April 2012 only saw one player from K-State find a home through the NFL draft – and even that was a stretch, as Bryce Brown saw little playing time and quit the team his first year after transferring to Manhattan before conference play started. 2013 should be a much more profitable year for departing Wildcat players. Over the next two weeks, Jug of Snyder will be assessing the players entering 2012 with draft hopes and how they finished their careers with K-State. For our second installment we go to perhaps the team’s biggest question mark, quarterback Collin Klein.
Heisman runner up. Team captain. Big 12 quarterback of the year. Usually these accolades promise a first round pick and a whole lotta ESPN love, but Collin Klein has never really followed in the footsteps of his peers. The unwanted kid out of Loveland, Colorado mastered K-State’s zone-read offense but failed to receive a Senior Bowl invite despite completing 65 percent of his passes while averaging 8.7 yards/attempt (although Klein was recently announced as an East/West Shrine Bowl participant). Combine those numbers with a 16:9 touchdown:interception ratio, and you come out with Klein’s 149.2 season passer rating. With prototypical size (6’5″, 225 lbs), he was difficult to tackle and almost impossible to sack (only going down 14 times this year). Plus he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. So why don’t NFL teams want Collin Klein?
It starts with an unorthodox throwing motion. Many projects have been taken in the draft with the belief that a quarterback possessing all the necessary tools (size, strength, field vision, intelligence) can be ‘retooled’ in how they throw. The success rate been less than stellar. The hitch he demonstrates while cocking back takes Klein longer to fire the football than is desirable, allowing defenders more time to react while delaying the moment the ball reaches its target.
In going up against Oregon’s fast defense, Klein failed to further prove himself an effective deep passer. With a long throw on the night of just 21 yards, Klein often picked out his checkdown receiver while failing to find Wildcat players downfield. In completing 17 of 32 passes, he averaged just under nine yards per completion and less than five yards per attempt. And while the entire offense sputtered in the Fiesta Bowl, K-State’s success is predicated on the reads of its quarterback and Klein had a difficult time ever gaining traction.
The better question for many teams to ask is where else could Klein be utilized. Going into the season, I was intrigued as to his prospects as a tight end. During Klein’s sophomore season, he played half the year as a wide receiver (a position currently assumed by his younger brother), catching six passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. He makes smart decisions and would excel in a system that relies heavily on its receivers’ ability to make adjustments. Additionally, the NFL is evolving into a place where Collin Klein can be a brilliant playmaker as more and more teams choose to not only feature a tight end in their passing attack, but often play two of them. The Patriots have been the most successful with this scheme, employing Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the same time to exploit defenses that don’t have the size to match up against the bigger tight ends. For perspective, Klein is bigger than Hernandez by four inches but has a better 40 time than Gronkowski.
CBS has projected Klein the quarterback to be drafted in the sixth or seventh round. While the last Wildcat quarterback drafted has found success at the professional level (Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay), the last running quarterback to be drafted out of K-State was Michael Bishop in 1999. As a seventh round pick he lasted two years in the NFL. While Collin Klein isn’t truly comparable to either of these players, his NFL career will parallel more with Bishop than Freeman if strictly confined to the role of quarterback. However, his big frame and physical style of play should cause a team to jump in the middle rounds. San Diego was a trailblazer when it signed the undrafted 6’4″ Antonio Gates out of Kent State in 2003, even though Gates played basketball in college. As injuries mount and Gates nears retirement, don’t be surprised if the Chargers give a hard look at the 6’5″ Klein as his potential replacement in the fourth or fifth round.
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