Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
As an 18 year old kid in his first start in big-time college football, Chuckie Keeton marched his team down the field late in the fourth quarter to extend Utah State’s lead to ten points. In front of 87,000 screaming fans at the home of the defending national champions, Chuckie Keeton did all he could to put his team in position to pull off a massive upset. The Auburn Tigers took advantage of some overly conservative defense and a recovered onside kick to mount a comeback with only 3:38 remaining. Just like that, what should have been a legendary moment on the resume of Chuckie Keeton was a disappointing collapse on the biggest stage Utah State football would have for some time.
Since then, Keeton has quietly crafting his game in the spread offense the Aggies have ridden to large win totals behind backs like Robert Turbin, Michael Smith, and Kerwynn Williams. Behind the headline names of the backfield, Keeton made a big step forward from his freshman to sophomore season. He elevated his completion percentage from 61% to 68%. He scored a combined 35 touchdowns a season ago as well. Despite his early success, Keeton received little hype when it came to his credentials towards becoming an NFL quarterback. He has a wiry frame. He has an unorthodox unpredictability that is uncommon in quarterbacks. He plays in a spread scheme which completes a high percentage of passes behind the line of scrimmage. He tends to scramble or simply take off with the ball too quickly on occasion. His release is robotic and borderline awkward.
The negatives to Chuckie Keeton’s game are easy to list off. It’s the uncommon and often extraordinary things he can do that don’t get enough attention. Just as importantly, Keeton is developing his game when it comes to the intricacies of the quarterback position. You might do a double take, but Chuckie Keeton looks like an NFL quarterback all of a sudden.
In a rivalry game in hostile territory, Keeton came through for the Aggies by elevating his play. There were plays where he showed traits of an NFL level quarterback and not just ones related to athleticism or physical ability.
Utah State’s offense has three yards to gain to move the chains on third down to keep driving on their first possession. Keeton has a high low read to the wide side of the field with his back on a swing route. The slot receiver will break his route off to slant towards the middle of the field. The flanker is unable to get off the press and has his route negated from the start. Keeton has two tight ends on the strong side. The outside of the two will release into the flat, while the tight end on the line of scrimmage will chip the defensive end before finding a hole in the defense and sitting down in it.
Keeton looks for the swing pass to the back as his first read. The slot cornerback passes off the receiver to come down and blanket the back. Then Keeton works to his second option, the slot receiver. The weak side linebacker drops underneath the receiver and redirects upfield to cover effectively and force Keeton off the left side completely.
With three receivers taken out of the picture, Keeton doesn’t panic. He works back to the short side of the field and finds his tight end, who is able to pick up the first down. Keeton’s foot quickness allows him to work from option to option very quickly, giving the opposing pass rush an ever taller task. This isn’t a play that Keeton would have made a season ago though. He’s often made a simple read before getting out of dodge. While he has the athleticism to pick up crucial yardage on the ground, his willingness to sit in the pocket on this occasion and work all the way back across the field is very impressive and an important skill for quarterback prospects.
While his ability to deliver balls with velocity is evident, Chuckie Keeton also displayed an ability to read coverages and make the proper throws.
Keeton and the Aggies are in an empty set and running a variation of four verticals. With Utah’s defense in a single-high safety set, Keeton will look to attack the defense on the left side where they will overwhelm the coverage with three vertical routes.
As the Utah linebackers sit in zone coverage over the middle, Keeton is able to anticipate which receiver will come open and when he must release the football. The key defender is the safety who is walked up over top of the slot, highlighted in red. This is the point where Keeton picks up on the safety squatting on the vertical route, instead of backpedaling and turning to carry the receiver up the field. The safety will turn to acquire depth and bracket the route from underneath, but isn’t trailing the receiver in man coverage. As soon as Keeton reads that, he shows proper anticipation to release the ball before the receiver comes open. When he releases the ball, the receiver is level with the safety, only ten yards down the field.
The anticipation of Chuckie Keeton as well as the high velocity he puts behind this pass gives the deep safety no opportunity to make this play. Had the receiver simply run onto the ball and brought it down in stride, he could have picked up even more yardage after the catch. He didn’t need to leap for the ball, considering he caught it at his shoulders as is. The play is an example of anticipation from Keeton as well as an ability to read his coverage indicators and make the proper throw based on what the coverage gives. That’s not something Keeton displayed often as a freshman or sophomore.
The third play that deserves to be highlighted is one that would take endless screenshots to get a firm grasp on. Therefore, it’s best to go and watch the play yourself, which can be found here: http://draftbreakdown.com/video/chuckie-keeton-vs-utah-2013/ at the 11:50 mark. For anyone who’s seen Keeton play before, this is the type of play he’s made a living out of to this point as a quarterback. His improvisational ability and overall athleticism won’t make him an NFL starter, but having a natural feel for the pass rush and being able to elude it is important. The placement of this pass is even more impressive, as the receiver was blanketed coming across the field.
Chuckie Keeton is as unpredictable a quarterback as you will find, which gets him into trouble every so often, but puts defenses in a bind on a consistent basis. There are a high number of ways in which he can beat you, which makes him a strong all-around quarterback. His passing chart from this game doesn’t disagree with that take.
Keeton comes into the clubhouse with a 74% completion percentage, which is relatively high. When you count drops as completions and discount balls thrown away and balls tipped at the line of scrimmage, his completion percentage jumps to an extraordinary 92%. Even better, his adjusted completion percentage doesn’t drift from that 92% mark when you take out throws of less than ten yards downfield. Keeton was very impressive throwing the ball down the field and picked apart Utah’s defense in the intermediate areas and over the middle. After making impactful throws to all areas of the field, it’s easy to see how talented a passer Keeton is.
Going forward, it’s important for Keeton to continue to develop. It’s ridiculous to expect him to maintain this pace as a passer, but he must show that this isn’t an aberration. His playing style can lend itself to inconsistencies from game to game based on how defenses adjust. Keeton took a big step in his first game as the focal point for the Aggies offense. Now he must make the proper adjustments as defenses get film on Utah State’s passing game in the 2013 season. Count me in the club who was blown away by his performance in Salt Lake City. I know I’m not the only one.
All screenshots and the video they come from originated at www.draftbreakdown.com and the video can be found here: http://draftbreakdown.com/video/chuckie-keeton-vs-utah-2013/