|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.
3. Daniel Jones (Duke) | 6’5/221 | hand: 9.75
People say Drew Lock is the Josh Allen of this class. Not true, Lock can’t bring it on the ground and that’s the most intriguing part of Allen’s game at this time. Daniel Jones is the Josh Allen of this class — minus the bazooka and plus a world-class tutor.
Like Allen, Jones is a big, imposing athlete who can do damage on the ground. And like Allen, Jones underwhelmed statistically and frustrated on the field. Analytically, Jones is the anti-Kyler Murray. His conventional passing numbers give pause, as Hayden Winks has noted. So do Jones’ advanced stats.
Per PFF, Jones ranked No. 20 in adjusted completion % against pressure, No. 25 in adjusted completion % versus the blitz, and No. 35 in average depth of target. But two notes on that: 1) Duke’s supporting talent was quite bad (way worse than Drew Lock had at Missouri, it should be noted); Jones was No. 2 in this class in receiver drop rate, which really hurt his numbers, 2) Duke’s passing system, perhaps in part because of a lack of outside talent, was heavy on quick-hitting short passes.
And to Jones’ credit, he was outstanding in that phase of the game. It’s the part outside of running in his statistical profile where he shines, efficiency in the short game and touch/accuracy that stretches into the intermediate sector. But the difference between Allen and Jones is that Allen’s arm strength was Bunyan-esque, while Jones’ arm is average. Jones’ deep ball game was quite poor in college. It was almost non-existent.
And that’s a problem. But Jones can’t be dismissed because he’s big, athletic, experienced and polished. Credit for that last bit to David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton and Eli Manning in college. Cutcliffe told the media before Jones had played a game that he was going to be a Round 1 pick.
If that doesn't end up happening... is that because Jones’ supporting cast was so bad that he didn’t have time to throw it deep or the receivers to catch it even if he did? Or is it because Jones is something of an imposter, a good-looking dual-threat pupil of one of college football’s all-time quarterback gurus who doesn’t have the arm talent to succeed in the NFL?
I’m tentatively bullish. I like the popular Tannehill comp. Jones also in some ways reminds me of Derek Carr coming out of Fresno State, in that Carr was a big kid with movement skills who had the arm to push it downfield but was always throwing bubble screens. I have enough examples of relative success stories to project a fair chance of Jones developing into a low-end starter who should be a capable backup even if he doesn’t.
4. Drew Lock (Missouri) | 6’4/228 | hand: 9.0
SPARQ percentile: 79.5
Comp: There's a chance he's a more-likable Jay Cutler… there's a better chance he's Blaine Gabbert
I was tempted to let these tables speak for themselves. I include Mahomes’ table only as a response to the ludicrously misleading Lock/Mahomes comp that you won’t hear me reference again this draft season.
It’s no secret I’ve never been high on Lock. But let’s start with the positives. He’s big, he’s got a gun, and he’s athletic. He plays with the same swagger you picked up on during his Senior Bowl and NFL Combine media hits. Lock is a bombs-away gunslinger who’s more comfortable challenging the deep sector than any quarterback in the class. Safeties need to be concerned not only about the pop-the-top rainbow shots, but also the knock-down-the-bottle carnival fastballs 20 yards down the seam. On any given play, no option is off the table for Lock. He’ll let it fly anywhere.
Lock is a strong athlete, but he’s not a big running threat (437 career rushing yards on 2.2 ypc). He doesn’t have the instincts for it — that’s where the Josh Allen comp fell apart for me. And for all my criticisms of his pocket game, it’s fair to note that Lock never bails on a play. He’s going to buy himself time — effectively — and keep his eyes downfield hoping somebody breaks free.
All that is why the NFL has been dreaming on this kid for the past few years. The issue is that Lock never really developed. He’s basically always been exactly what he is now: A big athletic kid with a bazooka arm and sniper’s scope aimed downfield at all times who sometimes doesn’t realize the enemy has snuck up behind him and sometimes fires at shadows and cats.
