Step aside, Leo Tolstoy. There’s a new sheriff in town. Sure, the long-winded Russian novelist penned over 1,000 pages of prose in his seminal work, War and Peace (personally, I prefer its original title, War, What is it Good For?), but let’s see homeboy fill a notebook with 69 PAGES of quarterback evaluations (I guess neither of us are into the whole brevity thing). To quote Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “your move, chief.”
Did I really just begin my comprehensive quarterback treatise by trash-talking a literary icon who, I don’t know, DIED 109 YEARS AGO? To be honest, that does sound like me. But back to the important stuff—I wasn’t kidding about the notebook. Much blood was spilled in my painstaking critiques, and by blood, I mean the entirety of two pens and half a yellow highlighter. But rest assured, those fallen writing instruments did not die in vain. They served a valiant and noble purpose, reflecting my thoughts on one of the most polarizing quarterback classes in recent memory. While I may have fallen just short of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (Outliers reference? Check), I definitely did my homework, binging film of Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones in preparation for Thursday’s big night in Nashville.
Before we roll the tape, I’d like to give a shout-out to the scouting god, Caddy to the Lama, who made my life infinitely easier with his top-notch cut-ups. I know it’s late in the game, but if you want to do some last-minute cramming ahead of Thursday night’s draft, Lama’s YouTube channel is a must. Thor beat me to the punch by posting his exhaustively-researched quarterback deep dive over the weekend, but maybe you’ll appreciate having a second set of eyes. Plus, there’s no such thing as too much content when it comes to the NFL Draft , a weekend of hope and renewal for franchises looking to write a new future. And it all starts at the most important position: quarterback.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
NFL Comparison: Alex Smith
Best Tape: at Maryland
Worst Tape: Nebraska
Pre-Draft Visits: Broncos, Dolphins, Giants, Redskins
I think it’s tricky when you’re playing catch-up—I’d be lying if I said I watched many of Haskins’ games in real time last fall—to evaluate a quarterback prospect with a totally open mind. Whether it’s from Combine results, film breakdowns, draft podcasts, Twitter tidbits and other rumblings, we are INUNDATED with information in the Internet age. And while these resources are invaluable, it’s easy to become influenced by specific narratives.
Which brings us to Dwayne Haskins. Based on all I was hearing, from his gaudy stats (FBS-leading 50 touchdown passes last season) to his Heisman candidacy, I was expecting to be bowled over by Haskins’ greatness. Before I even did much digging on Haskins, I began beating the drum—and quite loudly, I might add—for the Giants to draft him at sixth overall. This wasn’t some prophetic opinion, my conviction was based solely on need. Eli Manning isn’t Drew Brees or Tom Brady. Like most athletes, he has an expiration date and sadly, that came and went years ago. Try as he might to shift the focus away from their aging quarterback, whatever complementary pieces GM Dave Gettleman brings in, whether it’s a flashy draft pick in Saquon Barkley or a free-agent investment like Golden Tate, the bleeding won’t stop until the Giants finally turn the page on Eli Manning.
After punting on a perfectly-good quarterback class last year (no, drafting Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round doesn’t qualify), the G-Men can’t afford to strike out again. So why not pull the trigger on Haskins, a pocket passer with ideal size (6’3”/231), elite accuracy and college stats worthy of hero worship?
So I’m sure you can understand my frustration with New York’s tepid interest in Haskins throughout the draft process. How many years can Gettleman hold the same franchise hostage, stubbornly building around a quarterback whose prime is so far in the rearview mirror, it’s hard to remember if he ever had one? Some in the know think it’s all a big smokescreen and the Giants do, in fact, have their sights set on Haskins (as we learned in last week’s Rotoworld Live Mock Draft, this segment of the population includes Thor Nystrom). But I guess we won’t know for certain until Haskins hears his name called Thursday night.
So, as much as I wanted Haskins to be the Giants’ (or another team’s) get-out-of-jail-free card the way Baker Mayfield was for Cleveland last year, I came away with mixed feelings on the former Buckeye. Sometimes you have to see something to believe it and though I thought Haskins demonstrated a number of impressive traits, to borrow a phrase from Seinfeld, I just wasn’t gaga over him. Game film really is the great equalizer.
Haskins’ illustrious stats, at least to me, felt a little deceiving. I’m not sure if it’s possible to throw a “quiet” 50 touchdown passes, but that’s how it felt watching Haskins on tape. I was surprised when I read in Thor’s article that the Maryland native was so successful on deep passes last year (14:1 touchdown to interception ratio on balls thrown further than 20 yards) because it didn’t feel like he threw that many of them. Haskins can certainly air it out when the situation calls for it, but most of his production last year, at least from my vantage point, came on swing passes, check-downs, dump-offs and slants. And to his credit, he was absolutely money in this regard, shredding teams with his spot-on accuracy in the short passing game.
