After many years of watching football, and listening to the likes of Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. evaluate college players; I'm ready to give my analysis of Joe Licata.
The redshirt Sophomore quarterback had arguably the best season of any UB quarterback since Drew Willy while suiting up for the Bulls. Licata finished the season with 2,824 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Licata has a very good skill-set, and there isn't much not to like about his game. That being said, the question that's raised is: Is Joe Licata an NFL-caliber quarterback?
Short Answer: Yes.
Here are a few parts of Licata's game that stand out and make him NFL-caliber:
I'm grouping these two together because they both are a direct result of Licata's mechanics. When watching Joe on film, he has a fairly compact and tight release and good footwork which helps him deliver the ball quickly and on target. Unlike a quarterback like Tim Tebow, who has a long ranging release, which delays the release of the ball, and can put the ball off target; Licata's release allows for pin-point accuracy. When Licata has time to step up in the pocket he can deliver a strike to nearly any point on the field. When looking at his short-to-intermediate throws (0-15 yards) Licata can throw lasers to any location on the field, which is perfect for a West Coast style of offense. Joe has the arm to make all the throws necessary in the NFL; but, on a few occasions when throwing a deep ball Licata's throws have a tendency to "float"; but that issue is easily corrected in an NFL strength program and shouldn't deter scouts or talent evaluators. Licata's 58.0% completion percentage in 2013 is a solid number, but with more experience it should increase over time.
On paper Licata has great decision making skills by only throwing 8 interceptions out of his 402 pass attempts, a very minuscule 1.99%. But his decision making encompasses much more than that. Throw selection, and going through his progressions on each play is just as important. When you watch Licata on any given play, he scans the entire field and can really pick apart a defense when given the opportunity. And as we say many times, he is willing to throw up a 50/50 ball that he is confident that someone like Alex Neutz could catch, but he understands when his receivers are covered tightly he can always resorts to his checkdown option, this season it was usually Branden Oliver out in the flat. While some scouts love the "gunslinger" type quarterback, a-la Johnny Manziel, but most NFL teams will be happy with a quarterback who understands when throws are there and when they aren't and will make good decisions.
"Intangibles" is an over-arching term that encompasses many parts of a player's actions both on and off the field. Licata is a leader on the field, and he is a true competitor. Watching him on the sidelines during the game, he's either talking to his offense or talking to the coaches, he's not pouting on the sidelines after an interception, or an incompletion on third down. Although he hasn't taken the Wonderlic yet, I can say that Licata has the intelligence required for an NFL quarterback. Being at UB, a premier academic University, and being part of a team that has a 3.0 GPA, Licata definitely has the ability to learn an NFL playbook (I'd love to sit down and talk football with him one day, but I digress). Licata also posesses great composure under duress, whether it be playing in front of a crowd of over 100,000 at the Horseshoe, or rallying his team back from a 38 point deficit. In both games, against Ohio State, and Toledo, under high pressure Licata didn't blink an eye, and proved he can play on a big time stage. Scouts love quarterbacks that don't crack under pressure and have short memories.
Joe had an excellent 2013 season, but 2014 will be the real test to prove if he's NFL ready, He'll be losing a ton of firepower on offense in Branden Oliver, and Alex Neutz. He'll also be losing quarterbacks coach Don Patterson who has been an integral part in Licata's development. If Joe can put the Bulls on his back next season and pull out some tight wins, and put up better numbers than he did this season he may start catching the eyes of NFL scouts.
Professional Comparison: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
There are plenty of similarities between Licata and Smith. Both can thrive in a West Coast Style offense that emphasizes passes 15 yards and under, but Licata has the advantage in his deep ball strength and accuracy. Both are adept at protecting the football, and make good decisions. Although Smith has been labeled as a "Game Manager", both he, and Licata are much more than that in the right offensive system and with the right coaches. Smith has thrived under Andy Reid and Jim Harbaugh, and Licata has shown a lot of promise under Don Patterson. The hiring of a quality QB coach will be the key in continuing Licata's development as a passer.
Licata will need to build upon his solid 2013 campaign in both his Junior and Senior years to really put his name on the map of NFL scouts. I fear that Licata may suffer the same fate as former Miami of Ohio quarterback Zac Dysert. Dysert entered the 2013 draft as one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC, but was ultimately passed up until the 7th round of the draft when he was scooped up by the Denver Broncos. Licata will need to get UB back to more bowl games in the future, and put up gaudy numbers like he did against Toledo to get serious NFL attention. If he is able to get the attention of NFL scouts, I believe that Licata could be drafted and could even start for the right team.