Vikings

Beware of Drafting Kyle Trask

Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask’s path to the Heisman race was as unforeseeable as it gets. Before taking over for Feleipe Franks after his ankle injury in 2019, Trask had not regularly started games since middle school. D’Eriq King, now Miami’s quarterback, beat him out for the starting job back at Manvel High in Texas. That left about a six- or seven-year period in which Trask was not starting games, which is not your typical arc for someone who is in the running for the Heisman Trophy.

For as fun as the story is, though, the reality is Trask is nowhere near the prospect his statistics suggest. It feels cruel to immediately knock down a player coming off such a prestigious college season, but the natural next step in his career is a leap to the NFL, and the NFL is a cruel place.

Too little about his game translates directly to the pro level. He is not a high-level processor, nor is he particularly talented with respect to arm strength or mobility. Trask still has desirable traits, though, some of which could keep him gainfully employed for a decade, even without ever becoming a quality starting quarterback. We can start there.

Trask’s best trait is how resilient he is in the pocket. Whether the pocket is caving in around him or he is forced to move off his spot, Trask shows the gusto to remain calm under pressure as well as the quick-wittedness to find space in the pocket. His movements around the pocket are efficient and controlled, and he throws quite comfortably even if he can not fully reset and plant himself down.

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Take this 3rd and 9, for example. The Gators are in an empty formation, which almost always means the ball either needs to be out instantly or the QB needs to be ready to move and make a play. Trask knew that and proved he was ready to move as soon as the pocket started to break. Right when his back foot hit the ground at the top of his drop, Trask had to leak out to the left to find the throwing lane he wanted to hit wide receiver Kadarius Toney over the middle.

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Here is another example of Trask staying ahead of the pass-rush by moving when he needed to. At first, he feels the pressure off the right side and begins to slip out towards the left side of the pocket. Because Trask plays with a low, light base when he gets moving, though, it’s easy for him to see the left side of the pocket also being cornered and change direction up the middle. The throw ends up a bit high, but that Trask could show the quick feet and heads-up awareness to find a target on the move is more than half the battle.

Those couple of plays are good examples of pocket mobility not really being about athletic ability. Sure, being an explosive athlete certainly helps, but a lot of the burden lies on simply reacting on time and having a sense of where the open grass in the pocket is. Trask, for as raw as his game may be elsewhere, has that natural sense to be able to keep himself clean in and around the pocket.

Trask’s other clear bright spot is how well he can throw with touch. Trask does not always show impressive arm strength and the ability to fit tight windows over the middle (which we will get to), but when needing to loft a ball just over the outstretched arm of a defensive back, there aren’t many more reliable quarterbacks in the country right now.

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Every QB should be able to throw a nine-ball. When coverage is as sticky as this up against the sideline, though, the margin for error becomes incredibly small. If the ball is placed anywhere but perfectly over the wide receiver’s far shoulder, the quarterback is asking to be picked off. Despite the tight, physical coverage here, Trask threads the needle and places the ball where only Kyle Pitts gets a chance at it. Sometimes great coverage still loses out to a better throw. This kind of placement on nine routes and wheel routes are a good chunk of why Florida’s offense was so explosive.

Trask’s touch shows up on more than just deep balls, though. On shorter passes, Trask shows glimpses of thoughtfulness in where he wants to put the ball. Trask is not always just throwing to a target; sometimes he must deliberately throw away from nearby defenders. At least on some level, Trask understands how to make that happen.

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If Trask was throwing this out/stick route like “normal,” he would have tried hitting Pitts just off his outside shoulder. With the red zone tightening up space and limiting route combinations, though, Florida’s other route to that side of the field is sitting near that area, which means a Texas A&M defender is also in that area near the sideline. Trask’s fix to this problem is to keep the ball high and let Pitts go be a basketball player. Not only is the high placement a sharp adjustment from Trask, but he also places the ball perfectly between the two defenders to not allow either of them a clean chance at the ball.

Playing under offensive mastermind Dan Mullen, being smart with pocket management, and showing off good touch is about all a QB needs to keep things moving at a high level. The rest will handle itself, especially with as outrageous as some of Florida’s skill players were in 2020. Pitts might be the best pass-catcher in college football, wide receiver Trevon Grimes is a nifty contested-catch fella, and Toney is an absolute menace in space. Trask just needed to give them enough chances to succeed at the college level, and he did.

Unfortunately, Trask’s clearly valuable traits start to run out right about there. Much of the rest of Trask’s game leaves something to be desired, at least from the perspective of projecting him to the NFL. While some of his flaws may not kill him in college, they will against better, faster defenses in the NFL.

For one, Trask’s process as a passer does not make a lot of sense. Trask does a lot of honing in on his favorite targets rather than playing out a passing concept as it should be. That works out just fine at the college level given Florida’s pass-catchers were better than most of the competition they faced, but NFL defenses will make him pay for skipping out on taking what is given.

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This 3rd and 2 is egregious. Florida came out in a trips formation with the back and a “nub” (attached to the line by himself to that side) tight end to the other side. South Carolina’s cornerback is jammed up on the line of scrimmage over the tight end, which should tell Trask he is getting man-to-man here. Trask confirms that post-snap, too.