Lock shredded bad defenses from the moment he stepped onto campus, the Idahos and UConns and SE Missouri States of the world. And as the years went on, the massacres became bloodier and bloodier, running up his stat line. But time and time again, against above-average competition, Lock was bad. SEC bowl teams with strong edge rushers and athleticism in the secondary defended Lock with ease, speeding up his internal clock while taking away the downfield freebies he feasts on against the Sun Belt and FCS.
Lock has never been the sum of his parts. And I’m going to let you in on the secret as to why: His individual parts are all good, but they don’t work together in harmony. Lock’s throwing arm, like Devon Sawa’s in IDLE HANDS, has a mind of its own. It is not interested in coordinating with his lower half, which hurts his accuracy, particularly when he’s on the move. Think of it like a first date: You can be charming and compelling, but if you have no follow through, you’re never going to score. He’s a chucker, not (yet) a pitcher.
Lock has struggled with pressure throughout his career. He’s the kind of quarterback who forces you to hold your breath with when he’s scrambling — and not in the Brett Favre kind of way. Favre brought every ounce of his arm strength with him out of the pocket, and even though the mechanics were sometimes quirky, his accuracy and touch on the move could be breathtaking.
You love to see Lock keep his eyes up on the move, but he leaves his brain behind — sometimes he won’t see an open swatch of field in front of him, or a leaking running back who is standing inside a 10-yard halo of personal space upfield. Decision-making is a general concern, but let’s fine-tune that a bit: Lock is a great decision-maker when he’s kept clean.
Lock wants you to know how big his arm is and how fearless he is. On every play. That’s to his detriment. But it might be all he knows because it’s all he can do: He’ll go long stretches where there is no touch or nuance to his game, where he’s doing the Josh Allen thing of throwing 100 mph swing passes or driving a ball that whizzes through the air five yards behind his slanting receiver.
If you combined the past two quarterback classes, I would rank Lock QB9. The tools are there, but they never played against top competition. Blame his supporting cast all you like, but do keep in mind he got one year with one of the sport’s best offensive coordinators (when watching his 2017 tape under Josh Heupel watch how many times a TD pass goes to a receiver who was wide open when the ball was released) and played with a small handful of NFL pass-catchers (J’Mon Moore, Emanuel Hall, potential 2020 TE1 Albert Okwuegbunam, et al).
The best case for Lock’s career is a non-sourpuss Jay Cutler. If he busts, you’ve got yourself ... well, hold that thought for a sec. I want to close with a snippet of NFL.com's scouting report.
Strengths: “Prototypical size and excellent speed for the position. … has the arm strength to make all the throws.”
Weaknesses: “Trusts his arm too much and puts the ball in harm's way too often. Does not show good touch on passes over the middle and needs to learn to take a little velocity off certain throws. Late feeling pressure at times which neutralizes his very good mobility.”
Oh, sorry. I didn’t clarify. That wasn’t Lock’s scouting report. It was Blaine Gabbert’s.
5. Will Grier (West Virginia) | 6’2/217 | hand: 9.375
SPARQ percentile: 66.4
Comp: Case Keenum
Comps are hard.
Sometimes we pick a player whose style of play is closest to a given prospect, even if said player has had a much better career than we’re projecting for the prospect. And sometimes — this is my preference — we do comps where we try to bake into the comp a career projection, so that we’re not, for instance, comping a guy like Jarrett Stidham to Derek Carr and misleading the reader to believe we think Stidham will start more than 75 NFL games in his first five seasons. I’m willing to skimp on the style element a bit to look for a comp that gives a more accurate depiction of how I project the prospect’s career to play out.
Once every blue moon, you get a prospect whose style AND career projection match a current NFL player — a perfect comp. Folks, Will Grier is Case Keenum. Case Keenum is Will Grier. Similar skillsets and builds, similar college production coming out of similar systems.
