My Top Five Preseason Quarterbacks
Before the multi-month extravaganza we call football season made its long-awaited return, preseason work had to be accomplished in order to make for a more efficient and informative year. During this time, otherwise known as summer, I performed preliminary reports on 45 of the nations top quarterbacks; from Heisman contenders like Justin Herbert to current backups such as Wilton Speight. After blending together traits, potential, positional value, and off the field concerns, I gathered grades for each passer. Here are my top five:
5. Deondre Francois, Florida State
Deondre Francois has his fair share of concerns, not many of which are related to talent. A leg injury he encountered during last year's season opener against Alabama sidelined him for the rest of the year, and the Seminoles felt his absence. Over the offseason, Francois was suspected of possessing marijuana with intent to sell, though nothing really came from the investigation. Subsequently, teams may be wary of Francois's character and could potentially penalize him for it come draft time, but his talent should make up for it.
What excited me the most while watching Francois was his ability to be smart with the football and an aggressive play maker at the same time. This stems from his athleticism, proficient accuracy while on the move, and impressive decision making skills. He is able to manipulate defenders with his eyes and does a good job of limiting turnovers. To add, the athleticism he possesses may not be elite, but Francois is always a threat to run. As a passer, he is not perfect, but has impressive touch on deeper passes. In part due to his clean mechanics, Francois remains relatively accurate downfield. The Florida State product is a capable passer and an adequate athlete heading to the next level.
On the other hand, there are some concerning drawbacks. Durability issues are apparent and could be affecting his play this year. While not seeming scared, Francois has had issues maneuvering inside the pocket thus far and has dealt with a barrage of sacks. To be fair, most of this falls on his offensive line, one of the worst units in college football. Hopefully, he won't develop bad habits due to the lack of protection, something that hinders Russell Wilson and Eli Manning's play. Moving on, he needs to be more consistent throwing across the middle. While not awful, he has the tendency to get lazy on shorter passes between the seams, and it burns him. This will lead to turnovers and is something that needs to be corrected. Francois's arm is not spectacular to begin with, making his intangibles more important. Yes, his decision making skills are impressive, but his poise and progression speed appear to be a lot closer to average. These weaknesses, for the most part, are correctable and not fatal, but they do limit his ceiling. Overall, I feel Francois has the potential to be an average starter, with the floor of a league-average backup.
4. Will Grier, West Virginia
Dubbed a Heisman contender heading into this season, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for Will Grier. The PED incident at Florida has left a mark on him in the eyes of many scouts, but hype is one hell of a drug. The West Virginia gunslinger drew tons of elevating comparisons going into the year and it is his turn to play up to them. Another thing to watch on Grier is that he'll be 24 on draft day, a factor that theoretically would hurt his draft stock.
The Mountaineer quarterback's success is attributed to his electric arm. Towards the top of its class, his arm strength is up their with the best of them. The result: an extensive highlight reel and a large fan base. His raw arm strength adds to his above average deep ball. He can fit throws into the tightest of windows when he sets his feet. Like Francois, Grier can move around and move the chains with his legs. Aside from physical talent, Grier is a solid decision maker. What impresses me most between the ears is his near-elite processing speed; in a clean pocket he can fly through his progressions, something almost unheard of out of the Big-12.
Not everything Grier does is worthy of a first round selection, though. He is still raw and tends to overthrow a lot of easy, shorter throws. Due to his arm strength, this decreases as his throws gain distance. Under pressure he is decent while in the pocket, but when he is out of structure and the pocket, things can get bad. Ill-advised throw and lackluster decisions as a runner are soon to follow. Grier's biggest weakness is spotty mechanics. His arm motion but quick but seemingly unnatural, and that is probably the best part of his mechanical approach. His footwork is consistently hurried and he does not plant correctly very often. The biggest critique I have here is his tendency to throw off the back foot. Grier does this because of the confidence he has in his arm, and while I can't blame him, it leads to a lot of errant throws. Cleaning these errors up will be big in his transition to the NFL.
