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WKU QB Brandon Doughty shows signs of pro potential

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Lynne Sladky / Associated Press
Brandon Doughty (12) led Western Kentucky to victory in the Miami Beach Bowl.

MIAMI -- The lack of quality quarterbacks in the NFL forces scouts to take a long, hard look at any prospect that displays a hint of potential at the position. After watching Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty post gaudy numbers as the director of one of college football's most prolific offenses, I thought I would take a trip to the Miami Beach Bowl to see if the Hilltoppers' standout has the goods to develop into a franchise quarterback at the next level.


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Following his impressive showing (32 of 45 for 461 yards and three touchdowns) against South Florida in a 45-35 win, here are my thoughts on Doughty and his potential:

Athleticism
Doughty is a mobile quarterback with slightly above average athleticism. Although he is not a true dual-threat at the position, he flashes enough agility and movement skills to work the edges on sprint outs and bootlegs from the shotgun. The Hilltoppers take advantage of his mobility by featuring a number of movement-based passes in the game plan, which allows him to escape inside pressure to attack the coverage with a number of high-low concepts on the flanks. Inside the pocket, Doughty is capable of eluding and evading rushers by climbing toward the line of scrimmage or laterally sliding to the right or left to find a clear throwing lane.

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Arm talent
Doughty has enough arm strength to attack every area of the field. Although I would rate his arm as a solid "B" on the scale, he pushes the ball down the field on vertical throws and fires intermediate routes (curls, digs and comebacks) with adequate velocity. Doughty capably fits the ball into tight windows on throws inside the numbers, but he lacks the RPMs to consistently squeeze the ball in against swift defenders keying his eyes in zone coverage. Thus, he must play with exceptional timing and anticipation against defenses featuring NFL-caliber athletes on the second level. I noticed this when I watched his performance against LSU on tape; it showed up against a very athletic South Florida team that appears to have a number of promising athletes in the back end.

From an accuracy standpoint, Doughty was on-point delivering the ball between the strike zone on short routes, particularly on "now" and tunnel screens at the line of scrimmage. Additionally, he showed adequate ball placement on intermediate throws (curls and comebacks) from the numbers to the boundary. This is an important aspect in the evaluation for teams employing a version of the West Coast offense with quick-rhythm ball-control routes. Doughty delivered a dart to Nicholas Norris on a dig route that resulted in a 69-yard touchdown. The pinpoint throw not only showcased Doughty's anticipation and timing as a quick-rhythm thrower, but he showed scouts he could fit the ball into a tight window between the hashes. Although Doughty had a few intermediate passes knocked down by fast-closing defenders, he certainly has enough arm strength to throw most of the staple passes featured in most NFL playbooks.

On deep balls, Doughty is a little erratic with his ball placement and touch (high and outside). He repeatedly misfired on vertical throws in the first half, including a wide-open post route on a flea flicker in the first quarter. While Doughty eventually connected on a post route on a flea flicker in the second quarter, Doughty's inconsistent deep-ball accuracy stood out in the first half. In the third quarter, Doughty finally settled in and looked like the red-hot passer that's created a buzz in league circles. He opened the third quarter with a pinpoint pass on a seam route down the boundary to Norris for a 55-yard score that looked straight off a coaches' clinic highlight reel. He later connected on another flea flicker along the boundary that showcased his touch, anticipation and ball placement. Although Doughty threw the deep ball better in the second half of the Miami Beach Bowl, his inconsistent accuracy and ball placement on a dozen deep-ball attempts will lead some evaluators to question his ability to thrive in a vertical-based offense.

Pocket poise
Elite quarterback prospects must be able to thrive in the midst of chaos within the pocket. This is one of the biggest factors scouts must discover during the quarterback evaluation. Looking at Doughty on tape, I thought he displayed good poise and patience in the pocket. He didn't look to flee the pocket at the first sign of pressure; he showed courage by repeatedly delivering the ball with rushers in close proximity. Against South Florida, Doughty showed toughness and resiliency standing tall in the pocket, but I was miffed by his inability to feel free rushers coming off the edge. He took a few sacks (and unnecessary hits) in the pocket by not anticipating the extra rushers off the corner. Granted, defensive coordinators can make it tough to decipher which defenders are rushing, but Doughty's lack of blitz awareness will need further investigation from evaluators.

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Football intelligence
Doughty shows good football intelligence and situational awareness. He has a keen understanding of his scheme, as evidenced by his ability to get to his second and third read in the progression. Doughty will quickly dump the ball off to his backs on swing passes when the coverage blankets his primary receiver. This is critical to sustaining drives at the next level, which is why coaches will give Doughty positive marks for his overall intelligence.

