(A series looking at some of the top players at various positions leading up to the NFL Draft, set for April 27-29).
The proliferation of spread offenses in college football has made projecting a quarterback's NFL potential even more challenging.
"Sooner or later they have to learn to win in the pocket," NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock said. "That's the litmus test for spread quarterbacks."
They also have to learn to line up under center, to call plays in the huddle rather than look to the sideline for a placard with a picture of Daffy Duck on it, to get to second- and third-read options with regularity, and to throw intermediate-to-deep routes with double-moves, as opposed to passing laterally with the occasional deep shot taken.
Early entries into the draft further complicate the evaluation process at pro football's most critical position.
No wonder Mayock has second-round grades on his top prospects at the position this spring and at the same time expects more than one of those players to be drafted much higher than the second round.
"The reality is two or three of them will probably go in the top 10," Mayock said.
Watson will have to answer all of the spread-quarterback questions coming out of Clemson's spread offense. But to NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin, Watson has already made a compelling argument. "He did beat Alabama, and Alabama's as much like a pro team as any of the pro teams we have in the NFL," Irvin said. An exaggeration, but at the same time point well taken. Watson (6-2 1/2, 221 pounds) was 28-2 as a starter in his sophomore and junior seasons. He threw for 4,593 yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in leading Clemson to the national championship 2016, and rushed for another 626 yards and nine scores. "When the lights are brightest that son of a gun plays his best," Mayock said, "and people like him."
He only started for one season at North Carolina, but it was a very god season. "I have issues with one-year starters, especially at this position," Mayock said. "But his tape was the most consistent of any quarterback in this draft class and he's athletic." Trubisky (6-2 1/8, 222) threw for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2016. Dane Brugler's 2017 NFL Draft Guide acknowledges the leap-of-faith factor involved with drafting Trubisky high: "Although the sample size isn't ideal for a quarterback in consideration for a Top 10 pick, Trubisky has the physical characteristics and mental alertness to develop into a quality starting quarterback in the NFL capable of winning a starting job as a rookie and learning on the job."
Mayock describes Kizer as "a classic drop-back quarterback with a big arm," not as a finished product. "My biggest issue with Kizer's tape is, most of it was really good but in the fourth quarter of several games when they really needed him I felt like his pocket mechanics deteriorated," Mayock continued. "I thought his decision making and accuracy deteriorated. And I thought it was because he was trying to do too much." Kizer (6-2, 224) had a 12-11 record as a starter at Notre Dame. NFL Network analyst David Carr likes Kizer's ball. "It jumps off his hand," Carr said, "every throw."
PATRICK MAHOMES II
The son of a former Major League pitcher, Mahomes II is apparently intent instead on becoming the NFL's next gunslinger. Mayock's analysis of Mahomes (6-2, 225) was downright fascinating. "His tape is my favorite of anybody," Mayock maintained. "Every snap something really good or something really bad is about to happen. He's looking to make a big play every snap. Can you coach out some of the inconsistencies without losing the big-play capability?" Mahomes led FBS with an average of 421 passing yards per game. He started 29 games in three seasons at Texas Tech and finished with 11,252 career passing yards and 93 career touchdown passes. Said NFL network analyst and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, "You could watch this kid throw three passes and know he's just a natural thrower."
He was coached at Pitt by Pat Narduzzi, who was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State when Kirk Cousins was the Spartans' quarterback. "Pat Narduzzi swears that's who this is, love of the game, passion, understanding, intelligence, ball skills, all of it," Mayock said. Like Cousins at Michigan State, Peterman played in a pro-style offense at Pitt. "Big play-action team," Mayock continued. "He's used to being under center and having to throw left or right. Timing, anticipation, get it out; he has a good feel for the game." Peterman (6-2 1/2, 226) threw for 20-plus touchdowns in his two seasons at Pitt after transferring from Tennessee.
The 2016 Draft, QB
Number drafted: 15
Picks by round: 3 in the first; 1 in the second; 2 in the third; 3 in the fourth; 1 in the fifth; 4 in the sixth; 1 in the seventh
Highest pick: Jared Goff, Cal, Round 1, first overall, Los Angeles Rams
Impact pick: Dak Prescott became the eighth quarterback selected when the Dallas Cowboys plucked him out of Mississippi State on the fourth round (135th overall). Prescott went on to complete 67.8 percent of his passes and throw for 23 TDs with just four interceptions. His passer rating was 104.9 and he compiled a record of 13-3 in 16 regular-season starts.