Welcome to Zach’s Draft Corner, where it’s always amateur hour. It might seem like the 2018 NFL Draft was just yesterday, but in just two short months, college football will once again be underway and fans will be clamoring to find their studs and sleepers of the 2019 draft class. For the next few months, I’m going to give you my names to note for the upcoming season at every position, along with a mini scouting report and where I’d like to see the prospects improve this season if they want to hear their name called early come April. Given in no particular order, these will be the prospects that, at least at the beginning of the season, will be generating the most buzz.Consider this a primer for the upcoming season of Saturdays, and a potential guide for your television if you aren’t sure which game to watch. First up, we have the most important position in the game: the quarterbacks.
Shea Patterson, University of Michigan
It seems like ever since Jim Harbaugh took over as the Michigan head coach, the Wolverines have been the Louisiana State University of the Big Ten Conference: they can put a ton of talent on the field, but the quarterback play will generally be too inconsistent (or straight up terrible) for any true success to be seen. Enter Shea Patterson, a graduate transfer from Ole Miss, and Harbaugh may have finally found his quarterback.
Patterson is the type of scrambling, improvisational quarterback that has a lot of success in college. You’ll hear the Johnny Manziel comparison thrown out there a lot, and it will be just as lazy as every other time you’ve heard it. Patterson is more in the mold of Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, as he has a deadly pump fake and prefers to keep his eyes downfield for a pass rather than take off and run. Throw this in a 6’2”, 200 pound frame, with the arm strength to reach every portion of the field, and Patterson is the epitome of a modern quarterback. Patterson will see a lot of success in Harbaugh’s pistol offense, which he perfected with the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick was under center.
Where Patterson needs to prove he is more Wilson and less Kaepernick is in his decision making and accuracy. Patterson can be inconsistent with his deep ball accuracy, and he often tries to rely on his arm strength to fit a pass into a window that has already closed. Patterson’s footwork is also inconsistent. If Patterson can show that he can process the defense and deliver consistent, accurate passes on all three levels of the field, he could hear his name being called very early in Nashville next year.
Drew Lock, University of Missouri
If Patterson is a pair of chinos with boat shoes and naked ankles, Drew Lock is your ageless pair of Levi’s and boots. Measuring in at 6’4” and 225 pounds, Drew Lock is aprototypical pocket passer who has thrown for 67 touchdowns in the past two seasons for Mizzou, including an all-time SEC record 44 in 2017. Although his team has not seen much success in the past few seasons, it’s hard to place that on Lock. He is playing in the SEC, but for a team that still recruits like they are at the bottom of the Big 12.
Lock reminds me a ton of Matthew Stafford. Along with his great size, he has the footwork and quick release that makes scouts drool, along with the arm strength that drops their jaws. Almost like a Josh Allen with pocket presence and a quicker windup. Although his deep accuracy is still somewhat weak, Lock can at least put the right amount of touch on his passes to put his receiver in the best position to catch the pass. Other than his mobility and ability to operate outside of the pocket, if it is a physical trait, Lock excels at it.
Lock’s issues arise when his first read is covered. Mizzou runs a lot of quick, single-read plays that don’t require Lock to go through a progression and read a defense. If Lock wants to be a first round pick, he’ll need to show scouts that he has the mental fortitude to be a successful quarterback. Otherwise, we’ll simply have another Jeff George.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern University
Northwestern seems to consistently fly under the radar when it comes strong football schools, but Pat Fitzgerald has this team consistently outperforming expectations. In 2017, Northwestern finished with a record of 10-3 and ranked 17th in the country in both the Coaches and AP polls. A large part of this success was due to Clayton Thorson, who threw for almost 3,000 yards with a 60.4% completion percentage.
Another quarterback with prototypical size, Northwestern lists Thorson at 6’4” and 225 pounds. However, Thorson is a much different quarterback than Drew Lock. Thorson is very cerebral on the field, progressing through his reads with a quickness well beyond that of his peers and finding the open target. Thorson also has strong mobility behind the line of scrimmage and can break out of the pocket if it starts collapsing while still being able to make a relatively strong and accurate throw. Thorson is simply Mr. Fundamental.
Unfortunately, this leads us to his limitations. There simply isn’t much room for Thorson to improve given his physical limitations. Thorson’s arm strength is simply average, at best, and he often underthrows his targets. Because of this, Thorson is likely a Day 2 hopeful, but a Day 3 lock. Thorson could very well have a long career as a backup, but his lack of arm strength is a true hindrance to his game.