They even had the same coach! Prior to becoming West Virginia’s HC, Dana Holgorsen was OC under our buddy Kevin Sumlin at Houston. Back in the good ol’ days for all three, Sumlin/Holgo/Keenum teamed up for two years to create one of the most efficient and devastating passing offenses in G5 history. Holgo skipped to West Virginia after Keenum’s junior season (in sum, Keenum threw for over 5k yards three times in school!). Keenum graduated and in 2012 entered the NFL, which most unfortunately at that time still fetishized large unathletic white quarterbacks from the South who couldn't throw a ball through a tire 10 yards away.
Keenum went undrafted. Ryan Lindley, BJ Coleman and Chandler Harnish did not. Brandon Weeden was a Round 1 pick, and Ryan Tannehill was a top-10 pick. Keenum ended up having a better career than 1.2 Robert Griffin III.
It took some doing. In 2015, his fourth NFL season, Keenum was considered a fungible journeyman. That turned out to be the last time Keenum didn’t attempt at least 320 passes in a season. That same year, in October 2015, Grier, a star redshirt freshman at Florida who was considered the future face the program, was popped for PED use and suspended for a calendar year.
Grier postulated that this would be a great time to transfer. Holgo now had a shot to turn back the clock. He may have lucked out, as Grier chose West Virginia despite telling the media at the time that Ohio State’s Urban Meyer had recruited him hardest. Grier at Ohio State would have been a sight to behold, and it would have spun Dwayne Haskins’ career into yet another post-Maryland-flip alternate reality. But it would have deprived us of Holgo reenacting his redneck JK Simmons WHIPLASH routine on another Case Keenum. So the universe did everybody a solid by steering Grier down those John Denver old country olds.
Grier became eligible in 2017 and ended up posting a 71/20 TD/INT on better than 65% completions with a YPA near 9.5 over two seasons under Holgo. Keenum put up an 88/26 TD/INT with a completion percentage not far south of 70% but a YPA under 8.5 in 2008-2009 under the same guy in a weaker conference.
Keenum’s game wasn't given just credit coming out. In my opinion, Grier is getting that credit. I find the four guys above him on this list varying degrees of overrated. But I mostly see Round 3 grades on Grier and that’s perfectly reasonable. Grier’s upside isn’t nearly as high — if/when he starts, he’ll be a below-average starter his team is looking to replace — but his floor is absolutely higher than Lock’s. In fact, if I got decent odds on Grier starting more career NFL games than Lock, I’d drop the cash.
And while I thought long and hard about rating Grier over Lock, I in the end couldn't do it for the following reason: If a coach can fix Lock’s processing and composure issues, he’s going to be a solid NFL starter. Whereas Grier figures to blur the good QB2/bad QB1 line like Keenum, existing in that qualitative QB28-44 quagmire.
Grier has an extremely high floor, with one caveat: The only difference between he and Keenum is that at Houston, Holgo stressed efficiency over explosion to Keenum, whereas at West Virginia, with Grier and his fleet of future NFL receivers, he prioritized explosion over efficiency. Grier is more NFL-ready in the sense that he played with and against plenty more NFL players in college. But the quick-hitter Air Raid that Keenum operated at least didn’t imbed drunk swashbuckler bugs that could bite him in the NFL, where he needed to be a game manager.
This is strange to type but it’s true: The most important thing for Will Grier’s career outlook is for him to realize that his destiny isn’t to become an NFL superstar. He must instead be a Ricky Rubio-like point guard, firing passes confidently whenever he sees an open window but never trying to take over a game.
All the tools are there for an NFL game manager metamorphosis: Grier is a rhythm thrower who causes problems when he’s on, a full-field reader with plus accuracy (as long as he isn’t moved off his spot) who’s polished and comfortable in the pocket. He’s also lauded as a great leader. The only way Grier fritters away the most valuable aspect of his evaluation —that he’s an extremely high-floor quarterback amid an awful QB class — is if he thinks he’s Drew Brees and is unwilling to change.