There seems to be a negative stigma attached to quarterbacks who prefer this method rather than attacking downfield—Alex Smith has drawn much criticism for this approach. But if you’re really good at dinking and dunking, why would you do anything else? Because Haskins was only at the reins for one year (his relative lack of experience has been a frequent debate topic this spring), it’s hard to tell if peppering the short and intermediate part of the field was a conscious choice—perhaps suggesting a lack of faith in his deep ball—or merely a product of Ohio State’s offense. I’m embarrassed to admit, I actually thought Parris Campbell was a running back at first because all Haskins ever threw to him were screens and underneath passes. Whatever the case, it obviously worked to perfection as the Buckeyes led all of college football with 5,100 passing yards last year.
I’m not sure if it’s his exhausting death-by-a-thousand cuts playing style or if I’ve been so spoiled by watching studs like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers that I’ve become desensitized to amazing feats of football excellence, but Haskins’ film didn’t produce many “WOW” moments for me. I think the difference between Haskins and the quarterbacks I’ve just named is probably that the 21-year-old is, by and large, bound to the pocket. While I don’t think Haskins’ mobility is quite the liability some have made it out to be (from what I saw, he does a good job of picking his spots), the likely first-round pick isn’t winning many foot races in the open field. He didn’t do himself any favors at the Combine, either, trudging to a molasses-slow 5.04 forty while complaining of “cramps.”
But football doesn’t have to be flashy. In fact, Haskins’ no-frills approach might actually be what sets him apart in a draft full of rogue improvisers like Kyler Murray and Drew Lock. Haskins plays it by the book, controlling what he can by keeping his offense on schedule, directing traffic at the line of scrimmage, hitting all his layups (he eats man coverage for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and putting on a clinic whenever the Buckeyes roll out their two-minute offense.
Haskins, it seems, has a particular affinity for the back-shoulder throw, and the few mistakes he made were usually followed by moments of sheer brilliance, alluding to his immense resiliency. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year proved to be a quick thinker too, adjusting to his surroundings by anticipating pressure and throwing from a variety of arm angles. Even his attention to detail, missing low or throwing it out of bounds instead of risking an interception, for instance, was impressive. There’s still work to be done mechanically—far too often I caught him throwing off his back foot, generating power with his arm and wrist instead of stepping into his throws. But unlike many quarterbacks who enter the league as major projects, Haskins has the look of an immediate starter. Whether he ascends to star status remains to be seen, but most of the tools are there.
In selecting a game for film study, you’ll notice I made an unusual choice. Haskins didn’t have his best performance at Maryland, but the way he willed Ohio State to victory (the Buckeyes erased a 14-point deficit to win in overtime) on a day when he didn’t have his fastball was mighty impressive. That game also featured a career-best rushing performance from Haskins, who delivered three touchdowns on the ground including the game-winner in overtime. I don’t think there’s any doubt Murray belongs at the head of this year’s quarterback class but Haskins is at least a reasonably close second.
Daniel Jones, Duke
NFL Comparison: Josh Allen
Best Tape: North Carolina
Worst Tape: at Miami
Pre-Draft Visits: Broncos, Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, Giants, Packers, Patriots, Redskins
I feel like Mr. Pitt in Seinfeld staring at the 3D poster, squinting to try and see the hidden masterpiece that is Daniel Jones … and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t see it. I know overthinking is an epidemic in the NFL, especially in the thick of draft season when the stakes are highest, but can we agree this has gotten out of hand?
Think about it—we now inhabit a world where at least one of 32 NFL teams has Daniel Jones rated as the draft’s top quarterback. To say the Jones’ hype train has gone off the rails would be a massive understatement. When Jones, a redshirt junior for the Blue Devils, declared for the draft, it was questionable whether he’d even be a first-round pick. But after taking home Senior Bowl MVP honors (earning a literal seal of approval from Jon Gruden) and acing all his pre-draft interviews and whiteboard sessions, many experts including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and our own Evan Silva now expect him to go inside the Top 10, perhaps as early as sixth overall. Former Cowboys exec Gil Brandt even compared his repertoire to a young Peyton Manning.
