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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Baylor QB Bryce Petty

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Baylor QB Bryce Petty

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Petty's path to stardom was circuitous to say the least. He initially committed to Tennessee as a high school junior, but Vols coach Phillip Fulmer resigned soon thereafter and he wasn't as impressive to new coach Lane Kiffin, so Petty decided to look elsewhere. He fell in love with Baylor and and coach Art Briles, but the school didn't have any scholarships left to give so Petty grayshirted and took classes at Navarro College for a semester in 2009 before enrolling at Waco in 2010. With Robert Griffin III (remember him? He was good once) entrenched as the Bears' clear-cut starter, Petty redshirted in 2010 and saw limited action in 2011.

When RGIII left Waco in 2012, Petty battled senior Nick Florence to be the starter. Petty lost, however, and served as a back-up again in 2012. In 2013, as a junior, he finally received his chance to start and enjoyed immediate success, leading the Bears to a conference championship after finishing 250-for-403 (62.0%) for 4,200 yards and a shocking 32-3 TD-INT ratio. In addition, he set a school-record with 14 rushing touchdowns. For he efforts, Petty was earned First Team All-Big 12 honors, and was the consensus Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Although he graduated from Baylor in 2013, Petty returned for his senior season and improved his completion percentage (63.1%) while posting similar numbers, passing for 3,855 yards, throwing 29 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and garnering Second Team All-Big 12 laurels. He capped off his college career by throwing for a Cotton Bowl record 550 passing yards against a very tough Michigan State defense in a 42-41 loss.

Petty is a poster child for the problems scouts have evaluating the modern college quarterback: he has an intriguing  toolkit (strong arm, ability to throw on multiple platforms, good pocket awareness, size, leadership and intangibles), but no experience in a pro-style offense, which leads to a vast field of uncertainty: how will he read defenses as he drops back? How well can he make multiple reads? Can he play with "quiet feet" in the pocket?.

The general consensus, therefore, is that he is a developmental candidate. A year or two of practice time and camp work, it is thought, will help him to learn how to get through his progressions. The good news is that he appears to have the intelligence to do that. Here's something that isn't likely to change, however: Petty must play in a structured offense that won't ask him to make plays outside of the pocket.

Whatever the case, he'll almost certainly need a couple of years of coaching before he can be relied on to take any meaningful snaps. The Cowboys don't need a starter right away, so they can give him this time to develop. But is he the right developmental candidate? That's what we (and, more importantly, the Cowboys' front office) must determine.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss
6' 3" 230 31⅞" 10" 4.87 1.68 -NA- 34" 121" 6.91 4.13

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

And over at Draft Breakdown, they have eight game tapes on Petty. From the 2014 season, check out two games on the opposite side of the spectrum: West Virginia (a woeful 16-36 for 223) and Kansas State (an electrifying 34-40 for 412). From 2013? Check him out against conference rivals Oklahoma (a modest 13-26 for 204 and three TDs) and Kansas (20-32 for 430 and 3 more scores).

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about the former Baylor signal caller.

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 4th-ranked QB; 114th overall:

Accuracy: Naturally accurate thrower of the football. When his feet are right and when he gets good weight transfer, his accuracy is very good. He also shows a good feel for tempo on short-to-intermediate throws. And when he gets enough air under his deep ball (tends to flat-line some of his vertical shots), he flashes the ability to drop it in the bucket. However, his footwork frequently gets compromised in a system that places a great deal of emphasis on its fast tempo. Simply put, he works so hard to get the ball out quickly that his footwork gets rushed. So there are far too many throws where his feet are lagging behind, which leads to pulling the trigger without a balanced base. The good news is that his issues are easily correctable, and he's shown progress during the pre-draft process. The bad news is that it takes time to master and he's likely to be overwhelmed with the mental transition from Baylor's offense to the NFL, so the team that drafts him must be willing to patiently teach him early on.

