A few weeks back, one member of the football media world decried the inclination to look ahead to the 2018 quarterback draft class before the 2017 draft even took place. Basing his argument on the uncertainties that exist from one year to the next, and how development is not linear, it was way too early to look to the next crop of signal callers before the current class was even drafted.
Now that the draft has taken place, it’s time to revisit that thought.
With the caveat that development truly is not linear, and that many of the next group of QBs are underclassmen who may not even declare for the draft, the 2018 quarterback class does have the potential to be special. I’ve been working through my current watch list that is approaching 40 players, and there is a tremendous amount of talent flying both above and below the radar right now. I’ll be rolling out the names on this list over the summer, starting with seniors who are on the rise. I’ll highlight some of the traits that are intriguing right now, as well as an area or two I’ll be watching for as the 2017 college football season unfolds. Again, I’ll be starting with the seniors – more than this piece alone will be dedicated to the senior class – and the names are listed in no particular order.
Luke Falk, Washington State
Bio: Falk took over the starting reins for the Cougars with four games remaining in his redshirt freshman season, and has been a mainstay at the position for Washington State since. Falk put up strong numbers in both his sophomore and junior seasons, throwing for 4,561 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2015, and 4,468 yards and again 38 touchdowns in 2016. Playing in Mike Leach’s Air Raid system, he’ll get one more year to put up impressive numbers.
What Intrigues Me: Falk will likely get the “Air Raid system quarterback” tag as we head into the draft cycle, but trait-wise he shows many of the skills coaches and scouts look for in a quarterback. He moves well in the pocket, manipulates defenders with his eyes well, and displays good touch on many of his throws – whether downfield or even underneath against zone coverage schemes. Falk is an experienced, aggressive quarterback, willing to challenge some smaller throwing windows other QBs might avoid.
What I’m Watching in 2017: I’ll be paying attention to downfield vision, as there were times that Falk had open receivers but did not pull the trigger, so I’ll be trying to see if this continues, or if there are reasons why he shied away from some throws.
Mike White, Western Kentucky
Bio: After the departure of Brandon Doughty to the NFL, White assumed the starter’s spot in the Hilltoppers’ high-octane offense. White and the WKU offense barely skipped a beat, as they led the FBS in points per game (45.5) and finished fifth in both passing offense (336.8 yards per game) and total offense (523.1 yards per game). White was named the 2016 Conference USA Newcomer of the Year, and in perhaps a nod to his NFL future, he was recently named as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy.
What Intrigues Me: White demonstrates good, quick footwork on both three- and five-step drops, whether from the shotgun or pistol formations. He can click and climb the pocket, and moves around the pocket fairly well. White can execute off-platform throws very well, while maintaining sufficient accuracy and velocity. One area that stands out right now is in the downfield passing game, as he throws deep crossers, post routes, and go routes with accuracy and the necessary touch.
What I’m Watching in 2017: I’ll be watching for improvement in two areas. First, in terms of situational awareness, there were times in 2016 when he made some curious decisions, so it will be interesting to see if he cleans that up. Second, some improvement on his ball placement in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Bio: It was somewhat of a surprising decision when Rudolph decided to return to campus for his senior season. In a piece from last October by Justis Mosqueda, Rudolph was pointed to as a first-round pick. But in the runup to the Alamo Bowl, both Rudolph and talented wideout James Washington announced they would be returning to Stillwater for one last year. This gives Rudolph a chance to build on his big numbers from last season, where he threw for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
What Intrigues Me: With good processing speed, impressive deep accuracy, and solid arm talent and velocity, Rudolph looks the part of an ideal pocket-passer in the NFL. He can make anticipation throws on par with anyone else in this group of quarterbacks, and his timing, placement, and anticipation on out routes or deep curls against zone coverage looks really stands out. Rudolph was very impressive against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, and a defense that included two incoming NFL rookie cornerbacks.