While touting Jones, who wasn’t even an ACC Honorable Mention last year (or any other year), as Manning 2.0 is quite the leap, if there are any similarities between them, it’s probably because Jones played under David Cutcliffe. Yes, the same David Cutcliffe who served as Peyton’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli’s head coach at Ole Miss. Jones’ intelligence—he was planning to attend Princeton before Duke came through with a last-second scholarship offer—and Manning-esque football acumen have both been well-documented throughout this process. And while it’s comforting to know the Charlotte native has a good head on his shoulders, what did all that knowledge amount to at Duke? A 19-19 record and a career 59.9 completion percentage, that’s what.
“He’s killing the intangible stuff. And that’s, to me, when you get into bust category,” said Chris Simms during last week’s Rotoworld Live Mock. “When you’re not talking about talent on the field and the first thing you’re talking about is the other stuff, that’s a red flag to me.” X’s and O’s don’t win championships. You know what does? TALENT. We can point to a number of mitigating factors—a subpar O line, a middling pass-catching corps, a gimmicky, RPO-laden offense, an early-season collarbone injury. But the reason Jones didn’t add up, at least in comparison to high achievers like Murray and Haskins, is because he’s just not as talented.
Jones was lauded for his toughness in college, returning just three weeks after suffering a broken collarbone last season. That durability and determination should serve him well at the next level, but maybe there’s a reason Jones always played hurt at Duke. There’s a difference between tough and reckless and Jones spent most his career straddling that line, inviting contact by refusing to slide and continually taking unnecessary hits.
Funny, for a quarterback known for his smarts, Jones certainly makes some befuddling choices. His trademarks include going maverick by throwing into double and (if he’s feeling especially daring) triple coverage, looking for miracles outside the pocket instead of cutting his losses and, more generally, biting off more than he can chew. With a limited supporting cast, you can see why Jones so often resorted to playing hero ball at Duke. But that hair-on-fire approach probably won’t be a big hit with NFL offensive coordinators.
Despite average speed (he clocked a 4.81 in Indy), Jones was an impressive scrambler in college, routinely eluding tacklers and using every inch of his 6’5” frame to push the pile on draw plays and RPO keepers. The 21-year-old’s rushing prowess was particularly apparent against in-state rival UNC, when Jones blew up for 186 yards on the ground while setting a school mark for total yards (547). Jones also demonstrated his versatility by operating out of the pistol formation, rolling out to either side, stepping up in the pocket when necessary and showing a particular affinity for play-action. The cerebral qualities I alluded to earlier are definitely present in the way Jones works his progressions, routinely hitting his second or third reads while buying time with pump fakes and other trickery. He’s also one of the better punting quarterbacks in the draft as evidenced by his two pooch kicks last year (including one inside the five-yard line!).
But unfortunately, Jones squandered these strengths by too-often staring down his primary read (a big no-no at the next level), putting himself in harm’s way by not sliding or giving himself up at the end of runs and struggling with his downfield accuracy (though like Haskins, he’s a maestro in the short game). Murray, who stands a full seven inches shorter than Jones, had five passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last year, the same number Jones had in a loss to Clemson. Some see a star, I see a major project. Jones is the Pootie Tang of quarterbacks, which means he’ll probably end up a Giant.
Drew Lock, Missouri
NFL Comparison: Jay Cutler
Best Tape: Memphis
Worst Tape: Georgia
Pre-Draft Visits: Broncos, Chargers, Giants, Packers, Redskins
In all honesty, Patrick Daugherty should probably be the one writing this—as a Mizzou alum, Pat watched every game Drew Lock played during his Missouri tenure. I narrowed my scope to 2018 and what I saw was a quarterback who looks the part at 6’4”/228 but still has a steep learning curve ahead of him.
Unlike Dwayne Haskins, who none of us really knew about until last year, Lock has been gallivanting around Columbia for what feels like an eternity. He was a four-year starter for the Tigers and even before that, the Parks, Recreation and Tourism major (I didn’t know Leslie Knope taught at Mizzou) was regarded as one of the better high-school arms in the nation coming out of Lee’s Summit (a suburb of Kansas City) in 2015.
As decorated as Lock is—he established a new SEC record with his 44 touchdown throws in 2017—he’s not the first name that comes to mind when I hear “sure thing.” Lock’s game has more than a few warts—his lack of touch in the short passing game is frankly embarrassing. If you and your buddies played a drinking game watching Mizzou play on Saturdays, and that game involved chugging a beer each time Lock misfired on a slant or a routine screen pass, all of you would have gotten your stomachs pumped. Most puzzling of all is Lock’s penchant for slinging passes right at his receivers’ shins. That trait will come in handy when Lock pivots to rec dodgeball at the local Y someday, but in the NFL where quarterbacks live and die by their accuracy, it’s far from ideal.