3. McKenzie Milton, Central Florida
McKenzie Milton is most likely the most surprising name in this article. The small-bodied, big name quarterback appears to be the stereotypical "fun in college, not a real quarterback" type, but that is simply judging a book by its cover. Milton is far from perfect but he is just as deserving of a shot as anyone else in this class. He is the quarterback that turned around UCF football and he's got a fighting chance at turning around the franchise that drafts him.
Let's start with the obvious. Milton is an exceptional athlete and a true dual-threat quarterback. On any given down, he has the ability to break off a big play, something no defensive coordinator wants to face. Under pressure, there is a slight drop off from his normal play, but it's nothing concerning. He can break down zone coverage easily and won't lead receivers into safeties. Additionally, he is a great passer under twenty yards down the field. Whether it is in or out of structure, sitting pretty or on the run, few are better on short and intermediate throws than Milton. He's a safe, yet exciting passer that you can win with.
Nevertheless, the limitations of Milton can drive scouts away. His small, slim build might not be built for the wear and tear of the NFL season, especially up North. He seems rather frail, even if he does not play like it. He can get stuck on the first read and trust it too much, but mistakes like that are few and far between. Milton's lack of raw throw power and deep accuracy will certainly scare a few teams off. Down the field, he won't be fitting it into any tight windows. His deep ball often looks like he is forced to use every bit of strength he has to get it down the field and as a result the accuracy dwindles. With that being said, there are passers in the league today (with starting jobs) that Milton outperforms as a passer. He has a chance to be one of the more polarizing prospects in this year's class.
2. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Just to clarify, I very much enjoyed DeShone Kizer's college tape. I may be falling down the rabbit hole once again. The similarities are certainly there; when he is hot, he looks better than anyone in this class, but when he is cold, no team would touch him. The inconsistency makes Bentley a bit of a wildcard and an exceedingly interesting evaluation. Bentley is a play maker at heart and it shows in both positive and negative fashions.
One of the most exciting passers in all of college football, Bentley will amaze some of the scouts that stumble upon his film. Outside of the pocket, he is an amazing passer, possibly even better than while he is in structure. This allows him to manipulate defenses and extend plays, whether it be dropping dimes on the run or rushing for a ton of yards. He reacts well to pressure and can move around inside the pocket at an above average level. His deep ball is one of the prettiest in his class, even if the arm strength is not always there. The kid will make plays wherever he lands, it is just a matter of consistency.
As was previously stated, he can be fascinatingly good or bad. Part of this is due to his mechanics, which, like the rest of his game, is inconsistent. His arm motion leads to many swatted passes at the line of scrimmage and when it drops too low, his accuracy also decreases. Bentley is a relatively aggressive passer in terms of the windows he tries to throw into, and he might not have the arm talent to do so. When he doesn't have his lower half set, the velocity will not appear. This happens way too frequently. Moreover, while he can speed through his progressions, man-zone mixes have proven to cloud his judgement. Bentley will need a season or two to iron out everything, but the upside is tantalizing.
1. Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
North Carolina State has assumed the title of "QBU" after passing on names such as Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Mike Glennon, and Jacoby Brissett to the National Football League. This trend will continue with Ryan Finley. His ceiling may not be elite, but his floor is outrageously high. He is not the most glamorous quarterbacking prospect, but he is efficient, and I can almost guarantee a team will fall in love with him.
Finley's strengths as a passer help make him a prospect with such a high floor. To all areas of the field, he holds impressive touch and general accuracy. Furthermore, this is not lost when he rolls out, where he is incredibly accurate. His clean, compact, consistent mechanics help him deliver the ball with ease, though the raw arm strength is lacking. With a man in his face, Finley can still drop dimes and break down defenses. He won't be running all over any team but he is effective as a runner and safe with himself as well. Even if we do not regard him as an elite quarterback, I am confident he can develop into a top 12-16 passer in due time.
It is early in the draft process, but some have written off Finley already. Their concerns mainly lie in his arm strength, a trait Finley truly does struggle with. However, like Milton, Finley's arm is better than some of the better starting quarterbacks in football. To add, Finley is safe with the football, but can be too conservative at times. He has taken sacks due to this flaw, simply holding onto the football for too long. His progression speed is not lacking per say, but it is definitely something Finley can improve upon. In summation, Finley is a low ceiling, high floor type of prospect that plays winning football and at this point, he is the best quarterback in his class.