I spoke with Corn Nation, the SB Nation blog for all things Nebraska Cornhuskers, to learn more about Jacksonville’s newest quarterback.
The following article is formatted slightly differently than the previous interviews have been because Corn Nation’s entire staff (or close to it) participated in answering questions regarding Lee. The following writers were gracious enough to provide their insights (and they had fun with their titles):
Jon Johnston: Site Manager
Mike Jaixen: Editor
Jill Heemstra (ranchbabe): Token Female at CN
Rick A Cone (Uglydog56): Recruiting Writer at CN
Salt Creek and Stadium: Clipboard Holding Editor
Nate McHugh, Contributor
CN’s staff members provided in-depth analysis, thoughts and opinions from various angles and viewpoints. Find their thoughts below each corresponding question in bold.
What kind of football player are the Jaguars getting in Tanner Lee? What is he good at and what does he need to improve on?
Mike: Tanner Lee will impress everyone with his strong, accurate arm. There might not have been a better arm in this year’s NFL Draft. However, Lee really struggles with his decision making — especially under pressure — resulting in excessive numbers of turnovers.
Jill: Lee looks the part. He is big, strong, and good in the classroom or at the podium. By all accounts, he is a high-quality human being who represented Nebraska well during a really difficult season. He needs to improve at...not throwing the ball to the other team. As Mike said, decision-making was a sore spot. He is getting a pass from NFL scouts because of the awfulness of the Nebraska running game and offensive line. Seriously, no one could expect him to make good decisions when every defender knew what was coming on passing downs and when he was running for his life.
Rick (Uglydog56): Lee is the good ole ‘Merican quarterback. Tall, handsome, humble, stands tall in the pocket like the Statue of Liberty. He’s very good at the political aspect of the quarterback job, and a hard worker. Unfortunately he struggles under pressure. It’s hard to tell how good he would be in a clean pocket, because he never had one his entire college career.
Nate M: The Jaguars are getting either the guy who throws just about as many interceptions as touchdowns which is what we have seen at Tulane and his one year at Nebraska, or the Jaguars are getting a top-5 talent who has never had an opportunity to play behind an average offensive line. That really is the debate. I hope that we get to see Tanner Lee for the Jags with that running game.
I’ve had a couple people tell me that Lee actually reminds them of a “poor man’s Blake Bortles” (including my good friend is who is a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), AKA every Jaguars fan’s worst nightmare. What current NFL quarterback would you compare Lee’s game to, if any?
Mike: An immobile DeShon Kizer? But honestly, if I can leave football completely for a comparison, Kevin Costner’s Roy McAvoy from the golf movie Tin Cup.
Jill: Sorry, but I haven’t watched Blake Bortles. I did watch too much Trevor Siemian and unfortunately I see parallels. At least Tanner has much much better arm strength than Siemian. The decision making and lack of development due to bad coaching, lack of running game, and lack of protection are eerily similar. The ray of hope is that the Jaguars should be able to provide those missing pieces (you do have an offensive line, right?). If Tanner is going to develop into an NFL QB, he should have the environment he needs in Jacksonville (you do have a QB coach, right?)
Editor’s Note: The Jaguars offensive line just barely ranked in the top half of Pro Football Focus’ offensive line rankings, but should only improve with the addition of Andrew Norwell, and also cracked the top-10 of NFL.com’s list based off of Next Gen Stats. This should be a very good unit in 2018.
Ed. Note 2: I personally thought Scott Milanovich did a nice job in his first season as Jacksonville’s quarterback coach, helping Blake Bortles develop and have arguably his most efficient season as a pro.
Rick (Uglydog56): I looked up Blake Bortles’ TD-to-INT ratios for 2016 and 2017, and it looks like a very smooth transition from Bortles to Lee. Sorry.
Nate M: I’m going to disagree with your good friend. I don’t think Blake Bortles even approaches the arm talent of Tanner Lee. But Blake is probably more mobile. Tanner Lee’s mobility reminds me of Tom Brady. But his arm talent reminds me of Jared Goff (who was reportedly outplayed at a quarterback camp by Tanner Lee). But all of the talent in the world won’t matter if it doesn’t translate to games, which is the main issue.
Lee transferred over from Tulane in 2016 and took the reins as a full-time starter for the Cornhuskers in 2017. Did he look comfortable in the offense, and was he a quick study after transferring to a new school, or did it take him a while to adjust? How do you see Lee fitting into the Jaguars offensive scheme, which puts a heavy emphasis on the running game, play-action, and multiple route combinations often out of 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide receivers)?
