Now things really get interesting. We’re moving into the Day Three type of players, quarterbacks who for one reason or another will probably wait a little bit longer to hear their name called. But there are some talented players in this class who are Day Three QBs, including some in this tier below who are getting some recent buzz for “moving up draft boards” or “potential guys who get drafted before people expect.” This group of players I’ll discuss today I’m terming the tier of Players I Can’t Quit. These are guys that have some flaws and / or red flags, but I just can’t quit them.
Joshua Dobbs, University of Tennessee – QB9
Inconsistency was perhaps the hallmark of Joshua Dobbs’ career as a Volunteer. This past year, Tennessee entered the football season as perhaps the team to beat in the SEC East, but their season was foreshadowed in the opener when they struggled to overcome Appalachian State at home. In that game, you could see the inconsistent play from Dobbs play out over 60 minutes. At times, he showed perfect awareness and understanding of what the defense was doing, making full field progression reads, looking off defenders, and getting the football out on time and in rhythm. Then he would turn right around and make a throw near the end of the first half that leaves you scratching your head about whether he can be a NFL QB.
This inconsistency also played out while in Mobile during Senior Bowl week. Dobbs had a slow start to the week, perhaps due in part to playing with new receivers and operating in an unfamiliar offense. But his Wednesday practice was perhaps the best performance by a QB down in Alabama that week, as he was confident, got the ball out in rhythm and was placing his throws with great accuracy, showing the mechanics and torque that allow him to dial up the velocity when necessary. But on Thursday, he was back to struggling a bit.
When he’s at his best, Dobbs is a quarterback who can make full field reads, and can deliver the ball with accuracy to all levels of the field from clean pockets. In those environments he can also generate great velocity, and the ball comes out of his hands very well with sufficient zip. He also shows a willingness to keep the eyes downfield when facing pressure, looking for a late option in the scramble drill and trying to stay with the structure of the play. Along these lines, he’ll take the running back or the late checkdown option when the situation warrants it – usually.
But there are times either against pressure, or when he gets off rhythm or off platform, when accuracy and decision-making both dip. That’s an area he’ll need to clean up moving forward. Additionally, he’ll need to do a better job reading and recognizing complex or combination coverages. One example came from that game against Appalachian State when he nearly threw a bad interceptions against Cover 2 Trap. He’ll need to see those coverages better on the outside.
Dobbs translates best to a West Coast system utilized by Jay Gruden in Washington, and that included a lot of half-field reads and quicker throws. That will help Dobbs with his transition to the NFL and create an opportunity to keep him in a good rhythm as a passer. He has the arm and velocity to move to a Coryell system as well, but the fit isn’t as clean.
One- to Three-year Projection:
Ideally, Dobbs goes to a team like the Chargers, Giants or Steelers who are set at quarterback for the near future, but will need a new starter in a year or two down the road. That fits best with his projected path in the NFL. I think Dobbs can challenge for the backup job as a rookie for most organizations, and by his third year he should be ready to challenge for a starting role.
Round Grade: Fourth Round
Chad Kelly, University of Mississippi – QB10
“Our quarterback is a baller.”
These words from Coach Hugh Freeze during his presentation at the 2016 Nike Coach of the Year Clinic stuck with me while studying both the presentation on the Mississippi offense, and studying Kelly this draft season. Kelly is a quarterback in that gunslinger mold, who has never seen a throwing window he won’t challenge or a route he thinks he cannot throw. If you like Patrick Mahomes – and many do – you can likely get Chad Kelly at a draft capital discount. He has the functional athleticism to extend plays with his feet and keep situations alive and has the arm to drive in throws when necessary. Additionally, Kelly shows the ability to anticipate routes coming open and get the football out of his hands on or even ahead of schedule. Kelly also shows a good understanding of the defense pre-snap. In the Mississippi offense he would flash his eyes to the boundary or his hot read when facing the blitz to try and get the ball to a playmaker. He can also make some very quick decisions with the football, and has a very quick release, all aspects that would fit perfectly with a West Coast offense.
