Kevin Riley has not been an easy quarterback to diagnose compared to previous Cal quarterbacks. He’s had too many factors working against him, like a bad offensive line, inexperienced and young receivers, and three offensive coordinators in three years. How can a QB get any stability from that situation?
So based off The Rivalry, Esq.’s criteria for evaluating quarterbacks, here’s my grade on Riley’s 2009 season in terms of things he could control--namely, himself.
Security/ball placement (C): In general he holds the ball close to his body, a little bit higher than the numbers. He’s been pretty good in grabbing the snap and securing it at chest height.
As to security, anyone remember the Arizona State game when Riley put the ball on the ground three times? When he’s on the move, Riley kind of hangs the ball out there, so if a defender catches up to him he’s prone to getting stripped. That’s not too bad though; this is a habit most quarterbacks have since they’re always trying to wind up on the move to throw before deciding to take off downfield. What is bad is that he often keeps the ball hanging out when he’s shuffling in a collapsing pocket and trying to find a new read. That has led to multiple fumbles.
Funny thing: Riley had better retreat speed in 2007. He’s a little bit slower and more deliberate in his movements now, probably as he tries to evolve his footwork.
The Fake (B-): Didn’t show it much last season. He’s decent, although I felt he could’ve been better. It’s possible that the offensive scheme was a little too predictable at times, so when he did show the fake defenses were able to key in on his second or third reads. Hard to say if that shows how good Riley is at the fake or how bad Pac-10 defenses were at biting on it (Pac-10 pass defense took a sound beating last season).
Adaptation (A): The strongest part of Riley’s game in the pocket is his ability to adapt to the pass rush and improvise on the run. In fact I’d argue he throws better against the blitz than he does against normal coverage, because when the coverage is picked up that gives him one-on-one matchups that he’s able to exploit, or guys on the run that are moving away from coverage. He’s less comfortable throwing it into a crowd.
Survey (B-): Progressively getting better. He struggled with his progressions early through the season. Sometimes he’d just lock in too early or just lose his grasp of the defense when the pocket began breaking down. Eventually he got more comfortable when he got the pass protection he needed.
Stance (C-): Ugh. I don’t know whether it’s just a mental block that keeps Kevin from improving his stance in the pocket. Riley’s stance is often way wider than it should be in the pocket. Either his back foot is too strong on a five step drop, or he plants his front foot too far forward when aiming to the sides. What makes it even stranger is how the feet are turned inward rather than running parallel to each other and aiming toward the ball.
Hopefully he finds enough in his arm to shorten that base in 2010.
Step (B): Riley’s step is pretty good. Good leg kick and action with the ball. It’s usually a wide, explosive motion that allows him to put more velocity in the ball. It’d be nicer if he could control things a little more, but for now it doesn’t seem to be a huge detriment to his overall capabilities.
Wrist/Throw (B+): There’s no denying Riley has a great release. The action on that ball is super impressive and when the ball leaves his hand it has some obvious snap to it. After holding the ball above the numbers, he’ll cock the ball back and release it with great power and intensity. This can sometimes be a detriment, but it has made it difficult for defenders to intercept his passes.
Defenders always have trouble intercepting Riley’s ball because of how hard he throws it, although because of the other mechanical issues it isn’t as accurate as it should be. Since he has trouble with both his stance or his upper body movements, the ball sails well on deep routes but needs help settling in short and intermediate routes.
How the Offense Affects Mechanics (B)
I don’t really know. Riley has been in three different offenses in three different years: Tedford, Cignetti, now Ludwig. That means adapting to new signals, new playcalls, new rhythms. There were times Riley looked very good in Ludwig’s offense. There were other times where Riley couldn’t throw a football into a soccer net. And there were other times you couldn’t tell anything, because the receivers couldn’t separate and the offensive line couldn’t block.
So you just have to hope Riley can retool that raw offense he had as a freshman and adapt that into offensive play. This’ll be his first year having the same offensive coordinator two straight seasons, so we should get our definitive read on Riley’s capabilities in a month or two.
Overall grade: B-
Give your own grade of Riley based on these criteria.