Jill: He had to sit out a year after transferring and while Tommy Armstrong finished his eligibility. Tanner Lee is a very different QB than Tommy, but seemed to be a better fit for Mike Riley’s preferred offense. By all accounts, he picked up the playbook fast, showed his chops as “the guy” quickly, and did everything that was asked of him. Lee actually was effective in play action at times, even when there was no effective running game to sell the PA. We often saw Tanner and receivers on different “pages” when it came to route combos, but the blame isn’t all at his feet there. That said, there were some mind-numbingly stupid throws that made Husker Nation collectively lose their minds.
Rick (Uglydog56): Lee had a very solid grasp of the playbook. I don’t believe the occasional miscommunications between quarterback and wide receiver were on him very often. Nebraska struggled to sell the play action because none of our linemen could block and none of our I-backs could make yards after contact. As a result the offense didn’t run a lot of 11 personnel last season. They needed the extra tight end on the line to help block, and we only really had two reliable pass-catchers at wide receiver.
Salt Creek: Tanner Lee had the fortune, due to NCAA rules, of sitting for a year while learning the new offense, so as Uglydog says above, Lee understood the playbook, though like any QB starting out in a new system, he had some work to do on his in-game recall. By all accounts, he was a solid QB in practice. As far as actual practical skillset? Lee has the arm and the release to pull off just about any passing play, and I imagine he’s perfectly fine for called runs. Once you move into more of the run-pass option or multi-route combo, his play starts to deteriorate. And that’s because his biggest problem at NU was he didn’t trust his OL, and he made erratic decisions. Sometimes they paid off, but usually they ended the drive. Considering, his time at Tulane ended with him being injured behind a shoddy OL and the state of our OL at Nebraska, I’d argue he carried that distrust with reason into the 2017 season. So honestly, we don’t really have a great feel for what kind of quarterback Tanner Lee is, exactly. But he has the physical tools, so if nothing else, your starters will have a good QB to go against in practice.
Nate M: With the Jaguars heavy emphasis on the running game, that is exactly what Tanner Lee needs. But that is not what he got at Nebraska. Nebraska was nearly last in rushing last year. It looked like they just gave up even trying at timesAnd that is sad to say at Nebraska. By the middle of the season Nebraska fans (rightfully) were naming the OL coach to be one that needed to be let go if Riley were to remain the head coach.
Lee was not projected to get drafted according to NFL.com, and was thought to be more of priority free agent. Did you expect to hear Lee’s name called during the draft, and if so, in what round and why (or why didn’t you think he would get drafted)?
Jon: I did, probably about where he got picked, actually. The NFL is desperate for quarterbacks. Over seven billion humans on this planet, and only about eight can be really good quarterbacks. That’s a pretty rare mineral. Lee has all the physical traits you want in a guy at that position, so what’s the harm in giving him a shot if you think you might be able to work with him?
Mike: I did not expect it, as I thought NFL teams would place a higher emphasis on Lee’s performances facing live defenses than what the arm shows in solo workouts. (I was wrong.) There’s no shortage of guys who have proven themselves in college than to take a flier on a guy who hasn’t figured out how to read a defense after spending five years in college programs.
my favorite part of the week was watching practice with jerry jones and will mcclay.— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) January 26, 2018
tanner lee was coming up for a rep and jerry goes "let's see what the turnover machine has next."
next throw was a pick six.
jerry, with an unlit cigar in his mouth, goes "i still got it."
Jill: I expected him to get drafted. The NFL is desperate for guys that can fling it 60-plus yards, see over their offensive linemen, and give a great podium interview. I didn’t expect a high draft slot; he got picked about where I thought he might.
Rick (Uglydog56): He looks the part, talks the talk, measures well, throws a pretty ball, has a nice release. Catnip for NFL Scouts. I had him going in the 6th (round).
Salt Creek: He was the perfect value pick. Honestly went a little higher than I thought round-wise, but I did think he’d get picked up in the late rounds. I was honestly more surprised he was the only draft pick out of Nebraska, but so it goes.
Nate M: That was debated among the Corn Nation staff several times over the past couple of months. It was nearly 50/50 on who thought he would be drafted. I personally thought he was going to be drafted, but I thought it was going to be earlier just because NFL coaches can see the talent and probably think they can fix whatever ails the quarterback. If I had to pick a round prior to the draft I was thinking the 4th round. But I was wrong.
