|1||Dwayne Haskins||Ohio State||21.7||6-3||231||9.625||33.500||79.500||5.04||28.5|
|5||Will Grier||West Virginia||23.8||6-2||217||9.375||31.500||75.125||4.84||34.0||112||7.09||4.28||66|
|7||Brett Rypien||Boise State||22.6||6-2||210||9.000||30.375||72.375||33.0||116||7.10||4.29||52|
|10||Ryan Finley||NC State||24.1||6-4||210||9.500||32.875||77.125||4.73||30.5||116||7.20||4.20||67|
|11||Gardner Minshew||Washington State||22.7||6-1||225||10.125||31.750||74.375||4.97||33.5||116||7.14||4.45||58|
1. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) | 6’3/231 | hand: 9.625
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: Famous Jameis with better mechanics and without the off-field stuff
What I like about Haskins is that he’s a big, thick, mechanically polished prospect with a twitchy live-wire arm who’s exceedingly comfortable in the pocket. Haskins knows what he’s doing back there because he’s been in that pocket most his life. An elite prep prospect out of Maryland who’s been mentored by multiple NFL players, Haskins intended to stay home and play for the Terps before Randy Edsall got the axe and the administration foolishly picked DJ Durkin over interim HC Mike Locksley.
(Still smarting from that debacle, Maryland ran back the clock on the mistake and hired Locksley as head coach this winter following the purge of the Durkin regime. The ineptitude of Maryland’s athletics department cost us multiple years of the Haskins-to-DJ Moore show).
Haskins flipped to Ohio State, a school with an established starter, and waited his turn. In his one year as starter, he proved to be one of college football’s best players. Classic pocket passer, confined to it, really, Haskins runs like the field is made of pudding.
But when he gets cooking back there, hide the women and children. My favorite thing about Baker Mayfield in the last class is that, at Oklahoma, he would attempt throws in the intermediate sector that other college quarterbacks would never think to try — trick shots. You need a lot of creativity, a lot of confidence, and a lot of touch to drop a rock into a tumbler of whiskey between two defenders on the opposite side of the field during a scramble drill.
Haskins isn’t much of a scrambler, but he trusts his arm and eyes just as much as Mayfield does and has his own unique bag of tricks, including that breathtaking Favre/Stafford/Mahomes trick of unorthodox deliveries under extreme duress. Haskins compensates for his lack of athleticism with feel, a smooth operator in the pocket who senses enemies at the gate.
Haskins plays with a relaxed air, like a child prodigy piano player who doesn’t get nervous playing in front of a large crowd. He sometimes appears lackadaisical, from micro things like securing the snap and clutching that puppy like a newborn child on the move, to macro things like not going with the flow when the unexpected happens. When those weaknesses get stacked during a specific play, that’s when you see the head-slapping mistakes.
Take, for instance, his interception in the opener against Oregon State, a team with one of the Power 5’s worst defenses. Ohio State goes with an empty backfield look on 3rd & 10 at the Beavers’ 19-yard line, Haskins in shotgun. It’s clear, from pre-snap movement, that Oregon State intends to blitz. This will set up a five-on-five situation for the Buckeyes’ offensive line. Haskins has five outside options. They’re vastly superior athletes to the six Oregon State defenders covering them. Haskins may not have much time, so he needs to have an action plan in the seconds immediately after the snap. He also needs to have a bail plan. This isn’t the situation to play hero.
A sack isn’t ideal, but even six or seven yards back and you’re still in field goal range. The ball is hiked. Haskins stares down the free safety, who tips off his intentions by drifting to Haskins’ left. This is Haskins’ cue to go right. But the CD playing in his head skips for a sec — I’ll postulate because he thought pre-snap that coverage would be shaded the other way — and he bounce steps to square up to the left side of the field, the side where the numbers aren’t in his favor. Which he already knew because he stared a hole through the safety’s head like he was supposed to post-snap.
Realizing his mistake, and knowing he’s running out of time, Haskins opens to the right looking for someone to bail him out on short notice. But the clock is nearing 0.0, two Oregon State pass rushers have broken free. One is in the kill zone, within arm’s reach. Just then, Haskins sees a flash of red streaking into the open field from the right. His brain screams LET ‘ER RIP. He slings it three-quarters as he’s hit to avoid doinking his elbow off the defender’s helmet.
The ball is an all-arm slider off a wobbling-plank platform. It sails over the receiver (who was, for the record, indeed open) and into the defensive back’s arms. Instead of going for six — as it would have had Haskins merely turned his attention to right side of the field as his read safety moved left — the field flipped, the interception was returned past midfield.
Haskins needs to study the Peyton Mannings and Tom Bradys. Without the mobility to escape, he can’t afford to have buffering issues in the pocket pre-throw. If his eyes and processor do their jobs, Haskins’ arm is going to take the rest. Believe that.
