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“The Big 4”
My top rated quarterback, and the only one to receive a 1st round grade from me this year is Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II. Mahomes is more than just an ultra gunslinger. He is the only QB in this class to pass every threshold I use to measure a QB alongside the tape. While no collection of stats can directly predict NFL success, he passes through all the eliminating factors set before him and has the tools, mental processing, and athletic ability to thrive within and outside the structure of an NFL offense. He is the only QB I would consider in the top half of the first round and I think he’s be the perfect long term option for Cleveland at #12 overall.
For much of the 2016 season and 2017 NFL Draft process I had Deshaun Watson as a top QB, but as more and more new information became available, it made me challenge what I believed in and would bend on. On the surface Deshaun Watson is the ultimate winner and competitor; the giant-slayer you want from your signal-caller. But all scouting has to go deeper than that, and all scouts have to have preferences for each position – especially quarterback.
What eliminated Watson for me? A combination of a few things. He failed Ethan Young’s SEMTEX metric, which predicts NFL success with over a 96% rate. He failed Ball Velocity – an incomplete, but interesting stat that I give merit to. Thirdly was the fact that he has a sub-3/1 TD/INT ratio in college, which could be because of lack of arm strength, anticipation, accuracy, or most likely a collection of each. Watson is someone I would want on my football team, but not until the 2nd Round and only on a team that could win with him, not because of him. I see his career arch being similar to Teddy Bridgewater’s, pre-injury. I like Watson when heavily contextualized, but would not draft him until Day 2.
The enigma of this QB class is Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. After thriving in the Irish’s offense in 2015 after taking over when Malik Zaire was injured, Kizer started 2016 with a masterful performance in the opening game against Texas. His toughest opponent in that game, and all season long, was head coach Brian Kelly, who time and again threatened his job as the starter and kept him off of rhythm by not solidifying that he was the guy. Because Kizer had to battle his second-guessing head coach, as well as opponent’s defense, his 2016 was a mixed bag. His peaks are the best in this class. But his low completion percentage, combined with that fact that Kizer became more and more hesitant as the season progressed leaves me wondering where he is mentally upon entering the NFL. We talk a lot about the concept of “quicksand” at Inside the Pylon, and I have to wonder if he’ll be more Joey Harrington and David Carr than Jameis Winston. I cannot answer those questions and therefore cannot grade him as a surefire 1st rounder. I’d be most comfortable taking him at the back half of round 1 if I was a playoff team with a great supporting cast to surround him with, or if I was a team in early round 2 that would be able to bring him along slowly and nurture both the technical and mental deficiencies to his game. His highs are the highest in the class, but banking on that in the top 10 will more often get you fired than extended.
My QB4 is North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky. If you believe that anything in the short term is random and chaotic, then it’s likely hard for you to buy into him as a 1st round quarterback – and that’s where I’m at with Trubisky. Only having 13 starts at North Carolina, he doesn’t have a large enough sample size to reliably judge his skill and talents. I hear people mention Cam Newton’s iconic 2010 season at Auburn, his only as an FBS starter. But many forget that Cam started an entire season in junior college (JUCO) the year previously and went undefeated. Granted, JUCO isn’t the ACC, but it’s still experience. It’s reps. It’s ironing out flaws. And even if you don’t want to give Cam credit for JUCO experience, and say he only started 14 games at a big-time college program, are you banking on Trubisky being the kind of outlier that Cam has been? The 1st round should be about minimizing risk and maximizing returns; and while I get the appeal of Trubisky, I can’t grade him as a Top 10-15 quarterback. His best comparison is Ryan Tannehill, who made the switch from wide receiver to quarterback at Texas A&M. Tannehill’s has had NFL success, but he’s still more tools than refined substance and will likely never get back ahead of the learning curve he lost by playing WR for so long. Trubisky has tools, and in an offense like Arizona or Houston he could be very appealing, and therefore I would approach him in a similar manner to how I described above.
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- Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman slots in at QB5. Having played under offensive savant Matt Canada, Peterman shows the physical potential and mental acumen to play in a timing-based, chain-moving offense as a serviceable backup and contextual starter. He likely will never crack the mid-tier of NFL starting quarterbacks, but there is real value to having him on your roster.
- Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans had a brilliant season in 2016 and decided to make the jump to the NFL despite only one season at the FBS level. He’s very much a developmental player in years 1-3 of his career, but I don’t think imagining him to being a Tyrod Taylor-esque second contract starter is unrealistic. He’ll have to develop the Xs and Os side of the game, coming from Justin Fuente’s offense, but the tools and raw play-strength are there.
- I would have loved to have seen Miami’s Brad Kaaya return to Coral Gables for 2017. Alas, he’s now projecting as a mid-round quarterback who I believe will stick as a being low-end, serviceable QB throughout his career, and at worst should be one of the better backups in the NFL in a few seasons.
- Davis Webb out of Cal is the yearly quarterback being driven up the board due to his physique and “arm talent”. The truth on Davis Webb is that plays more like Brock Osweiler than he does Joe Flacco. He throws a really nice 9-route but the rest of the toolkit is lacking. He fits a vertical offense, but shouldn’t be the focal point or developmental option for said offense. For me Davis is a QB3 who hopefully develops into a spot-starting, system quarterback by year 4 or 5.
- Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs has a degree in Aerospace Engineering and graduated with a 4.0. If and when football doesn’t work out, he’s going to be fine. But while he’s in the NFL, he’s a role-playing backup who will likely be a practice squad quarterback his first year in the league.
- Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly is the final quarterback I graded this draft season. The off-field issues are there, and while those get forgiven at other positions, quarterbacks are held to a higher standard. I doubt he’s selected in April’s draft, but do believe the fact he’s a true gunslinger with big-play potential will land him in a camp and potentially on a practice squad. Long-term I see Kelly as a stop-gap or spot-starter type who you bring in with the potential to make game-altering plays, but is never someone who should be seriously considered as a consistent starter.
This class is a mixed bag. There’s as much boom or bust potential in this group as any in the last several years. I fear that if the top of this class gets pushed up too high and forced into tough situations early that they will struggle and fail. But, if given time and taken at proper value, there’s several long-term starters and interesting developmental types in this group.