Brad Kaaya is the perfect example of a quarterback who is pretty good at a couple of things, but not great at anything. He’s tall at 6’4”; he will forever be asked if he plays basketball, but not football. He has a quick release. He finds open receivers well. He can throw the ball down field alright. He has a pretty good arm. He doesn’t excel at anything.
When Kaaya is at his best, he’s taking the snap and releasing the ball at the end of his dropback. No wishing, waiting, or thinking. Survey the field as you drop back and hit the open man on a slant, or a drag, or an out.
On this play, Florida State is blitzing a corner from the slot. Kaaya checks the safety in the center of the field. He looks left and realizes, hey, that same player isn’t there and is now running after me unblocked. Calmly he goes through the rest of his dropback while looking left to dip his fingers around the hole in the defense’s heart. At the end of his drop he stops, plants, and hits the open receiver. It’s all very nice.
Kaaya keeps his eyes downfield and reads deep to short. He stands atop the masthead from hundreds of feet up, surveying the monsters patrolling the deep azure sea below. Because of his release, he’s able to see and throw it quickly, sometimes instantly. Here he sees the separation generated by Rashawn Scott--my new favorite player and Miami Dolphins’ practice squad dweller—and tosses it up high before the free rusher collides into his side.
Kaaya’s quick release, combined with his pretty good arm, makes him a good short field thrower. Again, Kaaya is good at throwing the football when he drops back, sees it, plants, and hits it. In this instance, Miami is running a pick play on the right to open up the running back. Kaaya drops back, staring at the center of the field. When the timing generated by all those summer days alerts him to get rid of the ball, he moves right and whizzes it past the linebacker. The ball splashes in the running back’s arms, right in stride, and he walks in to score.
A similar play also came in the red zone. It was crisp and perfect. Kaaya drops back, sees the drag, and rips a pass over the defender’s head. He hits the receiver’s hands up high, giving him enough space to get both feet in bounds.
The problem is Kaaya isn’t great at any of these things. He doesn’t have the arm to consistently put the ball wherever he wants. He doesn’t always place the ball where it needs to be. And while he hits some deep passes occasionally, he leaves throws on the table.
Because his arm is fine, if he doesn’t release the ball at the perfect time, it leads to incompletions and the occasional interception. Too many times, Kaaya throws it to receivers already out of their break, which leads to some dangerous situations. Against Notre Dame, he threw an interception because of this. His slot receiver is running an out. Kaaya sees him open and then throws the ball. It’s already too late. The defender is able to pick up the pieces and get in front of the ball. With a middle lane throw and a late release, Kaaya is blessed this wasn’t a pick-six.
The ball is in the right place the majority of the time. Nice and in stride. There’s still a chunk of throws Kaaya misses because of accuracy issues, especially on deep and intermediate routes. Here his receiver runs a perfect corner route. Because West Virginia is playing zone, Kaaya has to place the ball over the defender and on the sideline. This is a tough throw, but one he needs to make. Instead, Kaaya overthrows his receiver and completes it out of bounds.
On a blustery El Paso day in a bowl game, Washington State is playing Cover Two. Kaaya takes a deeper dropback. By the time his receivers are making their breaks, his running back is cutting on an angle route. The linebacker is a green barfing demon with his head all the way around. The running back is open. The other linebacker unsuccessfully cuts the route off and the ball flies past him. This should be a touchdown.
But it isn’t, because Kaaya puts the ball too far behind his receiver. He forced him to stick his left hand up, amazed by his own ability to make a one-handed catch while running away from the football.
On deep passes, Kaaya will use some magical touch and make some extravagant throws. With the score 17-23 here, facing a fourth quarter 3rd and 6, Kaaya perfectly lifts the ball over the cornerback and onto the sideline. He put the ball where only his receiver can get it.
Unlike his short passes, where misses are the exception and not the rule, his deep pass completions are glints in a basalt dominated landscape. Often, Kaaya misses his deep passes long. He forces his receivers to overexert themselves into drunken stumbles for the ball.
So far there’s been good, bad, and some nitpicking with Kaaya. It’s all very important for the complete picture. The gaping hole in Kaaya’s game is that he can’t play against pass pressure. During his time in Miami, Kaaya was crushed, devoured, and grinded into a staple seen on an apothecary’s Lazy Susan. Both of his tackles were terrible. His inside blockers missed blitzers. He spent two seasons playing in the pocket and staving off death.
