Ladies and gentlemen, mock draft season is upon us. Back when I worked in an office, I loved getting to my desk each morning during draft time, firing up the web browser, and surfing the Internet for the countless options that the wise denizens of football predicted for each team. But now, as a writer who focuses on quarterbacks, creating mock drafts really isn’t my thing. If you want the full scale, then guys like Jon Ledyard and Shane Alexander are your men. But if there’s one area I can speak to, it’s quarterbacks. So here is the first QB-centric mock of the season.
What I’ve done here is identify 10 teams that I think need to address the position in this draft, and put together a list of selections that I would make if I were in charge of those teams. The results are not simply a ranking of how I have these quarterbacks in my mind, but rather a look at their traits, what they do well, and how those match with the needs and the scheme fit for the various offenses. Having watched all these quarterbacks – as well as their respective college offenses – this is my attempt at the best marriages for each. Now, I have not taken into account potential free agent moves, which will impact these teams in the near future.
So, here we go. Now remember, this is what I would do if I were in charge of these organizations. If you are not happy with the picks, just be grateful that I’m just a guy currently on the couch writing while his daughter watches another episode of Wild Kratts, and not the person making the final decisions.
San Francisco – DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame (Pick 2)
One of the reasons I really like this quarterback class is that people seem to be coalescing around a Top Four of Deshaun Watson, Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, and Patrick Mahomes II, but if you ask 10 different fans which one is the top quarterback, you’ll get some variation among the answers. There is a defensible case for any of these guys to be the top gun in the class, but someone is going to come off the board first.
Kizer might not end up being my top quarterback out of this group, but having spent a season watching him play at Notre Dame, as well as breaking down Kyle Shanahan’s Falcons’ offense, the former Irish QB might be the best fit from a schematic standpoint. Kizer has the ability to make every throw Shanahan asked of NFL MVP Matt Ryan last season, and has the athleticism to operate in a system that requires the quarterback to throw on the move, to execute play-action passes, and to operate in the boot action game. Here is just a quick look at Kizer running some concepts that Atlanta used this past season. First we see a route attacking the middle of the field, with out routes to the outside. Then we see a wheel route to a running back from the weak side of the offense, in a 3×1 formation:
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Kizer will need some work as he transitions to the NFL, particularly on the mechanical side of things. But he gives the 49ers and Shanahan the quarterback to build around as they look to return to form in the NFC West.
Chicago – Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina (Pick 3)
Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago seems to be coming to an end. The quarterback has a guaranteed salary of $12.5 MM this season and will count for $16 MM against the cap, but the Bears stand to save $14 MM if he is jettisoned prior to June 1. Given the math, you can expect Cutler to be cut prior to this summer. But that would leave Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer as the quarterbacks on the roster, and it is unlikely that Chicago is satisfied with either of those players as the long-term answer under center.
Enter the UNC product, Mitch Trubisky. While he does not have a ton of starts to his credit, Trubisky checks many of the boxes that scouts and coaches look for in the position. He has the arm strength to execute the throws needed in the NFL, he is an athletic quarterback, and he is able to speed up his processing when necessary, particularly in the red zone. For a team that has many of the pieces in place on the offensive side of the football, the QB that might be the safest option out of the top four makes the most sense.
New York Jets – Deshaun Watson, Clemson (Pick 6)
The Jets need to sort their quarterback situation out, and in a hurry. The Geno Smith experiment seems to be over, Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his way out of the Big Apple, Bryce Petty’s ceiling might be that of a backup, and despite spending a second-round pick on him, Christian Hackenberg still can’t hit the ocean. New York brought in John Morton, who cut his teeth under Sean Payton in New Orleans, as its new offensive coordinator which indicates to me that the Jets will rely on a heavy dose of West Coast concepts with some deeper stuff mixed in.
That sounds like the perfect offense for Deshaun Watson.
In watching Watson from 2015 to 2016, one of the areas I noticed considerable growth was in the pre-snap to snap phase of the game. Watson was very adept at discerning coverages and ruling out options prior to the snap, as well as confirming the coverage and making the right decision with the ball as the defense adjusted at the beginning of the play. This was on full display during the National Championship game, and Watson was very capable at picking up how Alabama rolled its coverages and throwing to the right read. In the Jets’ offense, he’ll be able to rely on his ability in the short and intermediate passing game, yet take advantage of opportunities down the field. This is a great fit for Watson to begin his career, and a chance for the Jets to finally get the QB they have long needed.
Cleveland – Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech (Pick 32 – Yes, a Trade With New England)
Mahomes is a player on the rise, and it would not surprise me at all if come April he is standing atop some draft boards at the quarterback position. If you are a coach who wants a live arm, the ability to make any throw from any platform, and can live with mistakes early in a career, Mahomes might just be your QB1. Cleveland currently has two quarterbacks in Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler who have starts under their belt in Hue Jackson’s system, so they can hold down the fort until Mahomes is ready to take over the reins.
Stylistically, I think this is a good fit. Jackson favored a vertical passing game with Andy Dalton during the 2014-2015 season, and we saw glimpses of that during RG3’s time under center last year with the Browns. Jackson’s offense does have components of a West Coast scheme to it, and I think Mahomes will be able to adapt to that offense coming from an Air Raid system.
Buffalo – Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech (Pick 76 – Round 3, Pick 12)
If I were truly running the show in Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor would be re-signed and the Bills would be addressing other positions of need in this draft. But all indications are that the player and team are far apart, and that Taylor might be on his way out of town. If that is indeed the case, the Bills will need to address the QB spot in this draft, but I do not think they need to do it earlier than the third round. They have Cardale Jones on the roster and he has the ability to start for this team in his second year. But they’ll need to get another guy in to back up Jones in this scenario, and while he’s flown under the radar, Evans might be the best fit and option.
