We start our position-by-position preview of the upcoming NFL Draft with the quarterbacks.
With two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers and third-year backup Brett Hundley, the top of the Green Bay Packers’ depth chart is set. However, it’s worth asking these two questions. First, are the Packers looking to trade Hundley for a draft pick? That probably won’t happen before this draft but it could happen before next year’s draft. If the intent is to parlay the fifth-round pick that was Hundley into an early-round pick, do the Packers need to be searching for the backup-of-the-future today? Second, Green Bay obviously liked Joe Callahan enough to start the season and end the season with him on the active roster. Do they like him enough to just hand him the No. 3 job — and enough to view him as a potential No. 2?
With those questions as a backdrop, here is our look at this year’s class of quarterbacks. Our top eight prospects are pretty much universal around the league. The names might be in a different order but those are the names. Beyond those eight, we put extra stock into hand size based on Green Bay’s draft history.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson (6-2 1/2, 221; 4.66 40; 9 3/4 hands): As a junior in 2016, Watson threw for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns in helping Clemson win the national championship. He added 629 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, giving him more than 5,200 total yards and 50 total touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, Watson ranked third in the quarterback class with a 76.1 percent “adjusted completion percentage,” which counts drops as completions and pretends that throwaways, clock-killing spikes and batted passes didn’t happen. He also ranked 10th in both adjusted completion percentage when under pressure and on deep passes (20-plus yards through the air). He fumbled three times, an excellent number considering his combined 744 passes and runs. His 17 interceptions? Not so excellent.
As a sophomore, Watson completed 67.8 percent of his passes and became the first player in FBS history with at least 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. Remarkably, in two-and-a-half seasons at quarterback, he ranks third in ACC history with 10,168 passing yards and 90 passing touchdowns.
Watson has size, top-notch athleticism, a good arm and a smooth release. All of that is well and good, but here’s why Watson tops our rankings: First and foremost, quarterbacks must win games. But Watson was the reason why Clemson won games. In back-to-back championship games vs. mighty Alabama, Watson threw for 420 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in 2016 and 405 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in 2015.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech (6-2, 225; 4.80 40; 9 1/4 hands): More than 9,700 passing yards and 77 touchdown passes would be a great career for most quarterbacks. But those were Mahomes’ stats from the last two seasons in the Red Raiders’ pass-happy attack. As a junior in 2016, he threw for 5,052 yards with 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 65.7 percent accuracy. He won the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the nation’s top quarterback and was a second-team Academic All-American.
Of course, a lot of ridiculous numbers have been posted by spread-offense quarterbacks, in general, and Texas Tech quarterbacks, in particular. Graham Harrell is a chief example. So was his coach at Tech. But Mahomes is different. He can throw the ball 65 yards from his knees and 85 yards standing up. “Not too many cats on the planet can do that,” said that coach, Kliff Kingsbury. And that’s why Mahomes is such a coveted prospect, even though his numbers are inflated through Tech’s scheme. Nobody in this draft throws it like Mahomes — sometimes to his own detriment.
According to PFF, Mahomes — the son of former Major League pitcher Pat Mahomes — ranked sixth in adjusted completed percentage but 17th in deep passing and 26th when under pressure.
3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina (6-2 1/8, 222; 4.67 40; 9 1/2 hands): As a junior in 2016, Trubisky completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. He added 308 rushing yards in showing off the athleticism evident in that 40-yard time. According to PFF, he was seventh in adjusted completion percentage overall, fifth when under pressure and 20th on deep passes. He fumbled four times.
He’s got size, arm, athleticism and touch. However, there’s one nagging fact: Trubisky was a one-year starter. He couldn’t even beat out Marquise Williams, a fine college quarterback but certainly no pro prospect, as was immediately obvious during his brief time with the Packers last summer. If he couldn’t beat out Williams in college, how is he going to excel against elite competition?
4. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame (6-4 1/4, 233; 4.83 40; 9 7/8 hands): From a pure physical standpoint, Kizer might be the best quarterback in the draft. As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, he finished with 2,925 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 58.7 percent accuracy, plus 472 rushing yards and eight more scores. A lot was asked out of him mentally at Notre Dame, which should serve as good training for the NFL. He also comes with a good bit of polish, unlike many prospects who put up inflated numbers in spread offenses. Arm strength and toughness stand out.
However, Kizer departed Notre Dame with a 12-11 record as a starter. His play regressed during his final season and he fumbled five times. According to PFF, he ranked 31st in adjusted completion percentage overall, 19th when under pressure and 29th on deep balls. Those numbers are byproducts from playing with too much arm and not enough mechanics and vision. At this point, he’s all potential.
5. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh (6-2 1/2, 226; 4.82 40; 9 7/8 hands): After throwing only 43 passes in two seasons at Tennessee, Peterman — already with his degree — went to Pittsburgh and flourished immediately. He completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,287 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a junior and 60.5 percent for 2,855 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a senior. The big difference was his yards per attempt increased by 2.0 as a senior. The highlight of his final season: a five-touchdown game in a shocking upset of Clemson.
NFL teams love that he ran a pro-style offense and is capable of moving beyond his first read without searching for the panic button. Peterman ranked 17th in adjusted completion percentage overall but was better under pressure (seventh) and on deep balls (fourth). Peterman comes with plenty of polish and a good-enough arm but accuracy is a big question mark.
6. Davis Webb, Cal (6-4 5/8, 229; 4.79 40; 9 1/4 hands): With Mahomes entrenched at Texas Tech, Webb took his degree to Cal, where he replaced Jared Goff and turned in a huge season with 4,295 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. His 43 total touchdowns and 10 300-yard passing games tied the school records, and his yardage total led the Pac-12. Webb is big, smart and tough. The smarts comes from being the son of a football coach, the toughness from playing hockey. His intangibles are tremendous from those perspectives. His arm is strong, too, and he moves better than most 6-foot-5 quarterbacks.
However, he’s got small hands — though a manageable four fumbles — and his production was more an accumulation of attempts than efficiency. He completed only 61.6 percent of his passes and tossed 12 interceptions. According to PFF, he ranked 26th in adjusted completion percentage overall, 24th under pressure and 34th on deep passes. Those numbers are major dings on his resume. One scout called him the most overrated player in the draft — not just among the quarterbacks.
7. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee (6-3 3/8, 216; 4.64 40; 9 1/4 hands): Dobbs threw for 2,946 yards with 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 63.0 percent accuracy as a senior. He added 831 rushing yards and 12 more touchdowns. A 35-game starter who ran Peterman off to Pittsburgh, Dobbs finished his career with 7,138 passing yards, 2,160 rushing yards and 85 total touchdowns. Dobbs has the arm strength, athleticism and intelligence to excite talent evaluators. Learning a playbook won’t be rocket science. Dobbs majored in aerospace engineering and interned with Pratt & Whitney, where he worked on the manufacture and service of aircraft engines for the United States government.
According to PFF, Dobbs ranked 14th in adjusted completion percentage overall but fourth under pressure and third on deep balls. Hand size is a big issue, and that showed up with a class-high 10 fumbles. He probably wouldn’t be a consideration for the Packers, though he figures to be long gone before Green Bay starts exploring the QB market.
8. Brad Kaaya, Miami (6-3 7/8, 214; DNP 40; 9 3/4 hands): Kaaya ended his three-year career ranked No. 1 in school history with 9,968 passing yards and third with 69 passing touchdowns. As a junior in 2016, he had career-best figures of 3,532 passing yards, 27 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions, and 62.0 percent accuracy. Starting as a true freshman, he was the first player in Miami history to top 3,000 passing yards in three straight seasons. Unlike most quarterback prospects, Kaaya played in a pro-style scheme. That will make the learning curve so much easier.
