2017 NFL Draft Quarterback Watch List – Part 2

With the 2016 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, evaluators are already working through the next crop of young men hoping to realize their NFL dreams. Mark Schofield has started his process of  quarterback evaluation for the 2017 draft and, after some preliminary film work, has identified 30 prospects he will be keeping an eye on this fall. Here are the other 15 QBs you might want to add to your watch lists this summer.

The list below is the second 15 players on my watch list. The names are in no particular order and do not represent a ranking of the prospects. To view the first 15 players, click here.

Chad Kanoff – Princeton (FCS)

We begin the second half of the watch list with a quarterback from the Ivy League. Chad Kanoff,  a four-star recruit as a high school senior, initially committed to Vanderbilt before deciding to enroll at Princeton. He finally earned the starting job last year as a junior, after missing the entire 2014 season with an injury. Once he earned the job, Kanoff threw for 2,295 yards and eight touchdowns, with seven interceptions. And while the production might be a question mark, the traits are on full display when watching him on tape: He shows good accuracy in the intermediate and deep areas of the field, as well as the ability to freeze or manipulate defenders with his eyes and work through progressions. He needs to cut down on mistakes, get better with ball carriage in the pocket, and show more consistency with timing and anticipation throws, but he is well worth watching in 2016.

P.J. Walker – Temple

Temple enjoyed a season to remember in 2015, cracking the Top 25 for the first time since 1979 and being featured in a prime-time Saturday night game against Notre Dame. Quarterback P.J. Walker was an integral part of the Owls’ surprise success last season. He completed 57% of his throws for 2,973 yards with 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Walker showed a good understanding of passing concepts and route structures, and displayed the ability to make anticipation throws as well as showing good timing on a number of passes. If Temple enjoys another great year, expect Walker to play a big part while improving his own draft stock along the way.

Trenton Norvell – Western Illinois (FCS)

Trenton Norvell enters his fourth season as the starter for the Western Illinois Leathernecks. He is a QB with prototypical height for the position, listed at 6’5”, but might need to add a bit of weight to his frame, given his listed weight of 220 pounds. As a junior, he started nine games before an illness ended his season. During that time, he completed 55% of his passes for 2,110 yards and 13 touchdowns, with eight interceptions. He runs an up-tempo, spread attack for the Leathernecks and, though many plays come in from the sideline, he looks involved in the pre-snap phase – on film at least. He does have a bit of a loop to his delivery, but shows a very strong arm when operating in the pocket. Additionally, he also displays above average footwork, both in maneuvering inside the pocket and on his drops. He needs to avoid staring down receivers and get better at recognizing underneath defenders – he threw a bad pick-six against North Dakota State when he locked onto a slant and missed a zone defender jumping the route. With his experience and traits, I would not be surprised to see him move up boards with a strong senior campaign.

Wes Lunt – Illinois

After starting five games as a freshman for Oklahoma State, Wes Lunt transferred to Illinois after the 2012 season and was forced to sit out the entire 2013 campaign. As a redshirt sophomore in 2014, he started seven contests for the Illini, throwing for 1,763 yards and 14 TDs with only three interceptions, while completing 64% of his passes. His numbers took a step backwards in 2014, as he completed only 56% of his throws for 2,761 yards and 14 touchdowns, with six INTs. He has a very nice arm, showing touch and accuracy on vertical routes and in the deep passing game, and is also very effective at throwing the back shoulder fade route. He also has a loop to his delivery, but still manages to get the football out quickly, similar to Kevin Hogan. Lunt also shows the ability to manipulate safeties with his eyes. However, he needs to avoid locking onto targets, as he did at times during 2015. He will need to learn a new offense, as new head coach Lovie Smith is scraping the up-tempo spread attack for a more balanced approach – but with some stability now in place in Champaign, perhaps Lunt develops enough to become a solid draft prospect.

DeShone Kizer / Malik Zaire – Notre Dame

Last year the Ohio State Buckeyes entered preseason camp with three viable starting quarterbacks on the roster in Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, and J.T. Barrett. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish find themselves in a similar position this season with Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer. Zaire started last season under center for Brian Kelly, but after suffering a broken ankle against Virginia, Kizer took over and led the team to a ten-win season and the Fiesta Bowl. Whichever quarterback wins the job in the preseason will be worth watching in 2016, as the guidance of Kelly and the weapons in place will help the starter put up big numbers during the 2016-2017 season.

