Friday, February 20, 2009

Combine Snub - Willie Tuitama, QB, AZ

Let me describe a quarterback to you. He’s ranked second in his conference in yards and touchdowns. He tossed two less interceptions than the leader in his conference, who happens to be considered one of the two best quarterbacks in the draft and he did it with more attempts. What if I told you he was a guy with above average touch, especially on the deep throws, that he has a strong arm and that he knows when to check down and is good reading both his progressions and the defense?

You’d think he might be worth a look at the Combine, no?

It might surprise you then that he wasn’t even invited.

When the dust cleared and the invitations were sent out, University of Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama was not on the list. Not only that but many are projecting him to go undrafted come April.

Tuitama's story is not unusual in today's NFL Combine world. With the awakening of the league to small school talent, the overall increase in athletes desiring a shot at the NFL and the winnowing down of prospects long before the Combine even commences, players get left out who are probably deserving of a shot. He's not alone but he is a guy I think the committee may have missed the boat on.

Here is a guy who was has had a rock solid college career. He was instrumental in helping the Wildcats finish tenth in the nation in passing during the 2007 campaign. Tuitama is a player who has been the starting quarterback in Arizona since his freshman year in 2006, one in which he was expected to merely redshirt. Instead he debuted on the road and won, following that up with an upset of seventh ranked UCLA the next week.

Tuitama has shown himself to possess legitimate NFL level arm strength and can not only throw the ball a long way, but is able to put it in just the right place for his receivers. He can throw from anywhere on the field to anywhere on the field and do it both from the comfort of the pocket or if necessary, flushed out of it.

Willie Tuitama also has good overall accuracy. As just mentioned, he has a very nice touch on the longer throws and while he can be a tad streaky, is consistent in that accuracy. Tuitama has averaged a better than 50% completion percentage every year as a starter, achieving a rating of 60+% the last two years including a 62.4% while hurling a stunning 524 attempts.

This Stockton California product is calm in the pocket and while he isn’t particularly fast nor mobile, he can move well enough to keep a play going when he is flushed out of it. He does tend to shuffle his feet a tad too many times when dropping back but he has a quick three-quarter release. This, combined with fast decision-making, helps him get rid of the ball quickly and avoid taking a bad sack. The downside to this is that Tuitama sometimes doesn’t throw the ball away when he needs to. Instead he will on occasion force it where it doesn’t need to go or not have it secured when he can’t find a receiver and takes a hit. Overall though, he has thrown fewer INTs during his career than current favorite top pick Matthew Stafford.

Tuitama also has the experience and leadership ability to lead a team at the Pro level and can be counted upon to keep a huddle focused and his squad from fracturing during rough patches during the course of a game.

On the downside, he missed multiple games during the 2006 season due to concussions received against LSU, UCLA and ASU. This has raised the specter of the dreaded ‘injury-prone’ label and worries that Tuitama lacks the durability necessary to carry him through a full NFL season. However, while one never wants to underestimate the effect a concussion can have on a player long term, it’s hard to take this concern that seriously since it’s the only reason he’s missed a game in his college career. It’s not as though he has chronic turf toe or knee and shoulder issues in need of surgery.

Also, he did work out of the shotgun often in his college career. That and the excuse that Arizona was a pass happy offense is used as justification of ignoring his numbers. But the Golden Bears had a good run game this year and Tuitama wsn't heading a spread offense by any means. He can work undr center.

Still, those things along with the glitches in his footwork and the tendency to hold the ball a tad too long on occasion, has left some scouts with questions about Tuitama. He looks to be a bit of a project, but certainly one requiring less work than other QBs who have in the past gone earlier than projections have Tuitama going – seventh round at best, more than likely signed as an undrafted free agent.

Overall, this is the portrait of a pretty good quarterback. In a lackluster position class, it’s hard to fathom how a player with his stats and measurables did not receive an invite to the Combine. But that’s the case and Tuitama will have to work twice as hard to impress during Arizona’s March 14th Pro Day and any interviews he can get with teams.

Despite being labeled a potential project, in my opinion Tuitama has far more upside than he is being credited with. While he may go undrafted, some team will take a flier on him and be well rewarded with a gifted, solid player who has plenty of arm, good leadership ability and who may be ready to produce sooner than expected.

No comments: