1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) | 6'6/213 | Hand: 10
Comp: Andrew Luck
Trevor Lawrence is a strong datapoint that we’re living in a simulation. Because if our creator were to construct a perfect quarterback prospect -- like in Madden create-a-player -- he’d come out looking a lot like this.
Lawrence is a shade under 6-foot-6 with monstrous 10-inch hands and a Barrett attached to his right shoulder. He’s a fluid athlete for his size, surprising defenders with his speed.
He’s got those long, flowing locks. Like Sunshine in “Remember the Titans.” But he’s no pretty boy. Lawrence also surprises defenders with his willingness to throw his weight into head-on collisions, a habit for which the NFL will direct a cease-and-desist order. Check out Lawrence catching up to Travis Etienne downfield and almost throwing a block before pulling up.
Arguably no college quarterback in the last decade has been more deadly throwing downfield than Lawrence (97.7 PFF grade on throws 20+ yards downfield). The RPMs he generates on throws instills a sort of fearlessness in Lawrence in testing tight windows. He’s a long-levered, full-body thrower with accuracy. This leads to stupefying trick shot completions, and also, it’s true, forcing the issue when throwing it away or buying time scrambling may have been more prudent.
That’s a maturity thing, not a processing issue. Lawrence parses on-field scenarios extremely quickly, a mental fluidity that doesn’t show up on scouting checklists but might contribute more to his NFL success than his raw arm strength.
Lawrence picks up tells on blitzes, and then the identity and location of the blitzer, and seamlessly within his mind’s eye he can see the repercussions for removing a defender from that side of the field when he has this specific route package in the process of rolling out. So now his eyes are already peaking to a potential hot-read that otherwise would have been a fourth option out of the huddle. He and Tee Higgins were deadly together. Whenever Higgy was in a one-on-one situation deep, a made-to-order jump ball was coming.
Lawrence is courageous in these circumstances, willing to take a hit to get a throw off. You love young quarterbacks who look comfortable under pressure and qualitatively excel under it. Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield are the only quarterback prospects PFF has graded with a higher career passer rating under pressure than Lawrence. As far as guys who work the pocket with impunity, that’s not bad company.
Lawrence will soon follow in their 1.1 footsteps. In many ways, he arrived at Clemson as LeBron James arrived in the NBA. Lawrence was the highest-rated quarterback recruit in the history of the 247Sports composite rankings, and tied for the No. 6 overall recruit of all-time.
You could argue that he somehow exceeded expectations in college. Lawrence is the only true freshman quarterback to ever receive a grade of 90.0 or higher by PFF. He won a national title that season. Then improved his PFF grade in each of two subsequent seasons. Lawrence went 34-2 at Clemson, only losing in the 2019 title game to Alabama and the 2020 semis to Ohio State.
Lawrence underwent surgery on his left (non-throwing) last Tuesday, a few days after his pro day workout. He’s expected to be ready for the beginning of training camp in July. Lawrence weighed into that event at a super-skinny 213 pounds while standing 6’5 ⅝. He could add a little weight. And if you wanna nitpick a little more, his ball placement deep wasn’t always pinpoint (Tee Higgins bailed him out some pre-2020), and Tony Elliott’s scheme at Clemson didn’t afford him many chances to work on timing throws in the intermediate sector.
But, really, I’m here to confirm: The hype is real. Trevor Lawrence is the best overall draft prospect I’ve evaluated since I started doing this five years ago. No-brainer decision for Jacksonville at 1.1.
2. Justin Fields (Ohio State) | 6’3/228
Comp: Deshaun Watson
Fields has always been Lawrence’s counterpoint -- a fellow all-time recruit from the 2018 class, with ESPN ranking Fields as the No. 4 overall recruit of the modern era -- and so it’s fitting that they enter the NFL together.
Fields’ collegiate path was more winding than Lawrence -- he decommitted from Penn State, signed with Georgia, then transferred to Ohio State after his freshman year -- but likewise met outsized expectations, with playoff appearances in each of his two seasons as starter, including a national championship loss to Alabama in January. Lawrence and Fields went t 1-1 against each other in college, both playoff semifinal matchups. I can’t wait to watch that rivalry play out for years in the NFL.
A pocket-passer first and foremost, Fields’ biggest weapon is deadly accuracy to all three sectors. Per PFF, Fields ranked No. 2 in this class with an 80.8% adjusted completion percentage and No. 2 in the nation last year with a mere 12.0% of his passes deemed uncatchably off-target. This while posting an elite 96.5 grade on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield. He manages to play this way while keeping the ball out of harm’s way, committing a mere 17 turnover-worthy plays over 684 dropbacks since the start of 2019.