However, Kelly is not without his red flags. The issues that cloud his evaluation stem from his life away from the field, as well has his medical issues. From a health standpoint, Kelly’s collegiate career ended early when he tore the ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee midway through this past season. This comes in the wake of a previous ACL tear to that knee during the 2013 spring game while Kelly was enrolled at Clemson University. edical technology has advanced to the point where players can return in mere months from ACL tears, such as with Adrian Peterson or Rob Gronkowski, but two ACL injuries to the same knee is a significant red flag. In addition, Kelly had to end his pro day throwing session early with a wrist injury.
Kelly also has a somewhat checkered past from a personal standpoint. He was dismissed from Clemson in April of 2014 following a sideline altercation with the coaching staff. He landed at community college for a season before enrolling at Mississippi. There was also an arrest outside a nightclub in Buffalo, when he apparently threatened to “get my AK-47 and spray this place.” In addition, we also saw him run onto the field during a fight during one of his brother’s high school games, and engage another player physically. These are incidents he’ll need to answer for when meeting with NFL organizations.
We are huge on context at ITP. I mentioned that coaching clinic earlier. Coach Freeze spent a great deal of time talking about Kelly, and his “severe ADD.” This forced the coaching staff to structure the naming concepts of their plays and offense to enable Kelly to understand and absorb the scheme and be able to run it effectively. This is not in any way meant to excuse Kelly’s behavior, but it provides some context to his demeanor. Just another data point to consider. (LINK TO IMAGE)
On the field, Kelly is a “baller”, as his coach described him. Kelly also has some big fans in the evaluation community. My friend Matt Waldman thinks the world of him, but as Matt will admit, his evaluation is between the lines, and he does not face the risk of drafting him and seeing things implode around the rookie QB. These red flags likely push the QB down the board on draft day, but in the right setting and in a strong organization (Dallas, Baltimore, and New England come to mind) Kelly could find the structure and support that would enable him to flourish at the next level. Understanding the context, and provided his knee and wrist check out during the medical evaluations, Kelly could be that late round steal teams are looking for.
Because of his quick release and quick decision-making, Kelly fits best in a West Coast system. Many of the concepts Freeze implemented mirror West Coast concepts, and from a skill and schematic standpoint, the West Coast fit is best for Kelly.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
Kelly benefits from a slot transition to the NFL, challenging for the backup spot his first year in the league and serving as the backup for a few years. With a few years of stability in the same system and organization, he is a quarterback that can challenge for a starting spot at the end of his rookie contract.
Round Grade: Fourth Round
C.J. Beathard, University of Iowa – QB11
Beathard, like his entire team, enjoyed a magical season during 2015-2016, making a run to the Big Ten Championship Game before losing in the final seconds to Michigan State. Over the course of the season, the junior put up very strong numbers in Iowa’s ball-control offensive scheme. He completed 61.6% of his passes (averaging 7.76 yards per attempt) for 17 touchdowns and only five interceptions. But he and the rest of the Hawkeyes were unable to replicate their success from the previous season in 2016-17. Iowa finished with an 8-5 record and was blown out in their bowl game by Florida. Beathard completed 56.5% of his passes for 1,929 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with three of those turnovers coming against the Gators in the Outback Bowl. Now, watching Beathard over the past two years, the completion percentage this past year saw a dip not through a fault of the QBs. Many of Beathard’s throws were on target and were either broken up, or dropped.
Where coaches will like Beathard begins in the pre-snap phase of the offense. On numerous occasions, you can see the quarterback adjust the offense, change the play, and get into a better situation. Once the play begins, he is an accurate passer, with sufficient arm strength and velocity to make the necessary throws in the NFL. In addition, he shows a good balance of aggression and ball security. Beathard will challenge throwing windows at times and can manipulate defenders in the secondary, but he’s also content taking what the defense gives him, and if that’s a checkdown on third and long, then he’ll take that and live to fight another down. Finally, one aspect of his play I really like is his patience, particularly in the red zone. There are times as a quarterback when you try and really speed things up in that area of the field, but he actually slows things down and lets the play develop fully before making his throw.
