Mark Schofield’s Check With Me July 10, 2017: 10 Junior QBs to Watch

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]August is upon us. NFL as well as college teams have begun their fall camps, the first NFL preseason game is in the books, and the start of football season is around the corner. But with the NFL Draft always on our mind, it is time to expand our look at the next quarterback class. In Part 1 of this, we looked at 10 rising seniors and in Part 2, we looked at 10 more seniors. While we are not done with the senior class just yet, here we will turn to the rising juniors, and look at 10 more promising quarterbacks. As with Parts 1 and 2, these names are in no particular order.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Bio: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner should need no introduction, but for those who may have been living in a cave or engrossed in other pursuits the past year, here is a brief primer on the Louisville QB: Jackson saw significant action in 2015 as a freshman for the Cardinals, appearing in 12 games with eight starts, and he was named the MVP of Louisville’s bowl game. But last year he lit the college football world on fire, throwing for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, with only nine interceptions. Jackson also carried the football 260 times, gaining 1,571 yards and scoring 21 TDs. For his exploits, he not only won the Heisman (becoming the first Louisville player to win the award as well as the youngest Heisman winner in history) but also secured the Maxwell Award (given to the nation’s top football player) and the Walter Camp Award (also given to the nation’s top collegiate football player, as selected by coaches and sports information directors). Jackson did all of this in only his second year on campus.

What Intrigues Me: Jackson is an explosive athlete, but also possesses the raw tools to be an effective quarterback at the next level. He is fully capable of making full-field reads, and has the arm strength to push the football to all levels of the field, into narrow throwing lanes. Jackson also displays solid processing speed, even when the defense shows different looks or plays break down in unexpected ways, which I broke down here. Given his athleticism, he is very dangerous when the pocket breaks down, and he can keep plays alive on the edges or turn into a runner in an instant. When he has the football in the open field as a ball-carrier, he can be very difficult to stop.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Accuracy is an issue, particularly in the intermediate- and deeper-areas of the field. Jackson uses a very narrow throwing base, which is preferable to a very wide throwing platform, but it does lead to some overstriding issues at times, and throws sailing high of the target.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Drew Lock, Missouri

Bio: Lock’s playing time follows a very similar path to the ascendency of Jackson, albeit without all the postseason hardware. Lock also appeared in all 12 of his team’s games as a freshman, starting the final eight for the Tigers in 2015. He secured the starting job for the 2016 season, and led the Southeastern Conference in passing yards, and was second in the conference in passing yards per game and yards per completion. Lock threw for 3,399 yards in 2016, with 23 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. His 23 scoring throws stand as the sixth-most in the school’s history, and in his second season under Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Josh Heupel, those numbers are expected to improve.

What Intrigues Me: Right now, Lock displays great-to-potentially-elite arm talent, with velocity to all levels of the field. Lock shows good processing speed, particularly on RPO-style designs where he is tasked with reading defenders on the second-level and making a quick decision with the football. Lock shows pretty good ball placement on most of his throws, and can throw some routes in the Missouri passing tree – such as hitch routes, comeback routes. and corner routes – with anticipation.

What I’m Watching in 2017: I’m curious to see if Heupel expands the playbook a bit, right now Missouri runs a very Baylor-esque offense, asking Lock to throw primarily hitch, curl, and go routes with a lot of screens mixed in. I’m wondering if Lock will challenge the middle of the field more in the year to come. Also, the system gives him lots of half-field reads, but even in those situations Lock has a tendency to stare down his primary read. Similar to our next quarterback, Lock loves the fastball – understandable given his arm strength – but I’d like to see some more touch and feel when the situations requires.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Josh Allen, Wyoming

Bio: One of the more interesting moments in the run-up to the last draft was when Friend of Pylon Matt Miller from Bleacher Report moved the Wyoming quarterback into the top five of one of his 2017 mock drafts. At the time, Allen was being discussed in some circles as the next great quarterback product, and Miller’s reasoning reflected that. In mocking him to the Chicago Bears, Miller stated “Why should Bears fans be excited? Because Allen has the size (6’5″, 220 lbs), arm, mobility and gunslinger mentality to develop into a great quarterback. He’s not NFL-ready right out of the gate, but none of the passers in this year’s class are. Investing in the future, with another year of Matt Barkley at quarterback, is the way general manager Ryan Pace should be thinking.” Allen did not enter the draft, and returns to Laramie for what is likely his final season, but the hype train is already running.