Fields is so dang resolute in his determination to win from the pocket that there are circumstances where he’ll stand strong with his eyes downfield when his brain maybe should have told him it’s time to escape with those magical legs. A great example of this can be seen in one bizarre stat: Fields averaged 3.07 seconds to throw on non-blitzed passes last season, but somehow held the ball longer (3.21 seconds) when blitzed. You don’t see that much.
And that absolutely needs to change. But here’s the thing: None of Fields’ weaknesses are caused by physical limitations, meaning none are theoretically permanent. Small tweaks are going to lead to big gains in the NFL.
Fields didn’t test narrow throwing windows in college often (only 54 career tight-window completions, per PFF), in part because he didn’t have to — but he certainly has the arm for the job. He has taken too long to fire in the face of pressure, but it’s not from panic, it’s from the opposite, a willingness to keep scanning and an unwillingness to scrap a play for a scramble drill at the first sign of trouble — in general, a positive trait for a young dual-threat quarterbacks. He has taken too many sacks in the past, but he has all-world scrambling ability already and could become much more evasive in the pocket and dangerous overall with subtle tweaks to his approach.
Fields seems to be getting over-thought and overanalyzed early in the draft process. You’ll recall that Deshaun Watson, the player to which he’s most often comped, was also slept on in his draft class, ultimately becoming the third quarterback taken at No. 12 overall.
Fields could clean up a few things. He keeps his right elbow pinned up too high during a slightly elongated release, and that can send the ball shooting high when he misses. And he needs to learn how to use his legs and arm in concert to beat defenses. In college, when he was in the pocket in passing mode, his legs and feet weren’t the weapons they could be. And when he took off to run, he would either fully commit behind the line of scrimmage or, when throwing on the move, lose accuracy.
It’s as if, to him, he needs to be one or the other, and he hasn’t reached a fluid harmony wherein he’ll be able, for instance, to, like Kyler Murray, scramble around buying himself time before throwing a dart on the move. Fields’ toolbox suggests he’s capable of this.
At this stage in Fields’ development, we cannot write him off as a “slow processor” of the field, a ubiquitously-heard criticism early in the draft process. It’s an overblown topic based on exaggeration, for one. But the talking point of sacks Fields took in 2020 is never accompanied with an explanation of the context of the situation he was in.
Ohio State was ravaged with COVID throughout its truncated eight-game season. It played a game without HC Ryan Day and multiple without numerous assistant coaches. It played Michigan State without 23 active players including starting offensive linemen C Josh Myers, LT Thayer Munford and RT Nicholas Petit-Frere (and RG Wyatt Davis got knocked out of that game with an injury), and Northwestern’s top-three pass defense in the Big 10 title game without WR1 Chris Olave and WR3 Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Fields suffered a throwing thumb injury against Northwestern and played through it. And then, still suffering from that injury, Fields rained fire from the sky against Clemson in the semis despite additionally getting his midsection caved in by James Skalski before halftime, a hit that would have ended most quarterbacks’ nights but took Fields off the field for one single play. Fields threw for 385 yards and six TD in that blowout win.
Remember: Whereas Lawrence started for two-and-a-half years, Fields backed up Jake Fromm for a season, played a full 2019, and then played in only eight games in 2020. Fields has 618 career passing attempts. Lawrence has nearly double that, 1,138. Zach Wilson has 837.
Point being, Fields isn’t a finished product. He’s already really, really, really good, and I think there is a lot of ceiling left to uncover. Clear QB2 for me.
3. Trey Lance (North Dakota State) | 6’4/227
Comp: Steve McNair
Let’s get this out of the way: Trey Lance is not the third-best quarterback in this class right now. But boy does his toolbox get you dreaming -- if anyone in the class can challenge Lawrence for upside, it’s Lance.
Mostly ignored by FBS recruiters coming out of tiny Marshall, Minnesota, Lance chose North Dakota State when no Power 5 school offered him as a quarterback. After a redshirt season, Lance made those schools look silly -- including his local Minnesota Gophers -- posting an unheard of 28/0 TD/INT ratio while leading the Bison to the 2019 FCS title.
Standing 6-foot-3, with a forged-in-the-NDSU-weight room 227-pound frame he worked doggedly for his redshirt season behind Easton Stick after arriving in Fargo a beanpole three-star recruit in 2018, Lance is a different thing even by recent NDSU standards.
