Signal Caller Throwdown: Zack Greenlee

Well, Sean Kugler went and did it, he named a starter for the I-10 Showdown with New Mexico State going with Zach Greenlee over Ryan Metz and Kavika Johnson. Let's take a look at Greenlee, well a further look than we did back when we looked at Metz. 

Greenlee was a three-star recruit according to both Scout and Rivals out of Stockton, California and rated the 22nd best pocket passer in the country. Two schools offered Greenlee, Fresno State, and Mississippi State. Greenlee received an invite to the prestigious and yet controversial Elite 11 Finals Camp. Prestigious because the event prides itself on hosting the best of the best in terms of prep quarterbacks from around the country, controversial because the event and the regionals that lead up to it tend to be a catalyst in creating entitled little recruit monsters whose success at the next level is very hit or miss. 

Trent Dilfer loved him. "He is 10-for-10 in the pressure cooker over two regionals," said Dilfer, the head instructor for the Elite 11. "Every time we squeezed him, greatness came out." When you squeeze me by the way, it ain't greatness coming out. Greenlee beat out heavyweights Christian Hackenberg and Davis Webb among others to get the invite to the finals. 

Greenlee is a plus athlete, running an 11.02 100 meters in high school. Still, he was not a hotly recruited prospect out of high school with just the two offers. He settled on Fresno, staying close to home. 

Let's look at Zack's area map from his time at Fresno, and for comparison sake, look at the former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham. Both played a similar number of games, though obviously in very different offenses. Area maps rank players according to their percentile rank among passers with over 100 attempts and looks at five areas of passing efficiency: completion percentage, yards per attempt, interception rate, sack rate, and yards per play. An efficient quarterback will have a nice, full area map and the more efficient the quarterback, the larger the area. 

Greenlee obviously is a different player than Stidham. Stidham was a five-star recruit out of Stephenville, playing in Art Briles' pace and space offense on steroids. Stidham also played against elite defenses in the Big 12 during his one season at Baylor. Greenlee's offensive coordinator at Fresno was Dave Schramm, whose offenses at Fresno were highly efficient when the Oakland Raiders' Derek Carr was taking snaps, when Carr wasn't, not so much. Schramm's no longer at Fresno after the 2015 season. Schramm was a spread offense proponent, and his offense led the nation in passing in 2013, but after Carr's departure, the Bulldogs quarterback position became a revolving door. Greenlee was one of four Bulldogs to start in 2015. 

Greenlee was named the starter twice in 2015 and was benched twice, though his season did have highlights including a six touchdown performance against Hawaii in November. That performance was thought to be a breakthrough for Greenlee after he completed 20 of 35 passes, his second highest completion percentage of the season. Greenlee was the most knowledgeable regarding the offense, able to get the Bulldogs out of bad plays and protections.  According to Schramm after the Hawaii game, “Zack has got a little bit more of a history and a handle on getting us into the right protection and check us into the right protection.”

Spread offenses typically aren't great at accounting for the blitz and rushers often, because most spreads lack a tight end or fullback, a free rusher is the quarterback's responsibility. That scheme didn't suit Greenlee necessarily, Schramm noted a lack of comfort in the pocket. “You watch how he has been this year, the San Diego State game and the time that he’s been in, he has been somewhat skittish back there.”

Greenlee's Fresno State career was a roller coaster, he started one game as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and played significant snaps against Rice in the Hawaii bowl. To start 2015, Greenlee was named the starter after winning a three man competition in fall camp. That sounds familiar. According to press releases, Greenlee won the job the same way he won the UTEP job by not turning the ball over and showed the most consistency. 

Greenlee would lose the job after two games. Fresno would start three quarterbacks in its first four games. By the Hawaii game Greenlee was once again the Bulldog's once and future quarterback, then he lost the job a week later after a disastrous start against BYU, his worst of the season. 

The roller coaster didn't do Greenlee any favors. Neither did the spread scheme. That's also why his 2015 results may not entirely indicate his ability. Greenlee prefers to play under center, which is part of the reason he chose UTEP after announcing his transfer. He should benefit from the added protection of UTEP's scheme, with tight ends and Darrin Laufasa helping with protection. 

So where does Greenlee need to improve? Everywhere. Greenlee's success, not unlike other quarterbacks, is dictated by his poise in the pocket. When teams hit Greenlee, he struggled. If UTEP's massive offensive line can protect him, some of these issues should improve, including and most importantly his completion percentage which was among the worst in the country among qualified passers. But even when Greenlee wasn't rushed, he looked rushed. 

In his first start against FCS opponent Abilene Christian, Greenlee wasn't sacked or hurried, and yet still completed 43% of his passes against a subpar opponent. Against ACU, Greenlee would make incredibly accurate throws, downfield, often while on the move, but in the same series would miss open receivers badly. Chalk some of that up to a first-time starter, but remember Greenlee was three years into the same system. Often on inaccurate throws Greenlee looked rushed, in part due to the scheme, but also his footwork was lost, and his throws were too upper body heavy. His shoulders facing one way, his legs working against him. 

I think He'll do better in a scheme that allows him to roll out, read a defense, and make a throw, rather than the quick horizontal/boundary throws he was asked to make at Fresno. Let him set his feet and make throws. A lot of the mechanics will come with comfort and consistent snaps. The Miners need to let Greenlee grow into the job rather than use the quick hook.

That being said, if Greenlee doesn't complete more than 55% of his passes, UTEP will struggle at the position again. 

Posted on August 25, 2016 and filed under Southwest Round-Up.