All-Star Game Crystal Ball: Quarterbacks
If you follow my work on the database, you know that most of the work I've done so far this year has been centered around senior prospects. They are locks to be eligible for the draft in April, assuming they aren't taking medical redshirts or transferring as graduates. The amount of names that have crossed my path makes this one of the more entertaining mental exercises I've done this year. For the sake of playing the side of caution, I'll be avoiding underclassmen who can graduate, as we still won't know if they'll decide to declare even after graduating. No Jarrett Stidham for instance, who will graduate this winter, but may not declare due to a poor season which harmed his stock. The games we've got on deck to cover with quarterback predictions? The Senior Bowl, the East/West Shrine Game, and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Will Grier, West Virginia
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
Jordan Ta'amu, Mississippi
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Easton Stick, North Dakota State
Trace McSorley, Penn State
Kicking it off with the signal callers, we've got a quality list of eight, but there are some fringe guys who I believe might sneak in like South Dakota State's Taryn Christion and Northwestern's Clayton Thorson. Drew Lock, Will Grier, and Ryan Finley are all essentially locks for the event if they to decide to participate.
Lock has been the consensus top senior quarterback for a lot of media evaluators heading into the season. Even with some shaky performances against Georgia and Alabama he's still in the driver's seat thanks to a massive arm and some surprising flashes of touch. He's going to be pegged as this year's Josh Allen due to questions about accuracy, but his game is much more refined than Allen's was.
Grier is a bit of an enigma within the draft community. He has a Baker-esque following that circles around his improvisational ability and love for chucking up the deep ball. Deciding to come back as a senior was likely a good move given the top heavy talent of the 2018 class, but he has been up and down much like the rest of this crop. He threw four picks against Kansas and only posted 100 yards against Iowa State. Senior Bowl week will be incredibly important for Grier when it comes to showing his mental processing and moving into an offense that limits the home run shots. If he can work from the pocket and distribute the ball comfortably in practice it may push him into the back of the first round.
Despite drawing first round buzz during the summer, it seems like everyone in the draft community has collectively soured on North Carolina State's Ryan Finley. His ability to manage the ball and work the short game is impressive, but he has a lackluster arm and struggles to make plays out of structure. I labeled him as a late day three talent during the summer, but he could end up with a low level starter grade on my final board. This event is more about checking boxes than answering questions for Finley. His limitations are known from tape, but getting to see him throw in person will entice some folks.
Moving on to some more fringe guys, Rypien from Boise State has been on an upward climb this year. Although the Bronco's offensive line has done everything it can to get him killed, he has been able to hang tough and throw accurate passes downfield. Rypien was impressive during summer evaluations, but was generally considered to be a day three talent. I had him as a mid day two guy. The arm talent isn't overwhelming nor is the mental processing, but he has some of the best ball placement in the class. If Rypien shows he can go through progressions at an effective rate there is potential for a team to grab him during day two.
Jordan Ta'amu was one of the lowest graded quarterbacks I had when I looked through the position this summer, but he has latched onto the boards of many of my colleagues. I thought his arm was rather weak during 2017, and his placement was general rather than specific. It seems like another year under his belt may have propelled Ta'amu's game forward. We'll see if this holds up now with the loss of star underclassman receiver D.K. Metcalf. The noise I'm hearing says he'll be in.
Easton Stick is one of the more interesting players in this quarterback class. He doesn't have an elite arm or great decision-making. There are flaws mechanically that make you question whether or not he'll be consistent. But when you turn on the tape you see a great scrambler who can eat yardage up when it's handed over. You also see natural accuracy everywhere on the field, where he can drop pinpoint throws onto his target. He'll be one of the more polarizing prospects and could go from a day three grade to being drafted in the second round. The Senior Bowl will be a massive proving ground for Stick, who needs to take on FBS competition and prove he can hang.
Kyle Shurmur has generally hovered around the UDFA area on most boards, as he does not possess desirable velocity for the pro level. Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy has stated that he believes Shurmur has been a better decision-maker this year. If Nagy believes that Shurmur has truly improved then we could see a shot to get in. I'd like to see something more dynamic with him before handing out the invite, but he has the measurables and look of a draftable guy.
Trace McSorley is the last guy who squeaks in, and I'm tempted to leave him off in favor of guys who need the invite more like the aforementioned Christion. McSorley is no Baker Mayfield, and I'm okay with people wanting to bury that comparison, but I think there are some similarities that must be noticed. The difference between the two is that McSorley has not elevated his stock as a senior and raised his level of play. He's still an antsy pocket mover who drops his eyes and looks to take off prematurely. That combined with his abysmal size will likely lead to a late round pick at best, but he's a big name with the Penn State resume. It will be tough to pass on him for a lesser known quarterback.
How would I stack this group right now?
1. Drew Lock
2. Easton Stick
3. Will Grier
4. Brett Rypien
5. Ryan Finley
6. Trace McSorley
7. Kyle Shurmur
8. Jordan Ta'amu
East/West Shrine Game
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Taryn Christion, South Dakota State
Jake Browning, Washington
Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Welp, it's been a hard way down for the formerly exciting Nick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has always impressed as a runner during his college career and his excellent ball velocity had a lot of evaluators buzzing about his potential last year. There was talk about a potential early declaration or a future day two slotting. Those days are long gone. Fitzgerald is likely not even draftable considering his current play, which has him under 50% passing on this year. A suspension from the team in their first game and the recovery from a devastating leg injury in 2017 makes him a terrifying prospect. That said, physical tools often win the day and Fitzgerald has them in spades.