The ball detonates out of his hand. While he arguably has the strongest hammer in this class, Lance also feathers balls in the bucket deep as well as any quarterback we’ve seen the past few years. Some of his collegiate throws are legitimately ridiculous. Combine that right arm with receiver speed and running back power as a runner, and dream about the possibilities.
That’s not all, folks. This is a kid in possession of the sorcerer’s stone of physical ability -- who could attempt to do things on the field we haven’t seen before -- who not only took to a weight room routine and coaching in general at NDSU like a banshee, but played within himself arguably to a fault, categorically refusing to give the ball away. For all the explosive plays Lance provides, he rarely allows the opposition to flip the field.
Quick, in your head, think of all the NFL quarterbacks you could accurately describe like that. The list is short, right? That’s why when we talk about Trey Lance, we’re talking about a legitimately unique skillset.
It’s not just that Lance threw zero interceptions during the championship run in 2019. It’s that PFF further charted him with only four turnover-worthy plays all season. This for a beast-mode scrambler and kill-shot downfield thrower with a career 11.5-yard average depth of target. With Lance’s level of inexperience and play style, it’s legitimately stupefying that he takes such good care of the ball.
Especially when you consider the tape. Yes, NDSU runs a lot of pro-style concepts, not dissimilar to what both Josh Allen and Carson Wentz ran in college. But Lance himself was not some Alex Smith-esque risk-averse skittish thrower. He is willing to stick with it when his initial reads are covered, and you’ll see broken plays where Lance escapes like Houdini multiple times and finally uncorks a ludicrous dime-ball 50-plus yards downfield near the hash.
He may come with an atrium ceiling, but Lance’s historical lack of experience keeps him out of my top-two quarterbacks. He arrives in the NFL after having made just 17 FCS starts (and only one in 2020, in the fall before NDSU shut things down for a spring season). That’s an unheard of resume for a top-10 overall prospect.
Lance is a boom-or-bust project, yes, and it might also be fair to argue that his risk profile is higher than perhaps any other recent first-round quarterback because of the facts above. For a prospect that redshirted as a freshman in 2018 and played only one game in 2020, it feels weird to say that Lance probably shouldn’t see the field in 2020. But Lance’s team should take him with a slow approach in mind.
Lance remains an unrefined thrower in general, with a 47.2% on-target rate since the start of 2019 -- the other top-four QBs in this class were 57% or above. His accuracy and placement must improve. But as far as I’m concerned the arm and decision-making process are above reproach.
Lance is going to be able to, at the very least, scramble, throw deep and take care of the ball at the next level. If he improves his accuracy, placement and timing, he’s going to be a scary player. You have to acknowledge the risk -- there’s so much unknown here -- but if Lance hits, he’s a Steve McNair-level star hitting the NFL at just the right time in the game’s evolution.
4. Zach Wilson (BYU) | 6’2/210
Comp: Tony Romo
An overlooked three-star recruit coming out of Draper, Utah, Wilson managed to become the youngest starting quarterback in BYU history. He didn’t embarrass himself, either, posting an 80.5 PFF grade as a freshman. An enormous 2020 season started the hype that has now grown into a fever pitch with recent reports that multiple NFL teams may have Wilson over even Trevor Lawrence on their draft boards.
There are reasons to question whether that hype train has already steamed past objective reality. Wilson regressed in his sophomore campaign to a 76.2 PFF grade despite taking 136 more snaps while dealing with hand and shoulder injuries. This is where the rubber meets the road in this eval.
Zach Wilson proponents can conveniently say that his poor 2019 tape was an injury-related aberration and when he was healthy in 2020 we saw a quarterback prospect with 1.1 overall ability. While those who don’t believe he’s a top-three overall prospect will respond that Wilson was solid as a freshman, forgettable as a sophomore, and didn’t become a supernova until his junior year when BYU played the No. 89 SP+ strength of schedule.
You can probably tell by my ranking that I fall more into the latter camp. Which isn’t to say that Wilson is a poor prospect -- he’s not. But I see him as the fourth quarterback in this class, not the first or second.
Wilson’s best trait is his right wing. He can make all the throws, and he doesn’t need his feet set to do it. He’s an extremely confident pocket-passer who sees the field well, fires the ball out at the speed of sound and doesn’t need a runway to step into to get it out of there, and drops dimes to all three sectors of the field.
Wilson has a gun and he knows how to use it. He maneuvers the pocket well, always keeps his eyes downfield, and can spin it 40-plus yards downfield into a tight window on the move. He keeps plays alive, retains accuracy on the move, and is ruthless at hunting for the kill shots that made BYU’s offense so dangerous in 2020 (an insane 99.9 PFF grade on throws 20-plus yards downfield).