Will Grier, West Virginia University
Close your eyes for a second and think about gorgeous mountains of West Virginia and people that inhabit that area. Now think of the type of guy that would represent those people as the quarterback of their public university. He probably has long hair, a goatee, a kind of unkempt look that looks like the perfect combination of “I don’t care” and “I tried really hard to look exactly like this.” That’s Will Grier to a T. After being suspended for PED use at the University of Florida, the North Carolina-born Grier transferred to West Virginia and has seen his career finally reflect the promise it showed when he was a 4-star recruit.
The 6’2”, 205 pound quarterback is one of the most intriguing prospects in college football, and may very well be my personal QB1 come April. Grier’s best attribute is his accuracy at every level of the field, as well as his awareness for how much touch needs to be placed on the pass. Further, he has the arm strength to take advantage of that accuracy, the quick release to throw his receivers open, and the athleticism to buy time or pick up yards on the ground when his first option is covered. While operating out of shotgun, Grier also is effective at reading defenses pre-snap, which at least shows that he has the mental capacity to understand what the offense needs to do given the defense.
Grier takes risks, ones that can be very harmful to the team. He also can lose his strong footwork mechanics if he stays in the pocket too long. However, if Grier’s only criticism is that he needs to “settle down,” then I like his chances of being successful. I’m very interested in seeing his progression this year.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn University
Jarrett Stidham is a quarterback very much in the same vein as Grier. A transfer from Baylor, Stidham shows good accuracy and touch to all levels of the field and has the arm strength to reach the deep portion. He is a little less athletic than Grier when it comes to making plays outside of the pocket, and also has not shown the pre-snap awareness Grier has displayed. Where Stidham breaks away from Grier is his reliable decision making and his ability to adjust his arm angle to make a good throw.
My worries with Stidham revolve around his offense. Cam Newton came from this same system and was a stronger prospect than Stidham is now in many ways, but has been largely inconsistent in the pros. Stidham’s advanced decision making may separate him from a lot of other quarterbacks that come from these read-option type systems, but I will certainly be taking a closer look at his progression throughout the season to see if my gut is wrong.
Trace McSorley, Penn State University
Welcome to NFL Draft scouting post-Baker Mayfield. Any quarterback who is less thansix feettall, athletic, and successful in college will receive the lazy comparison of Baker Mayfield, and fans will expect that player to go in the first round. McSorley will be the most immediate benefactor, and hopefully the one that makes that comparison short-lived.
While McSorley will rightfully receive the Mayfield comparison for the brashness of his on-field demeanor (and his headband) and his lack of size, for me, that is where the comparison ends. As a pure thrower of the football, I have not been impressed with McSorley. He throws a pretty deep ball, but that’sbecause he puts enough air under it that the receiver can find a way to run underneath it. Otherwise, McSorley benefitted greatly from the trio of Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton, and Mike Gesicki, all of whom were 2018 draftees. McSorley struggles with his accuracy, despite the misleadingly high completion percentage of 63.7%. His functional arm strength also leaves a lot to be desired. He can throw the ball far when he gets a good windup, but is merely average when it comes to the more routine passes.
McSorley will be given every opportunity to prove his worth, and I may come back to this article in five years and eat my foot. However, my opinion now is that McSorley will be the most overhyped and overrated quarterback in college this year, and does not have a future in the NFL.
Justin Herbert, University of Oregon
Justin Herbert is a very intriguing prospect. Standing at 6’6” tall, he has the size that scouts love, but also has more mobility than most in this class. Herbert also has above-average accuracy, and enough arm strength to have a successful career. Most impressively, Herbert’s strong mechanics don’t disappear when he is on the move, as hecan reliably navigate the entire width of the field behind the line of scrimmage and still throw an accurate pass. He’s a very similar player to Ryan Tannehill, who also had those athletic traits rolled into a taller package than most players with his skill set.
Herbert does have some issues when it comes to his mental processing. Herbert lacks the refinement to go to even his second read, causing him to leave big plays on the table. Herbert has also had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, given that he is a slender 6’6”. Herbert is tough and willing to take the hit, but his body doesn’t always hold up. If Herbert can stay healthy and put together another strong season, he could be the first quarterback off
the board in April.
Kyle Kempt, Iowa State University
I hope that Kempt has a good SkyMiles account, because he has moved around a lot before finding his home at Iowa State. The 23-year old Ohio-born quarterback originally attended Oregon State for two years before transferring to a junior college in Nebraska. Kempt then transferred to Iowa State, where he found himself behind Jacob Park for a season and a half. Park unexpectedly left the program mid-season in 2017, and Kempt stepped in to square off against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in Norman. It was there that the legend of Kyle Kempt began, as the Cyclones upset Oklahoma 38-31 behind the 343-yard, three-touchdown effort of the journeyman quarterback. Kempt was granted a sixth year of eligibility, and is now looking to finally prove his worth.
