How Davis Webb has become the most intriguing QB prospect in the NFL Draft
Davis Webb's draft stock has skyrocketed since Cal's season ended -- here's why
That might seem obvious given that they are, in fact, two different human beings, but it's an important point to acknowledge when examining Webb's polarizing NFL Draft stock. Webb, in so many ways, is the anti Goff -- even if the statistics from their final seasons at Cal don't necessarily show it.
"We're just different," Webb tells me. "Not better or worse. Just totally different."
Cal, where the opening of a Taco Bell is more important to the student body than the hiring of a new football coach, has never been a focal point of college football. The Golden Bears finished 9 of 11 games after midnight ET last season. They've never given viewers a reason to stay up. So, it's easy to look at those two stat lines above and brand Webb as a Goff clone.
But they're different. Suggesting Webb is the same as Goff is, for lack of a better word, lazy.
Goff grew up 20 or so minutes away from Berkeley. Webb experienced a "Friday Night Lights" life in Texas. Goff is 6-foot-4 and was listed at 215 pounds before the draft. Webb is 6-foot-5 and weighs 230 pounds.
Webb inherited Goff's starting job under head coach Sonny Dykes, but unlike Goff, he spent only one season (not three) in Berkeley. They didn't throw to the same receivers. Only one of Webb's receivers, Chad Hansen, caught more than 10 passes from Goff in his final college season. And when I asked him to compare Goff and Webb, he immediately pointed to their personalities.
"I think the biggest differences are off the field," Hansen says. "Davis is more of an intense -- his leadership style is more intense. Jared's is more laid back."
If there's one thing Webb isn't, it's laid back. That's just how he's wired.
"We're totally different humans," Webb says. "I'm a little bit more high strung, more passionate -- just different humans."
Unlike Goff, Webb's offensive coordinator was Jake Spavital and not Tony Franklin, who left Cal when Goff did. Goff and Webb ran two different spread systems. The one Goff ran leaned on run-pass options. The one Webb engineered didn't even really involve RPOs. All spread systems are not the same.
Again, this might seem obvious, but it's important.
"Thank you for saying that," Webb says when I mention the difference in offensive coordinators. "Most people don't say that."
The two quarterbacks do have one thing in common: Their stocks rose steadily throughout the draft process. Goff ended up being the first player taken off the board. Webb won't go as high, but his projection has skyrocketed.
After being viewed as a project prospect during the season, he's generating first-round buzz ahead of this month's NFL Draft. In February, an NFL executive told NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah that Webb "will end up being the best quarterback of this draft class." After his pro day, Webb revealed that numerous teams -- in the double digits -- graded him as a first-round talent. Earlier this month, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that Webb is "under first-round consideration" along with Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, but Webb is the one generating "a groundswell of support."
Yet if you look at our mock draft page, only one of our six experts has Webb going in the first round. Among most analysts, the consensus seems to be that Webb shouldn't be taken on the first day and that if he is, it'll be an overreach by a quarterback-desperate team.
So then, which is it: Is Webb's rise to prominence due to his talent or is it simply a product of the lengthy draft season? And why the heck is it rising now, months after the college football season ended?
The answers to those questions begin in Texas.
Webb's almost always been a football obsessive.
The son of a Texas high school coach, he learned how to snap a football at age 4. By the time he was in third grade, he'd tune in to "College GameDay" on ESPN every Saturday morning with a stack of 50 index cards. As he watched the games, he'd jot down plays he liked. At first, they were simple stuff like four verticals and smash. By the time he was in middle school, he understood more complex concepts. He pieced together a playbook.
Today, his playbook is ready for his coaching career, which he plans to start after he's finished playing. He describes his playbook as "very multiple" in terms of scheme, because he enjoys "run fits and run schemes," figuring out "ways to get offensive linemen on linebackers."
He played his senior high school season in Prosper, a small town that's situated roughly 40 minutes north of Dallas. In 2010, Prosper carried a population of fewer than 10,000 people.
The question writes itself: Did he experience "Friday Night Lights" in real life?
"That's what it is," he says. "In Prosper, the city shuts down and everybody goes to the games. … Everything shuts down.
"You're idolized around there. ... Texas high school football -- it's a lifestyle. It's a culture."
That culture prepared Webb for Texas Tech. As a true freshman, he won MVP at the Holiday Bowl. Entering the 2014 season, Webb was voted team captain and became a dark horse Heisman candidate.