But it’s the teams he did it against and the narrow sample in which he looked like a first-round pick that gives pause. Only six of BYU’s 12 opponents last season finished inside the top-67 SP+ defenses -- Houston (No. 67), Western Kentucky (37), Boise State (45), Coastal Carolina (63), San Diego State (7) and UCF (66) -- and only three of them finished in the top-half of the FBS.
Wilson tore up Boise, SDSU and UCF. His three worst games of the season -- his only three with PFF game grades below 83.0 -- were against Houston, WKU and Coastal. By contrast, comparing him to the guy he’s nominally competing for QB2 designation with... of Justin Fields’ eight 2020 games, seven were against top-38 SP+ defenses, and five of the eight were against top-15 SP+ defense (Ohio State played the No. 2 SP+ SOS).
Wilson should have torn that schedule up, in other words. Especially considering the system Wilson played in last year, an extremely quarterback-friendly attack that runs wide zone and throws play-action off it. Play-action passes in this offense seek to cut down on user errors by simplifying the quarterback's reads, while taking advantage of throwing lanes created by manipulating the post-snap movements of defenders. PFF’s Seth Galina noted that Wilson averaged only 7.7 YPA on a mere 12 play-action passes off wide zone in 2019, whereas Wilson averaged 12.4 YPA on 88 such plays in 2020.
And while Galina documented the NFL’s fixation with wide-zone and conceded Wilson could be seen as a perfect fit for modern offenses because of it, I agreed with his conclusion: “I worry that every time we've seen a quarterback from the wide-zone system have a great year, he naturally comes back down to earth. If the scheme made Wilson a hit in college, could he have already maxed out? … just have this nagging feeling that the scheme really changed our perception of him rather than him changing and becoming a better quarterback.”
And as The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak further noted, the specific way in which Wilson feasted off wide-zone play-action concepts in 2020 is unlikely to even be possible in the NFL (moving past even the question of rote sustainability). Off play-action, Wilson always wanted to go deep, be it your traditional 9-ball, a speed out, or a deep comeback. And that usually worked.
But as Solak pointed out, the NFL uses wide-zone play-action to attack the middle of the field, taking advantage of the space the initial post-snap false steps by linebackers and safeties has created. You wouldn’t throw to the deep corners -- not just Wilson’s specialty but his stated preference -- off this concept in the NFL because the outside corners are the only two defenders on the field whose assignments aren’t affected by the eye candy. If you wanted to throw a 9-ball, you wouldn’t do it on a play that offered Wilson’s back to the defense and allowed for the possibility of free rushers.
Wilson preferred the one-on-one deep shots because he knew he always had the protection and believes in his arm to a maniacal degree. But he often eschewed freebie throws over the middle of the field or up a seam because he was sitting dead-red, from the moment the play was called, on flinging it up for grabs deep.
Of Wilson’s throws of 20+ yards last year, 39 were attempted on the outside and only 17 were over the middle. In the 10-19 range, 55 of his passes were towards the sidelines, 45 over the middle. When you think of wide-zone play-action in the NFL, you think of Baker Mayfield or Jared Goff boot-legging and layering the ball into open pockets of space over the middle.
This is a more methodical, for lack of a better term “pro-style” offensive strategy than Wilson appears comfortable with at the moment. He trusts the power of his arm much more than the touch, so he prefers avoiding the dink-and-dunk easy completions and going for the quickest route to the end zone.
This is where BYU’s strength of schedule comes back into play. Wilson had three -- and only three -- dazzling games against top-66 defenses, Boise State (No. 45 SP+), San Diego State (7) and UCF* (66). *(Not to nitpick, but the UCF matchup in the Boca Bowl doesn't really count -- stud CB Aaron Robinson and S Richie Grant, both of whom will be picked in April, were among UCF's opt-outs in that game).
If you ran a defense against Wilson, how would you defend him? You’d take away the deep shots and force him to prove he can work the ball up the field by beating you over the middle on touch and timing throws, yeah? From there, you’d just want to ensure you can get consistent pressure on him.
Wilson is deadly in clean pockets (97.5 PFF grade/144.2 NFL QB rating/78.2% completions/84.0% adjusted completion percentage under no pressure), but, despite his magician qualities, loses accuracy under pressure (74.3 PFF grade/98.3 NFL QB rating/48.4% completions/61.5% adjusted completion percentage).
My question is: How many of Wilson’s 2020 opponents were physically capable of generating pressure while leaving extra help deep? BYU not only played a poor schedule, but it ranked No. 8 in PFF’s pass blocking grades as a team. Wilson was generally able to hunt for explosive kill shots into the deep corners with very little downside, knowing he was always going to have time in the pocket (BYU allowed pressure on only 21.6% of dropbacks last year).
