The 28-year old Harrell put up monster numbers at Texas Tech was was viewed as a system quarterback entering the draft and not only went undrafted, but was unable to sign a contract with any NFL team. Over the last three seasons, he’s been with the Packers, either on their practice squad or the active roster and he entered camp this year as their number two, only to be beaten out for that role by former first-round pick Vince Young. The Jets signed him shortly after he cleared waivers.
After the jump, I’ll review his career so far and look in detail at some of the footage from preseason so far to try and evaluate what he could provide the Jets with.
Who is Graham Harrell?
Harrell went to Texas Tech, where he was able to put up impressive numbers playing in their run and shoot style offense. In fact, he is fourth all-time in FBS passing yardage. However, if you look at the list, despite the fact 16 of the top 20 played within the last decade, only Philip Rivers is an NFL starter. For what it’s worth (which we’ve basically established is nothing), Geno Smith is 25th on that list, one place below Russell Wilson. At the end of his college career, Harrell went undrafted and, although he was invited to participate in the Cleveland Browns minicamp, went unsigned. After trying out for some UFL teams, he spent a year in Canada.
The Packers signed him in 2010 and he was released on cut-down day and added to their practice squad. He joined the active roster in December, but did not see any action. In 2011, the same thing happened: Released on cut-down day, activated in December and did not see any action. In 2012, he actually made the team and saw action in his first NFL game on September 30th, when Aaron Rodgers was poked in the eye with the Packers down in the red zone. On his first NFL play, Harrell tripped over his center as he tried to make a hand-off and the ball was fumbled. Fortunately, the Packers still won the game and Harrell did go on to throw four passes (completing two for 20 yards) in mop-up duties later in the year.
In preseason action, he was unremarkable for the first few seasons. In 2010, he had a QB rating of 67.4 and completed 52% of his passes. 2011 saw a slight improvement, with 58% completions and a 75.7 rating. In 2012, entering the final preseason game, he was struggling with a QB rating of 54 and a completion percentage of 51% but then had a great final game (albeit against backups on a team that would end up with the number one pick) completing 13-of-15 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect QB rating. That elevated his 2012 preseason numbers to 58% completions and a 78.2 QB rating, which were enough to land him a spot on the active roster.
Let’s now look in detail at how he has performed this preseason…
Week 1 – Cardinals
* Eight yard throw to TE on out pattern to convert on third and seven. TE was matched up with a LB.
* Interception as he threw to his receiver breaking to the inside, but he stumbled coming out of his break and then collided with the safety. I often criticize quarterbacks for waiting until after the receiver has made his break before making a throw, but Harrell trusted his receiver too much on this and Patrick Peterson was easily able to drop off for the interception and return into Packer territory. It wasn’t the best play design either, with the routes overlapping to some extent.
* Timing pattern to the receiver just short of the first down marker. Receiver tried to turn upfield as he caught it and had the ball knocked out of his hands.
* Quick slant to receiver for 22 to convert on third and six. The throw was very slightly behind the receiver, but credit him for making the adjustment without breaking stride, to beat his man for extra yardage.
* Stepped up in the pocket and took off for the sideline. Dived for the marker, picking up the first down on 2nd and seven.
* Quick drop and throw to the outside. Receiver tackled immediately for four.
* Deep throw down the right sideline led receiver, who wasn’t really open anyway, out of bounds.
* Sacked and lost a fumble as the pressure was on him immediately off the edge.
* Throw to the outside receiver who had room to turn upfield for a couple more yards (gaining six) and draw a facemask penalty.
* Play-action and throw outside for six.
* Nine yards on back foot dump off to RB as he back-pedaled with the pocket collapsing.
* Throw to sideline on 3rd and one initially caught but then the cornerback was able to jar it loose for an incompletion.
* Dropped from under center and threw outside for a four yard gain to a tightly covered receiver who made a leaping catch.
* Flushed from the pocket and rolled right, throwing on the run to receiver who appeared to make a low catch but the officials ruled that it was incomplete.
* Entering the second half, he play-faked and checked down for two.
* Quick throw to the man in the slot for five.
* Overthrew on throw to the outside on 3rd and three.
* Dump-off to the running back for three yards.
* First down throw to receiver, perfectly timed as the receiver broke back for the ball beyond the marker and it was already on its way.
* WR screen to the outside receiver goes for no gain as the slot guy totally whiffs on his block.
* Almost escaped an unblocked blitz off the edge (from the Honey Badger) but was brought down by the ankles for a 12-yard loss.
* 3rd and 22 deep ball down the right sideline is overthrown and out of bounds.
Harrell’s numbers: 12-for-19 for 76 yards. Obviously he was completing a series of shorter passes, but his percentage was good (especially considering there was a couple of drops). I was actually reasonably impressed with his performance, which came against second-stringers.
Week 2 – Rams
* His first pass was batted into the air and appeared to be intercepted by a diving linebacker, although it was ruled incomplete and there was a defensive pass interference penalty anyway. Close inspection of the replay did seem to show the defender arrive just before the ball, but it was a borderline call and definitely a risky throw by Harrell.
* Nice throw down the middle to receiver running down the seam went right through his hands.
* 13-yard completion on third and eight as he gunned a throw over the middle to the tight end.
* Back-pedaled and threw a screen pass off his back foot but lobbed it too high over the back’s head.
* Flushed out of the pocket and rolled right throwing to a receiver coming back to the ball just short of the marker, but he dropped it.
* With nobody open on 2nd and six, he took off and ran for an easy ten yards out of bounds on the left sideline.
* Throw to the tight end on a short curl, allowing him to turn upfield and make eight yards.
