Vikings

Minnesota Vikings: Can Brad Sorensen Actually Compete as a Backup?

The Minnesota Vikings have announced that they’ve signed former Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen at quarterback. With a signing this late in the offseason, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to put enough reps together to convince the Vikings that they need to get rid of backup quarterback Shaun Hill and replace him with Sorensen but it’s worth seeing if he has the skills to compete.

It is of course possible that the Vikings are bringing in an arm while Bridgewater nurses a sore shoulder so they have more than two quarterbacks to throw the ball to the receivers. Shaun Hill wasn’t at practice today, but he took a veteran day, so there’s not much to read into there.

Here’s what NFL.com had to say about him coming out:

STRENGTHS: Looks like an NFL pocket passer, usually leading the wide-open passing offense from a shotgun look. Uses his above-average arm strength to throw darts to the typical hitch and out routes to move the team along, though he flashes an ability to change his arm angles and unload a bullet if pressure is coming. Patient waiting for the deep dig to open up, and can fit the ball into tight windows on the sideline as well as over the middle. Throttles down that cannon arm, showing some touch on fades or when trying to throw over the top of a defender to lead his man downfield. Bullish runner, even acting as a lead blocker near the goal line on occasion, and can move out of the pocket and deliver the ball when needed.

WEAKNESSES: Not an exceptional athlete, won’t elude or run over NFL defenders. His decisions under pressure aren’t always what coaches like to see; trusts his arm too much, which leads to turnovers (his interceptions increased from six in 2010 to 11 in 2011). Hasn’t faced a lot of top-level competition in his career.

NFL COMPARISON: John Skelton

BOTTOM LINE: An older prospects who served a Mormon mission after high school, Sorensen played one year of junior college before walking on at BYU, then transferring to SUU when it looked like his playing time in Provo would be limited. The 2011 Great West Offensive Player of the Year has the NFL size and arm to earn himself a late-round grade as a he fights for a spot on a team.

That isn’t too many negatives, and people intent on following the draft may remember that he was being lauded as a draft sleeper. Unfortunately, his age is big concern—he’s 28 and hasn’t thrown a pass in an NFL game.

His comparison to John Skelton isn’t fantastic either, and even with a small list of weaknesses, they are pretty important: duress under pressure may be the most predictive quarterback skill there is, and being a risky passer to boot may not be helpful.

What does the film show?

I watched a game against Utah State and was very impressed throughout the first half. It wasn’t until the second half, however, that Utah State put pressure on him. Things got ugly. He wasn’t particularly good in response to pressure. In the clip below, he’s dealing with pressure coming from the nose tackle and gets rid of the ball quickly.

Sorensen Pressure

So long as we’re starting with weaknesses, here’s a clip that well represents his struggle with deep accuracy.

Sorensen Deep Accuracy

You’ll also notice both from that clip and the clip below that he doesn’t step into his throws or do much to generate torque from his lower body. He’s all arm.

Sorensen Chances 1

But it certainly isn’t all bad or anything. He has extraordinary arm strength and an incredibly quick release.

Sorensen Arm Strength Sorensen Chances 2 Not only that, he has an affinity for throwing into tight windows and taking risks.
Sorensen Tight Window

Generally speaking, my impression of Brad Sorensen after watching a little bit of his 2012 college footage is that he’s a gambler with a quick release and a powerful arm. He can throw well on the run and he’s accurate on his first read, which is typically an intermediate ball. Unfortunately, when he’s moved off of his first read, his accuracy was spotty and it could be one of a few reasons he was slow to move off of it.

He was guilty of staring receivers down in hopes that they would get open and also didn’t anticipate throwing windows, instead letting receivers get open before throwing them the ball. Those issues throwing deep may have more to do with how his body sets in read progression than they do his general accuracy, but they are related issues.

Because he almost never steps into his throw, he has little margin for error when it comes to controlling the ball and is probably a reason that he wasn’t accurate off of his first read. This also means he’s hesitant to take cheap checkdowns and instead will throw in tight spaces to receivers that may not even have the tools to win a contested catch simply because the option is there for him.

As noted above, his issues against pressure were big, and he didn’t really find ways to create room and faded backwards on throws with linemen bearing down on him. His throws against pressure were the worst by far.

But, it’s also worth watching his preseason film. Pro Football Focus gave him a -11.4 grade on 319 preseason snaps over the past three years and in 2015 specifically received a -6.2 grade on 130 snaps.

Not great.

I watched his 2015 preseason games against Dallas and Arizona and came away a little happier with what I saw. He showcased some improvement in areas that he was weak in, especially with specific skills under pressure. For example, this small movement in the pocket is what pocket passers without much mobility should aspire for against pressure:

Sorensen Subtle Move

That pass ended up incomplete because a second lineman hit him as he threw, but I think it qualifies as improvement nevertheless. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to be a consistent trait of his, and he continued to fade under pressure. But he was better.

He also lacks touch.

Brad Sorensen Lacks Touch

Brad Sorensen Lacks Touch 2

I mean sure, his receivers probably “should” have caught it, but throwing a catchable ball is important as well and this is a consistent problem for him.

Generally speaking, what I saw from him the preseason was a better, but not good, response to pressure, including a willingness to step up in the pocket against edge pressure—not something I saw in his college footage. Despite that better pocket movement, he still seems to struggle against pressure.

On the other hand, he’s very good at preventing sacks. He recognizes pressure and gets rid of the ball quickly. This can sometimes compound a problem by rushing his process and encouraging an early throw or an ill-fated decision, and that’s why this positive isn’t really all that positive.

He occasionally made incorrect option reads where the receiver ran a different route than he threw, and I’m fairly confident he was in the wrong in those situations.

He is still late to throw on five-step and seven-step reads, waiting for receivers to break open instead of throwing open at the route stem. This adds to the issue he has moving from one progression to the next, and encourages his risky playing style even more. He was far better about going to checkdowns in San Diego, but it’s still something he’s averse to.

Sorensen would be much better off in an offense that featured a receiver corps like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, or Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. An equally talented corps with a different skillset—like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, or Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant—wouldn’t work well with him because he can maximize the use of contested catch receivers and not those of advanced route-runners or explosive deep threats.

Though the combination of Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell do offer at least one receiver with that theoretical quality, it does mean he can’t take advantage of the offense as well as a “safer” quarterback like Shaun Hill.

If Sorensen’s current traits were qualities of a player coming out of college, I’d be pretty encouraged by his prospects. But Sorensen is 28 years old and has had three years of NFL coaching. While it’s well known that I’m not a fan of Joel Stave, he has more developmental upside just by virtue of not being near the peak of his development curve. Sorensen is a better quarterback now than Stave is, but I don’t think that alone would be a reason he should win a roster spot above Stave (if it came to that)—either of them playing in a game would be a big problem.

Sorensen has a lot of exciting qualities and is much improved as a passer now than he was in college. But for now, especially with limited exposure to the current offense, I don’t think he has much of a chance of unseating Shaun Hill.

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