6. Easton Stick (North Dakota State) | 6’1/224 | hand: 9.25
SPARQ percentile: 93.8
Comp: Poor man’s Trubisky as a thrower, 95% of Taysom Hill as a runner
One bad week of Shrine Game practices isn’t backing me off of the opinion Stick is a draftable prospect worth developing. This is a guy who played 15 games this season (for the second consecutive year) and then raced to Florida on a short turnaround to participate. Let’s cut him some slack. This wasn’t a Will Grier situation. He wasn’t willing to bail on his team, and that may have hurt his prep time. But he did bring a third FCS title back to NDSU, so I’m guessing he sleeps fine at night.
Stick gets nitpicked because he’s short, doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, and benefited from playing with the best supporting cast in the FCS in a system that was advantageous on a per-play basis (but, to spin it the other way, didn’t give him as many aerial opportunities as some other guys on this list). The Bison have a dominant ground attack, and they leverage that strength by psyching out the defense with a heavy dose of play-action passes and RPOs.
If you can’t stop NDSU’s running game, you have no chance to beat them, so defenses often were willing to leave defensive backs on islands downfield. Stick doesn't have a Drew Lock-caliber gun, but he’s got enough arm strength to get it done (this is not a Trace McSorley situation) and mitigates some of that weakness by showing deft touch downfield. Stick has some of the better drop-in-the-bucket throws in this class.
Stick won three FCS titles at NDSU, the colossus of the sub-division that gave us Carson Wentz. Forget Carson Wentz. Stick is nothing like him as a prospect. Stick is a fabulous athlete — slower by a tic than Taysom Hill with less explosion, but with superior agility — who is a weapon in the open field. This part of his game doesn't get discussed enough, I think, because evaluators who dismiss him because of the height/arm strength thing or the Shrine week don’t get far enough along in their thought process to bake it in to what it could mean in the NFL. Also, because Stick is #white.
But good golly is he dangerous. Difficult to wrap up in the backfield, difficult to corral when he gets moving downfield, and, heck, difficult to catch from behind. You can’t dismiss Stick’s deep-sector touch as a context-based fluke, because Stick’s skillset itself is in part informing that context: On RPOs, for instance, linebackers and safeties need to be extremely cognizant of the fact that Stick could tuck and rip off a 25-yard run in three seconds.
They also need to be concerned of the possibility of Stick heaving it downfield while scrambling. Stick is not looking to bail at the first sign of trouble. Similar to Lamar Jackson in the last class, he’s looking to do damage in the pocket first as part of the NFL system he operated. But don’t get it twisted: If you give him a crease, he’ll make you pay.
Quarterbacks like this stress the defense greatly because they make them defend every inch of the field horizontally and vertically. Stick can’t push it as far as, say, Lamar, but his downfield accuracy ensures that safeties can’t cheat up far without exposing themselves. Among this quarterback class, Stick finished No. 3 last season in average depth of target (11.97), behind only the bazooka-armed Tyree Jackson and Taylor Cornelius, who at Okie State played in the most deep-ball-happy system in the FBS. Noted deep-ball lover Drew Lock finished more than two yards per pass behind Stick (9.35).
I’ve mentioned Stick’s velvety deep touch, and also his skill in buying time. The other factor that makes him dangerous in this phase is that he’s tough as nails and willing to stand in and take a shot to deliver a catchable ball. You see this over and over on tape (as well as a Favrian-quirk of rolling to the right and leaving his feet for extra velocity or a better throwing angle, even if he’s about to get blasted). Stick finished No. 3 in the class behind Kyler Murray and Brett Rypien in passer rating under pressure last year. I’m very big on quarterbacks who stay composed under pressure. Those who can’t in college don’t in the pros.
I far prefer Stick as a developmental prospect to, say, Tyree Jackson. Jackson has great physical attributes, as we’ll discuss — better than Stick’s, better than anyone’s — but he’s such a mess mechanically and has so little idea of what he’s doing that his flameout odds are quite high. Jackson can throw it 20 yards or so further, but so what? Stick has him beat everywhere else, including accuracy to all three sectors.
