“It happens in every draft class. There is a guy that goes a few rounds later than they should, or he ends up undrafted; then he ends up being a steal,” Craig Domann, 360 Sports and NFL agent for Nick Tiano.
These circumstances create “hidden gem” or “diamond in the rough” scenarios.
And one player that fit this scenario until the last couple weeks was former UT-Chattanooga QB Nick Tiano. Tiano has had about a dozen NFL teams show interest recently; some having conducted meetings via Facetime. With his arrow pointing up and buzz growing within NFL Draft circles Tiano may not be a hidden gem much longer.
Tiano is an intriguing prospect with plus athleticism, generational type arm talent, ideal size and the mental aptitude to analyze, process and retain whatever information is thrown his way.
In 2018, Tiano showcased NFL abilities and leadership that can be seen on film nearly every play. Tiano approached the line of scrimmage with confidence making any and all necessary adjustments. Tiano had full authority to set the protection, call hot routes or check to an entirely different play based on the defensive alignment and/or what he saw. Tiano flourished completing better than 21 passes a game, one of the top in FCS competition for the season. He also posted the fewest INTs among those who have completed over 200 passes in a season at UT-Chattanooga during the 2018 season.
Heading into the 2019 season, Tiano was popping up on NFL radars as a potential mid-round or late-round selection.
However, a series of unforeseen events beyond Tiano’s power took place.
Tom Arth left his position as the HC to take on the HC position with the Akron Zips. Offensive Coordinator Justin Rascati accepted an opportunity from the Denver Broncos. These moves created an unexpected void for the program.
The program filled the void with a coaching staff that would be moving from a true pro-style offense to a spread based concept. While on the surface it might seem like a fairly mundane transition but it’s analogous to riding a ten-speed bike on a hilly course or riding a one-speed bike on the same course. That is, in essence, one of the drawbacks of the spread offense: it takes control and decisions from the quarterback; while the pro-style offense keeps the decisions in the quarterback’s hands. The spread offense is built on a lot of predetermined reads and offers challenges when the initial read isn’t open because, again, the spread offense can sometimes operate in a way that is best described as if you see this throw it there, or if you see that throw it here. This is one of the main arguments made against spread-system QBs in the college game: are they going to be able to handle true pro-style passing game concepts, reads and progressions?
“There were some moving pieces. The coaching staff was establishing a new culture, one that I feel will be successful at UTC,” Tiano stated. Tiano also added this was a positive experience for him because “coaching changes are going to happen and you need to be able to adapt your game to the system that comes in.”
There were some noticeable on field changes as well. At times during the season Tiano had an offensive line consisting of three walk-ons providing protection for him, so the game plan had to be adjusted to meet the strengths of the personnel on hand. Also, some players found themselves in new roles or positions and didn’t transition as anticipated. Aside from those issues, schematically it was a totally new approach.
For instance, passing game progressions in a spread-based offense can be watered down offering a grip-it-and-rip-it approach; as opposed to a pro-style system that will take you through read 1, 2, 3, 4 and/or check down. So when evaluating Tiano on the 2019 film it doesn’t offer the full scope of his game. However, the 2018 film offers a much more comprehensive look at Tiano and what he is capable of doing.
With the 2018 film we can see a much more comfortable Tiano under center. And that is the key to being under center; comfort. Tiano is a true QB with the ability to play under center or out of the shotgun. However, when we see Tiano under center it demonstrates his rollout ability, his play action comfort, ability to drop back and read the defense, he shows the ability to look off defenders and most of all his pocket presence. Tiano is able to buy time allowing his receivers to get open and slice the defense for chunk plays down the field. Former QB and current quarterback coach Warren McCarty said, “Nick has been in a true pro-style system before, so when he’s in camp and they start to get into stretch run concepts and drills he will be comfortable with that; unlike some guys who are learning on the fly because they’ve always been in the shotgun. He’s done both. He’s ready. He won’t be overwhelmed come day three of camp.”
These characteristics are echoed by ex-GM Scot McCloughan as he can be heard offering his scouting evaluations of Tiano during a filmed workout. Tiano was grateful for McCloughan and his expertise, “I’m just really thankful for Scot. He didn’t have to get involved and offer his help, but that’s the kind of guy he is, he just wants to help. And having him break down my game was awesome. It was an amazing learning experience. And Scot was the first NFL guy to really support me and tell me how much he likes my game”.
McCloughan wasn’t the only person impressed with Tiano. Tiano sat down with McCarty for an in-depth film and X’s and O’s session; in a show resembling what ESPN and Jon Gruden had done in previous years.
“I wanted to see how quickly he could process. I wanted to know if he could get to the #2 and 3. And once you’ve done that, mechanically can you make the throw; those are all things I want to see,” McCarty said when referring to what he hoped to see from Tiano during the session and on film.
Tiano had his elite progression skills on display during the NFLPA All-Star Game where he took home MVP Honors. That week of the NFLPA Game is even more important now for NFL teams and evaluations with the cancellation of Pro Days and workouts ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft caused by the Coronavirus outbreak. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to play in the NFLPA Game because if I hadn’t been invited I’d have been someone without a pro day, without a combine invite and it would have really limited what NFL teams got to see from me. So I’m glad I went out and had a good week; in my opinion. I wanted to show everyone how I practiced, how I prepared, I wanted everyone to know that I take this seriously and every time I go out it’s with a purpose, an intensity, a desire to play and I just try to improve on the last practice session,” on how he is handling the cancellation of his official Pro Day workout and uncertainty leading leading up to the draft.
During his film session with McCarty, Tiano says that the terminology and concepts at the NFLPA Game were fairly similar to what he had when he played under Arth, and it allowed him to make a smooth transition during the week. Those practices and interactions will have even more importance due to the nature of an unprecedented offseason. Tiano gave NFL teams and evaluators a full sample size of his weekly preparations. The TD pass will be the throw many will recall from the game but Domann recalls another throw down the sideline, placed perfectly that was the true display of Tiano, his arm and the type of player a team will be getting.
Tiano has benefited from a strong showing during the NFLPA Game, and in an off-season with limited, if any, official Pro Day workouts, Tiano has seen his stock rise. He is a big bodied and well put together QB that doesn’t flinch on contact and keeps his posture in check under pressure. He steps into throws absorbing the hit, losing almost no velocity on his throw. Tiano has a lot of positive qualities and is definitely a QB with starter level traits. So, if you haven’t given Tiano and his 2018 film a look, go do it immediately because the NFL teams and scouts that have already done this know they will be rewarded in three years with a starting-caliber quarterback.