Wilson began surging up NFL Draft boards in October after an enormous first five games. In those games, he not only wasn’t sacked once, but Wilson wasn’t so much as hit or even pressured on one solitary dropback! A team with edge-rushing juice and back-half playmakers merely never arrived on the 2020 BYU schedule.
I’m not making an argument that Zach Wilson doesn’t deserve to be a first-round pick -- he certainly showed enough arm talent last year to justify that. Where I stand on Zach Wilson is we only saw that for one season, and we only saw it against opponents quite literally incapable of stopping it.
In the NFL, he will have to adapt. And perhaps he can. If NFL defenses want to take away his deep shots, it’ll require leaving more spaces in the middle of the field open. And we do know that Wilson excels throwing off-platform and out of the pocket, skills that helped him be decidedly above-average when opponents sent five or more rushers.
Whether Wilson can adapt and become an All-Pro quarterback is a question I’d want another organization to answer if the cost is a top-five overall pick.
5. Mac Jones (Alabama) | 6'3/217 | Hand: 9 3/4
Comp: Less-mobile Andy Dalton
A long-time commit to Kentucky coming out of high school, Jones flipped to Alabama late and spent a few years backing up Tua Tagovailoa before he was given the keys in 2020. He has an NFL frame, and is coming off an enormous season (77.4% completions for 4,494 yards with a 41/4 TD/INT ratio). Coaches rave about him. And when WR DeVonta Smith was asked at the Senior Bowl if he preferred Tua or Jones, he reportedly answered Jones quite quickly.
Jones is one this class’ most accurate throwers overall (86.6% adjusted completion percentage), and he’s inarguably the most underneath (highest accuracy percentage in the nation within 10 yards last season). Jones manages to keep his accuracy under duress, posting a 70.2% adjusted completion percentage under pressure last year.
But the physical tools just aren’t good enough to rank Jones any higher. And a deeper scan of his film catalogue and advanced stat profile give further pause when extrapolating his game to the NFL.
Jones benefited from playing behind arguably the nation’s best offensive line next to arguably the nation’s best running back while throwing passes to the first Heisman-winning receiver in over a decade in a scheme designed by arguably the best OC in the game (Steve Sarkisian, now Texas’ HC) under inarguably the greatest CFB coach of all-time.
Alabama’s offense was heavy on RPO concepts, and it additionally provided numerous freebie reads and throws for Jones every game to pad what became a video game-like stat line. A full 34% of Jones’ completions came at or behind the line of scrimmage. Many of them to DeVonta Smith, who led the nation in screen yards from a receiver.
The beauty of Sarkisian’s offense is that, whether through pre-snap motion or isolating favorable one-on-one matchups, the initial read is often available for a high-percentage throw (Jones had 600 more yards throwing to open receivers last year than any other quarterback in the nation).
Jones didn't acquit himself well when that initial read was covered. Among the top-five QB in this class over the last two seasons, according to PFF, Jones finished dead-last on graded throws when forced to go beyond his first read. For all the criticism levied against Justin Fields for processing speed, I wonder why Mac doesn’t catch the same flack.
The scheme Jones played in not only gave him a really good idea of where the ball was going pre-snap, but the player he was throwing to was always physically superior to the defender in his vicinity, be it Smith, Jaylen Waddle or Najee Harris.
And Jones didn’t exactly look great during practices of Senior Bowl week before a minor injury forced him to withdraw from the game itself. He’s a statue-esque pocket passer (42 career rushing yards at Alabama) who doesn’t concern you out of the pocket and can’t win outside of structure. And Jones’ downfield numbers at Alabama (60% adjusted completion percentage, 15/1 TD/INT rate) bely a mediocre arm that left yards on the field by under-throwing receivers and requiring too much air under the ball to push it downfield.
Jones and Sarkisian worked in concert to mitigate the effect of Jones’ physical shortcomings. And to Jones’ credit, he ran this offense about as efficiently as you possibly could. But Jones avoided tight-window throws as best he could in Tuscaloosa (44 completed tight window throws compared to Joe Burrow’s 124 in 2019), and statue-esque pocket passers who haven’t proven they can can read a whole field or beat cover-corners with tight-window throws just aren’t elite draft commodities.