Beathard does see his accuracy dip a bit when under pressure, as well as on routes down the field or too the boundary, such as deep RB swing routes or bubble screens. Mechanically, he is generally solid but his release is slow with a longer windup, so that will be something to watch depending on the offensive scheme fit. There are times when in the face of pressure he’ll speed up his process unnecessarily, and there are situations where he could climb the pocket but either chucks and ducks or backpedals away from the pressure. Cleaning up some pocket consistency would be a good thing for his development.
His pre-snap awareness fits well with a West Coast system. His placement on out routes and slant routes is generally very solid, and those patterns are a hallmark of WC schemes. Systems such as Erhardt-Perkins or Coryell might not be the best fit for him, as there are times he struggles making anticipation throws, and he has been inconsistent down the field as well.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
Beathard has the makings of a long-term backup / spot starter in the NFL. He should solidify a role as a backup by his second year in the league, and, in the ideal situation, could challenge for a starting role by the end of his rookie deal.
Round Grade: Fourth Round
Seth Russell, Baylor University – QB12
Similar to Kelly, Russell has some red medical flags as he tries to enter the NFL. He took over as the starting quarterback for Baylor in the 2015 season, and put up impressive numbers in their offense over his first seven games as the starter, completing just under 60 percent of his passes 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns, against six interceptions. One of his drives against Texas Tech was featured in the critically acclaimed 17 Drives, in case you wanted to check that out…
But near the end of their game against Iowa State, Russell injured his neck on a short run. Postgame tests revealed that he fractured a bone in his neck, and needed surgery, which ended his season. He was ready to start last year for the season opener, and again was putting up solid numbers for the Bears, but he suffered a severe dislocated ankle against Oklahoma, an injury which cut short his senior year. He’s now healthy and worked out at Baylor’s pro day, but two season-ending injuries have raised some medical issues.
When healthy, he is a passer who, operating in Baylor’s high tempo passing attack, shows some of the traits necessary for success at the next level. On shorter routes, such as quick outs, curls or hitches, he can make those throws with great timing and anticipation, and often the football is out of his hands well before the receiver starts his cut or break. On the deeper parts of Baylor’s playbook, he can deliver throws along the boundary and downfield with touch and accuracy. In their offense, he shows, at times, a great awareness for defensive leverage and an understanding of how to attack a secondary. He is also very good on fade routes. Another aspect of his game that is impressive is play speed and processing speed. He can diagnose both what the defense is giving him, as well as how his receivers are adjusting routes, and can reset and throw with minimal wasted effort.
Russell can be inconsistent with his ball placement, particularly in the middle of the field or when he’s under duress. He’ll face some questions about his footwork, as he operated in a shotgun-exclusive offense and at time his drops were a bit muddled in the pocket. Mechanically, he could use some fine-tuning, to make his delivery a bit more compact. He will also face some questions about transitioning to an NFL offense, and making full progression reads on a more regular basis.
I think Russell fits best in a Coryell system, that takes advantage of his ability down the field. He is very adept at throwing vertical routes along the boundary as well as challenging the middle of the field on deeper post routes. While he does throw curl and hitch routes very well, moving him to a more West Coast style of play might be a tougher transition.
One- to Three-Year Projection:
Russell would benefit from a relaxed transition to the NFL, and if drafted into a Coryell system he could challenge for a starting spot by the end of his rookie deal. He could be a starter in the NFL in that kind of offense, but otherwise he’s more likely a long term backup in the league.
Round Grade: Sixth Round
With 12 quarterbacks now covered, we’ll move into the final tier of this draft class, some more developmental-type players. Some are more short-term projects, while others are longer-term players of the lottery ticket variety. Stay with me everyone, we’re almost home.