As a thrower, Stick runs hot and cold. When he heats up, he looks like a future NFL starter, a polished, well-built athlete with good footwork who knows what he’s doing in the pocket and can make you pay as a runner or thrower. He’s sharp, and he’s lauded as a tremendous leader.
When he’s off, he has a tendency to lock onto receivers and attempt throws he needs to have the self-awareness to realize he can’t make, the kind of tiny-closing-window throws that guys like Drew Lock can try. And while he’s very polished from a mechanical standpoint and a known grinder, it’s imperative for Stick to work on widening his vision scope on the field.
Like Trubisky, he isn’t a natural full-field reader. This would kill Dwayne Haskins’ game, but Stick’s running ability brings another element to the table that could mitigate this issue — but only if he learns to play within his skillset. And I see no reason why he can’t adapt: Everyone who has ever been around the kid raves about his intangibles.
I see a guy you can get late in Day 3 (or potentially even as a UDFA) who can be a long-term backup at quarterback while bringing Taysom Hill athleticism to any task that may need it. If he lands with a creative coaching staff, Stick should be able to contribute in sub-packages and perhaps on special teams as well.
And if everything breaks right in his development, he could absolutely become a low-end NFL starter who adds much value as a runner. Stick is a superior prospect coming out to Taysom Hill. His floor looks like something like Hill does now and his ceiling is higher because he actually may be able to, you know, swing the quarterback thing. And he's going to come at a really cheap sticker price!
7. Brett Rypien (Boise State) | 6’2/210 | hand: 9.00
The nephew of former Redskins QB and Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, Brett is your classic stud college quarterback whose physical limitations will come into play more in the NFL. They will likely prevent Rypien from becoming a long-term starter, but I like his chances of developing into a solid QB2 who doesn’t embarrass you when he’s called into action.
Rypien is on the smaller side — including small hands — and his arm is more softball than baseball. He doesn’t absorb contact well, he’s only an average athlete, and he isn’t a strong thrower on the move, so he’s mostly confined to the pocket.
But while there isn’t a lot of sex appeal here, I like Rypien’s chances of sticking around. The arm isn’t big, but Rypien knows his limitations. He gets the ball out quickly, is accurate to all levels, and throws a catchable ball. He works the room back there, manipulating the pocket with his feet and defensive backs with his eyes, and remains calm in the face of pressure. Worth a late Day 3 flier, for sure. You have to roster more than one quarterback, after all.
8. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) | 6’2/218 | hand: 9.125
SPARQ percentile: 44.5
Comp: Your younger brother’s Bryce Petty
Breakups are hard.
I loved Stidham coming out of high school. He chose Baylor, an adopted school of mine because my brother went there. Stidham wanted to play for the great Art Briles in his obscenely QB-friendly system. The fit was perfect: Stidham was an advanced thrower, a prospect you could project to play early.
Stid the Kid was even better than advertised as a true freshman, lighting it up after veteran QB Seth Russell was beset with injuries to the tune of 68.8% completions, a 11.6 YPA and a 12/2 TD/INT rate. Unfortunately, Stidham’s season ended when he broke his ankle on November 25, 2015. Nobody knew it at the time, but Stidham would never play another game at Baylor, and Briles had already coached his last regular season as a collegiate coach.
The scandal came next, in the late-spring. Briles and his assistants were purged along with the AD and school president, and Stidham, like a small handful of his teammates, fled. In an alternate Stidham reality, where no scandal occurs, he enters 2016 as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. He puts up crazy stats for two seasons and then declares for last year’s NFL Draft, where he could have been the sixth first-round quarterback.
Instead, he sat out a year and transferred to Auburn. His first year, in 2017, was a success, though he threw for only six more TD in 251 more passes than he’d had as a frosh at Baylor. Stidham’s future was at something of a crossroads heading into this season. As a freshman, he looked like a potential first-rounder. As a junior, he looked like a solid Day 2 guy. And then this past season, he objectively looked undraftable just about all season until he went supernova against Purdue’s poor pass defense in the bowl game.