At 6’5”, 205 pounds, Kempt has good size, but lacks the arm strength you would typically see out of someone with his stature. While still good, that is likely the best tag you can put on it. However, Kempt makes up for this lack of arm strength with good accuracy, anticipation, and awareness. Kempt’s mistakes are few and far between, and he is generally able to put the ball in a place where only his receiver can make a play on it. Kempt is simply a reliable quarterback with a relatively high amount of potential. Kempt was able to come seemingly out of nowhere to put Iowa State on the map. His biggest challenge will be keeping them there now that teams know what to expect out of him.
Jake Bentley, University of South Carolina
Jake Bentley is another quarterback with all of the tools to succeed if he can tighten up various aspects of his game. Bentley measures in at 6’3” and 220 pounds and has all of the arm strength, athleticism, and accuracy to be an elite quarterback. However, he also has some of the worst decision making of any quarterback listed here. He certainly has the ability to see his value skyrocket if he can put it together mentally, but he has shown little ability to do so thus far. He is almost certainly going to get drafted based on his tools alone and the ego of a coach who thinks he can fix him. He just needs to cut down on the terrible throws and interceptions. No problem, right?
Nathan Stanley, University of Iowa
Iowa players rarely leave school early, and Stanley will be only a junior this fall. Of all the prospects listed, Stanley has the most chance to not be in this draft. However, his talent is undeniable, and he is a name to watch for 2020 if he decides to stay in school. As a sophomore, the 6’5”, 212 pound Stanley threw for 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions, and displaying a surprising amount of poise and decision-making for a young player getting his first real playing time in a major conference. Stanley also has the arm strength to reach every level of the field with a good amount of zip, exceptional short-to-intermediate accuracy, and the ability to put touch on the pass when warranted.
The most frustrating part of Stanley’s game, however, is his poor deep ball accuracy. Stanley consistently overthrew his targets, and the deep completion became more of a surprise than an expectation. While overthrowing targets deep is certainly better than underthrowing them, Stanley must get better at completing these types of passes if he wants to reach his potential. And his potential is the best pure pocket passer in the nation.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State University
And the Academy Award for “Most Likely Quarterback to Become a Fullback” goes to… Nick Fitzgerald, of Mississippi State! Fitzgerald may be the best running quarterback of this group, but accomplishes it at 6’5”, 230 pounds. Fitzgerald is the rare quarterback who is not afraid to use the truck stick, and is able to do so effectively against even linebackers. Fitzgerald finished 2016 with 1,375 yards of rushing, and almost topped the 1,000 yard mark again in 2017. Fitzgerald’s athleticism could lead him to contention for a Heisman Trophy if he is able to lead Mississippi State to a winning season in the difficult SEC.
Fitzgerald has good arm strength. Otherwise, as a quarterback, his skills are… lacking. Fitzgerald needs to prove he can be a quarterback in addition to being a rusher: he threw for only 1,782 yards in 2017 with a paltry 15:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, if he can clean those numbers up and improve in the passing aspects of the game, he could get some chatter.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State University
Finley checks almost every box you want for a quarterback. He’s 6’4”, with plus arm strength, accuracy, read ability, and decision making. He is a little bit statuesque behind center, but has as much upside as (almost) any quarterback in this class. He may not have one singular elite trait that puts him at the top of any one of these categories, but Finley certainly could rank in the top three to five of each one. Finley does not have the production that some of these other quarterbacks have, but he has the traits. Thankfully for Finley, you draft traits, and not stats. If he is able to put together a season where he does have those eye-popping numbers, Finley is another quarterback in consideration for tops in the class. He’s a little under the radar for now, but he won’t be for long.
SMALL SCHOOL SLEEPER: Tyree Jackson, University of Buffalo
While Nick Fitzgerald may be the most likely to be a fullback, Jackson is the most likely to become an offensive tackle. Measuring in at 6’7” and 245 pounds, Jackson is a mammoth behind center, and has the arm to go along with it. Jackson makes the football look like a toy in his hand, and can throw it to any location on the field with a pure flick of the wrist. If you were impressed by Josh Allen, you are going to love Tyree Jackson.
Jackson, like most quarterbacks with his gifts, struggles with accuracy and decision making. However, Jackson was only 6’1” and 170 pounds in high school, so it’s reasonable to see why it might be taking him a while to adjust to his new body. Jackson puts up numbers just as big as he is, mostly due to the presence of wide receiver Anthony Johnson, Jadeveon Clowney’s cousin who is likely to be a first round pick in 2019. Johnson could even be the first receiver off the board, and he certainly makes Jackson look a lot better than he might currently be. However, if you want to roll the dice on a physical freak who might develop better accuracy once his coordination catches up with his body, Jackson is your guy.
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