Can Miami’s Brad Kaaya develop into a first-round QB?

Steve Palazzolo breaks down the strengths, weaknesses and potential of the Hurricanes' signal caller.

| 10 months ago
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Can Miami’s Brad Kaaya develop into a first-round QB?

After Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, there’s a lot of debate over the nation’s next-best draft-eligible quarterback.

Many analysts have thrown Miami’s Brad Kaaya’s name into the mix while others like Notre Dame’s Deshone Kizer, and at PFF, we’ve touted Mason Rudolph as a name to watch. Given the discrepancies, it’s clear that all of the quarterbacks have questions they have to answer and it’s a wide-open race toward the top of the draft.

As for Kaaya, he made strides last year despite playing behind an underwhelming offensive line, after facing the usual true freshman struggles in 2014. The entire line returns, along with emerging wide receiver Stacy Coley and the entire group of running backs. When combined with the arrival of new head coach Mark Richt, Kaaya has a chance to fulfill the first-round potential for which he’s been pegged.

Here’s a look at what Kaaya already does well and where he needs to improve:

Quick game/timing and rhythm

During the draft process, labeling a quarterback as a “west coast quarterback” is often scout speak for “lacks a big arm.” It’s pigeonholing, no doubt, but there is something to quarterbacks who play better within the rhythm of the offense with three- and five-step drops rather than those who want to wait for plays to develop to drive the ball down the field. If we use that as the definition of “west coast quarterback,” then Kaaya fits the mold.

Kaaya does his best work early in the down, making quick decisions and getting the ball out of his hand. The PFF grades back up what we see on tape. Kaaya’s best grades come when the ball is released in under 2.5 seconds. This speaks to his ability to make quick decisions – both pre and post-snap – while throwing accurately when in rhythm.

While the time-in-pocket numbers tell a good story, Kaaya’s grades by pass depths also back it up. He grades well above the NCAA average up to 10 yards, which makes sense given his grades on the previously-mentioned quick-hitting passes. The problem spot is the intermediate range where his 11-20 yard grades drop to right around the NCAA average. He does do a nice job beyond 30 yards — that’s where his good touch kicks in — but with the most important “NFL” throws occurring at 11-30 yards, it’s an area that Kaaya must improve.

The adjusted completion percentage also tells a similar story: Kaaya showed good accuracy up to 10 yards, it dipped from 11-30, then it jumped back up at 30-plus.

Kaaya Adjusted Completion Percentage

And that brings us to the next big point in Kaaya’s game.

Kaaya has great touch, but how good is his arm strength on tight throws?

When digging through Kaaya’s big-time (highest-graded) throws, the common theme in most of them was his touch. He has an excellent feel for taking velocity off the ball, leading receivers through space, or dropping it in a bucket down the field. That’s why his grades and stats look much better beyond 30 yards – his accuracy and touch is solid.

Kaaya Deep Ball

Kaaya Touch Seam

However, when watching every throw from Kaaya, it’s evident that he has a good, not great, arm. And that’s okay — not every quarterback needs to have a cannon to succeed and Kaaya makes plenty of excellent throws at the intermediate level (waiting on Miami fans to send them my way). However, Kaaya’s margin of error is smaller on these throws than other top draft prospects. There are times he’ll be just a tick late and still force the pass into coverage. Kaaya doesn’t have the big arm to get away with this.

Kaaya Force

Kaaya PD

Bottom line

The more you watch Kaaya, the more you can see that he’s an extremely talented passer. He can also be maddening as every great throw is often paired with a head-scratching miss, but he makes impressive tight-window touch throws that many college quarterbacks simply can’t make and it’s encouraging that he makes quick decisions while showing above-average decision making.

However, there are concerns on his intermediate “stick” throws where his margin of error is smaller due to his not having a cannon for an arm. We’ve seen plenty of big-armed, inaccurate quarterbacks fail to develop from college to the NFL, so I’d rather work with Kaaya’s skillset of touch and anticipation than the raw passer, so that’s a good start.

If he can develop his arm, and in turn, develop more consistency at the intermediate level, Kaaya has a chance to develop into the elite prospect that many already foresee.

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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