6. Easton Stick (North Dakota State) | 6’1/224 | hand: 9.25
SPARQ percentile: 93.8
Comp: Poor man’s Trubisky as a thrower, 95% of Taysom Hill as a runner
One bad week of Shrine Game practices isn’t backing me off of the opinion Stick is a draftable prospect worth developing. This is a guy who played 15 games this season (for the second consecutive year) and then raced to Florida on a short turnaround to participate. Let’s cut him some slack. This wasn’t a Will Grier situation. He wasn’t willing to bail on his team, and that may have hurt his prep time. But he did bring a third FCS title back to NDSU, so I’m guessing he sleeps fine at night.
Stick gets nitpicked because he’s short, doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, and benefited from playing with the best supporting cast in the FCS in a system that was advantageous on a per-play basis (but, to spin it the other way, didn’t give him as many aerial opportunities as some other guys on this list). The Bison have a dominant ground attack, and they leverage that strength by psyching out the defense with a heavy dose of play-action passes and RPOs.
If you can’t stop NDSU’s running game, you have no chance to beat them, so defenses often were willing to leave defensive backs on islands downfield. Stick doesn't have a Drew Lock-caliber gun, but he’s got enough arm strength to get it done (this is not a Trace McSorley situation) and mitigates some of that weakness by showing deft touch downfield. Stick has some of the better drop-in-the-bucket throws in this class.
Stick won three FCS titles at NDSU, the colossus of the sub-division that gave us Carson Wentz. Forget Carson Wentz. Stick is nothing like him as a prospect. Stick is a fabulous athlete — slower by a tic than Taysom Hill with less explosion, but with superior agility — who is a weapon in the open field. This part of his game doesn't get discussed enough, I think, because evaluators who dismiss him because of the height/arm strength thing or the Shrine week don’t get far enough along in their thought process to bake it in to what it could mean in the NFL. Also, because Stick is #white.
But good golly is he dangerous. Difficult to wrap up in the backfield, difficult to corral when he gets moving downfield, and, heck, difficult to catch from behind. You can’t dismiss Stick’s deep-sector touch as a context-based fluke, because Stick’s skillset itself is in part informing that context: On RPOs, for instance, linebackers and safeties need to be extremely cognizant of the fact that Stick could tuck and rip off a 25-yard run in three seconds.
They also need to be concerned of the possibility of Stick heaving it downfield while scrambling. Stick is not looking to bail at the first sign of trouble. Similar to Lamar Jackson in the last class, he’s looking to do damage in the pocket first as part of the NFL system he operated. But don’t get it twisted: If you give him a crease, he’ll make you pay.
Quarterbacks like this stress the defense greatly because they make them defend every inch of the field horizontally and vertically. Stick can’t push it as far as, say, Lamar, but his downfield accuracy ensures that safeties can’t cheat up far without exposing themselves. Among this quarterback class, Stick finished No. 3 last season in average depth of target (11.97), behind only the bazooka-armed Tyree Jackson and Taylor Cornelius, who at Okie State played in the most deep-ball-happy system in the FBS. Noted deep-ball lover Drew Lock finished more than two yards per pass behind Stick (9.35).
I’ve mentioned Stick’s velvety deep touch, and also his skill in buying time. The other factor that makes him dangerous in this phase is that he’s tough as nails and willing to stand in and take a shot to deliver a catchable ball. You see this over and over on tape (as well as a Favrian-quirk of rolling to the right and leaving his feet for extra velocity or a better throwing angle, even if he’s about to get blasted). Stick finished No. 3 in the class behind Kyler Murray and Brett Rypien in passer rating under pressure last year. I’m very big on quarterbacks who stay composed under pressure. Those who can’t in college don’t in the pros.
I far prefer Stick as a developmental prospect to, say, Tyree Jackson. Jackson has great physical attributes, as we’ll discuss — better than Stick’s, better than anyone’s — but he’s such a mess mechanically and has so little idea of what he’s doing that his flameout odds are quite high. Jackson can throw it 20 yards or so further, but so what? Stick has him beat everywhere else, including accuracy to all three sectors.