In the NFL, Jones’ teammates won’t be physically superior to every opponent lined across from them, and he won’t enter every play with the schematic advantage of Saban/Sarkisian’s hivemind over the beleaguered defensive staff across from them. Jones’ accuracy, poise under pressure, anticipation and ability to execute a system make him worth a second-round pick as a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect who projects as either an awesome backup or a replaceable starter.
Just don’t expect more.
6. Jamie Newman (Wake Forest) | 6'3/235 | Hand: 10
Comp: David Garrard
When Jamie Newman first got extended run behind center for Wake Forest, in November 2018, I tweeted: “I want Jamie Newman to turn into the next David Garrard. There’s something about thick dual-threat quarterbacks that does it for me aesthetically.” Coming out of high school, Newman was a raw three-star who nevertheless ran a 4.76 40-yard dash at just under 240 pounds.
Fast-forward a couple years, and the kid who caught my eye off the bench for Wake Forest is entering the NFL Draft drawing comps to none other than David Garrard. But we only got to see the tip of Newman’s ascension as a prospect. After lighting it up in 2019 (2,868 yards and a 26/11 TD/INT rate on 60.9% completions, and ranking in the top-three in the nation in big-time throws per PFF), Newman transferred to Georgia, an inspired idea, but then decided to opt-out of the season due to COVID concerns.
So like an FBS Trey Lance, what we have here is an extremely small resume to parse. But while Lance at least played in a pro-style system in 2019 that has churned out multiple NFL quarterbacks, Newman played in a simplistic offense during his breakout 2019 campaign.
The Wake Forest “Claw-fense” (named for HC Dave Clawson) is an extremely quarterback-friendly scheme that plays at hyper-tempo and draws defenses up with the run to create opportunities in the RPO and play-action passing games. Newman proved adept at hurting teams on the ground with his legs and destroying them in the deep sector of the field.
Newman was one of the nation’s top deep-ball throwers in 2019. On throws 20-yards downfield or more, he went 22-for-71 for 1,159 yards and a 13/3 TD/INT rate, earning PFF grades of 90.0 or higher on such throws to the left, right, and between the numbers. Not only does he have the arm to get it there, but Newman showed a feathery touch on jump balls.
But when Newman didn’t have a clean pocket to throw deep in, we saw a prospect who needs work. While he looks mechanically clean and at least willing to scan the field under no pressure, Newman’s technique and decision-making can fold under the weight of it. Wake Forest’s offense cut down on his post-snap reads and often made it so that Newman only had to read half the field.
On plays he got different looks than expected -- with for instance his first-read blanketed unexpectedly -- Newman, though in possession of all the physical tools needed to work through the problem organically, had a habit of forcing the ball anyway or moving to secondary targets late.
The biggest objective red-flag in his evaluation is how quickly Newman’s game fell off a shelf in 2019 when Sage Surratt got hurt. Surratt, a deep-ball maven, was the guy on the receiving end of Newman’s home run balls.
With Sage Surratt on the field, per ESPN’s David Hale, Newman posted a career 74.7 QBR and 29/6 TD/INT ratio on 63.5% completions and 8.19 YPA. Without him, Newman had a 40.5 QBR and 6/8 TD/INT ratio on 53.7% completions and a 7.16 YPA. Newman had a 90.6 PFF grade with Surratt in 2019, and a 60.5 grade without him. Surratt could be a Day 2 pick in April.
With that context in mind, it was disappointing that Newman not only didn’t play in 2020, but that he struggled mightily in both Senior Bowl practices and the game itself. Knocking off a year of rust, perhaps we can afford him a little leash in that regard. But he’s still an extremely raw prospect who hasn’t played in over a year and mostly excelled in his season as a starter by throwing jump-balls to an NFL-caliber jump-baller.
But on the other hand, Newman has top-five tools in this quarterback class -- only Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Lance can touch his combination of arm and athleticism. And it’s fair to point out that John Wolford came out of the same system in 2018, and Wolford has acquitted himself much better in the NFL than anticipated (despite not having nearly Newman’s physical talent).
Newman is a high-risk prospect who in four years could either be out of the NFL completely or else functioning as a mid-tier starter in the David Garrard vein. Newman has a long way to go, and he won’t be field-ready until 2022 at the very, very earliest. The middle rounds is where a prospect like this should go, and here’s the beauty: that’s exactly where Newman is going to go. He’s the developmental guy I’d target if I missed out on the top-four in this class.
7. Kyle Trask (Florida) | 6'4/239
Comp: Nick Foles
Trask is very similar to Mac Jones in that each is an average-armed statue in the pocket that enjoyed enormous, level-up 2020 seasons while playing with awesome supporting casts.
