PFF Preview: Looking at Cal's transfer additions
Plus: a deep dive into what Jack Plummer brings to Cal as a passer
If you’re new around these parts, you may not be aware that one of our regular features during football season is analysis of PFF scouting data. Here’s last year’s explainer post with more information about what PFF provides, along with my views about the pros and cons of their grading system.
My opinion after a year of sifting through the grades as they compare to the eye test, or to other advanced stat metrics? PFF is just another tool in the kit of an analyst. It has its pros and its cons. If the numbers conflict with your priors, it’s a great sanity test. But scouting can never entirely account for playcall and assignment, so don’t treat it as unimpeachable gospel.
As a way of previewing the season, I thought it would be useful to look at what PFF has to say about players joining Cal from other teams. So what follows will be prior year PFF scouting for the following players:
QB Jack Plummer
RG Spencer Lovell
RT TJ Session
OLB Xavier Carlton
OLB Odua Isibor
ILB Jackson Sirmon
For those of you who aren’t subscribers, this is typically premium content. But in part to give you all a free preview of the type of stuff we’ll be producing all season long, and in part because I was assigned to preview QBs and am behind, the section on starting QB Jack Plummer will be above the fold. Consider subscribing!
Jack Plummer had a weird career at Purdue, constantly battling Aiden O’Connell for playing time and getting yanked in and out of the lineup. As a result, you have the equivalent of nearly one full season of stats, but across three years. Here are the cumulative numbers:
What PFF sees is an average to above average P5 passer, held back by mobility issues. And that was a challenge at Purdue, where the line put up pretty ugly pass blocking metrics in 2020 and 2019. The line was a bit better in 2021, but an ugly 13-9 win over Illinois led to offensive changes that mostly consigned Plummer to the bench for the rest of the season.
Pressure, and avoiding it, isn’t 100% on the offensive line. It’s also the job of the QB to manipulate the pocket and decide when to get rid of the ball or bail on a scramble. And PFF didn’t love what it saw from Plummer in that category. Cal fans will have to hope either that PFF’s grading is off, or that Plummer has improved his mobility and pocket presence, or that Cal’s rebuilt offensive line is ready to pass protect.
On the bright side, Plummer can throw the ball. Here’s something I found interesting - the splits in his grade by passing depth across each of his first three seasons (in order, 2019, 2020, 2021):
Dude can throw a catchable deep ball with the best of them. If Cal either doesn’t take advantage of this skill set (or can’t pass block well enough to let Plummer unleash the beast) I’ll be rending my garments.
Plummer’s collective numbers on intermediate and short throws are more hit and miss. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that says something about Plummer’s down to down accuracy vs. the system he played in under Jeff Brohm.
What about passing under pressure? Well, the numbers for a guy with limited mobility perhaps aren’t surprising (again, in order: 2019, 2020, 2021):
When Jack Plummer is given a clean pocket, PFF says he’s meaningfully above average. When he’s not, he’s just a dude. It’s also worth noting that he’s been reasonably successfully on his blitz hot reads. But in sum, it’s hard not to think that the success of the Cal offense is in large part resting on the ability of the Cal line to pass protect.
If you’re more of an eye test guy . . . well, you’d have to watch all of his time at Purdue which is hard considering how choppy his playing time was. But if you want to see him at his best, here’s every play from the 2020 Minnesota game, which might be his best performance in a Boilermaker jersey:
Highlights include a number of very nice looking deep balls, a few beautiful goal line fades, a number of other solid throws all over the field, but also a couple of iffy pocket manipulation moments and some iffy late game decisions. On the whole it’s much more encouraging than discouraging, but projecting a QB based on perhaps his best game isn’t a great way to project forward.