Late-Round and Priority Undrafted Free Agents to Watch For
Coverage of the NFL Draft is flooded by quarterback talk. Whether it is a horrifically bad 2013 quarterback class or a top-heavy 2015 quarterback class, quarterbacks dominate the airwaves. Of course, probable first round quarterbacks receive most of the attention because they are the ones who are going to be drafted to start right away and alter the course of a franchise. Every year, though, there are legitimate contributors, backups, and spot starters to be found at the end of Day 3 of the draft or as undrafted free agents after the draft has concluded.
Denver Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian is the most recent example of a late-round/undrafted quarterback finding some success in the NFL. Siemian is no superstar and it’s unlikely he is the Broncos’ quarterback of the future, but he did his part to allow the Broncos to remain a competitive team. He proved to be collected, accurate, and aggressive enough to not sink the offense.
A few years before Siemian was drafted, the Baltimore Ravens selected Tyrod Taylor in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Taylor left Baltimore following the expiration of his rookie contract and decided to take his talents to Buffalo on a short, cheap deal. Lo and behold, Taylor seized the starting job and quickly established himself as a quality starting quarterback.
The 2017 draft class looks to be deep at the quarterback position. There are a handful of different options at the top of the draft, while the middle and late rounds are filled with enticing projects and quality backup types. There will be worthwhile players to be had at the end of the draft or as undrafted free agents. Below are a few such examples…
Alek Torgersen, Penn
West Coast teams should eye Alek Torgersen as the draft comes to a close. Torgersen sports a thick 6’3″, 230-pound build and has enough athleticism to make him a legitimate rushing threat. Defenses shouldn’t be expecting Torgersen to rip off 30 yard runs, but he can be integrated into the running game as an option quarterback and a ‘power’ quarterback. Likewise, Torgersen has the movement skills to extend plays and operate in a rollout/sprint out/boot action heavy offense, though that isn’t what he was asked to do at Penn.
Torgersen is a touch passer. His arm strength and velocity are borderline NFL worthy, but Torgersen’s glimpses of feathery touch toward the sideline and on shorter routes is impressive. Quick game concepts like ‘spacing’, double slants, and various RPOs (run-pass options) are in Torgersen’s wheel house. He has the touch to throw vertically on concepts like ‘four verticals’, but it’s tough to imagine Torgersen’s lack of arm strength and intermediate/deep anticipation will blossom into a full, well-rounded passing attack.
Though he will need the playbook shortened to quick game concepts and running plays, Torgersen is a nice option as an undrafted free agent. His blend of size, athleticism, and functionality in the short game will be enough for a team to give him a shot to stick. Torgersen’s lack of breadth as a passer severely lowers his ceiling as a prospect, but he’s worth taking a shot on as a potential backup.
Phillip “P.J.” Walker (Temple)
Phillip Walker is the most intriguing late-round/undrafted quarterback in this class. Throughout his four years as Temple’s starting quarterback, Walker lead the AAC underdog to a couple of impressive seasons and he broke a number of school records by the time he was finished. Walker’s profile is attractive in that he checks a lot of the boxes the NFL is often looking for:
These bullet points are paraphrased a bit, but the requirements are clear. Though the requirements may be dated and need some new age tweaking, Walker fits the bill for a Bill Parcells quarterback. Additionally, Walker is coming from a Temple offensive system that is more under center and more pro-style than most college offenses. Walker was asked to execute a myriad of passing concepts, including a healthy dosage of boot action and play action.
Walker’s best fit in the NFL will be on a team that embraces his athletic ability and his arm talent as a deep passer. Walker, albeit undersized, is an above-average athlete with a strong arm. He has the rushing ability and arm talent to be a threat on third-and-long, and that alone sets him above many others in his tier of quarterback. As a passer, Walker does his best work as an intermediate and deep passer, largely due to his impressive velocity. Walker’s mechanics too often get in the way of his accuracy, but his process from snap to throw is that of a high quality backup or serviceable starter.
Walker will be able to walk into the NFL with as much or more pro-style experience and more big play ability than any other late-round/undrafted quarterback. He may never develop into a legitimate starter, but Walker is a great option for a boot action and deep passing-heavy team who is looking for a quality backup.
Cooper Rush (Central Michigan)
Though he is most famous for his controversial game ending touchdown pass versus Oklahoma State early in the 2016 season, Cooper Rush has plenty to offer as a genuine quarterback prospect. Rush, like Walker, is a four-year starter from an under-center, pro like system. Central Michigan granted Rush freedom at the line of scrimmage to check in or out of plays at will, depending on what the defense was showing him. Rush was an unusual constant for a Central Michigan team that needed consistency at the quarterback position in order to find success.
Rush is not a high ceiling player, but he does a handful of things at a baseline level and that should allow him to stick in the NFL. Rush can operate well under center, especially when working out of heavy personnel sets. Rush does well when throwing isolation concepts and boot/play action concepts from under center. Arm talent is missing from Rush’s repertoire, but his decision making and touch are good enough to allow him to be a functional short/intermediate passer.
Run oriented teams with heavy personnel sets, such as the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys, would be wise to give Rush a chance as a late-round flyer or on an undrafted contract.