Among the top eight quarterbacks, Kaaya’s arm strength probably ranks at the bottom with Peterman's. He’s not a great athlete, either. His accuracy numbers are a concern, too. He ranked 23rd in adjusted accuracy overall, 44th under pressure — a major problem — and 32nd on deep passes.
9. Western Michigan’s Zach Terrell (6-1 1/4, 212; 5.02 40; 9 5/8 hands): Now begins the list of quarterbacks that might be of interest for the Packers, unless one of the top eight makes a big slide. Terrell is all accuracy with a couple of big asterisks. During his final three seasons, his averages were in the neighborhood of 3,500 passing yards, 68 percent accuracy, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions. As a senior, he threw 33 touchdown passes vs. four interceptions, though he did fumble seven times. His accuracy numbers are the best in the draft class: first in adjusted completion percentage, third under pressure and ninth on deep passes, according to PFF.
Asterisk No. 1: The competition. Terrell throwing to potential top-10 receiver Corey Davis vs. the defenseless MAC was like stealing. Asterisk No. 2: He’s short, has smallish hands and a weak arm. But if the Packers like Callahan (6-foot-1 1/8, 9 1/2 hands), they should like Terrell, too.
10. Sefo Liufau, Colorado (6-3 3/8, 232; 5.08 40; 10 3/4 hands): Liufau owns 98 school records, including 63 for passing and 24 for total offense. Among those: total offensive yards (10,509), passing yards (9,763) and 300-yard passing games (10). Impressively, he became just the second player in Colorado history to be a three-time team captain. As a senior, he completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,366 yards, with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, and added 494 rushing yards and eight more scores. Liufau is renowned for his toughness, with one CU coach calling him the “toughest sucker in the building.” He is the nephew of the “Throwin’ Samoan,” former NFL quarterback Jack Thompson. As you’d expect, Liufau can wing it, as well.
His PFF numbers are tremendous: fourth in adjusted accuracy, sixth under pressure and first on deep balls. Liufau’s targets dropped 24 passes. Trubisky’s dropped 20, though Trubisky attempted 111 more passes. He did fumble seven times, a big number considering his huge hands. Some of that is because he plays like he’s a fullback. Perhaps most troublesome: He didn’t show much improvement during his career, with his NCAA passer rating being 128.3 as a freshman and 132.6 as a senior. He was one scout’s “favorite” of the “other” quarterbacks.
11. Baylor’s Seth Russell (6-2 7/8, 213; DNP 40; 9 5/8 hands): Russell suffered season-ending injuries as a junior and senior. As a junior, he played in seven games, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,104 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions before he broke a bone in his neck. At the time of the injury, Baylor was No. 2 in the country. As a senior, he played in nine games and completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 2,126 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions before sustaining a broken ankle. His accuracy numbers are terrible: 42nd in adjusted completion percentage, 46th under pressure and 41st in deep passing. He fumbled three times. Scouts love his arm, athleticism and success (14-3 as a starter). They hate his injury history and spread-offense background.
12. Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight (6-1 3/8, 219; 4.54 40; 9 7/8 hands): Knight, a graduate student, transferred from Oklahoma to Texas A&M for his senior season. He threw for 2,432 yards on 53.3 percent accuracy with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In three seasons at OU, Knight threw for more than 3,500 yards with 25 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, but he was beaten out by Baker Mayfield in 2015. His PFF numbers were terrible: 44th in adjusted accuracy, 40th under pressure and 30th in deep passing. Plus, he fumbled nine times. But his athletic ability is intriguing if he can grasp a mechanical overhaul. He’s a “project” with a capital “P.”
Potentially off the board: Iowa’s C.J. Beathard (9 3/8 hands), Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans (9 3/8 hands), Mississippi’s Chad Kelly (character), Central Michigan’s Cooper rush (9 1/8 hands), Penn’s Alek Torgersen (9 1/4 hands).
The bottom line: Four first-round quarterbacks? Will the top eight be off the board by the end of Day 2? All possible. That means it's going to be slim pickings at the end of the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.