What I’m Watching in 2017: There were times last year when his accuracy seemed to dip, particularly in the intermediate area of the field and on routes breaking to the inside, such as dig or post routes. That’s one area where I’ll be looking for more consistency.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Bio: A rare “double walk-on,” Mayfield enrolled at Texas Tech University without a scholarship but because of injuries at the quarterback position, started the season opener for the Red Raiders as a true freshman in 2013. He turned in a very strong season, and was named Big 12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. But after a falling out with the coaching staff, he left Lubbock for Norman, where he again walked-on to the Sooners squad. Mayfield sat out the entire 2014 season because of transfer rules, and then earned the starting job for 2015, leading Oklahoma to the FBS playoffs. Last season, he threw for 3,669 yards and 38 touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and in his two years as a starting QB for the Sooners, he has finished fourth and third, respectively, in Heisman voting.
What Intrigues Me: Mayfield is a player who excels at improvisation, and can make plays outside the pocket and off structure with the best of them. In Oklahoma’s offense he makes quick reads and shows solid processing speed. He’s also willing to climb and move around the pocket as necessary to keep plays alive. The Sooners signal caller shows good placement on vertical routes, as well as the ability to manipulate second- and third-level defenders with his eyes.
What I’m Watching in 2017: As I wrote prior to his decision to stay for another year, there are times when it seems like Mayfield not only thrives on chaos in the pocket, but that he seeks it out. There are situations where he waits too long with the ball in his hands for a play to develop or a receiver to work himself open, rather than taking an available checkdown or getting what he can with his feet. I’m curious to see if he stays more on structure in the year ahead.
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Bio: Allen took over the starting spot vacated by his brother Brandon when the older Allen left Fayetteville for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL. In his first season as a starter, Austin turned in a season very similar to Brandon’s final year with the Razorbacks, as he threw for 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions. He led Arkansas to a 7-6 record and a berth in the Belk Bowl, which the Razorbacks lost to Virginia Tech.
What Intrigues Me: Allen is in the running for the 2017-2018 “Pro-Style Offense Award,” as the Arkansas offense relies on a lot of play-action and boot-action designs, often with Allen starting the play under center. An area that stands out with him is ball placement, particularly when attacking underneath or intermediate zone coverage in the passing game. Allen shows good timing and touch on those throws. He is also an aggressive passer, willing to challenge smaller windows.
What I’m Watching in 2017: In the year ahead I’ll be watching for some more full-field progression reads from him, as well as improvement moving defenders in the passing game using his eyes.
Matt Linehan, Idaho
Bio: Linehan certainly has the NFL lineage that scouts and coaches often look for, as his father is the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. Matt has put up strong numbers for the Vandals in his years as their starting quarterback, and was a starter for Idaho virtually since he arrived on campus. Last season was his best year yet for the Vandals, as he threw for 3,184 yards and 19 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.
What Intrigues Me: Similar to Allen, Linehan operates a pro-style offense in Moscow that has elements of the Erhardt-Perkins system run by the New England Patriots. As a passer, he demonstrates good processing speed, the ability to make anticipation throws, and good accuracy to all levels of the field. In tough icy conditions in their bowl game against Colorado State, Linehan displayed the ability to play well in those circumstances completing 21 of 31 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns, while avoiding turnovers.
What I’m Watching in 2017: Two areas I’ll be watching in 2017 are: First, his tendency to lock onto his first read and give the game away with his eyes. He’ll need to improve his field of vision and become better at looking off defenders. Second, I’ll be curious to see how his arm strength compares to last season, it seems sufficient right now but I’m interested to see if there is more growth in this area.
Brandon Silvers, Troy
Bio: The Trojans enjoyed a magical season last year, finishing the regular season with a 10-3 record and earning a berth to the Dollar General Bowl, where they defeated Ohio. It was the first 10-win season for Troy since entering FBS competition in 2001. Silvers was a big part of not only the 2016 campaign but the growth of the program. He started 11 games for the Trojans as a redshirt freshman in 2014, and the job has been his since. Last year, Silvers threw for 3,180 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.
What Intrigues Me: Silvers has pretty good mechanics with a quick release, and shows solid three-step drops from shotgun formations. He can make anticipation throws, particularly on out routes or slot curl routes, and makes those passes with good velocity and ball placement. Against Clemson on the road he demonstrated a willingness to stay and fight in the pocket, making a number of throws under duress with good velocity and placement. Silvers also is adept at moving second- and third-level defenders with his eyes, and shows a good understanding of play design and defensive scheme in those situations. He is hard to fool, even when the post-snap look from the defense is different than what was displayed before the play.