For all the surface-level similarities, Trask’s ethos is about the opposite of Jones’. While Jones will kill you short all day, Trask’s M.O. is attacking deep. On throws 20-yards or more downfield last year, Trask went an incredible 35-for-69 (50.7%) for 1,497 yards and a 16/0 TD/INT ratio.
Of course, he was throwing to TE Kyle Pitts and WRs Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, one of the best receiving corps in the nation, a group that was insanely athletic and also big. Many quarterbacks would have had success throwing downfield to those guys. If you want to know why Trask was deadly downfield without possessing a bazooka, this is why.
Where Trask’s evaluation gives pause is the utter lack of mobility in conjunction with struggles underneath and on timing routes. Per PFF, he ranked only No. 50 in the nation last year with 67.4% completions on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Since he worked with Pitts and Toney in particular, this is an especially troubling stat.
Trask was already facing major questions about how much the scheme and his supporting cast aided him in 2020 when he played in the bowl game against Oklahoma without Pitts, Toney and Grimes, who all opted-out. Trask went 16-for-28 for 158 yards, zero TD and three interceptions in a 55-20 loss. In that game, he posted a 21.6 QBR while his backup, raw dual-threat Emory Jones, posted a 92.4 QBR in roughly the same number of snaps.
Credit Trask for his enormous leap in 2020. But I struggle to get too excited about him from an NFL Draft perspective. How many average-armed quarterbacks who can’t move and don’t excel in the short-to-intermediate game have even been league-average starters in the past decade?
If everything works out, he’ll be another Nick Foles, bouncing between good backup/replaceable starter statuses. But if Trask doesn’t improve in the short and intermediate sectors and finds the deep-ball harder to complete when not throwing to Kyle Pitts, Trask will struggle to hold onto even a QB2 job.
8. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) | 6'2/217 | Hand: 9 1/4
Comp: Josh Dobbs
A ballyhooed four-star quarterback out of IMG Academy, Mond more or less met expectations as a four-year starter in the SEC. But for all his experience and opportunity, Mond never made a star-turn in College Station. Heading into the NFL, he looks more like a long-term backup than a future starter.
Mond directed a pro-style offense at A&M, a solid runner (1,609 career rushing yards) who managed the offense efficiently and took care of the ball (per PFF, Mond finished No. 18 in turnover-worthy play rate last year). He kept an offense moving that was generally rich in RB and OL talent but light on receivers (the only pass-catcher Mond has played with who got drafted is Jace Sternberger; Jhamon Ausbon has a chance to change that but is no sure thing to get picked this spring).
But Mond simply never improved enough as a thrower to comfortably project him as a potential starter at the next-level. Last year, per PFF, he finished lower than any prospect on this list that played more than one game by throwing an accurate ball on less than 50% of his passes beyond the line of scrimmage.
It’s not just a lack of accuracy. Mond’s arm is mediocre. He does his best to hide this weakness, playing a conservative brand of football and mostly avoiding the deep sector. Combine his throws beyond 20 yards downfield with his throws between 10-19 yards outside the numbers, and Mond went just 22-for-72 last year for 628 yards and a 7/2 TD/INT rate.
In the NFL, defenses will cheat up, knowing Mond can’t hurt them deep. They will also get after him, as Mond’s 68.8% completion percentage and 90.3 PFF grade from a clean pocket drop to 46.8% and 59.9, respectively, under pressure.
Mond feels like a potential long-term backup option for a team like Baltimore of Philadelphia, which already have systems in place that would play up some of his strengths while mitigating a few of his weaknesses. Mond’s accuracy and placement woes in conjunction with his inability to threaten deep not only figure to prevent him from becoming a long-term starter, but also limit his utility as a backup to teams that have already adapted their schemes to suit dual-threats with shaky accuracy.
9. Davis Mills (Stanford) | 6'4/212
Comp: Skinny Nathan Stanley
A five-star prospect in the 2017 class, Mills ended up choosing Stanford over Alabama, amongst others. His decision opened the door for Mac Jones to flip to the Crimson Tide. You do wonder who of Mills and Jones would be getting drafted higher had Mills signed with Bama and Jones stuck it out with Kentucky. That didn't happen, and Mills' development in college was slower than anticipated.
Mills is your classic NFL pocket-passer. In terms of pure arm talent, he might be top-five in this class. great at driving the ball on posts, comebacks, seam routes and gos. He gets the ball out quickly, makes confident decisions, and is accurate to all three sectors, ranking No. 12 in rate of passes charted as accurate, per PFF.
