It is that time again New York Giants fans. Time to work our way through a list of college quarterbacks who may – or may not – be given the keys to run the finely tuned machine that is the Giants’ offense for the future. Whether the Giants address the quarterback position early in the draft, late in the draft or not at all, we want you to be ready for the selection. With general manager David Gettleman stating this week that ideally, the Giants do address the quarterback position, this series might be more important than ever. Let’s look at the next quarterback on the list, Ryan Finley from N.C. State.
Similar to last week’s passer, Finley’s path to N.C. State was not a linear route. While a high school junior in the Phoenix, Arizona area, Finley took an unofficial visit to Boise State on a Wednesday and was committed by the weekend, accepting his first scholarship offer. Some Pac-12 schools, such as arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA were expressing interest in the young passer, but Finley was enticed to Boise State by coach Chris Petersen and the opportunity to run a “pro-style” offense.
Despite Peterson’s departure, Finely kept his commitment and enrolled at Boise State. Finley redshirted his freshman season, but as a redshirt freshman in 2014 he appeared in five games, completing 12-of-27 passes for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns, along with one interception. Entering his sophomore season, he was in a quarterback contest with three other passers, all of whom were recruited by the new head coach, Bryan Harsin. After a strong spring performance, capped off by a solid outing in the spring scrimmage, Harsin named Finley the starter, beating out a group that included true freshman Brett Rypien.
Finley’s year as a starter ended abruptly, as he suffered a season-ending ankle injury after just three games. In those three games, Finley completed 46 of 70 passes for 455 yards and a single touchdown, against four interceptions. That injury paved the way for Rypien to take over the starter, and with Finley on track to graduate early, he decided to seek a transfer. Ultimately, he ended up with the Wolfpack, reuniting him with quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz held those positions with Boise State when Finley was named the starting quarterback.
Finley’s graduate transfer to NC State enabled him to play right away for the 2016 season with two years of eligibility remaining. However, the NCAA granted him an additional season of eligibility due to the fact that his ankle injury occurred after just three games.
He was named the starter for the 2016 season, and given the task of replacing former Wolfpack passer Jacoby Brissett, who was on his way to New England after being drafted by the Patriots. Finley completed 60.4 percent of his passes in his first season down in Raleigh, for 3.059 yards and 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions. In the 2017 season, Finley improved on those numbers, completing 65.4 percent of his pases for 3.514 yards and 17 touchdowns, with just six interceptions. He led the Wolfpack to a 9-4 record, including a win over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. Finley was very efficient in that contest, completing 24 of 29 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown.
Rather than enter a crowded 2018 draft class at the quarterback position, Finley returned to Raleigh for his final college season with a stated goal of winning an ACC Championship. That goal did not materialize, as the Wolfpack finished 9-4 for the second-straight season, and ended their year with a loss to Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl. However, Finley’s production took another step forward this past year, as he completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,928 yards and 25 touchdowns, against just five interceptions. He had five games with three or more touchdown passes, including four in a victory over Louisville. Finley led the conference in pass completion percentage, passing yards and total yards, and was invited to the 2019 Senior Bowl.
Finley is a refined, experienced quarterback who combines an efficient, conservative approach with the mental makeup of a veteran passer. He is active in the pre-snap phase of plays, often with the instructions coming from the sideline but not always – with his level of experience he was tasked with making some calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage on his own. He is experienced running an offense from any alignment, whether under center, in the shotgun or in the pistol formation. Watching him you can see why the notion of playing in Petersen’s “pro-style offense” intrigued him. He run a lot of what we traditionally considered to be such designs, and shows good processing speed and mental acuity in those moments.
Finley displays good footwork in the pocket on his drops, including his release from the line when aligned under center. He is very clean mechanically, with a crips release and follow-through, with a good balance between lower body involvement and upper body torque.
Generally speaking, Finley does a good job identifying leverage advantage and alignment advantages in the pre-snap phases of plays, and then attacking the defense accordingly once the play has begun. Whether it is a matter of an overhang defender utilizing inside technique against a No. 3 receiver, or a cornerback playing with a very soft cushion, Finley has no qualms about taking what the defense gives him. He is a very conservative passer, who has no problem taking a checkdown when the opportunity arises. This…may be an issue in some offenses, and Giants fans reading that are likely having flashbacks to the start of the 2018 season when it seemed Eli Manning and the New York offense refused to push the ball downfield.
Finley’s experience has enabled him to become a talented manipulator, with the ability to move defenders with his eyes and freeze safeties accordingly. He is a generally accurate passer, strongest in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field. IF you are looking for a quarterback who can deliver on anticipation throws and make full field reads, he might be the guy you are looking for.
We will talk more about the mental approach in a moment, but that is his strongest calling card as a quarterback. When studying players, some games or even plays stick with me. For Finley, his 2018 game against Syracuse is one such contest. While the Wolfpack lost that contest, the Syracuse defense offered a stiff test in terms of trying to confuse the quarterback at the start of plays. Finley, for the most part, responded well. Take, for example, this touchdown against the Orange from early in the game:
Before the play Finely sees a two-high safety look from the defense, and likely expects Cover 2 or Cover 4. The Wolfpack run a Mills concept, pairing a post route with a dig route. Finley aligns in the pistol and carries out a run fake, dropping his eyes from the secondary just after the snap of the football. As this happens, Syracuse rotates their coverage into a single-high look. Finley needs to pick this up on the fly, after returning his field of vision downfield. Now with a single safety, Finley is tasked with reading his response to the coverage. If he stays over the top of the post route, Finley will throw the dig. If the safety collapses on the dig, Finley throws the post route over the safety’s head. Here, the safety stays on the dig, Finley reads this on the fly and throws the post for a touchdown.
Here’s another look at Finley showing good processing speed in response to a rotated coverage look at the snap, while running another NFL concept. In the second quarter the Wolfpack face a second and eight, and finely against aligns in the pistol formation. N.C. State puts three receivers to the right, while Syracuse again shows two deep safeties before the play:
N.C. State runs the HOSS concept on this play, a staple of offenses such as New England’s. The outside receiver to the trips runs a hitch route while the No. 2 receiver in the formation runs a seam. Syracuse, as they did on the previous play, rotates their safeties at the snap and they run a combination coverage, using straight man coverage on the single receiver side and using a Cover 3 design to the trips side of the formation. Finley reads this perfectly, coming to the seam route with is the ideal read against Cover 3:
Finley’s execution on this play – running something that the Patriots often do – combined with his proficiency on timing and rhythm designs is a big reason why I half expect him to end up in Foxborough. N.C. State loved to run a three-receiver combination out of trips that put a post route on the outside, an out-and-up from the middle receiver and an deep out from the inside receiver. In this design they could isolate a talented receiver out of that third spot against a safety or even a middle linebacker. I talked to Finley about this design down at the Senior Bowl and you could tell that he loved the mental, schematic aspect of the game when he broke that play down for me. His proficiency on this design is something I broke down in detail in this video:
The knocks on Finley come in a few manners, but ultimately get to the question of what his overall ceiling is as an NFL quarterback. We mentioned his conservative nature as a passer. While that might endear him to some coaches, who live by the phrase “you never go bankrupt taking a profit,” but it is hard as a QB to become more aggressive over time. Once you start to play the game in a risk-averse manner, it is difficult to dial up the aggression when it might be necessary to do so.
Arm strength is also an issue with Finley. He spun the ball pretty well down in Mobile, and that was a good sign for him, but on film there were occasions when throws to the boundary or deeper downfield would hang in the air on him. That might get to more of a scheme limitation with him than anything else, but it is certainly something to watch with Finley. He’ll need to show improvement in this area to raise his ceiling as a passer.
Finley’s ball placement does dip in two respects, first on more vertical throws and second when he is forced to respond to pressure. Now, the first aspect of this might get to the scheme limitation issue, but the second is a bigger issue. All quarterbacks are going to face pressure, and Finley has shown an ability to deliver on throws in scramble drill situations or when moved off his initial spot in the pocket. But when pressure forces a quicker throw from the spot, that is when you can see the accuracy dip on him.
If there is a play that perhaps sums his weaknesses up, it is this interception against Clemson University. N.C. State faces a first-and-10 just outside the red zone, and they run four verticals against a Tampa 2 coverage:
Now, I can understand Finley’s thought process here to a certain extent. He is looking to throw to one of the vertical routes to his right. The safety does buzz hard toward the boundary in this coverage, constricting the throwing window around the “turkey hole.” If Finley is going to throw that outside route – which he still can as it is open – he will need to deliver it with increased velocity before that safety arrives. However, he comes off it and tries to hit the inside vertical route, working against the dropping linebacker. Unfortunately, he does not get enough on the throw to get it over the LB, and leaves it too far inside, and it is intercepted. So instead on capitalizing on one of two opportunities downfield, Finley throws an interception.
Finley’s mental approach is his strength as a quarterback prospect, in terms of his processing speed and his ability to read defenses when the pre-snap look and post-snap look are not aligned. A great test for quarterbacks is how they handle those moments, especially when the action of a play, usually through a play-action fake, force them to either turn their back on a defense or at least drop their eyes away from the secondary for a moment. Removing a few precious seconds away from a QBs already small amount of time to diagnose a defense is a test of that processing speed, and as we saw on these earlier examples Finley can still decipher what the defense is doing quickly, and exploit the coverage as necessary.
Some might point to arm strength, as it has been an issue for him on tape. For example, Greg Cosell just said a few days ago that Finley lacked the arm strength to “warrant a high selection.” For me, however, I would point to that play against Clemson and highlight the conservative nature of Finley. He’ll need to be more aggressive as a passer when he gets to the NFL, and sometimes a quarterback cannot change his stripes.
I’ll come back to the New England idea. I think his skills and experience pairs well with a timing and rhythm offense like the Patriots’. Another thing to consider is how well he handles those “back to the defense” type of moments. That would allow him to be successful in a more traditional play-action design where he is turning his back on the defense as he carries out the play-action fake, and then trying to pick up what the defense is doing as he comes out of the action. Given that the Giants’ offense is likely built around Saquon Barkley for the near future, that might be a plus in New York.
A smart, experienced passer who shows good processing speed and the ability to decipher defenses when his pre-snap expectations are not matched by the post-snap look in the secondary. He might face some questions about arm strength, ceiling and aggression, but at a minimum Finley just screams long-term backup with spot-starter upside. That might not be worth a high pick, as Cosell stated, but it certainly has some value in the NFL.