TEAM NEED: The big question is clearly the health of Bridgewater. Bradford was acquired in trade because of the severity of Bridgewater’s injury, which was deemed likely to be a two-year injury days after it happened. If Bridgewater can’t go, the Vikings bought themselves a veteran insurance policy in Keenum, so the odds are likely against them drafting a QB this year unless there is a late-round sleeper that they want to compete with Heinicke if they’re convinced Bridgewater won’t be back in 2017.
POSITION ANALYSIS: A relatively persuasive argument can made that there isn’t a quarterback in this year’s draft class who is worthy of first-round selection, but, because of the constant need for quarterbacks, there are two likely candidates to come off the board in the first round (Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky) and two more who are getting positive late steam (DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes). Because of the inflated value placed on quarterbacks and the recent success of mid-round picks like Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, expect to see a lot of teams making a run on quarterbacks in Days 2 and 3 of the draft looking for their own diamond in the rough.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Deshaun Watson, Clemson 6-2½, 214 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter that became a starter with five games left in the 2014 season…In his last two seasons, completed 721 of 1,070 passes for 8,702 yards with 76 touchdowns and 30 interceptions and rushed 372 times for 1,734 yards and 21 touchdowns… In 2015, he was an All-America pick, ACC Player of the Year, Davey O’Brien Award and Manning Award winner and won the O’Brien Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2016…Has a very strong arm and can make all the needed throws…A tremendous natural athlete who makes plays with his arm and his legs and is dangerous in the open field on the run…Accurate on the move and doesn’t throw stupid passes very often…Extremely production, both in terms of stats and wins and losses…Played in simplified spread offense that didn’t ask him to go through a full progression…Is a bit small and thin for the prototypical NFL quarterback and some will question his potential durability…Needs to work on mechanics because he will throw off-balance when he doesn’t have to…Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: He’s a proven winner in college and has excellent intangibles. There will be some debate as to how long he stays on the board, but his upside is enough that someone will jump in the first half of the first round, perhaps as early as the top five to 10 picks.
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina 6-2¼, 222 – Fourth-year junior…One-year starter who completed 304 of 447 passes for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions and ran 93 times for 308 yards and five touchdowns… Named Mr. Football in Ohio as a high school senior…Has all the intangibles in terms of size, strength and toughness at the QB position…Has a cannon for an arm and displays deep-throw accuracy…Has good footwork in the pocket and sets his feet to deliver the ball consistently…Makes smart decisions and doesn’t take unnecessary risks, as shown by just 10 interceptions in 572 passes…Doesn’t always show consistent mechanics…A one-year starter who has to live with that stigma, since so many others have failed with that college resume…Will hold the ball too long and takes some big hits as a result…Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He may be the most NFL-ready QB in the draft and has plenty of the good intangibles to go with it. He will be drafted to be a franchise QB and could be the first one off the board, but questions will linger since he was just a one-year college starter.
THE NEXT LEVEL
DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame, 6-4¼, 243 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who completed 423 of 696 passes for 5,809 yards with 47 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, while rushing 264 times for 997 yards and 18 TDs…Has prototypical size, arm strength and velocity for the next level…Played in a pro-style offense, so he won’t have the learning curve many college QBs go through…Ran a complicated offense that asked him to make numerous pre-snap recognitions and reads…A good runner who can extend plays or take off with the ball and make critical gains…Often a fraction late on throws, forcing receivers to adjust to the ball…Inconsistent with accuracy and will force throws into coverage that will get picked off at the next level…Regressed in 2016 with a sub-par receiver corps and appeared to lose confidence at times…Ran a 4.83 40 at the Combine with a 30½-inch vertical jump and an 8-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: The biggest QB among the top prospects in the Class of 2017, his value varies from team to team. But he has experience in a pro-style offense and brings less fear of failure from frightened owners. He could be the first QB off the board, but more likely he will last until late in the first round…or later.
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech, 6-2, 225 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter that completed 752 of 1,164 passes for 9,705 yards with 77 touchdowns and 25 interceptions and rushed 262 times for 741 yards and 22 touchdowns…Didn’t start playing quarterback until his junior year of high school…2016 winner of Sammy Baugh Award, given annually to the best college quarterback…Only the second player in FBS history (along with Keenum) to account for 5,000 yards of offense twice in his career…Second Team All-Big 12 last season…Had wrist surgery in December…Has good arm strength and a body that can additional bulk weight and strength…Has a very quick release and shows good accuracy on short and intermediate throws…Has good feet in the pocket and will buy himself extra time to throw…Ran a gimmick spread offense that doesn’t translate to the NFL and will need a lot of work on his mechanics…Doesn’t have speed to be much of a scrambling threat…Will throw too many ill-advised passes…Ran a 4.80 40 at the Combine with a 30-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A rising prospect whose athleticism will get him drafted higher than his talent should warrant. He’s getting first-round buzz, but the second round is more likely.