All of this -- the son of a coach playing high school football in a "Friday Night Lights" town, moving on to a Texas college, winning the starting job, and becoming a Heisman candidate -- sounds cliche, right? And it was, right up until the moment Webb lost his spot at Texas Tech after battling injuries and struggling to play through them.
He was never the guy in Lubbock again. That role belonged to Patrick Mahomes. Webb spent 2015 in the backup huddle. Lacking a future at Texas Tech, he transferred to Cal. With Goff gone, the Bears desperately needed a quarterback. The match was perfect.
Even before Webb showed up, Jake Spavital, Cal's offensive coordinator last year (who now holds the same position at West Virginia), had already heard the stories.
"My brother coaches at Texas Tech and one of my best friends is Kliff Kingsbury, and you listen to them and they talk about the work ethic. 'The guy's a gym rat. ... He's always around the facilities. He's always working out,'" Spavital says. "You listen to that and you trust their opinions, but you have the I'll believe it when I see it mentality."
The stories weren't tall tales. Spavital would arrive at Cal's facility around 4:30-5 a.m. Webb joined him by 6:30 or 7 a.m. The two wouldn't head home until 7-10 p.m.
"The first few times I was like, 'Does this kid ever wanna go home?'" Spavital says. "There were times where I wanted to tell him, 'Listen, you need to get away from the offices.'"
To catch up on what he missed before he transferred, he spent six to eight hours a day using virtual reality technology from Cal's spring practices, Dykes tells me. His studying paid dividends. Webb grew so comfortable in Spavital's offense that he would often come to him with presentations of new plays and checks he wanted to install, which he then did.
"I probably gave him more freedom than any quarterback I've coached," Spavital says. "He just had a great understanding of what was trying to be accomplished. And he could go out there and execute it. Now, if he wanted to put in new plays or if he was going to check into certain things, he would definitely run it by me first and ask my opinion of it. Or if he liked certain concepts that he wanted to get installed, he'd make a huge cut up and a big presentation of it, just to let me know he's thought of all the ends and outs, and the what ifs of a certain play -- just all the contingencies of what can happen on a certain play.
"He's very methodical with his thinking. He thought it all through before he came with a plan to me."
That's why Spavital, who's coached eventual NFL quarterbacks in Case Keenum, Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden, and Johnny Manziel, trusted Webb enough to allow him to run the Friday morning meeting with the offense's skill players. In that meeting, Webb would make 60-play cut ups and present them to his teammates. Never before had Spavital let a player run a Friday meeting.
The entire offense ran through him. When I asked Hansen to compare the system Goff ran to the system Webb ran, he pointed out that Webb was required to do more before the play. Even Dykes didn't refute the notion that Webb did more than Goff pre-snap.
"We gave Davis a tremendous amount of freedom -- more than we gave Jared," Dykes says. "A lot of that has to do with what a guy is comfortable with. Certainly Jared had a great knowledge of our offense and what we were trying to do and everything, but I think he was a little more comfortable not having to direct traffic maybe not as much as Davis was.
"Davis likes directing traffic. That's kind of who he is."
After the snap, Webb showed off his cannon for an arm, which -- behind his brain and confident personality -- is his best attribute. He boasts an arm as pure as Lannister gold. He can throw from every platform. He doesn't need his feet to be set. He can make every throw required of an NFL quarterback.
And he loves going deep. According to Pro Football Football (via Stack), 18 of his 37 touchdowns last year traveled 20-plus yards in the air. He's capable of throwing the ball 75 yards in the air.
"I love throwing the deep ball," Webb says. "That is something I'm not scared of."
After sitting down with Webb and talking with his coaches and teammates, I immediately understood why teams fell in love with him throughout the draft process as they've met him.
He impressed in the football aspects of the combine and Senior Bowl, but more importantly, he knows how to sell himself. He doesn't run from his shortcomings. He acknowledges them and says he's going to fix them. The anecdotes above serve as his evidence.
He's a football junkie. And when you steer the conversation away from his personal life and to football, it's almost impossible to talk about anything else.
Toward the end of our chat -- I've already kept him 15 minutes longer than I should've -- I asked him if he'd be willing to break down a few plays for me. He beams.
