The quarterback rankings move into the next group of five passers, and in this collection we find some quarterbacks who truly should hear their names called, and a few who have been touted as “The Sleeper” in this quarterback class. Two of the quarterbacks in this group stepped in to replace first-round selections in previous drafts, two of the quarterbacks were starters for their school as freshman, and the other was a two-year starter who got his shot after transferring as a graduate. For the write-ups on quarterbacks 20 through 16 you can read this piece.
15. Alex McGough, Florida International University
We can start with Alex McGough, a quarterback out of Florida International University who was a four-year starter for the Golden Panthers. This past season McGough was named Honorable Mention All-Conference USA for his play on the field, and he completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,798 yards and 17 touchdowns, with just eight interceptions. McGough was a starter from the moment he arrived on campus, and as a true freshman he completed 50.4 percent of his passes for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns, against 10 interceptions. After three-straight losing seasons, McGough and FIU finished 8-5 this season and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
Strengths: McGough is a strong, athletic quarterback with sufficient size for the position (6’3” 218). He is a very experienced quarterback and it shows on the field, as he is very involved in the pre-snap phase of each play, calling out potential blitzes and making adjustments at the line. He has okay footwork in the pocket, his drops could be better but he has the maneuverability to create space to make throws. He displays very good accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field, and has the ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes in more vertical passing concepts or when necessary in facing underneath defenders. His processing speed is best on run/pass option plays, when he can isolate a defender and make a snap decision. He can make bucket throws in the vertical passing game. With his athleticism, McGough can extend and even create outside the pocket, and he shows pretty good burst as a ball-carrier with the ability to contribute as a runner. Competitive toughness was on display often from his film, in many games he was battling late even though FIU trailed and the game was out of hand. Arm strength can be impressive at times. Made a throw early in the second half against UCF (trailing by 30 at the time) on a deep comeback route when a blitzing Shaquem Griffin was in his face. McGough could not step into the throw but delivered it on time and with velocity under duress. Was also pressured early and often by Middle Tennessee State and continued to fight in that game.
Weaknesses: Processing and play speed are issues for him. Often he has route concepts that are breaking or will be breaking open but he fails to pull the trigger on time, and that gets him into trouble and puts the offense off schedule. Needs to become more of an anticipation thrower, he left plays on the field last year (a 4th down against MTSU comes to mind) when he had an open receiver but could not anticipate the throw. While he has the ability to create and he can be very effective in scramble drill situations, he often needs to do that because he has missed an opportunity earlier in the play.
Scheme Fit: Right now McGough projects best to a downfield passing game.
One- to Three-Year Projection: McGough is likely a third-string/practice squad player as a rookie, who can compete for the backup job as a third-year player.
Draft Grade and Round Projection: 6th Round / 7th Round
Teams to Watch: Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
Resources on McGough: First Sound
14. Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech
Nic Shimonek was given the task of replacing the electric Patrick Mahomes at Texas Tech, and the one-year starter did everything he could to replace that level of production. He completed over 66 percent of his passes for 3,963 yards and 33 touchdowns, with just 10 interceptions, and he led the Red Raiders to a 6-6 regular season record and a berth in a bowl game. Shimonek’s play and traits earned him an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine, and recently Doug Farrar at Bleacher Report touted him as perhaps the sleeper in this quarterback class.
Strengths: Shimonek is a one-year starter at Texas Tech and he ran a very uptempo, spread-based offense rooted in Air Raid passing concepts. He was active pre-snap in the sense that many plays were relayed in from the sideline but he did have to make adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage. He is primarily a shotgun/pistol quarterback, but some of Texas Tech’s plays required him to line up under center. His footwork on drops whether from center or from the shotgun/pistol can be inconsistent. At times it is fluid and crisp, and at other times there is hardly any recognizable footwork or structure. Footwork is better when working through progressions, does a good job taking short steps and staying on the balls of his feet. Was not tasked with making a ton of progression reads but flashed the ability to make full field reads. Sufficient ball placement and accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field, decent placement on smoke and screen routes with the ability to lead those receivers slightly upfield. Showed decent processing speed on RPO structures, but the processing speed did dip on more downfield, pocket-based passing concepts. Functional athleticism, has the ability to evade defenders in the pocket and does a decent job keeping his eyes downfield in scramble drill situations.
Weaknesses: Shimonek stares down a lot of route concepts, and his processing speed is a concern. He can make quick decisions on RPO structures or on simple passing concepts, but anything that puts more on his plate slows down his thought process. While a downfield-based passing attack is probably his best schematic fit, he did underthrow some vertical routes that causes some concern and hesitation with that projection. As outlined, his footwork does need to be worked on, as his drops can be shoddy at times and even threw off timing and structure of some plays.
