Much ink has already been spilled on the potential of first round prospects Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. This week I set out to shed some light on some of the less-heralded Day 3 NFL Draft quarterback prospects.
Jake Luton - (6'6/224) - Oregon State
Lightly recruited out of Marysville, Washington, Luton earned a modest two-star grade from 247 Sports when he enrolled at Idaho in 2014. He played only sparingly for the Vandals recording 403 passing yards with a 1/4 ratio in 2015. His tumble down the Idaho depth chart led to Luton transferring to Ventura Community College where he set the school's single-season record for passing with 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. Luton successfully boosted his profile securing a bump to three-star status on the 2016 Junior College recruiting board, ranking as the third best pro-style quarterback and number 54 JUCO prospect overall according to 247 Sports.
Upon his 2017 arrival in Corvallis, Luton started the first four games before suffering a back injury that knocked him out for the remainder of the season. He reclaimed the starting job in 2018 but suffered early season head and ankle injuries that allowed Connor Blount to take the lion's share of snaps. Luton took control of the competition when he led Oregon State on a dramatic comeback from a 31-3 deficit against Colorado to secure a 41-34 overtime victory, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns despite not playing in the first half. All told, Luton threw for 1,660 yards with a 10/4 ratio in 2018.
Luton remained the unchallenged starter in 2019 and was almost able to make it through a full season healthy, but a forearm injury suffered November 23rd against Wazzou caused Luton to miss OSU's final game against Oregon. Even so, Luton played in 11 games completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,714 yards and a stellar 28/3 ratio. He provided a steady presence under center for most of the season, posting dominant performances against UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Wazzou while underwhelming against the stout defenses of Utah and Washington.
Performance-wise, Luton showed impressive accuracy on throws more than 20 yards downfield by completing 26-51 deep passes for a 53% completion rate and a 13-0 ratio. Deep throws comprised 14.2% of his passes and his completion percentage on such throws ranked eighth in the nation for QB's with more than 300 attempts. He has the prototype size and arm talent that NFL teams look for in developmental quarterbacks and creates power from his lower body on his throws. His adjusted completion percentage was a rock-solid 74% and Luton excelled in play action situations completing 68 percent of his passes for 911 yards, a 14/0 ratio and a 136 passer rating. For comparison he completed 59% of his passes with a 14/3 ratio and 93.8 PR without play action. Oregon State's pro-style offense should help Luton's transition as he has plenty of experience under center and progresses through his reads well. He received a very solid 86.1 overall passing grade from Pro Football Focus, ranking Luton in the top-20 nationally according to their performance metrics.
Luton's lack of mobility hurt him when facing a heavy rush, as Luton managed only a 35.8 completion percentage when pressured while throwing the ball away 20 times and taking 21 sacks in such situations. His lack of escapability is reminiscent of former New England Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe, so he had trouble extending plays that many quarterbacks would have. Conversely, when operating out of a clean pocket Luton recorded a 76% adjusted completion percentage with a 25/2 ratio. Yet even in clean pocket scenarios Luton's safety first mindset caused him to throw away 7 passes, a total which tied for the most clean pocket throwaways in the nation. Perhaps most interestingly is that a 6'6 skyscraper like Luton ranked second in the country with 11 passes that were batted down at the line of scrimmage. Such maladies are typical of smaller QB's but rarely with passers of his size.
Luton is a tall, strong-armed QB with a nice deep ball touch who has shown the ability to make sound decisions with the football and not force throws. His lack of elusiveness, injury history and penchant for losing poise when rushed are concerns, but that's why he's graded as a Day 3 project and not a blue chip first rounder. He reminds me of a less experienced Landry Jones and is a worthy developmental flyer for teams that can afford to bring him along for a year or two before giving him a shot.
James Morgan - (6'4/229) - Florida International
The pride of Ashwaubenon High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, James Morgan grew up idolizing the Packers legend Brett Favre. He went as far as to mention Favre's influence at his combine press conference, noting that his "gunslinger" style of play was molded after Favre, while also mentioning the need to incorporate fellow HOF-bound Green Bay QB Aaron Rogers' more measured approach to utilizing check downs when the big play isn't available.