Thorson is another prospect who has always been a rollercoaster, and he comes with injury questions of his own. When asked to deal with pressure he falls apart and makes awful decisions. But there is a lot of quality tape out there on Thorson when he is given time to work his offense and select his targets. The tools aren't anything special, but this will be a proving ground for him to showcase his football intellect. A good week could lead to a Senior Bowl callup or a late round selection.
Taryn Christion is one of the most exciting FCS prospects on my radar and earned a third round grade in my summer work. The only thing holding him back from the Senior Bowl is the talent at the FBS level, but he should earn a spot if his 2018 play resembles his performance against North Dakota State in 2017. The biggest problem with Christion is consistency. One moment he is an unstoppable wrecking ball for the Jackrabbits offense, winning both on land and air. The next moment he's missing easy targets and running himself into trouble. Production wise it seems his 2018 season has been better than 2017 as a whole though.
Let's talk about Jake Browning for a second. Jake Browning is not good. But if you watched Draft Twitter talk about him for more than a few minutes you'd think he's doing the macarena every time the ball touches his hands. Browning LOVES his hero ball, but he has a quality resume and moments of clarity as a passer. His arm is too weak to support his "panic and chuck it up" addiction, but don't let that take you away from what he does well. He's no surgeon in the short game, but he can move the chains effectively and avoid pressure to set up throws.
Manny Wilkins benefits from having a tower on the outside in star wideout N'Keal Harry. He has been bailed out quite a few times by Harry, but he generally knows when to take risks. There aren't many poor decisions on tape from 2017 than ran me away from Wilkins, even though his mental processing seemed a tad slow.
Minshew looked rough at East Carolina. After nearly transferring to Alabama, he headed west to strike gold in Mike Leach's offense in Pullman. Winning the quarterback competition and getting cemented as the Cougar's starter was a good start for him, but there is a lot left on the table for Minshew. His production has drawn the eyes of the industry, but his Wyoming game was an unwelcoming one for me when checking out his 2018 work. Minshew's arm is still below the threshold for the league. His decisions are robotic and forced by the offense he operates. When asked to create outside of the system he falls hard and leaves a train wreck in his wake. Nagy wrote about him as a Senior Bowl feature and player of the week, but I doubt he gets the chance to be in Mobile barring a couple injuries. St. Petersburg must suffice for the passer with growing buzz.
How would I stack this group right now?
1. Taryn Christion, South Dakota State
2. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
3. Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
4. Jake Browning, Washington
5. Gardner Minshew, Washington State
6. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Devlin Hodges, Samford
Taylor Cornelius, Oklahoma State
K.J. Carta-Samuels, Colorado State
Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State
David Blough, Purdue
Devlin Hodges is a good college quarterback. He's a great FCS quarterback. But the reality of his situation is that physical limitations will hold him back from a shot in the league. He was generally safe with the football last year, avoiding danger unless absolutely necessary, but he has been more reckless as a senior. I like some of the mental aspects but he could measure in under 6'0". Either way, teams will want to get a look at him.
Taylor Cornelius can into the seaon with a lot of competition behind him. He had the job of replacing the Oklahoma State legend Mason Rudolph (Yes, I mean it) at the quarterback spot. Behind him? Hawaii transfer Dru Brown who made it onto my draftable list of seniors at the position. He beat out Brown and has been the lead man for the Cowboys so far. Cornelius hasn't been putting up remarkable numbers in that offense, but he's a pillar standing in the pocket that can handle any type of backfield damage on size alone. He's listed at 6'5" and 232 pounds, but it would be unsurprising to see him measure at 6'6" and 240-245 pounds. The average tools as a passer and one year of production are why he's here, not at a larger game.
Former Washington Husky K.J. Carta-Samuels took a different path from Cornelius. He waited patiently to get a shot at Jake Browning's job, but was never able to steal it away. The former 4-star recruit decided to test his odds as a senior and go elsewhere to get a playing shot. Carta-Samuels has been posting big numbers with wideouts like Olabisi Johnson and Preston Williams at his disposal. His throwing motion is abnormal and it affects his accuracy. There are flashes of using eye discipline to draw open windows, which will be what pulls him into the draft circuit.
Hansen, much like the rest of the guys in this grouping, doesn't possess an arm that makes you believe in his NFL potential. He fits the rest of the thresholds that you'd expect for a pro quarterback prospect. The numbers are catered with the Red Wolves offense, but he nearly topped 4000 yards passing as a junior. Proving he can consistently get past his first read will be key to getting a good deal as an undrafted free agent. If a team really falls in love we could see him sneak into the back of the third day.
It's disappointing that Fresno State's McMaryion was not allowed to open up as a junior against Alabama and Washington, which would've been great resume games for him. He's an efficient chains mover with the potential to make plays on the ground. He would do well to bulk up for the draft circuit, as he's a bit slender around 200 pounds, but he will get a shot on a camp roster this summer.
David Blough has been fighting to maintain the starting job for a while due to the tough competition of fellow Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar. Blough has been better this season than any year before. He pulled a signature win against the Boston College Eagles and could rise further if he does well in Big Ten competition. Arm talent and size are both worries for Blough, but he has been a smart passer who doesn't risk turnovers with his play this year.
How would I stack this group right now?
1. Devlin Hodges, Samford
2. David Blough, Purdue
3. Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
4. K.J. Carta-Samuels, Colorado State
5. Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State
6. Taylor Cornelius, Oklahoma State
As everyone knows with predictions, they're not always perfect, so I've included some guys who may sneak in that I haven't listed in my official predictions.
Best of the rest
Tanner Mangum, BYU
Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State
Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Ty Gangi, Nevada
Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington
Let me know what you guys think about these selections and who you think will be in the upcoming editions. Next up is the running back group.