Release/ Arm Strength: Bit of a three-quarters release but has a very quick trigger. Clean, compact stroke so he can perform in tight spaces. Can change launch points to find throwing lanes. Average height and lower release point create concerns for tipped balls at the line of scrimmage. Arm strength is good to very good, and he's only getting a fraction of the power potential from his lower body at this point. He can really spin it on throws where all of his power is arm generated, which shouldn't be the norm but it certainly comes in handy at times.

Pocket Mobility: Above-average mobility. Is capable of escaping pressure and extending plays with his feet. Not a dynamic runner but has the ability to move the chains. Really like his vision and competitiveness when he takes of running.Pocket awareness is slightly above average but not great.Average-to-slightly above average pocket awareness. Will be late feeling backside pressure but overall has an adequate feel for pressure and where to slide or climb in the pocket to buy time.

Intangibles: Respectful and humble individual. Well-respected by everyone within the athletic department. He loves football -- first in the building and last out type of work ethic. Good leadership skills and not afraid to get vocal with teammates. Strong student in classroom. Went 21-4 as a starter. Inconsistent "clutch."

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 4th-ranked QB; 172nd overall:

Strengths: Possesses NFL size. Not a burner, but has enough functional movement outside of the pocket. Scouts label him ultra-competitive, tough and smart. Strong leader. Engineered 21-point fourth-quarter comeback win over TCU in 2014. Played through a back injury for most of his senior season. Doesn't have a cannon, but arm strength is NFL-starter quality. Deep-ball accuracy improved from 2013 to 2014. Understands when to throw the fastball and when to use touch. Gets feet set with good balance on delivery. Keeps ball at proper height on setup and has quick release. Rarely underthrows deep passes, preferring to give only his wide receiver a chance to catch the ball.

Weaknesses: Scouts concerned he could be product of Baylor's one-read system. Has tendency to spray the ball against zone coverage on intermediate routes. Can extend plays but won't make many plays downfield once he extends. Mistakes happen when forced to come off of first read. Struggles when defenders are near his feet. Yards per attempt declined in 2014 and screens were a much higher percentage of his passes. Struggles to pull himself from the doldrums when having a poor game. Nose of the ball dives when he doesn't drive throws with his lower body. Must learn to read defenses and get through his progressions when he joins the NFL.

Sources Tell Us:

"My grade is a projection based on what I think he can do rather than what he did this year. I think his back was a bigger problem for him than people realize." -- AFC North area scout

NFL Comparison: Austin Davis

Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com) 4th-ranked QB:

Strengths: Good-sized athlete with deceiving mobility to scramble and pick up yards with his legs (21 career rushing touchdowns)...runs with forward lean and toughness to power through defenders when needed...strong-enough arm to make all the needed NFL throws...assertive downfield thrower with excellent touch on bucket tosses...excellent job identifying single match-ups pre-snap and attacking susceptible situations...highly efficient once he gets in rhythm, displaying precise timing and placement - some experience working through progressions...usually consistent upper body mechanics and follow-through...comfortable using his eyes to deceive defenders, utilizing pumps and other ball fakes...competitive and confident with a goal-oriented mindset and strong appetite for football...dependable character with impressive intangibles and leadership traits...showed loyalty and patience, not seeing the field until four years after high school...quick-minded and intelligent - two-time academic All-Big 12 and graduated May 2013 with a degree in health science studies...led Baylor to back-to-back Big 12 Championships and leaves Waco with double-digit school records, including TD-INT ratio (6.20), total offense per play (8.2) and consecutive games with a touchdown pass (25).

Weaknesses: Product of a one-read offensive system with predetermined reads, emphasizing quick throws - panics at times when initial read is taken away...very little college experience taking snaps from under center and wasn't asked to use his feet or move in the pocket...struggles to climb, drop or reset his footwork...poor pocket presence with an undeveloped internal clock, deteriorating when the pocket crumbles - feels ghosts and rarely shows the ability to reset his eyes once moved from his original spot...wasn't consistently tasked with reading coverages or deciphering what the defense was doing...uncomfortable with multiple reads and often finds his eyes in the wrong place, not seeing the entire field...too willing to take low percentage chances downfield with inconsistent decision-making...needs to protect and take better care of the ball in the pocket and as a ballcarrier (13 career fumbles)...inconsistent late in games (52.3% completions in the 4th quarter with 3:2 TD:INT ratio in 2014)...will be a 24-year old rookie (older than ideal)...durability is a question mark after suffering two cracks in the transverse process in his back in the 2014 season opener, missing one game (didn't require surgery) - also suffered a concussion vs. Texas Tech (Nov. 2014) late in the season.

