Player: Will Grier
College: University of West Virginia (entered draft as a redshirt senior)
Weight: 217 lbs
40 Time: 4.84 seconds
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 9’4”
Selected: 37th pick in the third round, 100th overall
Grier has a range of talents that marked him as a top quarterback in this draft and saw him rank as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2018. Grier’s strengths are more of the intangible type – confidence, leadership, ability to read defenses and see the field – but he did throw 37 touchdowns in 2018, ranking second in the NCAA in touchdowns per game. Analysis of his individual gifts, however, varies widely. Grier seems to be the quarterback equivalent of a Rorschach ink blot test – people can look at the same element of his game and see completely different things. Grier is a proverbial “local kid” draft pick, as he was born and raised in nearby Davidson and played quarterback at high school for Davidson Day School.
Grier has a number of perceived strengths as a quarterback, which is why he was one of the higher ranked signal callers in this draft. His strengths tend to be among the intangibles, such as leadership, confidence, and his abilities to read defenses and work through his progressions. Grier is reportedly a passionate person who can fire up his teammates and is tough on the field. He is highly organized and worked with his offensive coordinator to study and adapt elements of certain NFL teams, including the New England Patriots. Grier plays with an aggressive mindset and seeks to push plays downfield, although he is especially accurate when attacking the seam. Given that he is an aggressive player, he doesn’t throw a lot of interceptions. This confidence along with the speed of his decision-making see him make passes that other quarterbacks might not attempt, although there is some thought that he was helped by the offensive system in that element.
Grier is able to effectively read the defense and create pre-snap plans. Some analysts believe Grier has great field vision, and he is able to stay poised in the pocket and work through all of his progressions. He can throw with anticipation, although again it is thought he was helped by the system in this regard. Grier plays tough in the pocket and is very patient, facing the pressure and allowing routes to develop. He doesn’t play scared and this can be both a positive and a negative. Grier came through in some big moments for WVU, but he also lost a few by being careless. Some analysts think that Grier has a good feel for the first arriving rusher that allows to escape pressure, although others think that he can hold on to the football for too long and get himself into trouble.
Grier is able to deliver the expected throws accurately, although he is best on short and intermediate passes. His passes were clocked at 59 mph at the NFL Combine, the best velocity of the participating quarterbacks, and he has the strength and accuracy to fit the football through intermediate windows and holes in the defense. He can throw deep balls with touch, dropping the ball in to hit receivers in stride and with a particular efficacy on fades. There is debate, however, about the extent to which his accuracy is dependent on his mechanics. Some analysts think that he is still accurate when throwing off-platform or on the run and that he can throw using a variety of arm angles, but others feel that his accuracy suffers when he is pressured or forced to move and is unable to set his platform correctly. There is similar debate about Grier’s mobility and footwork. Some analysts think that Grier has above average athleticism and mobility, and that he is well suited for a modern NFL offense running run-pass options and hard play action schemes. These analysts also think Grier has fluid footwork such that he can either maneuver around effectively in the pocket or out of it and still reset effectively to throw.
Despite the debates about the particular elements of his play, Grier does have a solid resume. He was the Parade National High School Player of the Year in 2013 after throwing for 4,989 yards and a nation-best 77 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,251 yards and 13 scores. Coming out of high school, he was ranked second nationally for dual-threat quarterbacks by Rivals.com. As a junior for the Mountaineers in 2017, Grier threw for 250 completions from 388 attempts, a 64.4% completion rate, and racked up 3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. This netted him an All-Big 12 honorable mention, and ranked fifth in the FBS in passing efficiency, eighth in passing TDs, and eighth in passing yards per game. In his senior year, Grier threw for 266 completions on 397 attempts, good for a 67-percent completion rate, 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns and eight interceptions. This was good enough to mark him as finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2018 and an All-American, and garnered him second-team All-Big 12 honors.