The good news is that Haskins issues are correctable. They very well may be due to inexperience alone. He did, after all, only get one year against college defenders. The bad news is that if they don’t get corrected, then he’s just a big, immobile pocket-passer who can get baited into mistakes by the opponent. He must get better against pressure, and he must work on the art of remaining mentally fluid as bullets are flying. He also needs to stop letting mistakes compound when the chips are down, as happened against Maryland and Purdue.
Haskins reminds me of a more-polished Jameis Winston without the hype man personality and off-field issues. If he booms, he could be the ninth-best quarterback in the NFL. I don’t see a higher ceiling than that. Combining this quarterback class with last year’s, I would have ranked him QB5. I see him as more of a mid-Round 1 prospect.
2. Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) | 5’10/207 | hand: 9.5
SPARQ percentile: N/A
Comp: Right-handed, trouble-free, more-accurate Michael Vick upside with a returning-to-baseball-in-four-years-as-your-franchise-burns-in-his-rearview-mirror downside
Let’s get this out of the way first: The Cardinals hiring Texas Tech’s fired coach and then selling low on Josh Rosen to draft a 5’10 quarterback with a career 8/7 TD/INT rate coming into last season would objectively be the funniest confluence of factors in NFL history.
But let’s shelve all that for now and dive into the weeds on Kyler as a prospect with our eyes wide open. He is, without question, the most fascinating prospect to enter the draft in the last decade.
The stats were stupid, conventional and advanced. Just dumb. Among this year’s quarterback class, Murray was No. 4 in average depth of target, No. 1 (by far) in average yards per attempt, No. 1 in both marginal efficiency and explosion, No. 1 in QB rating under pressure, and No. 1 as a runner by a country-freaking-mile. For whatever it’s worth, Murray did lag a bit behind at No. 10 in deep passing rating, behind guys like David Blough and Jake Browning. Arm strength isn’t a concern, but accuracy can be, as Kyler sometimes reverts back to his baseball days, trying to gun down a runner from the warning track.
The only statistical red flag is the interception percentage (2.7%), which is no small thing. To be fair, half his career interceptions came during that frustrating freshman season under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. (Sumlin’s grave will read: Here lies the Benjamin Button of quarterback whispers, the man who gave us Case Keenum and Johnny Football but then chased Kyler from College Station by starting Kyle Allen over him before wrecking Khalil Tate’s development at Arizona).
Murray is a sensational runner, one of the three-best quarterbacks in that phase to ever enter the NFL (joining Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson). Murray is a different kind of runner than Jackson. Jackson is long, angular and super explosive north-to-south (and also ground-to-sky, as he showed in his famous high-jump TD run against Syracuse). Murray is more like a thicker Devin Hester (measured 5’10/190 at the combine).
Murray has 4.3s speed and off-the-charts short-area twitch — for any position, for any player. Remember Hester fielding a punt when two guys were barreling down on him at full speed? Head fake left, fool-you step right to plant and push off, explosive burst left, cut the corner upfield, and from there we go twitch twitch twitch to shake you and hit the jets to bake you. If Kyler Murray couldn’t throw, he would have been a sick return man. Murray is small, yes, but oh-so-very difficult to touch, like a minnow.
We always talk about Murray’s quickness in terms of movement. But his mental processor is almost as quick as his legs. Watch him in the pocket. Takes snap. Fakes handoff. Obligatory look right with a small pump fake, almost half-hearted. But that’s because he isn’t going right and he’s not into wasting time with needless motion. Blink-of-the-eye swivel left, shoulders squared, ready to fire. But nothing is there.
Kyler isn’t waiting, he’s already returned his attention to the right side. He takes a step or two. Maybe the vantage point is more clear free from this mess of brawling genetic mutants in front of him, maybe he’ll find a running lane out there on the perimeter. But shoot! There’s a linebacker camping out he hadn't noticed before. Abort! He plants his right foot to stop momentum, takes a step to reset his balance, and sees another potential running lane up and to the left. He’s about to hit the jets thatta way before he realizes a defensive lineman has freed himself up ahead. Too risky, Ky, too risky.
So Murray pulls the ball back, jumps four steps backwards into a clearing roughly eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. This is dangerous territory for almost every quarterback in NFL history, a sitting duck way back there in no-man’s land a full six seconds after the snap. So get rid of it kid!
Kyler gives himself a solid half-second or so to survey his options. Dealer, he still doesn't like his choices. So Kyler tests a lane again, taking four quick steps upfield. But now the pass rushers are starting to make more headway, and just as he hits his runway to the open field, a DT wearing No. 92, considered a top-five lock in the upcoming class, sheds and prepares to blast this little baseball player.
Kyler takes a hop step back, but he’s now in real danger, as this 300-pound freak is fully crashing down on him with no impediments in the way. So what does Kyler do? He says “Bye Felicia!” to Quinnen Williams, hitting the accelerator along a curved semi-circle route around debris and past the line of scrimmage.