As a thrower, Stick runs hot and cold. When he heats up, he looks like a future NFL starter, a polished, well-built athlete with good footwork who knows what he’s doing in the pocket and can make you pay as a runner or thrower. He’s sharp, and he’s lauded as a tremendous leader.
When he’s off, he has a tendency to lock onto receivers and attempt throws he needs to have the self-awareness to realize he can’t make, the kind of tiny-closing-window throws that guys like Drew Lock can try. And while he’s very polished from a mechanical standpoint and a known grinder, it’s imperative for Stick to work on widening his vision scope on the field.
Like Trubisky, he isn’t a natural full-field reader. This would kill Dwayne Haskins’ game, but Stick’s running ability brings another element to the table that could mitigate this issue — but only if he learns to play within his skillset. And I see no reason why he can’t adapt: Everyone who has ever been around the kid raves about his intangibles.
I see a guy you can get late in Day 3 (or potentially even as a UDFA) who can be a long-term backup at quarterback while bringing Taysom Hill athleticism to any task that may need it. If he lands with a creative coaching staff, Stick should be able to contribute in sub-packages and perhaps on special teams as well.
And if everything breaks right in his development, he could absolutely become a low-end NFL starter who adds much value as a runner. Stick is a superior prospect coming out to Taysom Hill. His floor looks like something like Hill does now and his ceiling is higher because he actually may be able to, you know, swing the quarterback thing. And he's going to come at a really cheap sticker price!
7. Brett Rypien (Boise State) | 6’2/210 | hand: 9.00
The nephew of former Redskins QB and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, Brett is your classic stud college quarterback whose physical limitations will come into play more in the NFL. They will likely prevent Rypien from becoming a long-term starter, but I like his chances of developing into a solid QB2 who doesn’t embarrass you when he’s called into action.
Rypien is on the smaller side — including small hands — and his arm is more softball than baseball. He doesn’t absorb contact well, he’s only an average athlete, and he isn’t a strong thrower on the move, so he’s mostly confined to the pocket.
But while there isn’t a lot of sex appeal here, I like Rypien’s chances of sticking around. The arm isn’t big, but Rypien knows his limitations. He gets the ball out quickly, is accurate to all levels, and throws a catchable ball. He works the room back there, manipulating the pocket with his feet and defensive backs with his eyes, and remains calm in the face of pressure. Worth a late Day 3 flier, for sure. You have to roster more than one quarterback, after all.
8. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) | 6’2/218 | hand: 9.125
SPARQ percentile: 44.5
Comp: Your younger brother’s Bryce Petty
Breakups are hard.
I loved Stidham coming out of high school. He chose Baylor, an adopted school of mine because my brother went there. Stidham wanted to play for the great Art Briles in his obscenely QB-friendly system. The fit was perfect: Stidham was an advanced thrower, a prospect you could project to play early.
Stid the Kid was even better than advertised as a true freshman, lighting it up after veteran QB Seth Russell was beset with injuries to the tune of 68.8% completions, a 11.6 YPA and a 12/2 TD/INT rate. Unfortunately, Stidham’s season ended when he broke his ankle on November 25, 2015. Nobody knew it at the time, but Stidham would never play another game at Baylor, and Briles had already coached his last regular season as a collegiate coach.
The scandal came next, in the late-spring. Briles and his assistants were purged along with the AD and school president, and Stidham, like a small handful of his teammates, fled. In an alternate Stidham reality, where no scandal occurs, he enters 2016 as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. He puts up crazy stats for two seasons and then declares for last year’s NFL Draft, where he could have been the sixth first-round quarterback.
Instead, he sat out a year and transferred to Auburn. His first year, in 2017, was a success, though he threw for only six more TD in 251 more passes than he’d had as a frosh at Baylor. Stidham’s future was at something of a crossroads heading into this season. As a freshman, he looked like a potential first-rounder. As a junior, he looked like a solid Day 2 guy. And then this past season, he objectively looked undraftable just about all season until he went supernova against Purdue’s poor pass defense in the bowl game.