RotoPat was adamant that Lock made significant strides in 2018 and his stats seem to reflect that as the 22-year-old improved his accuracy (career-high 62.9 completion percentage) while also cutting down on interceptions (eight compared to 13 the previous year). That’s impressive progress but there’s still work to be done, especially against heavy blitzes, which have long been Lock’s Achilles’ heel. Lock is no statue—he’s one of the more agile signal-callers in his class (4.69 forty)—but the way his mechanics broke down when teams brought pressure last year was troubling to say the least. From throwing off his back foot to chucking it on the run like Derek Jeter, Lock’s fundamentals evaporate as soon as the pocket collapses. Lock is athletic enough to get away with making tough throws like this from time to time and often the result is spectacular, not unlike some of the backyard football plays Patrick Mahomes pulls off on a regular basis. But that actually exacerbates the problem because then Lock thinks he can do it ALL the time. He’s the living embodiment of irrational confidence.
This dichotomy is what makes Lock one of the most fascinating quarterback prospects in recent memory. Some will look at the tape and say “bust,” while others salivate at his cannon arm and think “franchise quarterback.” And boy does he have a rocket. Lock can’t hit a 10-yard slant for the life of him but somehow, against the greater laws of physics, he can hit 40-yard deep bombs in his sleep. I’m talking pin-point accurate. He’s the football equivalent of Joey Gallo, who, if you’re not familiar, hit more home runs (40) than singles (39) for the Texas Rangers last year. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Lock was far-sighted. How else would you explain his knack for hitting the long ball but missing on all the cupcake throws inside of 10 yards?
The deep ball is his calling card but Lock excels in other areas as well. His experience (46 collegiate starts) showed in the way he looks off defenders with his eyes, goes through his progressions and delivers the ball quickly. And similar to Daniel Jones, Lock wasn’t exactly working with a full deck at Mizzou. Frankly, Missouri’s receivers were awful aside from Emanuel Hall, who was almost always hurt, and their O line wasn’t much better. The Tigers dropped a truly outrageous number of passes, to the point where I’m impressed Lock managed to keep his sanity throughout the year.
Operating in a pro-style scheme under former Cowboys assistant Derek Dooley should ease Lock’s transition to the NFL while the young gunslinger certainly has experience playing against top-level competition in the ultra-competitive SEC. Then again, NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein derisively called him a “lamb-killer,” citing his penchant for stat-padding against lesser opponents while struggling against power programs like Georgia and Alabama.
The long and short of it is that I don’t know how to feel about Lock and I’m sure I’m not alone in that camp. But here’s the thing—all you need is one team to fall in love with you. For Lock, that team could very well be the Denver Broncos. Joe Flacco refuses to hear it, but few teams need a quarterback as desperately as Denver and Lock has been the apple of John Elway’s eye since watching him at the Senior Bowl in January. Haskins might be the play if he’s there at No. 10, but if the Giants or someone else bites first, I suspect the Broncos will give Lock a long hard look.
I don’t crack many chuckles when I’m studying film, but I had to laugh at something said by one of the announcers during the Alabama game because the whole sequence encapsulated Lock so perfectly. “The quarterback really is playing like a rookie,” he said. “The guy you’re depending on hasn’t been up to the task.” So of course, after that scathing critique, Lock immediately threw one of his best balls of the game, threading a gorgeous pass between two defenders to convert on 3rd-and-14. That’s Lock in a nutshell—infuriating and brilliant, sometimes in the same breath.
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
NFL Comparison: Russell Wilson
Best Tape: Baylor
Worst Tape: Alabama (Orange Bowl)
Pre-Draft Visits: Broncos, Cardinals, Dolphins, Giants, Redskins
Any It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans in the room? If so, you’re probably familiar with Mac’s iconic love letter to Chase Utley, which included, among other incoherent thoughts, mention of his estranged father, an invitation to play catch and stickers, to jazz it up. Mac’s undying devotion to Utley is rivaled only by Kliff Kingsbury’s shining for one Kyler Murray, the Russell Wilson clone who took college football by storm last year with his thrilling, dual-threat skill set.
Kingsbury couldn’t land Murray as a high-school recruit—he stiffed Texas Tech for Texas A&M before transferring to Oklahoma—but the newly-minted Cardinals coach seems determined not to make the same mistake twice. This would likely entail a difficult divorce from Josh Rosen, who the previous regime tapped as the team’s franchise quarterback. But messy break-ups aside, Kingsbury deserves to have his pick of the litter and if that means feeding Rosen to the wolves (or worse, the Redskins), so be it. As coaching legend Bill Parcells once said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
The Heisman aisle is where you’ll find Murray, a 5’10” sparkplug fresh off one of the most electrifying seasons in recent memory. Murray knew Baker Mayfield would be a tough act to follow but that didn’t stop him from reigning supreme as the new king of Norman, answering the age-old question, “What would happen if Patrick Mahomes and Michael Vick had a baby and he played for Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma?” This. This is what happens. Magic happens.