What Intrigues Me: Recently, I was able to sit down with friends Jon Ledyard and Trevor Sikkema on their “Locked On NFL Draft” podcast to talk about this quarterback class, and Sikkema asked me whether Allen would have garnered a top-five selection had he come out last year. In response, I highlighted some of the reasons why I think it wasn’t the craziest idea. If you love a quarterback with a huge arm, athleticism, and the ability to make wow throws with velocity to all levels – even when on the move – Allen is going to be your guy. He also shows decent ball placement, and good footwork on his drops whether in the shotgun or – and here we go – from under center. Allen can also speed up his process when needed, and at times shows good processing speed in the pocket.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Touch, feel, and Hero Ball. As with Lock, Allen certainly has the overpowering fastball, and his arm can bail him out at times when he forces throws or makes reads late. But that can get him into trouble as well, and likely will continue to do so at the next level. Also, Allen sometimes trusts his arm too much, and makes some ill-advised decisions when he should simply get rid of the ball and live to fight for the next down or drive. He won’t sneak up on anyone in the year ahead, and it will be interesting to see how he fares with all of the scouting eyes on him as the season begins against Iowa.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Josh Rosen, UCLA

Bio: The storied history of UCLA football includes many well-known quarterbacks. Passers who went on to win Super Bowls, play for years in the NFL, and become enshrined in Canton. But Josh Rosen was the first Bruin to start a season opener as a true freshman. (Perhaps this deserves an asterisk, given that Troy Aikman was a transfer from Oklahoma, but it is still noteworthy given some of the other QBs that came through campus). Rosen’s freshman year was nothing short of magical, as he set numerous school records and garnered multiple post-season awards. But his sophomore season was a bit of a down year, as the Bruins changed their offense schematically, and Rosen suffered an injury in the sixth week of the season and missed the rest of the year.

What Intrigues Me: Rosen looks the part of a textbook, mechanically sound quarterback whom coaches love. His footwork is solid in the pocket, whether starting under center or in the shotgun and on three- and five-step drops, and he has a clean throwing motion with a crisp, over-the-top release. He shows good placement on most of his throws along with sufficient velocity at this time. Rosen also can slide around the pocket fairly well, and his mechanics do not erode when he is under pressure or on the move. He also has been involved in the pre-snap phase of the offense since his freshman year.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Two areas I’m looking at are decision-making and staring down routes. Particularly on deeper throws, Rosen seems to force the football when a checkdown might have been the smarter decision. He can also stare down reads, and this also happens at times when he is blitzed, which can be a dangerous combination.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

Bio: Every draft cycle there is a rush to find the “best prospect nobody is talking about.” I’m guilty of that urge myself, as recent work on quarterbacks like Matt Linehan, Devante Kincade, Brandon Silvers, and Richard Lagow illustrates. But that moniker might be best applied to Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson. The junior took over as the starter as a redshirt freshman, and became the first QB in school history to lead the Wildcats to 10 wins as a freshman. Last season he started every game for Northwestern, and threw for 3,182 yards and 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His passing yardage stands as the highest ever from a Northwestern sophomore, and fourth-best in school history. Thorson already stands in the top 10 in school history in both touchdowns (7th) and career passing yards (10th) and he’ll certainly move up those ranking in the upcoming season.

What Intrigues Me: Thorson shows clean and crisp mechanics, with a quick release and solid throwing motion. He’s an athletic quarterback, with the ability to move well in the pocket and can click and climb the pocket when pressure comes off the edges. He shows good velocity and placement, particularly on short- and intermediate-area throws. Thorson is good when pressured and rarely gets flustered, and accuracy and velocity can be maintained when he is on the move or forced to throw off-platform.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Anticipation throws is an area where Thorson could use some improvement, as well as play speed. Those traits often come as a package deal, so getting better in those areas will greatly improve his draft stock in the months ahead.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Ryan Finley, North Carolina State

Bio: A rare sixth-year junior, Finley started his career at Boise State before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2015 as a sophomore. He transferred to NC State, and was named the school’s starting quarterback before the season opener, replacing Jacoby Brissett. Finley performed well, throwing for 3,055 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight INTs, while completing over 60 percent of his passes. Finley did not throw an interception until mid-October, going five-plus games and 139 throws without a turnover – and that includes playing in a hurricane against Notre Dame.

What Intrigues Me: Finley is a quarterback that can win in the pre-snap phase, as he does a very good job identifying leverage and alignment advantages before the play and making quick reads at the snap. He has clean mechanics as well, and shows the ability to move second- and third-level defenders with his eyes. Finley can make anticipation throws, and in the Wolfpack system he is tasked with both half- and full-field reads, and is successful in both situations. For more on Finley check out this recent piece from Russell Brown of Breaking Football.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Despite the completion percentage, Finley’s accuracy and ball placement can be spotty at times, particularly in the deep game. He can get panicky in the pocket at times, and the coaching staff was working with him to become more patient in the pocket.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Trace McSorley, Penn State

Bio: As the Christian Hackenberg Era came to a close in Happy Valley, McSorley was the quarterback to step in and take control of the Nittany Lions’ offense. He appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, as Hackenberg struggled with both his play and injuries. McSorley was named the team’s MVP in the TaxSlayer Bowl, where he completed 14 of 27 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, after Hackenberg left with an injury. McSorley started all 14 games last year, and led all FBS passers with 16.13 yards per completion. He threw for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns, against only eight interceptions. A dual-threat QB, he also tallied 365 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns.