Jacksonville now has three quarterbacks on its roster: Bortles, Lee and Cody Kessler. The Jaguars only carried two quarterbacks last season, and may do the same in 2018. What can Lee do to either earn the backup role over Kessler, or convince the coaching staff to keep three signal-callers on the active roster?
Mike: Tanner Lee is going to have to practically live in the coaches offices and learn how read defenses, anticipate pressure and most importantly, protect the football. Even that might not be enough; I think you have to look at Lee as a developmental project who’s going to spend a year (and maybe two) on the practice squad facing the Jags defense everyday. He needs snaps and a lot of work.
Jill: The formula to make an NFL team keep a 3rd QB on the roster is simple. Create some buzz. Make a couple of high-profile defenders on your team talk about you during media time. Look cool, composed, and surgical while wearing a green (or red) jersey…so that when you are throwing behind the 3rd string OL in preseason games, everyone dismisses those interceptions and sacks as “not on the QB”. Make your fan base worry about “this guy could get poached if we don’t keep him on the roster.” If the coaches and GM feel the same way...voila. Roster spot.
Uglydog56: Kessler’s had all those concussions. That takes a toll on the QB; he actually needs his brain moderately functional. I think Lee has a chance to break through.
Salt Creek: Bonding time with all of his offensive linemen, and confidence that a NFL-quality OL will protect him in the pocket. Yeah, he’ll need to learn a new offense, but that’s true of every NFL-bound college QB. And there will be some fundamental work, but that’s what QB coaches are paid for. Lee’s biggest challenge will be trusting his team around him. As long as the Jaguars ease him into the NFL, Lee could have a long career as a backup. He just doesn’t have that electrifying command of the game to suggest he could start, but I imagine he could manage a game or two while a starter heals up. As far as convincing the Jaguars staff to keep three QBs on the active roster? I’m not entirely familiar with how that works, but if you have room, and you’re worried about Kessler, I think Lee does just enough to earn a spot. But if you don’t have room, I don’t see how he stays on the active roster.
Nate M: I think he could beat Cody Kessler out just because (as we have experienced) Tanner Lee is super impressive in practice and at football camps. It is the games that really hurts him. Hopefully that changes.
Is there anything else we should know about the guy?
Jon: Lee played on the worst Nebraska team since the late 1950s. If you consider the defense, World War II. They were a bloody damned awful football team. How awful? Lee got hurt and didn’t play the second half at Minnesota. Near the end of the game and down by a lot, Nebraska called time out so that backup quarterback Patrick O’Brien could get sacked on three consecutive plays by a guy nobody bothered to pick up. That’s how bad things were last season.
Jill: Lee made a conscious decision to transfer to Nebraska and hook his wagon to that of Mike Riley. He led a team, took a lot of blame, and never uttered a negative or cuss word (as far as I know) during the most horrific Nebraska campaign this side of WWII. In a season where it looked like multiple players gave up, coaches gave up, fans gave up…Lee seemed to press harder and try to rescue everyone. He failed miserably, but the fact that he appeared to still give a damn counts for something in my book. He looks the part, he has the tools and he could be an incredible NFL QB. He could also end up selling used cars by next October. Your guess is as good as mine. I’m rooting for him and hope that he becomes the rare Nebraska QB to break through for pro playing time. If I am honest, the odds are not in favor of success, but I will hope for it anyway.
Uglydog56: Lee tried really hard for Nebraska. He did everything you would want a QB to do, except he had this absolute love of throwing into triple coverage to a receiver who wasn’t looking for the ball. His exception performances during practice will ensure a working living for quite a while in the NFL. However if the Jaguars don’t work out I don’t see him selling cars, I believe he’s a lock for Junior Account Executive.
Salt Creek: I wouldn’t hold his college career against him. He looks ugly on paper but when your coaching staff puts together a season like ours did, it’s really, really hard to blame Tanner. He tried his damnest to make the magic happen, but when your supporting cast gives up on the game for a season, and your coaching staff is spending their time updating resumes, there’s not much you can do about it. His last season at Tulane also featured a coaching change. He’s had bad luck in college. I wish him and the Jaguars all of the best.
Nate M: One thing for Lee is that he was loved by his teammates and still is supported by current Nebraska players. He is going to do what is needed for the team and is definitely not going to be a cancer in your locker room.
The Corn Nation staff also wanted to make sure we saw this:
Lee was seemingly an unpopular pick amongst the Jaguars faithful, but perhaps this article and the highlight tape below will change the general opinion on the strong-armed, but erratic quarterback.
What do y’all say now? Love the Lee pick, hate it, or feeling somewhere in the middle?