In regard to Doughty's situational awareness, I was impressed with his ability to execute a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. He quickly moved his offense down the field, but wasn't overwhelmed by the moment. He wisely used a "spike" to stop the clock in the closing seconds to ensure his team walked away with a field goal at the end of the half.

With most NFL games decided by seven points or fewer, Doughty's execution in critical situations will make him an attractive prospect in some circles.

Clutch factor
Quarterbacks from non-Power 5 schools must take advantage of their opportunities on the biggest and brightest stages to convince NFL scouts they are capable of playing with the big boys at the next level. Doughty has compiled quite an impressive resume during his time at Western Kentucky, including a number of single-season and career marks for passing yards and touchdowns. However, scouts will dig into the tape to see how he performed against the top competition on the Hilltoppers' schedule. Prior to the Miami Beach Bowl, I had some concerns about Doughty's ability to perform against defenses with ultra-athletic defenders based on his disappointing play against LSU this season. Doughty not only struggled with his accuracy and ball placement in that contest, but he had a number of balls tipped and deflected at the line. He couldn't find clear throwing lanes against the Tigers' athletic rushers and his inability to navigate through the trees was an issue.

Thus, I thought it was important for Doughty to carve up a South Florida defense that was loaded with speedy defenders in the back end. For most of the first half, Doughty struggled finding his rhythm as a drop-back passer. While his numbers were solid (21 of 30 for 221 yards), he misfired on a number of intermediate throws that were considered "lay ups" in the Hilltoppers' offense. Doughty repeatedly missed high and outside on tightly contested routes, leading to a number of tips and deflections in the secondary. In addition, he also delivered the ball late on a few curls and comebacks, which allowed the Bulls' defensive backs to bat the ball away from the intended receivers.

In the second half, I was impressed with how quickly Doughty made adjustments and attacked the Bulls' secondary. He wasted little time exploiting the vulnerable areas of the Bulls' coverage, leading to a 28-point third quarter on the strength of his impressive play from the pocket. Although he wasn't completely flawless in the second half, I walked away convinced that Doughty's guts, moxie and resiliency would give him a chance to succeed as a pro.

Conclusion
It is hard to find quarterbacks with the arm talent, football intelligence and confidence to develop into quality starters in the NFL. Thus, quarterbacks with any hint of potential deserve strong consideration in the draft. After taking a long, hard look at Doughty on tape and in person, I believe he is an intriguing developmental prospect with the potential to develop into a quality starter down the road. I believe he is best suited to play in a quick-rhythm offense that features a number of short and intermediate throws on the menu designed to take advantage of his quick release and superb decision-making skills. If I had to compare him to a current player, I would cite Ryan Fitzpatrick based on their similar skills as systematic playmakers. It might take a couple of years for him to develop into a capable starter, but he certainly possesses enough tools to warrant consideration as a borderline Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) prospect in the 2016 class.

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Other notes from the Miami Beach Bowl:


Quinton Flowers, QB, South Florida
The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore has flown under the radar for most of the season, but NFL scouts should pay close attention to the explosive dual-threat playmaker after his 273-yard passing and 109-yard rushing performance against Western Kentucky. Flowers displayed outstanding speed, agility and athleticism executing the Bulls' zone-read offense as a runner. He rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries, including a 12-yard jaunt that finished the team's initial scoring drive. Flowers made a few Houdini-like escapes from the pocket on impromptu scrambles, resulting in critical first downs for the Bulls. Most importantly, Flowers' explosive running skills forced the Hilltoppers to defend a multi-dimensional running game that probed the middle and attacked the edges.

As a passer, Flowers is a work in progress, but flashes a big arm on vertical throws down the boundary. Although he needs to work on his anticipation, timing and accuracy, he has enough raw physical tools to merit an extended look from evaluators looking for an intriguing project to track over the next few years. Given the dramatic development that we've seen from athletic quarterbacks over the years (see TCU's Trevone Boykin), Flowers is certainly a prospect to watch going forward.

Marlon Mack, RB, South Florida
NFL scouts love running backs with home-run speed and quickness, which is one of the reasons Mack could be a hot name over the next few seasons. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore is a blur with the ball in his hands, exhibiting exceptional acceleration and burst on the edges. Mack finished the game with 107 yards on 16 carries. Most impressively, he repeatedly found creases against an aggressive Hilltoppers' defense by using explosive stop-start in the hole. With Mack also showing the kind of home-run speed that scouts covet, the sensational sophomore is a name to remember going forward.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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