By the time Kyler finally runs past it to officially become a runner, 10 full seconds have passed since the snap. He gets what he can and gives himself up, dropping to the ground before the oncoming safety can so much as put a finger on him. Officially, it was logged as 10-yard run in Round 1 of this past season’s Playoff. But the play said so much about him: Kyler’s legs and mind give his receivers every opportunity to break free.
If they simply can’t, he’s going to take what he can and move on to the next play. Kyler plays quarterback like a game of Madden. It’s why he’s so fun. At Oklahoma, he was a pint-sized Tecmo Bowl Bo, only if Bo Jackson got to bring his Bo Knows Bo outfield arm with him into the pocket, zipping around opponents in zig-zag patterns and blasting fastballs between the numbers.
But let’s make one thing clear: Just like Lamar Jackson in the last class, Murray is a pass-first, run-second guy. His legs are used to buy time up until the point that a running lane presents the best opportunity for yardage. The extra seconds Kyler buys in the pocket make him that much more dangerous as a passer. Despite the diminutive frame, he can rip it with plus velocity. Not size-adjusted velo, son, real velo: This was an all-world outfield prospect whose cannon arm was rhapsodized over as an extra-base eraser. He has no issues pushing the ball downfield.
But Kyler remains raw as a passer. Which makes sense — he had only 519 career attempts and played baseball part-time. But unlike many other inexperienced quarterbacks, Kyler doesn't struggle with pressure. He’s always calm, even under heavy duress, probably because he knows he can disappear like David Blaine before you can wrap him up. Not only is he composed, but he’s the ultra-ultra-rare unicorn of a full-field reader who can buy oodles of extra time to give all of his options a second chance at breaking free if needed.
Think of all the extra opportunities that buys him. Mitch Trubisky famously doesn’t throw left. He can buy second chances, but not as well as Kyler. Let’s say that this skillset gives him an average of three realistic throwing options per play. With Kyler, if five receivers are running routes, he’s got 10 possibilities — their designed routes, and then, if that doesn’t work, their free-lancing routes. And if Kyler doesn’t like those 10 choices, well, okay, he's going to do his Devin Hester open field routine. Kyler could go down as the greatest scrambler in NFL history.
Devastating combo. And if the scouting report ended there, I would sign on with the 1.1 talk. But it doesn’t. Murray can fall into ruts of bad habits. When he’s flowing, you’ll see plays where he reads the entire field two or even three times because of all the time he’s bought. When he’s not, he’s locking onto receivers or a sector of the field and forcing the action regardless of what he sees. And because he isn’t as experienced as some of his contemporaries, he still doesn't have intrinsic understandings of different coverage looks. In short: Kyler can fool himself on a play, and Kyler can also be fooled by the opponent on a play.
And this is where Oklahoma’s system really, really, really helped him: Lincoln Riley schemes open receivers as good as anybody at any level, and the Sooners’ fleet of receivers is second-to-none. Murray didn’t need to read the field like Peyton Manning to consistently find open receivers to fling it to. This point is important enough to repeat: Kyler benefitted from the game’s best offensive staff and one of college football’s best sets of skill players and offensive lines.
He also probably benefited from how bad Oklahoma’s defense was, as quick counter-scores got Kyler and his buds back onto the field quickly against gassed Big 12 defenses (most of which were bad even at full strength). When you remove context, you remove truth, and so we need to acknowledge that the factors surrounding Kyler Murray in 2018 were as ideal as it has gotten for any quarterback prospect of the past decade save one (Baker Mayfield — and, to give the obvious counter-point, that kid turned out okay).
Size is a concern, but I don’t want to harp on it much because, as Pro Football Focus and others have proved, size has no bearing on tipped balls. Not only that, but Kyler compensates for a lack of height with his movement, getting better viewing angles by moving around. Behind the line of scrimmage, he isn’t a kid trying to watch a movie sitting behind a seven-foot man. He’ll just pick up his popcorn and move four seats over.
Where I’m concerned is the durability. And to be fair: PFF has also shown that size has little bearing on injury outcome. But injury odds increase based on hits taken and the violence of those hits. Kyler’s athleticism makes him who he is, but it’s also going to put him in harm’s way every quarter of every game he ever plays. This is far from a disqualifying red flag. But it’s not a non-factor either — let's call it an orange caution flag.
We’ve discussed a few of the concerns everyone mentions when they talk about Kyler. I have one more that doesn’t get talked about that I haven’t been able to push out of my mind, if you’ll humor me for a sec.
Kyler will have just turned 22 when the 2019 NFL season kicks off. When he concludes his fourth season, he’ll be 25. Say the Kliff Kingsbury era is a disaster, as I fully expect it to be. Say Kyler isn’t far enough along to start more than four games next season. Say his second season gets shortened eight games in by injury.
