The 2016 quarterback class even after one year already appears as it will go down as an interesting one. It started off with the Rams and Eagles trading up to picks 1 and 2 to get Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively. However as the year unfolded, five other quarterbacks from the class started at least one regular or postseason game as rookies. The crown jewel of them being Dak Prescott who the Cowboys drafted in the fourth round. So once again this has teams going back to the drawing board.
Now teams are left wondering what did they miss regarding Prescott and how can they prevent that from happening again. Drafting quarterbacks will never be an exact science, but it sure doesn’t stop us from trying. Of the prospects in this class, I think one could be a serviceable start right away but this isn’t a crop with a clear cut option at the top, and opinions will certainly vary. With a lot of intriguing developmental prospects, don’t be surprised if teams with older quarterbacks trade back into the first round to select a potential successor.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson: Despite not leaving college with a Heisman trophy, Watson accomplished pretty much everything you could ask and then some at Clemson. He left the school having taken it to heights they hadn’t previously seen and left as one of the more decorated collegiate quarterbacks in recent memory. While there is a lot of debate about who the top quarterback is in this class, to me Watson has the highest floor while also carrying a substantial amount of upside.
The first thing I noticed with Watson in the games I watched was how he appeared comfortable in the pocket. In the event of the pocket breaking down, Watson has the ability to extend the play and throw on the run accurately if needed. While there were times his accuracy and touch were inconsistent, he seemed to rise to the occasion in big moments. Even though it’s not his first choice, Watson consistently showed that his ability to create yards as a runner is also something opponents need to account for. Due to similar strengths and questions surrounding him entering the pros, Watson will be compared by some to Marcus Mariota.
Both quarterbacks raised question marks about having a “slender” build for the position and the offenses they operated in. Watson like Mariota, played in a spread offense and wasn’t asked often during his time as a collegiate to go through a full set of reads. Obviously this is a big question as quarterbacks need to be able to read the whole field at the next level. So far the early returns on Mariota have been impressive, and I’m of the belief that Watson will be able to do the same. While there is no guarantee what range Watson will be drafted in, he should be serviceable if asked to start immediately and with his intangibles/present skillset would make for an excellent developmental prospect for a team with an aging quarterback.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech: The term “gunslinger” is thrown around often to describing quarterbacks, but Mahomes truly embodies it. With mobility and an abundance of arm strength, there are truly some plays he’ll make that can make your jaw drop. Mahomes was able to fully show off these talents in Texas Tech’s Air Raid offense the past three seasons and statistically, was one of the most prolific passers in college football during that time. To this point, most quarterbacks from that offensive scheme (Jared Goff and Johnny Manziel are two recent examples) face a steep learning curve entering the league.
Unlike a lot of quarterbacks who played in an Air Raid scheme, Mahomes does show the ability to make multiple reads when standing in the pocket. On top of his ability to make every throw asked of him, he has shown the ability to thrive outside of structure whether it’s creating something out of nothing either as a runner or through the air. However, that can be a double edged sword as Mahomes at times showed a tendency to create sack opportunities when they weren’t there by breaking away from a clean pocket. That could also of been a result of Texas Tech’s poor defense as at times Mahomes might of felt he needed to score on every possession.
For those reasons, Mahomes is the biggest enigma in this crop of quarterbacks. If he latches on with the right coaching staff who can help tweak his mechanics/continue to develop footwork and learn the nuances of the NFL, the tools are there for him to be groomed into a top tier option at the position. On the flip side, asked to start as a rookie with a staff lacking creativity and skill position talent (as Goff dealt with last year) could be a recipe for disaster. Based on what I’ve read on Mahomes and his willingness to put the work in, I wouldn’t bet against him. With plenty of boom or bust potential though, selecting him might not be for those faint of heart. Regardless of who is interested in selecting him later this month, all 32 teams will be closely paying attention to how the early part of Mahomes’ career unfolds.
3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina: If you are opposed to small sample sizes, chances are you might be hesitant on Trubisky at the next level. Prior to 2016 Trubisky had attempted only 125 passes in college. This past season was his first year as a starter and minus a game against Virginia Tech that was played during Hurricane Matthew, he shined. From watching a few of Trubisky’s games there are a few things that teams could definitely build around. In the pocket, he can improve his awareness but for the most part he seemed comfortable and was willing to stand tall to deliver a strike if needed. Recruited as a dual threat quarterback, Trubisky also has running ability and showed he can make some throws on the move if need be. Even coming out of a spread oriented offense, it seemed he has the ability to read off defenders.