Kaaya doesn’t have the athleticism or the understanding in the pocket to excel against pass pressure. It wasn’t his fault what he went through in Miami. He didn’t create the pressure on his own. His offensive line should be held accountable. Still, Kaaya just doesn’t have the ability to play football during this sort of bedlam.
Kaaya didn’t run at the NFL Combine or at his Pro Day because of a turf toe injury that happened months ago. Really, Kaaya is LOL slow, and he was smart not to run. He doesn’t have the speed to escape the pocket or make throws on the run. When he climbs the pocket, he can’t run for anything. He lives in a world slower than everyone else on the football field does.
Plenty of slow pocket passing quarterbacks make it and thrive in the NFL because of anticipation, pocket feel and maneuvering, and intelligence. Kaaya has decent anticipation and intelligence, but he doesn’t understand how to really work the pocket. There were a lot of plays he ruined because he doesn’t control the pocket the way a pocket passer should. Kaaya will step up late with exterior pressure and get sacked from behind, or he’ll climb up and not instantly release the football.
Here the defensive tackle beats the center with a combination of hands and swim. Kaaya steps up in the pocket, as he should. He’s just a little late. The defensive lineman is able to get a hand on him. This forces Kaaya to tuck the ball to prevent a fumble. With his head down, the linebackers sitting in zone coverage pounce on him like a lame quadruped. A possible step-up, eyes downfield completion ends in a sack.
This, or a sack at the hands of a defensive end, are the usual results when Kaaya steps up late. The other problem Kaaya has when dealing with a congested pocket is that he thinks he has more time available to him than he really does. Even when he does climb cleanly or buy some extra time, Kaaya will go back to searching and scanning instead of tossing or running. This too led to more negative plays.
Pressure also affects Kaaya’s ability to complete passes as well. He is inaccurate in the midst of the rare times when he doesn’t get squished. The extra step up fuzzes the timing of the route and he’ll miss his mark. His feet are no longer perfect. His mechanics no longer exact after scooting around, which leads to bouncy passes.
Most of the time when Kaaya tries to escape, this is what happens. It’s valiant and worth a try. However, athletically, he’s overwhelmed by defensive linemen and doesn’t have the elusiveness, illusion, or speed to make people miss behind the line of scrimmage. There’s no nice way to put it. Brad Kaaya just can’t handle a pass rush.
At his worst, Kaaya will flail a pass up, up, and away into the arms of an angel.
Despite all the beatings and bruises, mistakes and miscalculations, Kaaya rarely wavered. He didn’t try to run away from the first flash of pressure. He hung in there. He stayed strong. He still attempted and completed the occasional passes with defenders in his face. He took on clubs better than a baby seal ever could. Occasionally all the mistakes and toss ups became some beautiful throws while Kaaya got absolutely shattered.
Kaaya is best at dropping back, seeing it, and quickly releasing the football. That’s a legitimate option to get away and beat the pass rush. Kaaya is only good at it, though. He’s not great at it. Because of this, too many of Kaaya’s throws when he’s under pressure end up intercepted, or with either him or the football on the ground. Behind an offensive line like this, there are too many zero or negative plays because Kaaya can’t overcome this glaring weakness. He just doesn’t excel at his strengths enough to overcome it.
His inability to play against pass pressure is almost, but not quite, a deal-breaker. He isn’t broken or irreparable. Kaaya never turned into David Carr or Blaine Gabbert. He stopped standing tall in the face of pressure, breaking and running away to try to halt the end of his life at the sight of any danger. Kaaya isn’t a hypochondriac. There’s still a quarterback left amongst the rubble of disheveled limbs and the blood splattered remnants he played in. If Kaaya can combine this iron chin with an enormous leap in knowledge of the game and pocket presence, he could be decent against the rush because of the things he’s decent at. It’s an enormous leap, though. If and until that leap happens, Kaaya can’t be a viable NFL quarterback.
Because he doesn’t have the pure arm talent, strength and accuracy, it’s not reasonable to expect Kaaya to play Derek Carr behind an incredible offensive line and become a starting quarterback. He just isn’t great enough at the things he’s good at, and his strengths can’t overcome his issues against the rush. Unless he evolves into some sort of flying water dragon, Kaaya is a backup quarterback in the NFL who could be competent behind a great offensive line.