* Rolled left on second and two, but his intended receiver, the left tight end was knocked off course at the line, so he kept it and dived for the marker but came up short following a good open field tackle.
* On third and one, he threw a quick slant to a tightly covered receiver. It was low, but seemed catchable, falling incomplete.
* On fourth and one, he caught a low snap, then evaded pressure and picked up three and a first down on a scramble, only for it to be negated by an illegal block.
* Late in the half, the Packers got the ball back with 35 seconds to go and at the Rams’ 40-yard line. Harrell opened with a 10-yard completion to a TE lined up in the slot, as he ran downfield and stopped his route in front of the zone defense.
* Quick throw to TE to the inside for seven.
* Throw to the end zone down the right sideline was wide and overthrown.
* With 13 seconds to go and at the 27-yard line, he threw a quick out for six, but the receiver got tackled inbounds so they had to settle for a field goal.
Harrell showed some different throws in this game, particularly down the middle. His final numbers (5-10-44) were again not very good, but he was let down by a few more drops. It was interesting to see him doing a good job of commanding the offense even in no-huddle situations.
Week 3 – Seahawks
* Went after Richard Sherman with a deep throw down the right sideline. This seemed to be pretty accurate and Sherman recovered late to slow down the receiver with some pretty physical play that he might have been lucky to get away with.
* 3rd and 11 pass was batted down at the line.
* Back-pedaled and dumped off to the running back who gained 11 on a designed screen.
* Threw a quick pass to TE in the flat for six on third and four.
* Threw to the outside receiver as he broke to the inside. It looked like the receiver wasn’t expecting the ball, but he reacted to make a tough catch, then tried to make a move and fumbled it away. Again, if anything, Harrell threw this ball too early, maybe in an effort to over-compensate for hesitation issues in the past, perhaps?
* Another throw deep down the right sideline, this time getting the penalty from Sherman, who tripped the receiver.
* Out pattern to slot receiver, who turned upfield and gained 14, again on Sherman.
* Throw to receiver on the outside was too high and over his head.
* Pass batted down at line of scrimmage.
* 3rd and 10 square in to the receiver who tried to get to the marker but was stopped short.
* 4th and two at the four yard line. TE leaks out and makes a juggling catch just inside the end zone. The throw was put where it had to be, but unfortunately it wasn’t brought in cleanly and the replay booth overturned the score.
* Back shoulder throw to receiver running down the seam was dropped.
* Overthrew pass on a deep out.
* Under pressure in pocket, he tried to flip it to the running back in the flat, but threw it behind him. The running back fell on the lateral pass for a loss.
* Throw over the middle into double coverage draws a penalty as the linebacker hit the defenseless receiver.
* On third and 18, they ran a TE screen and, after having to field a low snap, Harrell’s pass went for just two.
The interesting thing here was that Harrell was working with and against first stringers for much of the first half. His final numbers weren’t that impressive (6-for-13 for 44 yards), but he didn’t look out of his depth by any stretch. The biggest change was probably in terms of the defensive linemen being able to bat down a couple of his passes. He had a couple of inaccurate throws, but again a couple were dropped, hurting his numbers. What Harrell didn’t manage to do during preseason was get his team into the end zone and that’s probably what led to him losing his job.
Let’s break down what I saw into categories.
Arm Strength is reputedly somewhere Harrell needed to improve and had worked on increasing that since last season. I didn’t see him float any passes and he did put a bit of extra mustard on some throws over the middle to ensure they got there. At the same time there were a few passes where the ball didn’t really get their early enough and the receiver was tackled immediately.
Harrell did have some inaccurate throws, notably whenever he threw that deep pass down the right sideline. He never threw a deep pass down the middle or to the left, but kept putting his throw too wide to give the receiver a chance to catch it. At least it’s safer to overthrow than to underthrow when you’re going to the outside and that did seem to be the case. I’d give him credit for putting a lot of his throws in a place where only his intended target could catch it. I’d also say that he gave his receivers plenty of opportunities to create extra yardage by hitting them in space and not requiring them to break stride or reach back for the ball too often.
For the most part, Harrell went with his first read and did a good job of taking what the defense gave him. There were one or two risky throws, but not many. When plays broke down and he had to scramble, he mostly took a smart, safe option, other than that one play where he threw a bad lateral pass. He didn’t hesitate too much in the pocket and, as noted, he wasn’t afraid to make a throw to a receiver who hadn’t yet made his break.
Harrell seems to move pretty well in the pocket and has had the benefit of sitting behind and learning from someone who is very good at that. When he took off to scramble he made some smart yardage, although he doesn’t seem to be particularly fast or athletic. He didn’t seem to be under pressure much, perhaps because he threw so many quick passes.
Green Bay runs a west coast offense, so the transfer into Mornhinweg’s system should hopefully be a smooth one. He operated under center, in the shotgun and in no-huddle situations, so he should be prepared for almost anything.
I’m not sure if the Jets intend to play Harrell tonight or if he’s just there as emergency cover for Matt Simms, who might even get the whole game. Beyond that, I have no idea whether he’s in their longer term plans either. However, from what I saw of him, he could be an adequate backup. I’d put him on a par with Greg McElroy in terms of perhaps not being likely to develop into a full-time starter, but certainly someone who could be in the league into his thirties in a backup capacity.
Harrell never had a 100+ rating in preseason as the likes of Brett Ratliff, Kellen Clemens and Erik Ainge all did in the past, but at the same time, he was working as a second stringer, not a third stringer. Losing out to Vince Young is hardly something to fill you with confidence though.
I’d like to see Harrell get a chance to play tonight. If he plays like he did in the rest of preseason, I think that will impress some people, based on the level of play from the Jets quarterbacks so far this year.