Gunner Kiel – Cincinnati

I’m old enough to remember the “Kiel 2016 first-round pick” talk from last summer.

Kiel was a highly-touted recruit who was considered the top quarterback in the nation coming out of high school. He enrolled at Notre Dame as a freshman in 2012, after previously committing to both Louisville and LSU. Failing to crack the starting lineup with the Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati and made his debut for the Bearcats in 2014. His first start matched some of the hype, as he threw six touchdown passes in a win over Toledo. Kiel completed 60% of his passes in 2014 for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, and led Cincinnati to nine wins and the Military Bowl. His 2015 year got off to rocky start, as he threw four interceptions in Cincinnati’s week 2 game against Temple. He was then injured in a Thursday night game against Memphis, and missed two games before returning to the starting lineup. But he stayed home when the Bearcats traveled for their bowl game for “personal reasons,” and missed the spring game due to an injury. If he secures the starting job, he’ll have a chance to finally deliver on the promise of his young career. He shows the ability to push the ball vertically in the passing game and can make some accurate throws in the intermediate areas of the field.

Jeremy Johnson – Auburn

I’m also old enough to remember the Johnson Heisman Summer of 2015.

We were all excited about what Johnson might produce in Gus Malhzan’s offense, particularly in the passing game. Excitement soon gave way to disappointment, however, as Johnson threw three interceptions in the season opener against Louisville, and the Tigers narrowly defeated Jacksonville State –  the eventual FCS runners-up to NDSU – in the second week of the season. After a loss to LSU in Week 3, Johnson was benched for the following three games. He returned to action after Sean White suffered an injury and was the starter down the stretch. While White returned to the starting lineup for the Birmingham Bowl, Johnson came on in relief and accounted for two touchdowns, one through the air and another on the ground.

It is unclear whether Johnson will even win the starting job for the 2016 season, as the Auburn offense struggled during their spring game. If he manages to earn the spot, Johnson still has the arm strength and athleticism to make plays. It is simply a matter of whether he can produce enough to keep the job and thereby show enough for NFL scouts and evaluators.

Pat Mahomes – Texas Tech

The Texas Tech passer is already earning praise as perhaps the top quarterback in this class. Mahomes has put up very impressive numbers in the Red Raiders’ offense, throwing for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns, against 15 interceptions in 2015. He has a very powerful arm and, at times, shows the timing and anticipation necessary to thrive in an NFL offense. Mahomes can also look off defenders, whether by design on packaged plays or when operating from the pocket. He gets the ball out very quickly, and is adept at adjusting either his arm angle or his throwing motion as the situation requires. Mahomes also throws very well on the move. But he will need to improve on his footwork in the pocket, as his drop backs are often not crisp – having been cut short. In addition, there is a fear that he gets tagged with the “system QB” label, given the number of packaged plays, screens, and the spread attack that Texas Tech runs. But another solid year of production will go a long way toward justifying the early hype.

C.J. Beathard – Iowa

The Iowa Hawkeyes were one defensive stop away from a playoff berth, but Michigan State’s epic 22-play drive ended the dream season. A big part of their success in 2015, though, was due to the play of quarterback C.J. Beathard. The junior QB took over the starting spot after the departure of Jake Rudock to Michigan and turned in a very solid season. Beathard threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Iowa built their offense around Jordan Canzeri and the running attack, but Beathard was very effective in the play-action passing game. He throws the ball well on the move, whether by design or when trying to keep a play alive. Beathard is also athletic enough to extend the play from the pocket, or to pick up yardage with his feet. He might not have the elite traits to push him toward the top of the draft board, but he will check many boxes for NFL evaluators and should be a solid option in the middle rounds.

Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma State

As a sophomore in 2015, Rudolph saw the majority of snaps for the Cowboys and produced great numbers. He threw for 3,770 yards and 21 touchdowns, with only nine interceptions. Rudolph and the Cowboys won the first ten games of the 2016, before dropping three-straight to close out the year. Rudolph thrives in Oklahoma State’s spread attack, and has the ability to make throws on a number of passing concepts with timing and anticipation. He will need to show continued improvement on working through progressions, but, given the offensive structure around him, Rudolph is in good position to put up great numbers once more for Oklahoma State in 2016.