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As noted above, there are debates about Grier’s accuracy when throwing in non-platform situations and his mobility and feet. Many other elements of Grier’s game are both praised and criticized by different analysts: mechanics, poise in the pocket, decision making, mental processing, field vision, and pocket awareness. With his mechanics, the criticism tends to focus on his arm motion, wind-up, unusual delivery, and release time, but there were also concerns about his base, especially when he’s under pressure or on the move. Some think Grier can throw with anticipation, others that he can’t and that the system helped him with that. While some analysts praise his ability to work through his progressions, others think he needs to make quicker decisions when working through those progressions.
His patience in the pocket is commended by some but others think he holds the ball too long, failing to recognize late developing blitzes and taking unnecessary hits. Conversely, some think that he has actually vacated clean pockets and has gotten needlessly himself into trouble. He has fourteen fumbles in his career, which is considered high given he wasn’t hit that often. Some analysts list his athleticism and mobility as a strength, but others don’t see him as a great or dynamic runner who will threaten the defense with his legs. If the latter is true, it will mean the Panthers offense will look very different when Grier comes in for Cam Newton, which could be a problem. Even something that should be quantitative – his size – is a matter of debate. Some say he is the prototypical height and weight for a quarterback, others say that he is short, doesn’t have the requisite build, and isn’t strong enough.
One part of Grier’s repertoire that seems to be debated less is his arm strength. He can throw the ball deep with touch, but the general opinion is that his arm strength is only average. Some argue that it is dependent on his base, and that his inconsistency in his setting his feet and his lack of lower body strength is the reason he has varied results with deep passes. Grier had the most deep passes and throws on go routes in 2018, so it may be that he has more opportunity to fail in that area. What compounds the concerns about Grier’s deep passing is that he tends to press for big throws rather than taking safer options underneath. He generally made it work in college but it might prove problematic against NFL defenses. Grier has stated that he studies Tom Brady and models his game after him, but arguably Aaron Rodgers might be the better comparison and Grier doesn’t have Rodgers’s talent to mediate his aggressiveness. Grier also hasn’t shown the ability to manipulate zone coverages as the Mountaineer offense was structured to make plays against man coverage. A quick passing offense that enables Grier to get into rhythm or a spread system with easy primary reads might be his ticket to success.
Another negative aspect of Grier is that in October 2015 he was suspended for a year for taking a performance enhancing supplement. Grier purchased the supplement over the counter and claimed that he was unaware it was prohibited. Grier was with the University of Florida at the time, and the reduced playing time that resulted from the suspension led Grier to transfer to West Virginia.
Evaluating the Pick
The Panthers drafted astutely in the first two rounds, then arguably went off track in the third. It’s not that Grier is a bad player. The variety of takes on him is disquieting, but there were enough analysts who said that he was a first round pick that picking him in the third was arguably appropriate value, even though he was the fifth quarterback taken when a lot of analysts had him ranked as the seventh best quarterback. So it’s not that the Panthers drafted him too high.
It’s the exact opposite – he might be too good for the role for which the Panthers ostensibly drafted him, and that he is a questionable selection for “depth”, as General Manager Marty Hurney termed the rationale for drafting Grier. The counterargument is that if Grier were better, he would have been picked higher, and there were reports that some teams saw him as a back-up and not a starter. Yet regardless of how Grier himself was seen, there were other positions that were actual immediate needs for the Panthers and there were good players at the 37th pick in the third round that could fill those needs. A prime example was wide receiver. At the 100th pick in the draft, Hakeem Butler from Iowa State, Riley Ridley from Georgia, and Hunter Renfrow from Clemson, among others, were all available.
The other unsettling aspect of Carolina’s selection of Grier is that given Grier’s status as a starter or near-starter, picking him raises questions about Cam Newton. Are Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera more worried about Newton’s ability to stay on the field than they let on publicly? In the past five seasons, Newton has played a full set of sixteen games only twice. Rivera and Hurney made some moves to address the problems at offensive line that hampered the team last season, but their selection of Grier in the third round remains a puzzler on a couple of levels.