Mills navigates the pocket with urgency and good footwork. He throws catchable balls with good velocity. Mills puts nice touch on his balls, giving his receivers the best odds of coming down with 50/50 balls downfield and allowing him to layer balls in over the intermediate area. Mills posted a 90.9 PFF grade on throws between the numbers 10-19 yards downfield. And he didn’t benefit from many freebie throws -- Mills finished No. 91 in yards off screen passes last year, per PFF.
While Mills is an interesting mid-round pocket-passing possibility, areas of his game do give pause even as a developmental proposition. For a quarterback with zero mobility, Mills makes far too many mental mistakes, not recognizing where the blitz is coming from, confusing coverage looks, and forcing balls into no-win situations.
This appears to be a general processing issue, as, despite being lead-footed, Mills is actually decent under pressure (his PFF grade only drops from 74.0 to 66.0 under pressure) and when blitzed (he actually had a higher passing grade while blitzed).
There are instances on tape of balls dying and sailing on Mills, and it’s usually always when his feet aren’t set. Mills commits unforced errors in this area too often, needlessly rushing a throw without setting his lower half. This seemed to happen more when Mills was confused by a look, sometimes because he was too late recognizing coverage. That latter issue cropped up plenty during the more cringe-worthy segments of his tape. Per PFF, Mills made 17 turnover-worthy throws on only 491 career drop-backs.
It goes without saying that Mills doesn’t win outside structure. The bigger issue is that he doesn’t win consistently enough in the pocket to make up for it. He’s a Day 3 flier in the Nate Stanley-mold from last class, with the requisite build, arm power and big-program experience to justify a draft slot, but not enough consistency as a thrower to do it before the late rounds.
10. Shane Buechele (SMU) | 6'1/207
Comp: Case Keenum
I prefer Buechele to the Sam Ehlinger/Feleipe Franks/Ian Book/KJ Costello grab-bag at QB10 because of Buechele’s arm. Dwarfed physically by Ehlinger, Costello and Franks, Buechele nevertheless has the best arm of the group.
Buechele’s career took off after he was beaten out by Ehlinger at Texas, forcing him to transfer to SMU to lead Sonny Dykes’ Air Raid offense. He broke out in 2019 working with James Proche and Reggie Roberson, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards with a 34/10 TD/INT ratio. Buechele was arguably even better in 2020 despite Proche leaving for the NFL and Roberson dealing with injuries all season, improving his YPA from 8.0 to 8.4, his completion percentage from 62.7 to 65.4 and his PFF grade from 83.0 to 88.1.
When Buechele is on, he reminds you a lot of Case Keenum. Buechele is a natural facilitator who is very comfortable in the pocket, getting the ball out on time to receivers in the short-to-intermediate game and giving them a chance to make a play after the catch.
But Buechele has a better arm and is a better downfield thrower than he’s given credit for, creating extra force with lower-body torque. He went 23-for-51 (45.1%) on throws more than 20 yards downfield last year despite lacking outside playmakers, a strong downfield accuracy rate. Increase that to balls thrown 10-plus yards downfield, and he went 66-for-123 (53.7%).
Buechele is a bit of a live-wire with the ball in his hands, zipping through his progressions. Willing to fling it from off-angles and while in the process of evading a rusher, Buechele can lose track of his feet when on the hunt. He gets in trouble when his eyes and feet stop working in concert, usually because he’s trying to do too much, not necessarily always when pressure is right there in his grill.
At SMU, he was given his share of predetermined reads, so becoming more fluid in working down his read line will be important as he moves to the next level. Buechele is an average athlete that will steal yards given to him. But again, whether because of the issue of his eyes and feet not always working in concert or what, he loses accuracy on the move. Improving in this area will aid his transition to the NFL.
Buechele isn’t a sexy prospect, and he’s no sure-thing to get drafted. But like the undrafted Case Keenum, I think Buechele’s strengths translate to the next level and I think his weaknesses cap his ceiling, as opposed to outright nullifying an NFL future. If I was going to take a flier on a quarterback on late Day 3, Buechele is the guy I want. He has a whiff of Gardner Minshew to him, a guy who could potentially be an NFL QB2 early and start a game sooner than expected.
Best of the rest
11. Feleipe Franks (Arkansas) | 6'5/227
12. Sam Ehlinger (Texas) | 6'2/235
13. K.J. Costello (Mississippi State) | 6’4/215
14. Ian Book (Notre Dame) | 6'0/212
15. Brady White (Memphis) | 6'2/215
16. Peyton Ramsey (Northwestern) | 6'1/213
17. Zac Thomas (Appalachian State) | 6'0/200
18. Zach Smith (Tulsa) | 6'3/228