Right here, Trask knows the cornerback is taking the tight end. Seeing as that cornerback and the linebacker to that side of the field are the only threats to cover anything in the flats, Trask should take the running back on the speed out and throw right away. Even if the running back gets tackled right away, the route breaks just past the line to gain, so a completion here is an automatic first down. Trask doesn’t take it, though, and works back to his favorite man: Pitts. But Pitts was not open whatsoever, leaving Trask to throw a late pass that Pitts could only get one hand on.

With a better throw, maybe this gets completed for a first down anyway. Trask still would have been wrong to throw it. On 3rd and 2 with your running back 1-on-1 in the flats breaking right at the sticks, the quarterback has to just play for the conversion. There is no reason not to.

In other instances, Trask fails to take cues that should prompt him to move to his next progression. Depending on the coverage and passing concept, that could be a million different things, but one heave versus Texas A&M provided a glimpse into how Trask too often disregards how a concept should be played out.

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Texas A&M starts with a two-high structure, which means Trask needs to keep an eye on where the safeties may move post-snap. It’s easier to rotate from two-high to one-high than the other way around, so two-high shells can lead to some shenanigans. Trask opens by checking the near safety (right) and sees him gaining depth while expanding to the boundary, trying to help play over the top of the tight end. Trask rightly moves onto the field safety by the end of his drop back.

Not only does Trask catch the field safety gaining depth at the top of his drop back, but he hitches up twice while having that information. He knows full well that this is covered. As soon as Trask saw the safety with that kind of depth and the boundary safety bailing off the hash at the snap, he should recognize the middle of the field was a wasteland for the No. 3 (inside to trips) receiver to work through. Alas, Trask stares the deep safety dead in the eyes, chucks a throw into double-coverage, and nearly gets picked off.

As that clip illustrates, Trask too often has issues getting beyond his second read, even if just to a checkdown. Trask can get off his first read if need be, but he’s throwing that second one no matter what. Again, because Florida’s offense is generally so excellent outside of Trask, that worked out often enough, but it will not in the NFL. He will need to be sharper than that.

Even when on the read he wants, Trask has issues throwing on time. If Trask had a cannon for an arm like, say, Josh Allen or Justin Herbert, that lateness can be far less of an issue. Those guys can make up the “lost time” through sheer velocity. Or vice-versa, players with lesser arms can be just fine throwing almost anywhere so long as the timing is sharp. Trask has neither trait.

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Trask should not need to hitch twice to throw this ball. Ripping one down the seam like this is tough, no doubt, but a good NFL quarterback should be able to make the throw without it. Trask also pauses for just a second at the top of his drop, trying to hold out for his first read, rather than transitioning his feet more cleanly towards his next read. That brief second of, “Oh, right, I need to reset over here” is costly when the defense is playing with someone trying to poach routes over the middle from the opposite side of the field. While the throw still technically connects, Pitts has no time between the ball hitting him in the chest to the defender doing the same, resulting in an absolute car crash of an incompletion. If this throw arrives a tick sooner, Pitts probably gathers himself just enough to haul it in.

That feels like a nitpicky play, but margins like that only become exacerbated in the NFL, especially when you’re not connecting on them due to sheer arm talent, to begin with. The same can be said about Trask’s arm strength even in more mundane settings.

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This should be a routine hitch route at the sticks. Trask even begins his throwing motion on time and tries to place the ball correctly, too. He leaves it towards the sideline away from the defensive back. However, Trask’s middling arm strength coupled with a sluggish release here ends up burning a lot of the timing needed to beat the defender here. With a slightly faster release or a bit more juice, this ball arrives just fine. Without either of those things, though, the ball floats just enough for the defensive back to close the gap and make a play. This is some 2020 Ben Roethlisberger nonsense.

As the rotten cherry on top, Trask also fails to live up to the modern era’s necessity to be an athlete. Not everyone has to be Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen, but there needs to be some degree of mobility that can breed creativity outside the pocket. Trask does not really have that. He is a bulldozer in short-yardage, so he has something, but there is no athletic switch he can flip when a play breaks down. He already looks sort of slow at the college level, never mind what he will look like in the NFL. In almost two full years as a starter, Trask totaled 58 yards on 124 attempts. This is a problem for any young quarterback nowadays, but especially one who is not a clear winner as a passer.

And so, Trask has precious few traits that actually translate to the NFL despite his clear success in college. Trask’s command of space in the pocket and moments of soft touch are nice, but that alone is not enough to build a franchise quarterback on. Furthermore, Trask has no real dominant calling card trait. Arm strength, mobility, creativity, elite processing — all of that is off the table with Trask. His best traits are complementary traits that help round out a top-end quarterback, not ones that you can build a franchise quarterback upon.

If Trask was supposed to be a non-top-100 pick, perhaps he would be worth the gamble. His flashes of movement in the pocket and willingness to trust his playmakers should serve him well when bullets start flying. Trask is largely considered a top-50 pick at this point, though, if not a sneaky first-rounder. There is no scenario in which the Vikings (or anyone) should select him there.

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