Summary: Petty thrived in Art Briles' one-read, shotgun system, making decisions pre-snap and taking what the defense gave him, but it complicates his NFL projection because it was mostly pitch-and-catch and he'll need to re-learn several aspects of the quarterback position - relied on sideline play calls during games and didn't have a playbook at Baylor. He has the physical traits needed for the next level with his size, arm strength and functional mobility, but his lower body technique and footwork are a mess, struggling to recognize pressures and adjust his throwing platforms on the move. Petty looked like a fish out of water taking snaps under center at the Senior Bowl and was slow to read while in his drops - will be asked to do things in the NFL that he hasn't done before and is unproven in several areas. He will need spoon fed pro-style concepts and requires a year or two of development on a NFL roster with a skill-set reminiscent of a younger, more athletic Brandon Weeden - early day three pick with the talent worth grooming, but will likely be overdrafted in the top-100.

Matt Waldman (RSP) 6th-ranked QB:

Petty has the size, arm, and base accuracy to produce in an NFL offense. He possesses quick footwork in the short game with rock steps and short drops where he releases the ball in rhythm and fast. Petty has an efficient delivery and he's capable of altering the platform to 3/4 arm motion and sidearm throws, displaying short-range accuracy when fitting the ball around pressure.

The Baylor quarterback doesn't just compile short passing yards. He has good intermediate and deep velocity, and he is capable of throwing a good deep ball 50-55 yards from the pitch point and he does it with velocity and accuracy that leads the receiver to open space. Give Petty a clean pocket and/or create an open throwing lane with movement off play-action or half-rolls and he'll deliver the ball well....

Petty will hold the safety during his play fakes so he can keep throwing lanes open on quick passes. He manages interior and edge pressure well enough to climb, flush, or slide away and deliver the ball. I also like that he'll stand in and take a hit. These are all prerequisites for good NFL quarterback play and it's understandable why he's earning positive buzz in recent pre-draft analysis....

...When Petty is forced to abandon the rhythm of a play and throw off-script or adjust, his decision-making, placement, and accuracy deteriorate. There are multiple games in his portfolio of tape where he should have thrown multiple interceptions but got away with incomplete passes.

Although Petty feels pressure and can move to an open space, he hangs onto the ball too long and often misjudges the decision of where and how to throw the ball. He doesn't throw the ball away enough and when he does, it often comes in situations where he could have earned a completion by stepping into the pass and taking a hit.

The basic tools for Petty are NFL-caliber, but how he integrates his skills on the field isn't....

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Three of our scouts go with the general consensus, rating Petty as the fourth best quarterback in the draft. Waldman, ever the iconoclast, has him ranked sixth, largely because Petty's inability to make plays once things break down. Looking at their overall grades (and those of other draftniks who I haven't included here), the prevailing narrative is that the Baylor product will go in the third or fourth rounds. Since quarterback historically get overdrafted, I'll put him in the third round on my "little board"; given the dearth of talent in this year's QB class, it's very difficult to imagine that a guy as toolsy as Petty would last until the fourth.

But here's the rub: although I'm all for kick-starting the search for Tony Romo's replacement sooner rather than later, there should be to many good cornerbacks and defensive tackles - guys who will conceivably play hundreds more snaps than Petty in 2015 and 2016 - who will be available for him to be the optimal choice. If they pick him at, say 91, I won't automatically be disappointed. If they do it and Grady Jarrett or Ronald Darby is still on the board? That might be a different story...