Scheme Fit: Despite the inconsistency in vertical ball placement, a downfield-based passing game is probably his best schematic fit in the NFL.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Shimonek can serve as a third string QB/practice squad player as a rookie. He could push for the backup job as a third-year player.
Draft Grade and Round Projection: 6th Round – 6th Round
Teams to Watch: Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
13. Riley Ferguson, Memphis
After Paxton Lynch was drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, the Memphis Tigers turned to Ferguson to take over their up-tempo, spread offense. Ferguson’s journey to Memphis was a bit of an unconventional path, as he was originally a backup at Tennessee, and then left school and was working odd jobs (detailing cars, painting fences) before coming to Memphis. But in his two seasons as a starter for the Tigers, Ferguson put up some impressive numbers and played himself into the NFL draft conversation, including securing an invitation to the Shrine Game.
Strengths: Ferguson is a very athletic quarterback with the raw arm strength to succeed at the next level. He is most experienced operating out of the shotgun and pistol formations, but at times Memphis asked him to align under center, particularly in the red zone and in the boot-action passing game. At times, his drops into the pocket are very good, timed with the route concepts well, and he shows the ability to click and climb the pocket and drive the football when pressured off the edge. He is more than willing to fight in crowded pockets, and usually does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield in those situations, looking for a receiver in a scramble drill adjustment. Mechanically, Ferguson is inconsistent at best. When he is throwing well his delivery is a crisp, over the top release with good upper body torque, and his mechanics (both upper-body and lower-body) seem to have improved from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018. His best throws often come when on the move to his right. His velocity and RPMs are impressive to all levels of the field and even along the boundaries. In terms of accuracy, Ferguson is best in the short-area of the field. Coming from the Memphis offense, he shows flashes of processing speed, most notably against the blitz or on RPO plays where he needs to quickly process and react to the second- and third-level defenders. Competitive toughness flashes at times in crowded pockets, and when coupled with his athleticism, he can extend plays and fight off multiple defenders in those situations. Was not asked to make a ton of full-field reads or manipulate defenders, but on film there are a few examples of him showing this ability. This is one area that will need some work and refinement as he transitions to the NFL.
Weaknesses: Inconsistency is the main negative on Ferguson. His footwork and mechanics, which can be quite good at times, can also get off kilter and impact his execution on the field. There are times when his footwork on drops and in the pocket gets sloppy, and there are also times when his base in the pocket widens, which impacts his accuracy. Mechanically, Ferguson was almost a mess in the 2016-2017 season. His lower body would lean back and away from his target, his front leg would stiffen, lock up and work against him, his throwing motion had a long draw and loop to it and his upper body timing and turn was off as well. That has cleaned up some, but is still an issue at times. That loopy delivery cost him in the red zone against UCF, as he lost a fumble to #18 Griffin off the edge as he was drawing back to throw. He is much crisper mechanically when rolling to his right, and much more consistent. When rolling to his left he often fails to properly involve his lead/left shoulder, causing a dip in velocity. Accuracy could use more consistency as well. He misses a lot of throws high, and over the volume of games watched he missed on a lot of deep throws, which limits in part the schematic expectations for him in the NFL. He was not asked to make a ton of full-field reads at all, and as such he stares down a lot of routes. That, coupled with the looping delivery, got him into a bit of trouble in college. Made some throws come out late, with defenders having a jump-start on the route. Like many young quarterbacks, he is susceptible to quicksand. After mistakes he tends to bird dog routes even more, often compounding the problems for him and his offense.
Scheme Fit: Ferguson comes from a spread-based, RPO heavy offensive system that relies on screens, designed throws to the flats and a variety of downfield passing plays. His best NFL fit is in a similar system, West Coast-based in nature that incorporates aspects of the spread and RPO attack that he is experienced in running.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Ferguson is a very intriguing developmental quarterback who at moments shows flashes of upper-level potential. He has some areas of his game that really need refinement, from the mechanical to the schematic and execution aspects of playing the position. Ideally he serves as a third quarterback on a roster his rookie season. In the right offensive system, Ferguson can challenge for the backup role in the NFL by the time he enters his third season.
Draft Grade and Round Projection: 6th Round – 6th Round
Teams to Watch: Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs
12. Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Benkert originally enrolled at East Carolina and did win the starting job for the Pirates for the 2015 season, but he suffered a knee injury and was lost for the year. After losing out in a quarterback competition in 2016, Benkert came to the University of Virginia as a graduate transfer after graduating from East Carolina in just three years with a degree in finance. In his two years as a starter for the Cavaliers, Benkert completed 57.5% of his passes for 5,759 yards and 46 touchdowns, with 20 interceptions, and he led Virginia to a berth in the 2017 Military Bowl.
