Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Russell Clay. Follow him on Twitter @RussellJClay.
As the draft approaches every year, twitter timelines and social media are filled with mock drafts and prognostication of all shapes and sizes. Some sources know GMs, coaches, and owners, while others know someone from a bar down the street. There’s a lot of noise out there. My goal is to stabilize this process as much as possible, and give some balance to what is draft season.
Over the past few years, a personal focus has been determining what’s “sticky” in terms of evaluating college prospects from year-to-year. Through all positions, I’ve found that where a player is drafted usually determines the success they find. Will all players follow that trend? Of course not, but using the way the NFL evaluates talent can be a very helpful tool.
With that said, let’s get into the 2017 quarterback class. Admittedly, I’ve done less work on this position in terms of production and athleticism research than running back and wide receiver (find my work on the 2017 RBs and WRs here). My reasoning is quarterback production in college doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason in translating to the next level like the other positions. However, through the draft process, there are enough bread crumbs and puzzle pieces out there to get a general vibe of where these players are headed and where they’ll be picked.
These are in order of projected draft position, from highest-to-lowest.
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina – Top-10
Mitchell Trubisky was a late-riser compared to the rest of the class. At North Carolina, he sat behind upperclassmen Marquise Williams for two years before he finally got a shot in 2016, well after DeShaun Watson and DeShone Kizer had become household names. It’s a bit of a red-flag for Trubisky, as he was unable to usurp Williams, who was nothing if not inconsistent. However, it doesn’t appear NFL teams are particularly worried about it, as rumors have swirled of Trubisky landing in the top-12 to multiple teams, the Browns and 49ers being the two most prominent names. While this could be smoke, based on his athletic testing in the combine and how he performed in his final season at North Carolina, Trubisky will be the first quarterback taken in the 2017 draft.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson – Top-15
Deshaun Watson is one of the most accomplished college football quarterbacks of the last decade. For some, he’s most well known for his two performances against Alabama. Their defense was filled with future first-round draft picks, and one who, quite frankly, nobody performed well against. Watson was a five-star recruit (on both Rivals and Scout) as an incoming freshman, and was the talk of the town as soon as he stepped onto Clemson’s campus. He’s certainly had the benefit of throwing to top receiving weapons in his college career, most notably Mike Williams and Deon Cain (a wide receiver to know about for 2018). However, despite what the naysayers say, Watson wasn’t merely a product of a good system. His draft stock is all over the place, but it appears he will be a top-15 selection.
DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame – First Round
It’s been a wild ride for DeShone Kizer and his draft prospects. After taking over early in the 2015 season for an injured Malik Zaire, Kizer and Will Fuller played their ways into a collectively solid offensive campaign. Kizer finished the 2015 season competing with Deshaun Watson for who the top pick in the 2017 draft was going to be. Things then changed quickly. Will Fuller left for the NFL, along with a few offensive lineman, and Kizer was stranded with an extremely young and inexperienced offense for the 2016 season. Notre Dame struggled from start to finish in 2016 and ended the year with a 4-and-8 record. The fighting Irish repeatedly lost close games, and Kizer’s draft stock has plummeted somewhat unfairly because of it. It’s very rare for quarterbacks to be drafted in the first round after finishing their final college with a losing record. By recent results, Jay Cutler was the last to pull it off. However, there are a bunch of quarterback-needy teams who may jump on Kizer in the late first round.
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech – First Round
The real wildcard of this draft is Patrick Mahomes. Both in play style and draft stock, he’s a hyper-volatile asset. Mahomes is best known for making something out of nothing in the ever-prolific Texas Tech offense. He put up video game numbers on the regular over the past two years, amassing 77 passing touchdowns and 9,701 passing yards. There has been a lot of debate over Mahomes’ footwork, discipline, and other intricate evaluation pieces, but the hype train is running strong despite those concerns. Recent rumors suggest Houston as a possibility for Mahomes. If that indeed happens, he could be one of the biggest risers in Superflex and dynasty league formats.
Davis Webb, California – Late-First/Second Round
Davis Webb is the quarterback prospect generally believed to be overrated in this 2017 quarterback class. There was virtually no steam for Webb as the 2016 season began. Despite putting up solid counting stats, largely in a losing cause, California stumbled to a 5-and-7 record. As the combine came and teams got a closer look at Webb, though, he began to pick up steam quickly. It’s tough to believe someone pulls the trigger on him in the first, but it’s in his reasonable range of outcomes. At this stage, if Webb doesn’t go in the first, it’s very likely we see him drafted early in the second round.
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh – Second/Third Round
Nathan Peterman led a run-first Pittsburgh offense last year and went firmly below the radar compared to other prospects, much like Davis Webb. Peterman threw 23+ pass attempts just four times in 2016 and had five games with fewer than 20 throws. He had the advantage of a top wide receiver prospect at his disposal in the 2015 season with Tyler Boyd, but even then, the same conservative game plan was used. In fact, Boyd suffered significantly statistically with Peterman as a starter. Overall, Peterman’s game gives the vibe of a backup quarterback with upside, but in 2QB and Superflex leagues, he’s certainly worth grabbing if a team takes a chance on him in the second or third round.
Brad Kaaya, Miami – Second/Third Round
There was once a lot of excitement over Brad Kaaya after his 2014 true freshman season. Kaaya was on an offense led notably by Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett. As a freshman, Kaaya performed well despite some clear mental errors from time-to-time. However, after that season, the hype was looming. With Johnson and Dorsett gone for the 2015 season, things got ugly in a hurry for Kaaya. The passing game sputtered on his watch, as he notched only 16 touchdowns and was intercepted five times. Despite his struggles, Kaaya recovered in 2016, returning a respectable 27:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and led a young Miami offense to a bowl victory. Kaaya hasn’t been able to stand out throughout the process, and pro teams haven’t fallen in love with what he does. It’s unlikely he falls past the third round though, as some team will take a chance on developing his prototypical size.
Fifth Round or Later Candidates:
- Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
- Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
- C.J. Beathard, Iowa
- Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
- Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
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