After years of being criticized and doubted, Connor Shaw really came into his own as a quarterback this past season for South Carolina. With many calling for Dylan Thompson to play over him, Shaw came out and had an extremely efficient year, both as a passer and runner. In all, he accounted for 31 touchdowns against just one interception in helping the Gamecocks get to 11 wins this year. And he did it while being virtually ignored in the SEC due to other quarterbacks in the league being more highly touted.
For the NFL, Shaw may be looked largely like he was at South Carolina; an undersized quarterback with limited upside that is more likely to be a quality backup than a starter. Shaw has displayed the ability to be extremely accurate with the football, but he needs to eliminate some issues with his footwork. He has an arsenal of different throws he can make and put the ball right where it needs to be for his receivers. Shaw also gives teams an element of mobility but his running style does carry some risk. Overall, Shaw is likely to go on day three of the draft, but he seems like he has the skillset to outperform expectations, much like he did this past year at South Carolina.
Vitals & Build
Shaw measured 6’ 206lbs at the scouting combine with 9 ¼” hands. He has a reasonably strong build, but is not a remarkably built player. His overall athleticism is above average and he has enough speed, quickness and the feet to make people miss. His height and size will be questioned, but he does have some physical potential if he can continue filling out his frame and getting stronger while hopefully not hurting his mobility.
Shaw’s ability to push the ball down the field is pretty good. He has not had issues with underthrowing the ball down the field, whether with zip or touch. While Shaw is not often going bombs away in that offense, he is never short on strength.
Shaw’s zip on the football is perfectly fine and he is able to put the ball in a window when needed. That does not tend to be how he operates, but he can do it.
Accuracy & Touch
When Shaw uses proper mechanics, which is all about his footwork, he can be unbelievably impressive with his ability to his ability to place the football. Deep, short or intermediate passes, as long as Shaw is right with his feet, he not only puts the ball on his receivers, but he seems to be consistent with putting the ball where only his guy can make the play. The times Shaw misses, he tends to be too deep in his throws and with the nature of his passes, he might miss, but he does not miss into trouble.
Shaw can operate and throw short and intermediate passes, but he is better when it comes to throwing the ball deep. He really does a nice job when it comes to bucket throws and putting arc on the ball and dropping it on a spot. His best throw seems to be on flag and corner type routes where he is throwing to a spot and his receiver can position their body to make a catch.
Shaw actually places those touch throws better than he does zipped passes, where he can have more issues with ball placement and putting it in an optimal spot for his target. Some of this, again, comes down to footwork, and the fact that Shaw is more concerned with throwing the ball correctly going deep than he is on slants or passes to the flat where he is more concerned with getting rid of the ball quickly than he is on mechanics.
Shaw has a good sense of touch and when he needs to use it. He has shown he can fit passes between the second and third levels of the defense, getting the ball over the linebackers while getting it there before the safeties can drill his target. Shaw has a good sense of timing and giving his teammates the ability to go and settle under passes. When Shaw is on, he is an impressive passer with an arsenal of throws that he can place accurately.
Mechanics & Footwork
Shaw has an efficient, quick throwing motion. He holds the football high, pulls it back straight back behind his head and pushes the ball forward with an overhand delivery. The ball comes out quickly and when he wants to throw the ball down the field, it just varies how far back he pulls the ball.
Shaw is able to throw the football quickly and effectively whether he is in the pocket or on the move in terms of his arm motion. Nothing from the waist up seems problematic or in need of being changed.
His footwork on the other hand is where all of his problems lie and where his inconsistency is caused. When Shaw steps into his throws effectively and transfers his weight properly, he is remarkably accurate and seems able to do just about anything he wants with the football.
The issue he runs into is that his upper and lower body are too often are out of sync or the way he steps throws the pass out of whack. With Shaw, almost every single pass he misses on is overthrown and is usually caused by a quick, jab step and his leaning back as he throws. Shaw’s feet are quick and he has the means to improve the issue with work, but it really is the only issue that causes him to have problems with accuracy. If he addresses it, Shaw’s accuracy could be really impressive at the next level.
Shaw is pretty fearless in the pocket and will keep his eyes down the field looking for receivers. He has not been afraid to operate in a small area and has taken a number of shots after getting rid of the ball. Part of this confidence is probably due to the fact that Shaw does have the ability to plant his foot in the ground, make a quick move and escape pressure as well as the speed to roll out and find a target or pull the ball down and run with it.