In only one less attempt than he had in 2017, Stid posted just about the same TD/INT rate (18/5 in 2018, 18/6 in 2017), but that was misleading. His game cratered — he lost 6% off his completion percentage (to just a shade above 60%) and fell to 7.6 YPA after averaging nine in his career to that point. The offensive line was blamed, the loss of Kerryon Johnson was blamed, and Gus Malzahn/Chip Lindsey were blamed.
And it’s true: The offensive line wasn’t good. But this is also true: The dark secret about Stid is that he struggles mightily in the face of pressure. When he’s kept clean and the field is wide open in front of him, his tools, which are mostly above-average across the board, play up. But when the pocket is collapsing and/or coverage is tight, something breaks in his brain.
No longer standing tall and confidently firing ropes up the seem, he devolves into a dithering, wishy-washy mess, pumping the ball nervously, losing control of his feet, hitting “Floor 1” with his eyes, and losing, in one fell swoop, logic and accuracy.
And this, folks, is why his pick of Baylor out of high school was so inspired: No system spaces the field better. If Stidam, instead of declaring, had grad transferred to FSU to play his last collegiate season under Art’s son Kendal, now the Seminoles’ OC, I think you would have seen a monster rebound (assuming big improvement from FSU’s OL), potentially an All-American campaign. Because if you give this kid five free seconds to pick from one of four receivers evenly spaced across the field, he’s going to identify the best option and throw a catchable ball. But when that isn’t the case, he isn’t. And that’s what we saw at Auburn this year.
Stidham should not be in the draft. He’s one of those high school prospects who goes into God Mode in seven-on-seven summer games played in shorts. The mechanics are flawless, the decisions are sound, the balls are going to be thrown with plus placement and touch, and all the tools the NFL is looking for will be on display. I would have bet my life that Stidham was going to look like a first-rounder at his pro day, and what do you know! After Auburn’s event on Friday, Jordan Palmer told AL.com: “…that was probably the best — or right there with the best pro days I’ve ever been a part of. …That was about as impressive as I’ve seen.”
If only the NFL were played in shorts! Stidham needed four years with a perfect coach in the perfect system to become something more. He got one such year. In the three years since, he has had only one promising season. He sat out another, and spectacularly face-planted this past campaign. He measured into the Combine one inch shorter than he was listed coming out of high school, he’s skinny, and he’s not the above-average athlete he was once billed as.
He’s a Euro Ball prospect who gets signed by the NBA after hitting almost 50% of his threes overseas and proceeds to come here, not play defense, and lose his shooting touch as better athletes start guarding him. Since 3s are his calling card and he’s not used to playing in structure or facilitating for others, his game craters and he washes out.
I wanted better for Stid, and I’m ranking him a tic higher than I have the mind to because he does have a natural feel for throwing the pigskin. But the ship has sailed on my hopes for the kid. I’ve seen this movie before.
9. Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) | 6’7/249 | hand: 10.25
Listen. I would venture to say I watched as much live Buffalo football as any non-Buffalo media member the past two years. Loved the squad, won good money riding them.
Tyree Jackson was my guy. He was a quarterback nearly the size of LeBron James (6’8/250) with freak athleticism and an enormous arm. I saw him make the kinds of throws only Josh Allen could make in the last two classes — where he’d be rolling out to the right and all of a sudden uncork a ball 70 yards downfield and hit a receiver perfectly in stride en route to the end zone. Jackson boasts physical skills only Allen could touch in the last two classes. Like Allen, he could be a dangerous runner in the NFL.
As a passer, Jackson is willing to read the entire field. But he’s slow to process what’s going on around him and plays like he’s looking through a narrow vision tunnel like Madden used to have. He has blind spots, and sometimes they lead to some of the worst decisions you’ll see on tape of any quarterback in this class.