Dane Evans – Tulsa

Dane Evans enters the 2016 season as the incumbent starter after taking over for the offense as a sophomore in 2013. In 2015, Evans completed 63% of his passes for 4,332 yards and 25 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions. He thrives in Tulsa’s spread / RPO attack, but he has the arm strength to push the ball vertically and shows good touch in the deep passing game. He shows good ball placement in the short passing game and makes quick decisions. Evans is also an athletic football player who is evasive in the pocket and can make the first defender – or two – miss while keeping a play alive. Like many college quarterbacks, he tends to lock onto his first read and seems to make his mind up pre-snap where he is going with the football. If he can show some improvement on working through reads, he will be a very interesting player to track in 2016.

Thomas Sirk – Duke (injury)

In his first year as a starter for the Blue Devils, Sirk threw for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns, against eight interceptions. He led Duke to an 8-5 record, including a victory over Nate Sudfeld and Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl. He is a dual-threat quarterback, dangerous both when throwing the football or when keeping the ball on an RPO design. When carrying the football, he shows above-average speed to run away from defenders, as well as the strength to run over a defender or break a tackle or two. As a passer, Sirk shows nice touch on vertical routes and some good placement on route along the sideline; he also has the aggressiveness to challenge some narrow throwing lanes over the middle of the field. It is worth noting, though, that he suffered a ruptured left achilles tendon in February that required surgery, which puts his status for the season-opener in doubt. This is the second time he’s ruptured his achilles while at Duke, injuring his right achilles tendon in 2013. But if he is ready to start the year, he is a good developmental-type QB to watch during 2016.

Cooper Rush – Central Michigan

Rush is another very experienced quarterback in this class, entering 2016 as the starter for the third season. He played in 11 games for the Chippewas as a redshirt freshman in 2013, starting the final 10 games of the season. Rush started all 13 games in 2014, throwing for 3,157 yards and 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, as he led Central Michigan to a 7-6 record and a berth in the Bahamas Bowl, which the Chippewas lost in thrilling fashion on the final play. Rush started all 13 games last year as well, and completed 66% of his passes for 3,848 yards and 25 TDs against 11 interceptions. Rush has the arm strength to challenge narrow throwing windows over the middle or attack the sidelines on out routes or comebacks. He throws well on the move, and the Chippewas designed a number of rollouts or bootlegs to take advantage of this ability. He is also experienced operating under center, as well as in the pistol or shotgun. He’ll need to clean up his footwork on drops in the pocket, but is athletic enough to extend plays with his feet or pick up yardage running the football. Rush and the Chippewas will get a tough early test on the road against Rudolph and Oklahoma State, but, with a strong senior campaign, he should find himself in contention for a spot in Mobile next January.

J.T. Barrett – Ohio State

As the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2014, Barrett put up impressive numbers for OSU, throwing for 2,384 yards and 34 touchdowns, against ten interceptions. But the ankle injury he suffered against Michigan ended his season, opening the door for Jones and his incredible three-game run to a national championship. Both quarterbacks remained in Columbus to compete for the starting job in 2015, but Jones won the job to start the year. Barrett still saw significant action, and eventually Meyer turned to him to run the offense later in the season. The year also saw him cited for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. Barrett threw for 992 yards and 11 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He enters the 2016 season poised to be the starter and fits well with the spread offense Urban Meyer likes to run. It remains to be seen whether his skill-set translates to the NFL game, but Barrett should put up good numbers once more for the Buckeyes.

Tyrone Swoopes – Texas

Longhorns fans might not want to admit it, but Swoopes looks to be the starting quarterback for Charlie Strong and Texas come the fall. Swoopes saw limited action as a freshman in 2013, but took over in the second game of the season in 2014 as the starting quarterback after an injury to David Ash. He threw for 2,409 yards and 13 TDs against 11 INTs in 2013, and Texas limped to a 6-7 record. Swoopes was in position to improve on those numbers in 2015, but his season got off to a disastrous start against Notre Dame in the opener, as he completed only 7 of 22 passes for 93 yards. After this performance, he was used only as a short-yardage quarterback and ran for 11 touchdowns and threw for three more in this role. But word out of Austin is that he’s in position to win the job once more and, if he does, his athleticism and arm strength are worth watching in 2016.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, or how Connor Cook is like comfort food, or on Carson Wentz and reading progressions.

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