Nathan Peterman, Pitt, 6-2½, 226 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who completed 378 of 620 passes for 5,132 yards with 47 touchdowns and 15 interceptions…Throws a good downfield ball and operated in an offense that threw downfield a lot more than most…Smart player who operated from a pro-style offense and was given the latitude to call audibles…High-character player with good toughness and leadership qualities… Is married…Doesn’t consistently throw balls on target and can be erratic…Locks on to receivers too often…Wasn’t asked to throw a full route tree and most of his reads came extremely quick…Ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine with a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A smart, mature leader who is a student of the game. If he had better arm strength, he would likely be in the mix for the first round, but, as it stands, he’s a Day 2 prospect.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Brad Kaaya, Miami, 6-4, 214 – Third-year junior…Started all 38 games of his college career, completing 720 of 1,188 passes for 9,968 yards with 69 touchdowns and 24 interceptions…Hurricanes’ all-time leader in passing yards and fourth all-time in the ACC and accomplished that in three years…His completion percentage, passing yards and TD-to-interception ratio improved each of his three seasons…A durable, experienced starter who played in different schemes and adapted well…Has enough arm strength to make all the needed throws…Holds the ball too long and takes too many hits…Is thin and needs to add more bulk strength to absorb the punishment he will take in the NFL…Needs to work on mechanics and footwork because he can look bad at times when pressured…Worked out on position drills at the Combine, but chose not to run or jump in individual drills. PROJECTION: After 2015, he looked like he could be a top prospect, but struggled in a new offense last season and didn’t help his cause at the Combine. A team will have to love a private workout to get him drafted on the second day.
Davis Webb, Cal, 6-4¾, 229 – Fourth-year senior who spent his first three years at Texas Tech…In his only season with the Bears, he completed 382 of 620 passes for 4,295 yards with 37 TDs and 12 interceptions…Named 2017 MVP at the Senior Bowl…Has NFL arm strength and throws with very good velocity…Reads the field well and rarely makes poor decisions on his passes…Works extremely hard in practice and film study and is a natural leader by example to improve his own game…Is thin and will take a beating at the next level…Never played under center and will need to refine his reading of defenses and his footwork…Most of his throws were short, quick-hitting passes that padded his completion percentage and his overall numbers…Ran a 4.79 40 at the Combine with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has very good intangibles, but never had a great completion percentage and doesn’t have the amazing physicality to be viewed as a long-term starter in the NFL, but he will likely have a long career.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss, 6-1½, 218 – Fifth-year senior who spent 2012-14 at Clemson before transferring to Ole Miss…Started all 22 games he played (13 in 2015 and nine in 2016), completing 503 of 786 passes for 6,800 yards with 50 touchdowns and 21 interceptions…Second-Team All SEC after leading the conference in passing yards in 2015…The nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly…Missed four games last season with a season-ending knee injury…Has a strong throwing arm and throws with good zip…Is mobile and has good athleticism, allowing him to keep plays alive…Has good accuracy and doesn’t lose much when throwing on the move…Troubling injury history, including tearing his right ACL twice and needed sports hernia surgery before last season…Has been diagnosed with ADD and a coach may have to simplify the verbiage of the playbook…A ton of red flags that included multiple suspensions in high school and being kicked off the Clemson team…Was not one of the 16 quarterbacks invited to the Combine to be measured and tested. PROJECTION: Has the requisite talent to be an NFL quarterback, but injuries, off-field run-ins and medical issues likely will keep him on the board longer than his talent would indicate he should.
Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech, 6-2¾, 222 – Third-year junior who spent two years at Trinity Valley Community College…In his only season at VT, he completed 268 of 422 passes for 3,552 yards with 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions and rushed a whopping 204 times for 846 yards and 12 TDs…Set multiple school records in 2016, breaking several marks held by Michael Vick…Has good size and strength and is an excellent athlete who can make plays with his arm and his feet…Has top-end arm strength and throws with excellent velocity…Throws extremely well when on the move and displays good accuracy…Doesn’t show great patience in the pocket and will take off running too quickly when a primary target isn’t available…Has a lack of tangible playing experience and a lot of one-year starters tend to flame out in the NFL…Takes a lot of chances, which can work in college but leads to interceptions in the NFL…Ran a 4.80 40 at the Combine with a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 9-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player that likely would have helped his stock immensely by staying in school another year, he has the physical attributes scouts look for in a quarterback but is inexperienced and needs a lot of refinement to his game.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee, 6-3½, 216 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who completed 430 of 701 passes for 5,237 yards with 42 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and rushed 291 times for 1,502 yards and 23 touchdowns in that span…Reads his progressions well and will hang tough in the pocket…Is very athletic and possesses a very good combination of arm strength and speed…Is a natural team leader who was very coachable in college and had a big week at the Senior Bowl both in drills and the team interview phase…Has erratic accuracy and will force throws when he’s convinced he can throw into a tight window…Has a hiccup in his delivery that a lot of coaching staffs would likely try to correct…He has added some bulk muscle but is still thin and some will question his ability to take big hits…Ran a 4.64 40 (second-best among QBs) at the Combine with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has a lot of good upside, but takes too many risks. He’ll likely be on the board at the start of Day 3, but a team willing to be patient and work out the bad habits he has could get a sleeper in this draft class.
OTHERS TO WATCH
C.J. Beathard, Iowa, 6-2½, 219
Bart Houston, Wisconsin, 6-3, 235
Sefo Liufau, Colorado, 6-3½, 240
Cooper Rush, Central Michigan, 6-3, 229
Seth Russell, Baylor, 6-2¾, 220
Zach Terrell, Western Michigan, 6-1¼, 206
Alek Torgersen, Penn, 6-1¾, 215