Tyree doesn’t have much artistry about him as a thrower, to be honest. He is a willing full-field reader, it’s true. But in actuality he slowly looks from one guy to the next until someone is obviously open, and then he heaves it like a Game of Thrones giant throws a boulder. Jackson was often late on throws in college despite plus-plus velocity. And it’s because he’s the anti-Dwayne Haskins in terms of anticipation.
Tyree also is a mechanical mess. It’s like his upper half and lower half don’t get along, and his arm wants all the glory. His throws tend to sail. And when things start going south for him, they really go south, more so than maybe with any other quarterback in the class. He’ll go through long stretches where he looks like Nuke LaLoosh, where balls are flying into the press box and injuring spectators.
And it’s why I was so frustrated with his decision to declare. With Anthony Johnson leaving for the NFL and KJ Osborn transferring to Miami, Jackson decided he also wanted out of Buffalo. He briefly considered a grad transfer, which would have been an inspired idea.
Joining Osborn in Miami for Manny Diaz’s first season was reportedly on the table. And that would have been a grand slam decision. The Hurricanes are a quarterback away from being dangerous again, and Tyree could have used the season to work doggedly to improve his processing, vision, accuracy and decision-making while beginning the long process of overhauling his mechanics.
Jackson needed every second of his eligibility clock. The physical package is so rare, but he’s so far off from harnessing his ability. One more year probably wasn’t going to be enough either, but it would have given him a better shot of sticking in the NFL long-term now. I fear that Tyree is so raw that, like Jerod Evans, he’ll be escorted out of the NFL early. Reminds me of the great Fran Fraschilla quote on Bruno Caboclo: “He’s two years away from being two years away.”
10. Ryan Finley (NC State) | 6’4/210 | hand: 9.5
Finley is a tall kid with lots of experience and plus accuracy. He absolutely looks the part on the field, when he doesn't have to throw deep anyway, standing tall as bullets fly around him to deliver catchable balls. He’s got just enough wiggle in him to stay clean and keep the defense honest, and he takes his accuracy with him on the move.
But due to his lack of arm talent, Finley’s play is tied to his supporting cast. And he doesn’t have any A-level traits to mitigate the problem. While defenses have to defend every inch of the field horizontally and vertically 50 yards downfield against Easton Stick, Finley’s limited arm talent and lack of elite athleticism makes him containable either through a good pass rush or good coverage. He’s also on the older end of the spectrum and is likely close to tapped out as a player. I can see him developing into a QB2 but nothing more.
And while I have you, not for nothing — anyone else find it weird that Finley was chased out of Boise State by Brett Rypien but has remained ranked consensually higher than him for draft purposes for the past year? Boise State preferred Finley to Rypien. I’m here to tell you that NC State probably would have as well (Rypien with Kelvin Harmon/Jakobi Meyers/Jaylen Samuels/Nyheim Hines would have been fun to watch!).
An updated version of this column with more quarterbacks analyzed and ranked will run the week leading up to the NFL Draft next month. In the meantime, here are five quarterbacks for the road who missed the cut this time but will get longer write-ups in April.
Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson: Big strapping kid with guts who doesn’t have any A- traits and comes with medical concerns — possible long-term backup.
Mississippi QB Jordan Ta’amu: The arm talent is there, so I understand some of the sleeper steam he’s getting — but Ta’amu lacks feel, is a meh athlete and benefited from playing with an A+ receiving corps in an Air Raid system… if he’d wound up at a school like Louisville, I don’t think we’re talking about him as much right now.
Syracuse QB Eric Dungey: Every team takes a flier on a UDFA quarterback for camp, Dungey is a guy I’d target for that; he’s an absolute warrior on the field who struggles big-time with durability — he’s a Mr. Glass Bryce Petty but with A+ intangibles; if his body holds up, he could be a cheap third-quarterback who has the athleticism to maybe play some special teams or enter in sub-packages… if it doesn’t, we need to get this kid into coaching pronto.
Penn State DB Trace McSorley: Oh crud, sorry. Wrong position group.