Bo Nix is the ultimate problem solver in the NFL Draft

When it comes down to it, a large part of the beauty and art to playing the quarterback position stems from the fact that as a QB, you are tasked with solving complex problems.

Of course, you are tasked with doing that as a handful of large human beings are trying to put you in the hospital, others are looking to embarrass you, someone on your own sidelines is likely hoping to take your job, and the world is watching.

Perhaps the most recent description along these lines came during the past NFL season, from then-Minnesota Vikings QB Joshua Dobbs. In the midst of his incredible stint with the Vikings Dobbs, who majored in aerospace engineering at Tennessee, graduated with a 4.0, and has interned at NASA, compared the two disciplines along the lines of problem solving.

“Engineering and quarterback have a lot of crossover, just in the mental aspect,” Dobbs said last November. “When you’re an engineer in school, you show up day one as a freshman and they just throw a ton of problems at you. You have to critically think of how to solve those problems,” added Dobbs. “Football is the same way… As a quarterback, you have to get your team in the right play. Critically think of ‘am I in the right play now?’ or ‘what play do I need to get to attack this defense?’ and repeat process.”

That leads us to Oregon quarterback, and potential first-round selection, Bo Nix.

Nix is one of many polarizing prospects in this year’s draft class. Those who are fans point to his production at Oregon, along with his experience, athleticism, and arm talent. Those who have concerns argue that he is on the older side of the ledger — and it took awhile for him to break out — and his production at Oregon was largely dependent on scheme as well as the talent around him.

Wherever you land on Nix, and there are valid arguments for both camps, one thing that does stand out is his ability to solve problems. Like other quarterbacks in this class, Nix has the athleticism to solve problems by escaping from pressure, throwing on the move, and creating off-structure.

But what stands out to this analyst is how often Nix solves problems with his mind.

Let’s start with this play against California. With the Ducks facing a 2nd and 37 — thanks to an offensive pass interference penalty along with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — Nix aligns in the shotgun with the football on the right hashmark. Oregon runs a stick/seam combination to the left side, with the outside and inside receivers running stick routes, and the middle receiver running a seam route.

California muddies the defensive look presnap, putting both safeties towards the hashmarks. But as the play begins, the Golden Bears spin into single-high man coverage, and the rotation tasks the post-safety to get to the middle of the field from outside the hashmark.

This gives Nix a golden opportunity:

Nix gets his eyes to the three-receiver concept on the left, but as soon as Tez Johnson gets inside leverage on his seam route, instead of throwing one of the stick patterns Nix lets the seam ball rip. Here is the state of play when the Oregon QB decides on throwing the seam route:

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Both the inside and outside routes are open, but this is 2nd and 37, and Nix sees a chance for a big play. He knows that Johnson has the leverage, he knows that the inside defender is going to stick on the inside stick route, and he knows that the safety has a long way to go if he wants to make a play on the seam ball.

The problem? A 2nd and 37 situation. The solution? A great read of a rotation in the secondary, an anticipation throw up the seam, and a touchdown for Oregon.

Anticipation throws are one way Nix solves problems, and they likely stem from his experience in college. Nix heads to the NFL with 61 collegiate starts under his belt, the most from a QB in college football history. That experience shows on throws like this one against Arizona State, where he solves the problem of zone coverage with an anticipation throw that leads Johnson to safety:

Perhaps my favorite example of Nix solving a problem with anticipation — and thus his mind — comes on this throw against Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game. With the Ducks trailing by ten late in the fourth quarter, Oregon faces a 1st and 10 in their own territory. The Ducks empty the backfield, while the Huskies drop eight into coverage?

How does Nix solve the problem of “five versus eight” in the secondary? With a pristine anticipation throw. Traeshon Holden runs a deep dig route working from the left side of the field, and this is the route Nix targets. But with two threats looming — the underneath linebacker in the middle of the field and the hook/curl defender squatting on the numbers — there is almost no margin for error on this throw.


This is one of those plays that certainly benefit from some “screen-shot scouting.” Let’s first look at the sideline view of when Nix starts to throw:

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You can see two threats Nix has to navigate, first in the form of the defender squatting on the midfield logo, and then the hook/curl defender squatting on the numbers to the right side of the field. Nix has a lane to throw the dig route, between those two defenders, but he has to be almost perfect. If he waits to throw this, he will bring the defender on the numbers into play.

But throw this too early, and the defender in the middle of the field is going to be a problem.

Nix then puts this throw on Holden, giving him a chance to catch and cradle as the outside defender breaks on the pass. Holden does the rest, turning this into a 63-yard TD.

But it starts with Nix and his ability to solve problems.

While these examples find Nix making throws deeper downfield, sometimes as a quarterback problem solving happens closer to the line of scrimmage. On this play against Washington State, the Cougars show Nix two deep safeties before the play. But right ahead of the snap running back Bucky Irving goes in motion, and a linebacker trails him. That gives Nix a clue that the Cougars might be in man coverage.

It is true that Washington State is doing something unexpected, but the Cougars have a few more tricks up their sleeve. As they spin into single-high coverage, they also bring a slot blitz from the right side of the offense.

No matter. Nix gets his eyes to the slant route, replacing the blitz with the ball. The problem? A slot blitz from a rotating secondary. The solution? A quick throw to replace that blitz with the football:

The next play is another personal favorite from Nix, but before diving into the example we can discuss a bit of a foundational concept. The play in question comes from Oregon’s second game against Washington, and tasks Nix with reading out a three-level flood concept to the right side of the field.

A play that typically looks something like this example from Oregon’s game against California:

On this example, the running back releases to the flat, one receiver (the receiver in motion) gets to the outside and then runs vertically, while the other receiver runs the deep out route. The running back serves as the low read, pulling defenders towards the line of scrimmage, while the vertical route stretches the defense deep, with the goal opening up the deep out/sail route:

That is exactly what happens on this play.

Now, let’s turn to the example of this concept against Washington. This time, the Huskies are ready. The setup from the offense is a bit different, with the tight end coming in motion from the outside to set the edge, but the three routes are the same: A running back to the flat, a vertical route from one receiver, and the deep out route from another.

But look at the coverage as Nix sets in the pocket:

The Huskies have this covered, and there is a defender on the outside — standing on the 35-yard line — just waiting for Johnson’s out route. So how will Nix solve this problem?

By throwing Johnson back towards the middle of the field, which is largely open:

This is such a great example of experience, and high-level problem solving, from Nix. Something that will certainly endear him to NFL coaches.

Finally, when all else fails Nix can, like others in this class, solve some problems with athleticism. Watch as he spins out of pressure against USC, and creates a big play:

Nix may be viewed as a QB in the second tier of passers in this draft class, behind Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, and J.J. McCarthy. But with sentiment growing that the 2024 NFL Draft could see six QBs in the first round — with Nix and fellow Pac-12 passer Michael Penix Jr. joining those four on Thursday night — how well Nix could translate to the NFL becomes a bigger question.

But it is his ability to solve problems, with his mind as much as with his athleticism, that will endear him to the NFL.

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