theScore’s 2017 draft prospect rankings are compiled by NFL editor Dan Wilkins. Check back every Monday leading up to draft week for a new positional breakdown of top talents and potential sleepers.
|1||DeShone Kizer||Notre Dame|
|3||Mitchell Trubisky||North Carolina|
|4||Patrick Mahomes||Texas Tech|
|5||Jerod Evans||Virginia Tech|
Kizer would likely be considered a top-5 lock if he were turning pro coming off the kind of year he had as a sophomore. Instead, a puzzling junior season has brought some uncertainty as to who he is as a quarterback both now and looking to the future. Whether teams are scared off by the apparent setback, or encouraged by the fact that he’s at least shown elite traits, should depend on the organization.
Assuming we’re evaluating what he can do, though, there’s still as much upside as any quarterback in this class. And isn’t that what the draft is all about? Kizer is an impressive athlete, has a big-time arm, and throws with both accuracy and anticipation. He also has countless examples of demonstrating such skills while standing in under pressure. While the down year probably makes Kizer a candidate to be groomed behind a veteran, there should be teams confident they can again bring the best out of him. The prototypical traits still scream early first-round pick.
Watson was arguably the top player in the country for his two seasons as a starter at Clemson. The increase in interception numbers as a junior is indicative of the decision-making that will need work in the NFL, and he certainly doesn’t have the strongest of arms. But everything else about Watson’s skill set makes him an easy first-round quarterback prospect.
He efficiently goes through progressions from the pocket, extends plays either by stepping up or escaping, demonstrates accuracy to the short and intermediate levels of the field, and has the touch to put the ball where it needs to be in any situation. His level of poise, meanwhile, has been made abundantly clear in guiding Clemson to consecutive National Championship appearances. Watson is arguably the most pro-ready quarterback of this year’s bunch.
Trubisky presents an interesting case in that he only started one season at North Carolina before declaring. He put some solid tape together during that short stretch, to be sure. There isn’t a throw on the field that he can’t make from a clean pocket, and he has no problem escaping and making plays on the run. Arm talent and athleticism, among other things, will never be a concern for the Ohio native.
While times have changed, and the initial numbers may not hold true today, there was a reason legendary head coach Bill Parcells had baseline rules for experience and success in evaluating quarterbacks. The main issue for evaluators will be that Trubisky’s college tape includes just 13 starts. Why couldn’t a seemingly consensus first-round NFL talent start before his junior year? The limited sample size, advantage of a quarterback friendly offense, and concerns about how he deals with pressure – both in manipulating the pocket and getting rid of the ball efficiently – still make him somewhat of a projection.
A master improvisor, it’s difficult not to get flashbacks of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M when watching Mahomes do his thing on the field. In terms of raw ability, there aren’t many questions to raise. Not only can he put the ball on target to all areas of the field, but he routinely does so from arm angles and launch points that other quarterbacks wouldn’t dream of attempting to use.
Perhaps the best way to put it is that Mahomes rarely ever plays on schedule. He’ll dance away from pressure, heave a ball downfield on the run or off his back foot, and nonetheless have it fall into a receiver’s arms with jaw-dropping precision. There are more than enough examples to prove that it’s not luck. The only question is how teams view that skill from a projection standpoint. Like some of the others, but for different reasons, Mahomes might be best suited taking at least year to adjust from his Air Raid offense. If a team is willing to be patient, the rare talent is there to have an early round investment pay off in a big way down the road.
A junior college transfer, Evans was quite impressive in his lone season as the starter at Virginia Tech. As it does with Trubisky, that limited sample size at a high level of competition will work against him. There’s still plenty to like in assessing his NFL potential, though.
Evans has upside in terms of both arm talent and athleticism. Not only does he deliver a catchable ball in rhythm to short and intermediate levels of the field, but he maintains that accuracy with one of the best deep balls in this class. While Evans would need a transition period to get comfortable making reads in an NFL offense, he’s not exactly alone in such a requirement. His physical tools give him plenty of value in the mid-to-late rounds.
Best of the rest
|8||Brad Kaaya||Miami (FL)|
- Peterman doesn’t have any outstanding traits, but he does many things well enough to give him a chance. His comfort in a pro-style offense, and the ability to work through progressions toward a quick decision, gives him an advantage over many other quarterbacks that should be available on Day 2 or 3. He makes throws on the run and has enough zip and accuracy to attack the intermediate level of the field.
- Webb stepped in and nearly matched the production that played a role in Jared Goff entering last year’s draft as the most highly touted signal-caller. His big arm and comfort within the pocket should have many teams wondering if they can’t mold him into a starter or, at the very least, a long-term backup. Webb won game MVP honors at the conclusion of Senior Bowl week.
- Kaaya never went on the first-round trajectory many foresaw when he took the Miami starting job as a true freshman. He’s fairly efficient when able to get the ball in and out of his hands in rhythm, but he takes far too many sacks and his accuracy suffers when he looks to push the ball downfield. Teams that favor a short, quick-hit passing game could have some interest in Kaaya in the middle rounds.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
A history of off-field issues will raise some major red flags for Kelly, likely pushing him either to the end of Day 3 or out of the draft entirely. Discussions about taking a chance on a player become all the more difficult when it’s at the quarterback position. But Kelly can play, and he’ll almost certainly get a chance to prove that somewhere. Reigning in his gunslinger mentality and fine-tuning his skill set as a whole could eventually see him become an effective signal-caller.
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Kiel is understandably getting little-to-no attention after being relegated to the bench for the majority of his senior season. Quarterbacks who can’t hold onto a starting job in college don’t exactly stand a great chance of making it in the professional ranks. There’s no reason why teams shouldn’t be willing to take a chance on him as an undrafted free agent, though. Dating back to his days as a highly touted recruit, Kiel’s always been able to sling it. NFL coaching and some better luck with injuries could go a long way.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)