and velocity. He knows when to take something off his dump-off passes and is very effective at feathering the ball over the top of the defenders. Still, he is prone to throwing the ball into a crowd when pressured, which happened vs. blitzing defenses last year (see Florida State, New Mexico and Virginia, three games where he combined for six interceptions).

Poise

Savage is one tough cookie that constantly takes shots, but will stand tall and throw under duress. He has a good feel for the pass rush and does a good job of sliding to avoid it. He hangs tough, despite playing behind a mediocre offensive line and shows tremendous poise, even though he takes fierce beatings. His penchant for forcing the ball into traffic when flushed out of the pocket is a big concern, but he has worked hard the second half of 2013 to stay under control (just three turnovers in his last nine games).

Leadership

Savage is an outstanding competitor in the Phill Simms/Brett Favre mold. He had his teammates believing that he can accomplish the impossible, pulling off a 7-6 campaign despite injuries robbing him of several critical weapons later in the year. Imagine what this kid could do with a good offensive line and healthy receivers! He is not only a leader by example, but can also be very vocal. He simply hates to lose, but never points fingers after a botched play. He has total command in the huddle and a bit of Eddie LeBaron (former 50s great) in him, as he will not hesitate to take a teammate to task, if he feels that player is not giving his best effort.

Pocket Movement

One thing you immediately see in Savage is his ability to slide and avoid in the pocket. His quick feet allow him to escape the pass rush and buy time. He does a very good job of stepping up to find the throwing lanes, despite risking life and limb in the process. He used to fall away from some throws and will sometimes rotate his hips too much, but he is not distracted by defenders zeroing in on him and maintains his focus to complete the play. You can see his ability to sidestep pass rushers and is very determined to find his receivers when the pocket breaks down.

Scrambling Ability

Savage has enough mobility to move the ball with his feet, but is better utilizing that skill to avoid the rush rather than dare to challenge a defense as a ball carrier. He has good straight-line speed, but not the loose hips and wiggle to elude the defender in the open. He won't win many foot races down field, but has the leg drive to break tackles and the lower body power to drag defenders for extra yardage. His mobility allows him to escape pressure and he rolls out by design, showing the athletic agility and skills to be an effective runner. He shows adequate accuracy and zip on his roll-outs to his left and his agility allows him some time to find his secondary targets. He tries to make reads and run through progressions to get the ball to the right receiver when the pocket breaks down, but needs to improve his check downs and stop forcing the ball too much. When he tries too hard to make things happen, it will result in costly interceptions or fumbles.

Compares To

Jay Cutler, Chicago. Savage is much easier to deal with than Cutler, who can be much of a prima donna at times. Even though he was a member of three college teams, playing for two, much like Brett Favre and Phil Simms, Savage makes every effort to be "one of the boys." Faced with sitting on the bench if he returned to Rutgers in 2011, he opted to transfer to Arizona, but that would only lead to another transfer back East to Pittsburgh, costing him two precious years away from the game.

That inactivity led to a bit of rust he had to shake off early in the 2013 season, tossing six interceptions combined in three of the Panthers' first four games. He has good size and body thickness for the quarterback position and shows above average balance, quickness and agility, with decent playing speed, but can not be considered a valid running threat as a ball carrier.

Still, Savage lives up to his last name, as he is a fierce competitor who stands tough in the pocket and has above average playing strength. He just takes losses personally and tries to carry the team too often, at times. He plays with very good instincts, field awareness and anticipation, along with good field vision and decision-making.

Savage has a nice, compact release with good delivery quickness, demonstrating the ability to make all the throws with good touch, along with the ability to drive certain passes. His biggest asset is his accuracy, completing 61.2% of his tosses, most to substitutes, as injuries took out some of the team's best pass catching targets late in the 2013 schedule. He can thread passes to the short and intermediate range and is very good at making route progression reads to locate his secondary targets.

Savage is a confident passer who shows the touch and ability to drop the ball over the defensive backs. He has good accuracy when throwing deep, but will sometimes throw with a long arc and needs to work on stepping into his long throws better. He has adequate pass-set quickness, but is better suited to operate in a conventional passing system rather that working out of the spread formation. He makes decisions quickly, but is much more effective when he takes a three-step drop and uncork the ball rather than using a five-step approach and hanging on to the ball too long. He can make adjustments and work through a progression, seeing the field very well.

While Savage does not have top escape quickness, he is very poised and now handles pocket pressure well (in the past, he would force the ball into traffic rather than throw it away). He can throw under pressure, but is best when he steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush and buy time. He throws very well on the move, but lacks good running vision, even though he has valid leg drive to break tackles. He is able to hit receivers in stride, but must learn that he needs to throw the ball away rather than trying to make things happen when nothing is there.

In the past, Savage would stay on his primary target to long and fail to locate his secondary targets, but now sets up quicker and shows much better release quickness than he did as a sophomore. One thing that separates him from most quarterbacks is his lack of fear on contact. He enough foot quickness to set up and drift to throw screens and will not hesitate to throw an aggressive block for his running backs or slot receivers on reverses. His quick throwing mechanics and footwork allows him to be very creative, despite playing behind a suspect offensive line.

Given protection, Savage is very effective at throwing perfect fades and is adept at getting the ball through tight spaces. Overall, he is a fine athlete with lots of moxie and confidence in his ability to move the chains. He is not a decent running threat, but is an intense leader who has the arm strength, along with good size, decision-making and accuracy, to be a productive starter at the next level.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.


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