Say he enters Year 3, with only 12 career starts, and struggles amid a hopeless situation in Arizona, running around like a chicken with his head cut off behind a poor offensive line and a group of receivers that don’t create separation. Say the situation is becoming toxic by his fourth year and Kliff’s job is on the line.
And now Kliff is wondering if his biggest mistake was picking a 5’10 dual-threat part-time baseball player over the pocket-passing Josh Rosen. He’s considering returning to his true Air Raid roots in what could be his last shot as an NFL HC. Say he brings in a down-on-his-luck veteran (34-year-old Kirk Cousins?!) on a one-year flier to “mentor” Kyler as a backup but really to compete with him. Say Arizona declines Murray’s fifth-year option, with Kliff privately telling the front office and the media that the reason he isn’t winning is because he made a mistake on trying to fit a prospect like Kyler, as dynamic as they come but not a natural pocket-passer, into his pass-heavy system.
Say that the vet plays well in camp and beats out Kyler. Now Kliff wants to turn Kyler into an offensive gadget player and return ace while also functioning as the backup quarterback. And say Kyler does fine but not outstanding in that role, ticked as he is about this turn of events, privately telling his buddies, “Kliff makes Sumlin look like Neil deGrasse Tyson.” Say he plays through that fourth season dinged up. And now the NFL sees Kyler not as a starting quarterback, but as a fleeter Antwaan Randle El.
This situation is theoretically possible, yes? Kyler is a raw player who has never existed in the NFL before. If he gets drafted by Arizona, he'll be playing on an awful team for Kliff Kingsbury, who was so clueless in college that his alma mater paid him $4 million to leave Lubbock, a city that adores him, with two years left on his contract. This is the man who appears set to shepherd the career of a player who has never existed in the NFL before. If this works out, we’re in the simulation and Kliff is the human avatar for our maker.
Kyler doesn’t have a historical precedent, so he’s by definition a risky prospect. A shoot-for-the-moon, boom-or-bust proposition. And he appears to be heading into a combustible situation in Arizona.
So here’s my thing. If Kyler isn’t a starting NFL quarterback under contract heading into his fifth or sixth seasons, I fully expect him to return to the Oakland A’s and a baseball career. That’s not a crazy prediction. That’s just extrapolation based on the way he’s always made his decisions.
Murray signed with Texas A&M out of high school but transferred after his freshman year because he disagreed with the way Sumlin was using him (to be fair to Murray, Sumlin has become RAID to quarterbacks; to be fair to Sumlin, Murray wasn’t good as a freshman). Murray went to Oklahoma, where he played two sports. He was drafted ninth overall by the Oakland A’s after telling organizations he’d commit to baseball long-term if he was a top-10 pick. The A’s gave him $5 million guaranteed.
Not only that, but Billy Beane further consented to Murray playing one last year of college football, which not only increased the odds of a Murray injury but opened up the possibility that Murray would go supernova and audible back to football. Beane trusted Murray, and Murray burned him when a better opportunity presented itself.
If NFL teams believes that Murray is 100% committed to football for the rest of his athletic career no matter what happens, they’re fools. If the $5 million signing bonus from Oakland remains on the table when his rookie deal expires and his best NFL offer is even one guaranteed penny less, he’s gone.
Are you kidding me? The short-term money would be similar. So his options would be either a role player in the sport with higher injury risk and shorter career expectancy or be a 25-year-old Andrew McCutchen-comped five-tool center field prospect in the other one. And not for nothing: The latter option would also have going for it the promise of one last monster payday. If everything broke right, Kyler could hit baseball free agency for the first time at 31 or 32.
You don’t have to know much about Kyler to know he’s picking the latter option in that scenario. He’d immediately make Baseball Prospectus’ top-100 prospects list. And what an enormous story that would be. It would lead PTI for a week. In the two years that followed, Kyler’s minor league games would be like the Tim Tebow minor league coverage on steroids — MLB Network would no doubt hope to air a number of them live.
All of which would satiate Kyler’s ego and fulfill his desire to be wanted, and he could tell himself the NFL was too small-minded to maximize his enormous skillset. Make no mistake: Kyler believes in himself to the point of hubris. He likes the NFL most now because the NFL can love him back the most in the short-term. If that equation flips the other way, his football career gets cut short.
If he booms in football, it won’t matter. But that’s no guarantee. All of which make Kyler the biggest top-10 boom-or-bust prospect of the past 20 years. Maybe of all-time. Sexy prospect, one of the sexiest in recent memory, but not the type of player who should be drafted first overall. Not because he couldn’t turn out to be the best player in the class, but because you can’t afford to miss at 1.1. Kyler’s outcomes are too vast, and the downside is a scorched-earth disaster that will haunt for years.