Arizona – Davis Webb, California (Pick 77 – Round 3, Pick 13)
With Carson Palmer deciding to return to Arizona for another season, it’s unlikely that my dream marriage of Bruce Arians and Mahomes is consummated, as Palmer’s return gives the Cardinals the opportunity to spend earlier picks addressing other needs. However, Palmer’s age does mean that Arizona must think about eventually replacing him, so this is a good spot to grab a quarterback who fits what Arians wants to do.
Webb is the big, vertical passer that fits in perfectly in an Arians scheme. Out of all the passers in this class, Webb might be the best at throwing the 9 route, and he would find plenty of opportunities playing for the Cardinals. He’ll need to adapt from playing in the California Air Raid system, but would find no better tutors than a coach in Arians and a QB to emulate in Palmer.
Houston – Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh (Pick 89 – Round 3, Pick 25)
Judging by how Houston played down the stretch, the Brock Osweiler starting QB experiment may come to a quicker conclusion than many in Houston might have expected. But with the way his contract is structured, Houston is likely forced to hold on to the signal-caller for another season or two. Whether the Texans look to bring in a free agent to address the position (perhaps one Mr. Tony Romo) or draft a rookie to come in and compete with Osweiler and Tom Savage, it’s clear that quarterback will be addressed.
Assuming that the team stays with Osweiler and Savage, I’d look for them to take a QB a bit later in the draft, and Pittsburgh quarterback Nathan Peterman fits well with what Bill O’Brien likes to do on offense. Peterman can attack the intermediate and shallow areas of the field with accuracy, and he displays the anticipation necessary to succeed at the next level. In addition, Peterman is adept at holding or moving safeties with his eyes, and has enough arm strength to attack smaller throwing windows and along the sidelines. Bringing in Peterman provides the Texans with three quarterbacks to choose from, and given the talent on the rest of the roster, they should be able to piece together a decent enough offense regardless of which player earns the starting spot.
Jacksonville – Brad Kaaya, Miami (Pick 99 – Round 4, Pick 3)
Blake Bortles underwhelmed again in 2016, and his mechanics remain a huge question mark. The Jaguars have a young, talented team but right now it seems like the quarterback spot is holding them back. Bortles still has a lock on the starting job, but his grip on that spot is growing more and more tenuous with each trebuchet toss. It is not time to completely cut bait, but it would be a good idea to bring in a more developmental-type QB and see what they can work with over the next season or so.
Brad Kaaya looked the part of a potential first-round selection his freshman season at Miami, particularly in a prime-time clash against Florida State and future No. 1 overall selection Jameis Winston. But over the past two seasons his development did not progress as many had hoped. Kaaya is capable of delivering some big-time throws, but is still hesitant at times. Part of this might be due to learning a new system this past season, and for my money I would have loved to see him stay at Miami for one more season under Mark Richt and develop in his offense. But having decided to come out, he might see his stock slip a bit in this class. He is an accurate passer and shows good touch on deeper routes, but the decision-making will be an area he needs to develop. Playing in Jacksonville under an offensive-minded head coach in Doug Marrone would be a great place to start.
New York Giants – Josh Dobbs, Tennessee (Pick 151 – Round 5, Pick 23)
At first blush, the Giants might not need to address the quarterback spot in this draft. But when you look at their roster, adding a quarterback might be a wise move. Eli Manning is entering his 14th NFL season, and at the age of 36 he stands on the back nine of his career. Behind Manning the Giants have Ryan Nassib and Josh Johnson, neither of whom stand out as potential long-term solutions at the position. Manning probably has a few more seasons left as a top-tier starter, but the Giants would be smart to draft a QB now to push Nassib, with the hopes that he could develop into either an upgrade at the backup spot or a potential starter down the road. Last year they signed Josh Woodrum as an UDFA, and that did not pan out, but you can see that the organization is starting to think about life after Eli.
Dobbs is a very inconsistent quarterback, and this even played out during his week of practice in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. He was shaky on Day One, and very impressive on Day Two, and then shaky again on Day Three and during the game itself. He has moments when he is a very athletic quarterback, who can extend plays and make smart, quick decisions with the football. Other times he forces throws and makes plays that leave you scratching your head. He will need some time to season and refine his game, but with his raw tools he would be a nice development project in the Big Apple.
Pittsburgh – C.J. Beathard, Iowa (Pick 190 – Round 6, Pick 30)
Similar to the Giants, the Steelers are a few years away from truly needing to address the position. However, in the wake of their AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger raised the specter of retirement. Whether that was just Big Ben venting in the aftermath of a loss remains to be seen, but this thought might force the organization to speed up its timetable on addressing the quarterback position. The Steelers still have Landry Jones on the roster who is a serviceable backup, as well as journeyman Zach Mettenberger, but again it’s unlikely either is the long-term solution. In the interest of potentially upgrading at QB2 and preparing for the future, a late-round selection of a QB makes sense.
Beathard had a strong junior season, as the Iowa Hawkeyes made their magical run to the Big Ten Championship Game. While his numbers took a step back as a senior, he still has displayed some NFL-level traits. He has the velocity to challenge NFL throwing windows, and makes some good decisions with the football. He also has shown the processing speed – at times – to make quick decisions, and is a generally accurate passer. He’ll need to refine his footwork and continue to speed up his decision-making, but learning under Roethlisberger would be a good launching pad.
Now, there are some names absent from this list, such as Chad Kelly, Seth Russell, Alek Torgersen, and Sefo Liufau who may get drafted, but for right now these 10 players and teams seem to make for quality pairs. Free agency will likely shift the quarterback landscape a bit, so look for a revised QB mock draft following the moves made during that time.