"That plays into my strength," Webb says. "I'm a cerebral guy, man. This is what I do. Be ready for a lengthy answer. I'm going to tell you how it is."
Here's one of the plays I presented to him:
Here's how he described it:
Webb: "Oh yeah, that's a good throw. ... It's Cover 2. ... You can tell it's prevent defense. I mean, it's third-and-18. That's nobody's favorite position to be in. They're dropping eight against our four receivers, because our running back is in for protection. I'm not sure why he's in protection. He should be out on an option route. But it's a four verts play and that safety is really tight for some reason pre-snap on the hash. And we're already on the hash. He needs to be a little closer to the sideline, but he's there. So I feel like Cover 2 wise, Chad has an opportunity to run through contact and get open. Usually, you're going to hit that route about 15-18 yards. It's third-and-18. We've got a chance for a first down. If you don't like it, you go down the middle to your No. 3 receiver on a crossing route. It's Cover 2 so he should be splitting the Cover 2. If not, you can see it's Tampa here too. So the Mike linebacker, it's 22 Tampa -- it's 2 Tampa, I'm sorry, because it's three down. So it's 2 Tampa, you can see the linebacker take away the crossing route down to your back. So, it's a three-read there ... you're going outside, middle, peak the crosser down to your back. But Chad here is our best player. We're trying to get a drive going. Second quarter, three minutes left, you have an opportunity to take a risk if you feel like you can make that throw. If not, check it down to the back and we'll play the field position game. But it was a good catch and it was a good throw. It was a key play for us."
Me: "I mean, that's an NFL-caliber throw, to squeeze it there before that safety ..."
Webb: "I would call that a big-boy throw. I wouldn't say it's NFL-caliber. I think everybody can make that throw. It's just who can make it when it comes down to third-and-18 in the second quarter with three minutes left. My footwork is a little sloppy, but I'm able to get the ball up and down and really put my body into it."
I won't bore you with all of his football heavy answers, namely because Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar already wrote an extensive piece highlighting his football IQ.
The point is, Webb knows football. That's one reason his stock has been on the rise. When Webb's met with teams, he's blown them away.
"When I got on the board at the Senior Bowl and at the combine, every team came out of that interview saying, 'Wow, that was impressive board work. That was the best we've seen of a quarterback this year on the board,'" Webb says. "Every team said that."
That's an especially important strength for Webb given he's played only in spread systems. If he's going to become an effective NFL quarterback, he's going to need to learn the nuances of an NFL offense, which is why Webb's been working closely with former NFL quarterback and head coach Jim Zorn since the season ended.
"If you give me the information, I'm going to learn it because it's important to me," Webb says. "This isn't a hobby of mine. This is an addiction."
Or as Dykes says, "Football is his life. He's not a guy that likes a whole lot of other things besides football."
And in a league that hates distractions, what's more valuable than that?
Webb isn't a flawless quarterback. There's a reason why, despite all of his positive traits, he's a fringe first rounder. He has his weaknesses that'll need to be fixed. When I asked Dykes to compare Webb and Goff, he couldn't stop talking about Goff's unique footwork.
Translation: It's a quality Webb lacks.
"Jared's footwork is really unique and separates him from a lot of other guys," Dyke said. "Davis is a taller guy than Jared. Every tall quarterback has advantages, but they also have disadvantages. His footwork is going to continue to develop and get better. I know he's working hard at developing it and improving it."
His decision making also needs to improve. As NFL.com's Lance Zierlein pointed out in his scouting report of Webb, "Five of his 12 interceptions in 2016 were along deep sidelines due to under-throws and failure to read safety help."
I asked Webb about that specific criticism. He didn't deny it.
"Some of it could just be that we're down in the game and I'm just trying to make a play out of nothing," Webb say. "That's something I need to continue to grow on. I've gotten better each and every year. But when the other team has a good amount of points on you and you're three touchdowns behind and you're in the fourth quarter, you want to try to take some risk. Those risks kind of bit me in the butt sometimes. Sometimes, they worked out, we came back and won those games. Sometimes, it didn't."
Of note: Cal's defense allowed 42.6 points per game in 2016.
Webb loves throwing deep, but needs to improve his accuracy when doing so. According to Pro Football Focus, Webb was accurate on 38.6 percent of his deep passes this past season. That percentage would've ranked 18th in the NFL last year.