Strengths: Benkert is primarily a shotgun quarterback with adequate athleticism to be active and effective in the read option/RPO game. Last season he displayed a good understanding of routes when motion/spacing can spread out underneath defenders. Building off this point, Benkert knows just how to attack defenses in those situations, leading to the scheme fit projection as will be discussed. He throws pretty well on the move, even on the deep ball. Good to great velocity on short routes and in-breaking routes in the 10 yard or shorter areas of the field. He is a physically tough QB and a competitively tough football player, and he flashed those traits on some of his plays and throws against the University of Miami. There is a throw in that game where he hangs in the pocket against the blitz and delivers an absolute strike on a Bang 8 post route which is a prime example of physical toughness at the quarterback position. Speaking of that game, you could make the case that the first 1/2 or 5/8s of that game against Miami was some of the best tape from a quarterback in this entire draft cycle – if not the best. But then he made the one critical mistake, in an area he needs to improve as we’ll discuss, that changed the course of that contest. Adept at reading and reacting to blitzes and replacing blitzes with the football.
Weaknesses: His arm might limit him schematically, his tape does not have a lot of “NFL throws” so his fit in a more downfield passing system could be complicated. Will need to improve his processing speed and anticipation, not a lot of experience in making those types of plays. Stares down a lot of routes, and his pick six against Miami is a prime example of that aspect of him as a quarterback right now. On that play he was blitzed and he never looked elsewhere, and the safety simply read his eyes and broke on the throw for a big turnover. Benkert’s ball placement and accuracy can be an issue as he tries more downfield throws. He can make an occasional bucket shot but he lacks consistency in those areas of the field.
Scheme Fit: From a scheme fit perspective, Benkert projects best to either a West Coast or Erhardt-Perkins system that incorporates spread and RPO concepts.
One- to Three-Year Projection: Benkert is likely a third-string/practice squad quarterback his rookie season, who could potentially push for the backup job later in the year in the right offensive system. By his third season he should be a backup.
Draft Grade and Round Projection: 6th Round – 5th Round
Teams to Watch: Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs
Resources on Benkert: First Sound
11. Chase Litton, Marshall
Chase Litton was somewhat of a surprise early entrant in the 2018 NFL Draft, as with another year of eligibility he could have played himself into the mix as a potential Day Two or even Day One selection next draft season. But Litton chose to leave school early and bet on himself in the NFL draft. He took over as the starter for the Thundering Herd early in his redshirt freshman season, starting 11 games and leading his team to wins in nine of those starts. He started 10 games as a sophomore, but did miss time due to a shoulder injury as well as a concussion. Litton started 13 games last year and completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,115 yards and 25 touchdowns, against 14 interceptions. Those 14 turnovers unfortunately put him among the ten passers with the highest numbers of interceptions last season.
Strengths: Litton has what some consider ideal size for the position. He is adept at identifying leverage advantages pre-snap and exploiting them post-snap. Mechanically, Litton has a fairly quick release with good velocity, even when throwing off platform or dropping his throwing plane due to pressure or play design. He demonstrates good touch on the deep ball, and is pretty technically sound in the pocket, with solid ball carriage and uses the off-hand very well to protect the football. Litton’s ball placement is pretty good overall, and he throws the speed out to the left very well. One strange aspect I noticed when studying him is that you could make the case that he seems more comfortable throwing to the left than his right which is odd for a right-handed quarterback. Litton throws very well on the move, whether moving to his left or to his right. Functional athleticism, he can extend plays with his feet and in scramble-drill situations he keeps his eyes downfield scanning for targets.
Weaknesses: Processing speed is a concern, there were times on film when the post-snap look did not match up to his pre-snap expectations and he made mistakes in those situations. This might go more to his expected scheme fit in the NFL, but it is a consideration right now in terms of value and overall ability. Litton’s accuracy in the intermediate area of the field, as well as when he attacks the middle of the field, could use improvement. There were times where Litton would stare down routes and he really needs to get better with his eyes. His film did not provide a lot of evidence that he can make progression reads on a consistent basis. He does tend to burp the baby in the pocket, which he will need to eliminate. His footwork on his drops is inconsistent and could use improvement.
Scheme Fit: Litton does have the potential, provided he speeds up his decision-making in rolled coverage situations, to be a scheme-diverse quarterback. Right now he projects best in a downfield-based passing offense.
One- and Three-Year Projection: Litton likely sticks on a roster as a third quarterback as a rookie, spending his time on the practice squad. He has the arm talent and pre-snap ability to potentially develop into a backup quarterback by his third NFL season. In the absolute right development setting he could push for a job as a starter by this time.
Draft Grade and Round Projection: 5th Round – 5th Round
Teams to Watch: Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Resources on Litton: First Sound