In only one less attempt than he had in 2017, Stid posted just about the same TD/INT rate (18/5 in 2018, 18/6 in 2017), but that was misleading. His game cratered — he lost 6% off his completion percentage (to just a shade above 60%) and fell to 7.6 YPA after averaging nine in his career to that point. The offensive line was blamed, the loss of Kerryon Johnson was blamed, and Gus Malzahn/Chip Lindsey were blamed.
And it’s true: The offensive line wasn’t good. But this is also true: The dark secret about Stid is that he struggles mightily in the face of pressure. When he’s kept clean and the field is wide open in front of him, his tools, which are mostly above-average across the board, play up. But when the pocket is collapsing and/or coverage is tight, something breaks in his brain.
No longer standing tall and confidently firing ropes up the seem, he devolves into a dithering, wishy-washy mess, pumping the ball nervously, losing control of his feet, hitting “Floor 1” with his eyes, and losing, in one fell swoop, logic and accuracy.
And this, folks, is why his pick of Baylor out of high school was so inspired: No system spaces the field better. If Stidam, instead of declaring, had grad transferred to FSU to play his last collegiate season under Art’s son Kendal, now the Seminoles’ OC, I think you would have seen a monster rebound (assuming big improvement from FSU’s OL), potentially an All-American campaign. Because if you give this kid five free seconds to pick from one of four receivers evenly spaced across the field, he’s going to identify the best option and throw a catchable ball. But when that isn’t the case, he isn’t. And that’s what we saw at Auburn this year.
Stidham should not be in the draft. He’s one of those high school prospects who goes into God Mode in seven-on-seven summer games played in shorts. The mechanics are flawless, the decisions are sound, the balls are going to be thrown with plus placement and touch, and all the tools the NFL is looking for will be on display. I would have bet my life that Stidham was going to look like a first-rounder at his pro day, and what do you know! After Auburn’s event on Friday, Jordan Palmer told AL.com: “…that was probably the best — or right there with the best pro days I’ve ever been a part of. …That was about as impressive as I’ve seen.”
If only the NFL were played in shorts! Stidham needed four years with a perfect coach in the perfect system to become something more. He got one such year. In the three years since, he has had only one promising season. He sat out another, and spectacularly face-planted this past campaign. He measured into the Combine one inch shorter than he was listed coming out of high school, he’s skinny, and he’s not the above-average athlete he was once billed as.
He’s a Euro Ball prospect who gets signed by the NBA after hitting almost 50% of his threes overseas and proceeds to come here, not play defense, and lose his shooting touch as better athletes start guarding him. Since 3s are his calling card and he’s not used to playing in structure or facilitating for others, his game craters and he washes out.
I wanted better for Stid, and I’m ranking him a tic higher than I have the mind to because he does have a natural feel for throwing the pigskin. But the ship has sailed on my hopes for the kid. I’ve seen this movie before.
9. Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) | 6’7/249 | hand: 10.25
Listen. I would venture to say I watched as much live Buffalo football as any non-Buffalo media member the past two years. Loved the squad, won good money riding them.
Tyree Jackson was my guy. He was a quarterback nearly the size of LeBron James (6’8/250) with freak athleticism and an enormous arm. I saw him make the kinds of throws only Josh Allen could make in the last two classes — where he’d be rolling out to the right and all of a sudden uncork a ball 70 yards downfield and hit a receiver perfectly in stride en route to the end zone. Jackson boasts physical skills only Allen could touch in the last two classes. Like Allen, he could be a dangerous runner in the NFL.
As a passer, Jackson is willing to read the entire field. But he’s slow to process what’s going on around him and plays like he’s looking through a narrow vision tunnel like Madden used to have. He has blind spots, and sometimes they lead to some of the worst decisions you’ll see on tape of any quarterback in this class.