A three-star prospect who was rated the 17th best pro-style QB and second best recruit in the state of Wisconsin from the 2015 class, Morgan was considered a big signing for then Bowling Green HC Dino Babers. Morgan redshirted as Babers led the Falcons to a 10-win season while averaging 42 points and 547 yards per game. Babers departed for Syracuse and was subsequently replaced by overmatched Texas Tech RB's coach Mike Jinks who promptly lit a match to this once dominant offense, posting a measly 24.8 PPG and winning only seven games over the next 2 1/2 campaigns before his unceremonious ouster. Morgan was in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong coach and seeing that Jarret Doege was the favored choice of the new coaching staff, he wisely chose to grad transfer to Florida International in 2018.
Morgan acclimated quickly to his new surroundings by winning the starting job out of camp and going on to complete 65 percent of his passes for 2,727 yards and a 26/7 ratio while leading FIU to a 9-4 record and the highest scoring average in school history with 34.6 PPG. Morgan displayed an excellent pocket awareness, being sacked only nine times in 339 dropbacks with six throwaways. He handled the blitz well, posting a higher PFF passing grade when facing five or more rushers than on normal downs while carving up exposed secondaries to the tune of a 117.4 passer rating and a 12/1 ratio in blitz situations. His arm strength showed on his deep shots, completing 18-of-48 throws of 20+ yards for 689 yards and a 9/2 ratio to go with a 109 passer rating. His grit and superior arm talent allowed Morgan to consistently fit passes into tight windows, but his sub-par footwork hinders accuracy at times.
In 2019 he injured his left knee early on but he gutted it out by sporting a bulky brace throughout the campaign to stabilize it. Morgan played in 12 games, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,585 yards and a 14/5 ratio. The knee injury affected his mechanics as he would lean on his back leg on deep throws since he wasn't comfortable striding onto his landing leg which caused his passes to sail. This led to Morgan struggling on deep throws and in the flats, as he posted a lowly 73.6 passer rating with a 5/4 ratio on throws 20+ yards downfield. A stark departure from the 117.4 PR and 12/1 ratio of 2018. Opposing defensive coordinators picked up on his Morgan's lack of mobility and dialed up the pressure. With Morgan being unable to evade the rush his PFF passing grade when blitzed plummeted from a solid 70.8 mark in 2018 all the way down to a well below sub-par grade of 46.5 last season.
Morgan lacks touch on short passes which has been a common criticism from the draft community but I feel is an overstated critique. Morgan was victimized by an absurd 35 drops in 2019, which gives rise to the refrain of Morgan putting too much heat on his check downs and crossing passes. The drops weren't confined to one source either as four different receivers Tony Gaiter, Austin Maloney, Maurice Alexander and Anthony Jones, dropped six passes or more and received Pro Football Focus hands grades below 60. The fact that multiple receivers had trouble handling his throws is concerning and warrants a deeper examination. Being a seasoned five-year quarterback with a track record to examine, you would expect a similar trend of drops to have occurred in previous seasons. However in 2018 Morgan had largely the same wide receiver corps as he did last year and the entire receiving unit had only 12 drops combined. The same four players mentioned above each received PFF hand grades of 78.0 or above and dropped a combined four passes in 164 chances. The tape backs up the notion that Morgan puts plenty of zip on his throws. In 2019 he was forced to throw from various angles as Morgan tried to compensate for his lack of mobility due to injury by staring down the rush and flicking balls to safety valve receivers. Even so, many of the hurried throws were hitting receivers in the hands and would likely result in completions with NFL caliber skill players to work with.
Morgan shined in the post-season all-star showcase the East-West Shrine Bowl, earning high praise for his practice showings and drawing the start for the East squad. He deftly commanded the offense to two straight scoring drives to open the game before giving way to Princeton QB Kevin Davidson. There are no questions about Morgan's arm and toughness, but concerns persist regarding his ball placement and accuracy in light of his 58 percent completion rate in 2019. Morgan's 2018 tape and impressive post-season performances are enough for me to buy into the belief that James Morgan could develop into a useful quarterback at the NFL level. For me, his best comparison is a less mobile Josh Allen.