What Intrigues Me: While Saquon Barkley garners most attention from defensive coordinators, when I was able to speak with Tom Allen at the BIG10 Media Day, Indiana’s new head coach, it was McSorley whom he pointed to as the engine that drives the PSU offense. The Nittany Lions use a number of RPO looks in their offense, and McSorley makes good decisions on those designs and shows solid processing speed. From the pocket he also shows quick decision-making, and is effective on half-field concepts such as smash or double-in concepts. HIs ball placement in the short area is also strong, and he moves well in the pocket with the ability to click and climb when pressure comes off the edges.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Listed at 6’0”, McSorley will face some questions about his size when being projected to the next level. His accuracy can dip at times, usually when pushing the ball down the field and/or on vertical routes. McSorley also stares down routes at times, and he’ll need to do a better job of moving through reads and using his eyes to look off defenders in the year ahead.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

Bio: During the 2015 season, Stidham was pressed into action as a true freshman when the Bears lost Seth Russell to an injury. He started three-games for Baylor that year, and the Bears won two of those, losing only in a narrow contest to Oklahoma in his second start. Stidham actually suffered a back injury against the Sooners, but stayed in the game through the pain. But in his third start against Oklahoma State, he chipped a bone in his ankle in the first half and did not return, and the injury ended his season. He then transferred to McLennan Community College after the school parted ways with coach Art Briles in the wake of the sexual assault investigations, and Stidham did not play football in 2016. He is now enrolled at Auburn and is widely expected to be the team’s starting quarterback.

What Intrigues Me: Despite limited action almost two years ago, Stidham has displayed some of the traits that coaches and scouts look for in a quarterback. He shows upper-level arm strength, with good- to great-touch and placement in the vertical passing game. Stidham is also athletic and elusive in the pocket, and shows a quick, compact throwing motion and release point. Stidham also displays good processing speed, particularly on the RPO-style designs that he ran at Baylor and will likely run with the Tigers. For those interested in competitive toughness, he checks that box as well, especially if you watch that Oklahoma tape when he battled through a tough back injury.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Stidham was a product of the Baylor offense, which used him almost exclusively as a 9/hitch/boundary passer with minimal work in the middle of the field. Moving to Auburn, I’m watching to see if he expands his passing map in a new offensive scheme, as well as to see if he gets more opportunities to work through progression reads.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Jake Browning, Washington

Bio: The Washington Huskies marched to the College Football Playoffs in 2016 before falling to Alabama, and Browning was a big part of their success all season. Browning started 12 games as a true freshman in 2015, becoming the first QB to start a season opener for the school and only the second freshman to start a game for the school after Marques Tuiasosopo. In 2015, Browning threw for over 2,900 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. But he blew those numbers away in 2016, throwing for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns with only nine INTs. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year as well as a first-team All-Pac-12 player and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting, the second-highest finish in school history. He threw for multiple touchdowns in every game but two: Washington’s only two losses (USC and Alabama).

What Intrigues Me: Browning demonstrates great processing speed and accuracy. He has completed more than 62% of his passes in each of his seasons at Washington, but beyond completion percentage is the ball placement, as Browning usually puts the football right where it needs to be. He shows good footwork in the pocket and can move around very well while keeping his eyes downfield. Browning is a quarterback who excels at timing and anticipation throws, similar to Cody Kessler when he was at USC, and Browning is also very solid when the post-snap look does not mirror his pre-snap expectations, which gets to his ability to process and make up his mind quickly.

What I’m Watching in 2017: Arm strength is an area to watch with Browning. At times, he shows an ability to make NFL-level throws with velocity, as he does on this throw against Washington State:

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But compare that to this play against Portland State:

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Here, Browning takes an extra hitch step to load up for a vertical throw. But that extra step allows the defensive end to force a turnover. That shows to me that Browning is mindful of the issue himself. It’s an area to explore in 2017.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Brett Rypien, Boise State

Bio: First thing first, yes, he is the nephew of former Washington QB Mark Rypien. Now that that is out of the way, Brett is another quarterback at the FBS level who saw significant action as a true freshman, appearing in 11 games and starting 10 during the 2015 season. That year he led the Mountain West in passing yards, as he threw for 3,353 yards and 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and he was named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year. Starting every game for the Broncos in 2016, he improved on those numbers a bit, throwing for 3,646 yards and 24 touchdown against eight INTs. In both season, he completed over 61% of his passes (63.5% in 2015 and 61.9% in 2016).

What Intrigues Me: Similar to other quarterback in this class, prepare for the “pro-style offense” tag with Rypien. In the Broncos’ offense Rypien throws lots of crossing and timing routes, including throws with quick or deep drops working off play-action. Rypien is involved in the pre-snap phase of the offense, and can work progression with full field reads. He is very accurate, particularly in the short- and intermediate-areas of the field, and is not afraid to challenge the middle of the field. He also displays good processing speed and can adjust quickly when the post-snap look does not match his pre-snap cues.

What I’m Watching in 2017: While he is generally accurate, that can dip when he is under pressure and he gets flustered at times when blitzed. His arm strength is solid, but not upper-tier right now. He can also stare down routes which is something to keep an eye on moving into this season.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter. Buy his book, 17 Drives. Check out his other work here, such as a self evaluation on scoutinga look at the 2015 wide receiver class, or his collection of work on the 2017 Senior Bowl Quarterbacks.

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