Murray, my friends, is the freaking truth. Remember the “WOW” factor I was talking about earlier? If Haskins was a six on that scale, Murray had the WOW dialed all the way up to ten last year. Compared to Haskins, Murray will always be the more aesthetically-pleasing player. He’s a rock-and-roll concert every time he steps on the field, escaping danger like Die Hard-Era Bruce Willis while unfurling picture-perfect deep balls dropped down from football heaven. Murray can, on occasion, overdo it with his theatrics. There are times when he expends far too much energy, exploding sideline to sideline, for a minimal gain. And like Jones, Murray’s fight or flight instinct can lead him to tuck-and-run a bit more than he should.
But man is this dude a cool customer. He can make any throw: back-shoulder, screeners, touch passes, slants, laser beams with the cavalry coming, sideline missiles, play-action deep bombs, the type of running-completely-off-kilter throw that only he and maybe Patrick Mahomes would be sick enough to even attempt. There’s no limit to Murray’s immense wizardry. You’ll notice I nominated Murray’s Orange Bowl performance against Alabama as his worst film. His stat line included 308 passing yards, 109 rushing yards and three total touchdowns … against the second-best team in the country. That would be Mount Everest for most but in Murray’s world, that’s a down game.
I know what you’re thinking. Johnny Manziel was fun to watch too but he couldn’t play a lick in the pros. And you’d be right! But I assure you, this isn’t anything like that. Murray’s talent and athleticism are undeniable and surely he’ll be a major draw wherever he ends up (and by “wherever” I mean Phoenix), but a huge component of playing quarterback is doing the little things right. Those unteachable traits—patience, timing, placement, reading the field, poise, confidence—Murray has ‘em all.
We know the Big 12 is famous for its bloated stat lines—it’s long been a “defense optional” conference. But the fallacy that Big 12 quarterbacks can’t cut it in the big leagues has been emphatically put to rest by Mayfield and Mahomes, who reign as two of the NFL’s brightest young stars. If they can swing it at the next level, so can Murray.
Alright, alright. I know I’ve been babbling on for paragraphs and haven’t even mentioned that Murray, once he’s drafted, will become the shortest quarterback in the NFL. There’s also the matter of Murray’s budding (well once-budding) baseball career that drew so much press in the build-up to this year’s draft. I’d be lying if I said Murray handled the situation well—he was a dud on Dan Patrick and according to Charley Casserly (grain of salt alert), he tanked his interviews at the Combine. During last week’s Live Mock, Thor expressed concern that Murray could, if things don’t go as planned in the NFL, eventually return to the diamond where he was a star outfielder and former first-round pick of the Oakland A’s (with a $4.6 million signing bonus to boot). Murray seems all-in on football, but will the looming threat of baseball give the Cardinals or any other team pause on Thursday night? I doubt it, but if Thor’s thinking it, I bet others are too.
Murray is by no means a finished product. As dominant as he was at Oklahoma, like any other prospect, there are rough edges in need of smoothing. Mechanically, his baseball background will rear its ugly head from time to time with errant throws, while the former five-star recruit’s lack of experience (only one year as a collegiate starter) showed in the way he lingered on first reads and sometimes trusted his arm a little too much by throwing into traffic. He was also blessed with brilliant coaching, one of the nation’s best O lines and an endless arsenal of weapons (Marquise Brown should be a first-round selection come Thursday night) at Oklahoma.
But most of the concerns surrounding Murray, including his lack of height and the durability risks that often plague mobile quarterbacks, are overblown. The Texas native is a strong slider (another trait he shares with ex-baseball star Russell Wilson) and his vision was never an issue, at least on tape. As I mentioned previously, the 21-year-old had just five batted balls last year, which would be astonishing for a 6’4” quarterback, let alone a guy the same height as Doug Flutie.
Murray will go through rough patches, especially if he winds up in Arizona, where the cupboard is pretty bare at the skill positions outside of David Johnson and future Hall of Famer (albeit past-his-prime) Larry Fitzgerald. But whenever he takes the field, whether it’s for the Cardinals or someone else (does mastermind Jon Gruden have something up his sleeve?), it will be must-see television.