Cole McDonald - (6'3/215) - Hawaii
McDonald was barely on the FBS radar as a two-star prospect who graded as the 2,258th rated 2016 recruit in the nation according to the 247 Sports composite rankings. In addition to football, the La Habra, California native was also a track standout. He ran the 100-meter, 200-meter and relays in high school, foreshadowing his group leading 4.58 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine. Despite obvious potential, McDonald was initially slated to go the junior college until Hawaii swooped in to offer McDonald his only FBS scholarship. The offer materialized from newly hired HC Nick Rolovich very late in the recruiting process leading McDonald to commit and sign on the very last day of the 2016 recruitment period.
McDonald spent 2016-17 as an understudy behind starter Dru Brown. However when Brown surprisingly transferred to Oklahoma State in spring of 2018, McDonald embarked on a two-year battle with Chevan Cordeiro for the starting QB position. HC Rolovich kept media in the dark as to who would take the first snaps in their opening game against Colorado State, hinting that he could end up playing multiple quarterbacks. McDonald ceased control of the job right away by throwing for 418 yards and three touchdowns along with 96 yards rushing and two more scores on the ground in a 43-34 victory over the Rams. In his first six games of 2018, Hawaii was 5-1 and McDonald had already eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark while sporting a superb 24/2 ratio. However against San Jose State he injured his knee and proceeded to miss the next game against Wyoming before struggling down the stretch while toughing out his injury. McDonald completed under 52 percent of his passes in five of his last seven games and finishing with a 12/8 ratio over that span. Despite the poor finish, McDonald still completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,875 yards and a 36/10 ratio. He demonstrated a penchant for stretching the field vertically by completing 38 percent of his deep throws and 35 passes of 25 yards or more.
He started the first game of 2019 posting 378 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions against Arizona, but he was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Chevan Cordeiro who led Hawaii to a dramatic comeback victory. McDonald retained starting duties while Cordeiro saw periodic snaps until McDonald struggled in a week 10 loss to Fresno State, at which point the turbulent QB battle became a time-share shrouded in weekly speculation from HC Rolovich. McDonald still took the majority of snaps down the stretch until performing poorly against Louisiana Tech in their bowl game, completing 10-of-20 passes for 85 yards and a 1/2 ratio before being pulled in favor of Cordeiro. He finished with 4,135 yards passing, completing 64 percent of his passes with a 33/14 ratio. With his knee injury improved, McDonald tightened up his mid-range accuracy. He thrived when attacking the middle of the field, receiving a PFF passing grade of 78 when throwing between the numbers. In fact 21 of his 36 touchdown passes came between the hashes. His funky, long arm delivery noticeably inhibited his accuracy when McDonald was forced to make quick decisions. When presented with a clean pocket, McDonald received an excellent 87.7 PFF passing grade with a 28/7 ratio. However when facing pressure his grade plummets all the way down to a 37.3 rating with a 5/7 ratio. Boise State in particular gave McDonald trouble when they crowded the middle of the field and forced McDonald to make short throws with a hand in his face.
McDonald worked on shortening his elongated throwing motion in the offseason, as NFL DB's will read and react to his telegraphed motion making it even more difficult to complete passes given his mediocre arm strength. His ball wobbles upon exit if he doesn't set properly. McDonald's sometimes suspect ball placement will be challenged by tighter throwing windows at the NFL level. Even so, he is adept at reading defenses and making progressions while possessing the speed and pocket awareness to extend plays. He has room to fill out his frame and could use the extra size to help add strength to his rather unimpressive arm.
Some team will likely be intrigued enough by McDonald's athleticism and give him a look on Day 3. McDonald reminds me of former Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta'amu, who now commandeers the XFL's St. Louis BattleHawks. Ka-Kawwww!