While Trubisky has the arm to make NFL throws, there were instances in the games I watched where he floated the ball in some instances where he would of been better off driving it to his receiver. Playing out of the spread, he also had a lot of run pass options which create space in college, but aren’t consistently viable at the next level. On a few instances, I noticed that Trubisky would drop down his arm slot when throwing the ball. It didn’t impact him in college, but those likely become batted balls at the next level. Like all young quarterbacks, Trubisky will need some time to learn NFL defenses but having only a year worth of starts it’s more crucial in his case. On some instances (his second interception in his bowl game against Stanford) that regard was very noticeable.
If I had to compare Trubisky to a current NFL quarterback it would be Kirk Cousins. The two have similar physical traits and share some of the aspects that could be improved on. Like Cousins, with the right scheme and guys around him, Trubisky could thrive. But like other prospects in this class, it comes down to which teams picks him as some are more patient than others.
4. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: As we get closer to the draft, Dobbs is a quarterback who seems to be rising late. While his teams at Tennessee didn’t meet the lofty expectations over the past few years, Dobbs did grow as a passer during his senior season. On top of displaying intelligence (how many people could balance being an SEC starting quarterback while majoring in aerospace engineering?), Dobbs improved in many aspects. One of them was as a deep passer where he ranked among the top ten of draft eligible quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage on throws of 21-30 yards, and was in the top five on throws of 40 plus yards.
Dobbs also showed feel in the pocket and with the athleticism to take off and run when need be, also is effective when throwing on the run. On quick hitting throws that deal with timing, Dobbs seems to excel as it lets him get in a rhythm. The main trait I really like about Dobbs is that even after a bad throw, series , half, etc is that he didn’t let that rattle him. This was on display this past year against Florida as he bounced back after a poor first half to rally for a big comeback win.
Those stretches where he does struggle with ball placement or accuracy can obviously be concerning to some. Part of that might be that his passing motion does appear as if it could be refined with some coaching at the next level. While he isn’t someone that will be ready to start right away, Dobbs makes for a very intriguing developmental prospect. Despite key aspects of his game needing to be improved, his combination of physical tools, smarts and mental toughness will be very alluring to teams.
5. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame: Early in the 2016 season, Kizer was projected by many to be the first quarterback off the board in 2017. He was very impressive as a redshirt freshman and was expected to continue his development. Unfortunately for Kizer’s sake that wasn’t the case as some (including his college coach) questioned his decision to leave school and declare for the draft. When watching Kizer, there are a lot of boxes he checks off for teams.
He has the protypical size and arm that teams look for along with mobility to give him a threat on the ground. If need be, Kizer will stand under pressure and make big throws and he has a nice over the top release as well. Despite those traits, there are a lot of questions regarding Kizer’s game. While he has moments that show touch on throws, Kizer struggled doing that consistently as on some occasions he drove the ball when it wasn’t necessary. The main question that defines many careers at the quarterback position is if Kizer will improve in terms of keeping his eyes down in the pocket.
That along with a few mental lapses on interceptions to go with some accuracy concerns are the main reasons why some evaluators might of wanted to see Kizer return to Notre Dame. In a class where every team or evaluator will have their personal preference, it is uncertain what range Kizer figures to be drafted in later this month. Like the others before him, the situation will be crucial. If asked to come in right away and be a franchise savior, some of the flaws regarding pocket presence and accuracy would be too much to overcome immediately. For a team with an older quarterback (examples: Cardinals, Giants and Chargers), Kizer could be a very intriguing selection. In that case, he doesn’t have to be the guy right away and would have a few years to get accustomed to the NFL before his number is called.
6. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh: If you were to of asked me this past October who I thought would be a late riser up draft boards, Peterman would of been my choice. A multi year starter playing in a pro style offense with experience under center usually gets a little more buzz. However, Peterman from a height standpoint isn’t physically overwhelming and doesn’t have a bazooka of an arm, so that could play a part.
On the plus side, Peterman is disciplined in the pocket and shows willingness to go through his reads with an ability to run for some yardage if necessary. While his numbers don’t completely show it, Peterman shows that he has the makings of an accurate passer. He can lead his receiver open or hit them in stride, and was one of the more effective quarterbacks in this class regarding to the intermediate to deep areas of the field.
The biggest question facing Peterman at the next level will be his arm strength. While it isn’t all a quarterback needs, teams can’t afford to have balls float on intermediate routes and having the ability to zip those throws in to the intended target is obviously preferred. In a class with some high risk/high reward prospects, Peterman appears to be a solid and steady option. He won’t be selected to become a starter day one, but should be able to come in and be at least a backup sooner rather than later. If a team is able to find a way for Peterman to gain arm strength whether it’s through a trainer or mechanical tweaks, don’t be stunned if he becomes a starter down the line.