Shaw has worked almost exclusively from a shotgun, so he has not really had a problem scanning the field or finding receivers. He also seems able to find throwing lanes effectively without passes often being deflected. There may be questions when it comes to Shaw working under center and his ability to see down the field, but he seems able to manage.
Shaw will occasionally abandon a clean pocket and limit himself in how much of the field he can see on a given play. Additionally, by doing this, he can get himself into trouble rather than escape it. He can work to improve this and get better at feeling when he can stay in the pocket and when he needs to leave it, but for the most part, he is athletic enough to get away with it.
Decision Making & Anticipation
This is probably where Shaw is at his best. At least in terms of passing the football, Shaw is impressive when it comes avoiding danger and not throwing the ball into situations where it is often at risk. With few exceptions, Shaw seems to find the right guy or throw into single coverage and put the ball into spots where it is his guy or going to be incomplete.
Part of this is due to the fact that if it is not there, Shaw is able to scan the field and find an option, but he is never afraid to pull the ball down and run with it. Shaw is a far more reckless decision maker when it comes to his legs and when to run it. He is far more inclined to be a risk taker and put himself at risk when running. There are times when he does a nice job of sliding and avoiding contact, but he will get greedy and take a big shot trying to get additional yardage.
As far as his ability to anticipate, Shaw does a pretty good job of knowing when to throw the ball down the field. He gets the ball out in front of the receiver and they can go get it. Shaw has also done a nice job of fitting the ball in between the second and third levels. However, Shaw’s ability to anticipate throws has largely been vertically or toward the sideline. He has not really been asked to do a ton when to throwing receivers open on a horizontal basis. This does not mean he could not do it; just that he has not really been tested much here.
Shaw’s legs are certainly an asset. He can pick up yardage with his legs both for first downs and potentially touchdowns. Shaw can escape the pocket and extend plays. He is confident with the ball in his hands in both areas. Shaw does a good job of keeping his eyes down the field and he keeps his options open as he attacks the line of scrimmage, able to find receivers as defenders close down on him.
Shaw can run the ball and has done so extensively for South Carolina, which obviously came at a risk. While he would slide and avoid taking the best shot from defenders, he has gotten greedy or not seen an opponent coming and taken huge shots. Shaw did miss a couple weeks with a separated shoulder he suffered, which may or may not have been affected by his running style, but it is a concern.
Shaw has a pretty extensive running history with the Gamecocks and has averaged 12.35 carries per game in his last three years, totaling 34 games. 420 carries in all, that is a heavy workload as far as carrying the football.
Teams will have to decide how much his running is a part of his makeup as a passer, but he does seem to thrive on running the ball and will take his share of gambles as a result. As it is, that style, as effective as it can be, does come with an amount of risk.
Shaw’s best fit might be in a vertically based offense since that is largely what he has been running and throwing in Columbia, but his skill set suggests he should be adaptable and be able to fit well in a horizontally based offense. His tools actually might be better suited to play in a more timing based offense, but he could be attractive to any team that is not put off by his height.
Shaw is likely to be a backup and probably the third string quarterback early on in his career. While he does have the potential to start and succeed at the next level, he is probably more likely to end up as a long term backup and spot starter. There is a part of Shaw that suggests he could get into a game and get a hot hand and put up some offense quickly before teams adapt to his style and game plan for him.
In a few ways, Shaw seems to share some of the same qualities as Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins. Cousins fell to the fourth round largely because he seemed to be boring. His physical ability was largely unimpressive, but he just seemed to excel with ball placement and decision making, helping his team win a large amount of games. Like with Cousins, Shaw will probably be far more loved by their fans than the NFL and could slip as a result. The end result being they outperform expectations with fans wondering why everyone is so surprised.
Connor Shaw is not the prototype quarterback in terms of size, but he does seem to bring a well-rounded skillset to the table after having an impressive senior season. Shaw needs to continue refining and improving his footwork, but shows the ability to throw the ball accurately, being smart with it and offering a dual threat with his feet as an added weapon. He may end up as a long term backup, but Shaw does have the potential to ultimately start in the NFL. Shaw warrants a third day pick and could end up surprising people down the road with how far he is able to go.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com