What I’m Watching in 2017: Silvers tends to stare down his primary read at times, and needs to avoid bird dogging his receivers. I’ll also be looking for more consistent ball placement on routes in the intermediate area of the field.
DeVante Kincade, Grambling State
Bio: Kincade might be one of the more electrifying quarterbacks to watch in the upcoming group. After starting his collegiate career at Mississippi, he transferred to Grambling State to be closer to his ailing mother. But now those days of 16-plus hours in the car to spend time with his mom are behind him, as are Latonya Boyd’s health problems. She’s back to 100% and Kincade is back to starring on the gridiron. He led the Tigers to an impressive 2016 season, where they finished 9-0 in the SWAC and 12-1 overall, with the only loss coming on the road against Arizona in a game where the Tigers were leading when Kincade was forced to the sideline with a knee sprain. Their season ended with a victory over North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl. For his part, he was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, and Kincade finished the season completing 63.9% of his passes for 3,022 yards and 31 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
What Intrigues Me: Kincade ran a varied offensive system for the Tigers, one that might rely on more flexbone concepts with him under center one week, but then more spread components the following week. He demonstrates very good footwork in the pocket, as well as on his drops from either center or from the shotgun. He displays good processing speed, and a very live arm, with velocity to all levels of the field. An area that stands out is his downfield vision, as he is very dangerous in scramble drill situations and can find an open receiver anywhere on the field when he is on the move.
What I’m Watching in 2017: I’ll be looking for some more touch and consistent ball placement in the year ahead from Kincade. Similar to Wyoming junior Josh Allen, Kincade certainly has the fastball to play in the NFL, but there are times when some touch and placement would serve him well.
Bryan Schor, James Madison
Bio: Schor had the unenviable task of taking over the Dukes’ offense as the talented Vad Lee left campus. What better way to establish yourself than by leading your team to an FCS National Championship, while knocking off five-time defending champion North Dakota State on the road in the national semifinals? Schor benefitted from a strong ground game that featured running back Khalid Abdullah, but the new QB was impressive in his own right, throwing for 3,022 yards and 29 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Schor turned in four strong performances in the playoffs, completing 72.6 percent of his passes for 976 yards and 11 TDs with three picks over the postseason stretch.
What Intrigues Me: Schor is also fairly elusive in the pocket, and shows a good feel for pressure and poise when rushers are in his face. He is great at keeping his eyes downfield in scramble drill situations, and can make some impressive throws on the move. A throw made rolling to his right against NDSU in one of these situations truly stands out. He has also shown the ability to make full field progression reads.
What I’m Watching in 2017: Mechanically, Schor carries the ball low when in the pocket, which elongates his delivery time as a passer. I’ll be curious to see if he cleans that up or if he keeps a similar mechanical structure in 2017. In addition, his accuracy can be inconsistent, even on shorter passes such as tunnel or bubble screens, so that is also an area to watch.
Nick Stevens, Colorado State
Bio: After serving as the backup to Garrett Grayson as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Stevens was named the starter for the 2015 campaign. He started all 13 games that season, completing 60.8% of his passes for 2,679 yards and 21 touchdowns, along with 12 interceptions. His numbers took a step back last year, as he battled through some injuries and lost his job for a period of time. But he returned to action in late October and led the Rams to a bowl game, where they fell to Idaho in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in freezing rain. Head coach Mike Bobo named Stevens the starter for the year ahead, and he’ll look to return to the success of his sophomore season.
What Intrigues Me: Stevens demonstrates good timing, touch, and placement on routes to all levels of the field, and can make anticipation throws to the outside or boundary while maintaining the necessary level of accuracy. He is also skilled at moving defenders with his eyes – both second-level defenders underneath and safeties when the Rams look to push the ball downfield. He shows decent footwork on his drops, either when starting under center or in the shotgun. The senior is a pretty strong athlete and has displayed the ability to shrug off would-be sackers in the pocket and keep plays alive.
What I’m Watching in 2017: Situational awareness and accuracy when pressured are two areas I’ll be watching for some improvement in from Stevens as the season develops.
That’s a look at the first group of seniors. Stay tuned for the next members of the senior class to be unveiled, and then we’ll look at some underclassmen who have gotten a fair amount of attention early on this spring.