PFF also noted that Webb ranked fourth in the country after the first five weeks of the 2016 season, when he averaged 4.4 touchdown passes per game. After Week 6, PFF ranked him last (142nd) and he averaged 2.1 touchdown passes per game. It's worth noting that he played through a hand injury in the second half of the season.
He struggled against the Pac-12's best.
Part of his struggles can be chalked up to his shaky mechanics -- something he says he's improved since the season ended.
"The biggest growth I've had in the past three or four months is being more efficient mechanically," he says. "My efficiency has gone through the roof. I'm holding the ball up a little higher, having a better base, which has allowed me to be more accurate. ... I think that's translated well for NFL teams. Every time they see me, I've gotten better. That's something they're excited about."
There's also the issue that every spread-system quarterback faces: Can they transition from a spread system to a pro-style system?
Webb admitted that NFL offenses are "a little more detailed orientated" than the systems he's operated in. With Zorn, he's been learning the nuances of the three-, five-, and seven-step drops, honing the details that will be required of him, "just tightening up things, being more efficient mechanically." He's confident he "has the capability to learn" an NFL playbook.
"I think the game's evolving -- it always is," he says. "You don't want to be a dinosaur. You want to evolve with it."
Webb isn't unique in this attitude, of course. It's not like he's the lone quarterback prospect who is confident he can master a more complex offense. When Joshua Dobbs -- another developmental prospect -- was asked by teams about learning an NFL playbook, he remarked that he was "taking astronautics, propulsion and an aerodynamics class ... all on the same day" at Tennessee while he "was leading an SEC team."
"I think I can handle it," he told the The MMQB's Emily Kaplan.
But as Webb points out, he's already provided a live demonstration by learning a new offense at the Senior Bowl and winning MVP, going 11 of 16 for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Here's where I'm required to mention that the last player to win MVP at the Senior Bowl was Dak Prescott.
Obviously, that doesn't mean Webb is the next Prescott. That's just as lazy as the Goff comparison. For one, he likely won't last until the fourth round. Two, he likely won't win Offensive Rookie of the Year
But the only reason Prescott is worth mentioning is because of where he wound up after the draft process: in Dallas, behind the league's best offensive line, alongside Ezekiel Elliott, and throwing to Dez Bryant. Contrast that to someone like Goff, who ended up on the Jeff Fisher-coached Rams, a team that ran a middle school offense.
Webb's future, like most soon-to-be rookies, is tied to the team that takes him.
"I think it all depends on what organization he goes to," Dykes says. "I think that his success, a lot of it is going to depend on that. That's just the way it works. That's the way, unfortunately, this stuff goes. If he has an opportunity to go to New Orleans and work with Sean Payton and watch Drew Brees then what a great opportunity, what an invaluable experience. If he's got to go someplace else and he has to play early and takes his lumps early … it's a different experience. But he's still going to benefit from that experience as well, assuming everybody doesn't turn on him immediately.
"That's the bad thing about the NFL. If you don't throw six touchdowns the first week, you're labeled a failure and everybody turns on you. I think he would, like any quarterback, be very fortunate to go and have a chance to learn behind somebody and come along slowly."
The problem is, there's just no way for anyone to know if Webb's potential will ever materialize. There's no real way to answer if Webb is overhyped. Even someone as confident as Webb can't answer that question -- at least not yet. That question will only be answered over time, as it will for every other prospect. This time a year ago, Goff was deemed the most NFL-ready prospect. That definitely didn't turn out to be the case. The draft is a crapshoot -- it always has been.
But teams at least understand what they're getting in Webb. They know they're getting a project. But they also know he's not going to fail for a lack of effort. And really, that's what gets at the core of Webb's rising stock. He has all the physical tools needed to succeed at the next level and he has the work ethic required to reach his full potential.
Call it a cliche. Call "desire" an overrated attribute. You're probably not alone in thinking that. And you might not be wrong. But there are plenty of decision makers who do believe it matters.
"Look, I personally don't know anyone who will stand up on the table and fight for him in Round 1," an AFC North scout told CBS Sports' Dane Brugler. "But on Day 2, he'll have a bullseye on his back. Because of the offense, he needs a redshirt year and his grade is more projection-based than others. But with that arm, I know our coaches would love to work with him. The kid is football-first, he wants to be great. That matters."
And really, their opinions are the only ones that matter.
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