Tyree doesn’t have much artistry about him as a thrower, to be honest. He is a willing full-field reader, it’s true. But in actuality he slowly looks from one guy to the next until someone is obviously open, and then he heaves it like a Game of Thrones giant throws a boulder. Jackson was often late on throws in college despite plus-plus velocity. And it’s because he’s the anti-Dwayne Haskins in terms of anticipation.
Tyree also is a mechanical mess. It’s like his upper half and lower half don’t get along, and his arm wants all the glory. His throws tend to sail. And when things start going south for him, they really go south, more so than maybe with any other quarterback in the class. He’ll go through long stretches where he looks like Nuke LaLoosh, where balls are flying into the press box and injuring spectators.
And it’s why I was so frustrated with his decision to declare. With Anthony Johnson leaving for the NFL and KJ Osborn transferring to Miami, Jackson decided he also wanted out of Buffalo. He briefly considered a grad transfer, which would have been an inspired idea.
Joining Osborn in Miami for Manny Diaz’s first season was reportedly on the table. And that would have been a grand slam decision. The Hurricanes are a quarterback away from being dangerous again, and Tyree could have used the season to work doggedly to improve his processing, vision, accuracy and decision-making while beginning the long process of overhauling his mechanics.
Jackson needed every second of his eligibility clock. The physical package is so rare, but he’s so far off from harnessing his ability. One more year probably wasn’t going to be enough either, but it would have given him a better shot of sticking in the NFL long-term now. I fear that Tyree is so raw that, like Jerod Evans, he’ll be escorted out of the NFL early. Reminds me of the great Fran Fraschilla quote on Bruno Caboclo: “He’s two years away from being two years away.”
10. Ryan Finley (NC State) | 6’4/210 | hand: 9.5
Finley is a tall kid with lots of experience and plus accuracy. He absolutely looks the part on the field, when he doesn't have to throw deep anyway, standing tall as bullets fly around him to deliver catchable balls. He’s got just enough wiggle in him to stay clean and keep the defense honest, and he takes his accuracy with him on the move.
But due to his lack of arm talent, Finley’s play is tied to his supporting cast. And he doesn’t have any A-level traits to mitigate the problem. While defenses have to defend every inch of the field horizontally and vertically 50 yards downfield against Easton Stick, Finley’s limited arm talent and lack of elite athleticism makes him containable either through a good pass rush or good coverage. He’s also on the older end of the spectrum and is likely close to tapped out as a player. I can see him developing into a QB2 but nothing more.
And while I have you, not for nothing — anyone else find it weird that Finley was chased out of Boise State by Brett Rypien but has remained ranked consensually higher than him for draft purposes for the past year? Boise State preferred Finley to Rypien. I’m here to tell you that NC State probably would have as well (Rypien with Kelvin Harmon/Jakobi Meyers/Jaylen Samuels/Nyheim Hines would have been fun to watch!).
An updated version of this column with more quarterbacks analyzed and ranked will run the week leading up to the NFL Draft next month. In the meantime, here are five quarterbacks for the road who missed the cut this time but will get longer write-ups in April.
Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson: Big strapping kid with guts who doesn’t have any A- traits and comes with medical concerns — possible long-term backup.
Mississippi QB Jordan Ta’amu: The arm talent is there, so I understand some of the sleeper steam he’s getting — but Ta’amu lacks feel, is a meh athlete and benefited from playing with an A+ receiving corps in an Air Raid system… if he’d wound up at a school like Louisville, I don’t think we’re talking about him as much right now.
Syracuse QB Eric Dungey: Every team takes a flier on a UDFA quarterback for camp, Dungey is a guy I’d target for that; he’s an absolute warrior on the field who struggles big-time with durability — he’s a Mr. Glass Bryce Petty but with A+ intangibles; if his body holds up, he could be a cheap third-quarterback who has the athleticism to maybe play some special teams or enter in sub-packages… if it doesn’t, we need to get this kid into coaching pronto.
Penn State DB Trace McSorley: Oh crud, sorry. Wrong position group.