7. Brad Kaaya, Miami (FL): As a three year starter from a major program, you would figure Kaaya would have more hype around him as the draft approaches. He comes from an offense that ran some pro-style sets and has sound mechanics. On top of that, Kaaya also seems comfortable in the pocket and will stand tall to deliver a throw even with pressure bearing down on him. As you can see in some of his games (his Russell Athletic Bowl vs West Virginia is an example), Kaaya can be a rhythm passer who is highly efficient when timing routes go to plan and the pocket doesn’t break down around him.
Like many young quarterbacks, Kaaya struggled under pressure but there was a very large drop-off in his particular case. Per Pro Football Focus, Kaaya had the third worst adjusted completion percentage when under pressure amongst all draft eligible quarterbacks. This was evident when watching him as under pressure his accuracy was more sporadic. In the intermediate throws (11 to 20 yards past the line of scrimmage), Kaaya also struggled as he completed less than 40% of his throws in that area (per PFF’s adjusted completion percentage that figure turns into 43.3). Some of that could a result of not having incredible arm strength, but on a few rare occasions we have seen a few quarterbacks build that as they enter the league.
Due to his makeup and the experience he does have, Kaaya will surely be selected as a developmental prospect. While it’s hard to improve at figures like throwing under pressure from the sideline, learning the speed and schemes of NFL defenses for a few years shouldn’t hurt. Due to his strengths regarding quick reads and timing routes, he makes for a very intriguing option for teams that run West coast style offenses.
8. Davis Webb, California: Every year it seems we have a quarterback come out of nowhere in February or early March that starts to receive some early round buzz. The one thing those guys have in common is they usually “look the part” meaning they look good throwing the ball in gym shorts. While we don’t know what “it” is when acknowledging the “it factor”, “the part” almost always ends up being a 6’5″ or taller white prospect. That’s where Webb comes in fitting the bill at 6’5″ 229 pounds.
During his time at Texas Tech, Webb took the reigns as the starter over current Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. He then lost the job to Patrick Mahomes and as a graduate transfer went on to fill the void left by Jared Goff at California. Between those two schools, Webb got plenty of knowledge pertaining to the Air Raid offense and it showed as he is best when passing in rhythm. He is willing to stand tall in the pocket, has a high release point and also displayed some patience to wait for receivers to get open.
For coming out of an offense that prides itself on efficiency, Webb struggled in terms of accuracy during his tenures with both Texas Tech and California. Beyond ten yards, the accuracy become an even bigger question mark particularly when it came to deep passes. In the instances where I watched Webb, there seemed to be times it was predetermined where the ball was going before the play began as he would lock on to receivers immediately. In terms of raw, physical talent a team will select Webb as a developmental option in day two or early day three. However very few quarterbacks become drastically more accurate at the next level so depending on the spot, it might be tough for Webb to return value that matches or exceeds his draft spot.
9. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Almost every year it seems the draft features an SEC quarterback that has a cannon for an arm with a side of character concerns. This year that prospect is Kelly. Kelly started his college career at Clemson before eventually being released from the program which he followed with a standout year at the JUCO level before two years starting at Ole Miss. Aside from his arm strength, Kelly shows the ability to move both in and out of the pocket and has more touch than one might expect.
Kelly plays with a competitive streak and isn’t one to shy away from contact and gain some extra yards. In a league where the average depth of target continues to shrink, Kelly isn’t afraid to throw it vertically. While some will see that as a breath of fresh air, that can also lead to Kelly trusting his arm too much which can lead to mistakes. Playing in a creative scheme with a lot of shotgun or pistol looks, Kelly like many in this class will have to adjust to handling the ball under center. Due to the history of character concerns, Kelly will likely be removed from a lot of teams boards considering the quarterback is viewed as a leadership position by many. However, all it takes is one team to be enamored with a prospect and from a physical skills standpoint, someone is going to take a chance.
10. C.J. Beathard, Iowa: After an impressive 2015 campaign, Beathard entered 2016 with some draft hype but wasn’t as effective. Despite that, he still possesses some traits that a team could look for in a developmental quarterback. Beathard played in a pro-style offense taking snaps both under center and from shotgun, and has the arm strength to make most throws. At times he also showed the ability to work his way through the pocket and throw his intended receivers open.
While he has arm strength, Beathard has concerns regarding touch that he’ll put on the ball. Questions have also been raised regarding his hesitation to make reads late and accuracy when asked to look outside of his primary option on a given play. Due to his positive traits and experience under center, expect a team to give Beathard a look at some point on day three of the draft.
2017 class grade: B