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2017 NFL Draft: Quarterback big board

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A look through one big board and the quarterback prospects for the 2017 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In recent years, I’ve committed to the concept of an NFL Draft “target board.” The idea is to narrow my scope down to 100 prospects, grouped into tiers that indicate where I’d look to select them in an actual draft. Instead of ranking every single player I’ve watched and graded, these are prospects I feel most confident in from a tape, measurables, production, and athletic testing standpoint. In the following days leading up to the draft, I’ll post my board position by position, and to help everyone understand the methods behind my madness, I’ll even include some handy charts and stats to give some insight into which players “checked all the boxes,” and which ones made the cut despite falling short in one area or another.

The cells in the accompanying charts are color-coded based (liberally) on NFL scouting combine averages per position:

  • Green = Significantly Above Average
  • Blue = Above Average
  • Yellow = Average
  • Orange = Below Average
  • Red = Significantly Below Average

First up this year are my quarterback targets

(For full statistics on all 28 draft-eligible, FBS quarterbacks I examined this year, check this link)

DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 6’5” 233

  • DOB: 1/3/1996
  • Two-year starter
  • 2016: 212/361 (58.7%) 2925 YDS 8.1 YPA 26 TD 9 INT 8 rush TD
  • Career: 423/696 (60.8%) 5809 YDS 8.3 YPA 47 TD 19 INT 18 rush TD

Simply put, I’ve seen Kizer make more “Sunday” throws during his two seasons of Saturdays that any other quarterback in this class. He’s been knocked for his completion percentage, a statistic I believe is skewed, and I closely examined that and his other numbers here. Still, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have some reservations. Kizer can look mechanical at times, like he’s thinking too much, and his team went into a tailspin down the stretch. Now, with the rumor mill in full swing, we’ve heard mumbles and grumbles about his maturity and popularity in the locker room. In fact, Kizer’s own college coach kicked dirt on the kid about a week ago.

This is the kind of information that can cause one to second guess, but without speaking to Kizer, I choose to take this with a grain of salt, understanding that it may come back to bite me. He is not a finished product, but at 21 years old he has put some remarkable throws on tape, and has the most upside of any passer since Jameis Winston two drafts ago.

Grade: 1st Round

Deshaun Watson Clemson 6’2” 221

  • DOB: 9/14/1995
  • Three-year starter
  • 2016: 388/579 (67.0) 4593 YDS 7.9 YPA 41 TD 17 INT 9 rush TD
  • Career: 814/1207 (67.4%) 10163 YDS 8.4 YPA 90 TD 32 INT 26 rush TD

Watson is the safety pick, which sounds weird for a guy who threw 17 interceptions last season. But he stays so collected in pressure situations that you can never count his team out. Watson converted a first down on 48% of his third down passes - second in the class - and a respectable 37.1% of third and longs (seven-or-more yards).

In some cases however, Watson creates his own drama. His 4.7% red zone interception percentage was 24th of the 28 draft-eligible quarterbacks I examined, and his overall INT percentage (2.9%) landed him at 19th. Still, Watson rarely fumbled or took a sack, so despite the picks, he wasn't particularly mistake-pone. My biggest concern is his average arm strength, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Patrick Mahomes II Texas Tech 6’2” 225

  • DOB: 9/17/1995
  • Two-year starter
  • 2016: 388/591 (65.7%) 5052 YDS 8.5 YPA 41 TD 10 INT 12 rush TD
  • Career: 857/1349 (63.5%) 11252 YDS 8.3 YPA 93 TD 29 INT 22 rush TD

It’s been fun to witness the rise of Mahomes in the draftnik community. I’ve seen him go from undraftable to QB1 (discussed at the top of this episode of The Draft Breakdown Podcast), and despite the “haters and losers” who insist on quarterbacks who excel from the pocket, many members of #drafttwitter continue to dig their heels in defending their hero.

Don’t get me wrong, we have many reasons to like Mahomes. He checks off traditional boxes like height, weight, arm strength, completion percentage and yards per pass attempt. His 53% conversion percentage on third down passes, and 45.2% on third and long were the best in this draft class. And, considering how many times he handled the ball, Mahomes did well to limit negative plays like fumbles and sacks.

But the young man is an improvisor, and this style did not translate into wins in college, nor has it proven effective in the NFL. Those who like him will say “Brett Favre” and those who don’t will say “Johnny Manziel” (which isn’t really fair because of the cocaine, but I digress), and the reality is probably in between. Can Mahomes’ fast-balling, freewheeling style be tamed? Do we want it to be? I’ve gone back and forth on this, and I would roll the dice, but he’s my third choice.

Grade: 1st-2nd Round

Mitchell Trubisky North Carolina 6’2” 222

  • DOB: 8/20/1994
  • One-year starter
  • 2016: 304/447 (68.0%) 3748 YDS 8.4 YPA 30 TD 6 INT 5 rush TD
  • Career: 386/572 (67.5%) 4762 YDS 8.3 YPA 41 TD 10 INT 8 rush TD

This is a good class. I honestly don’t know why there’s been so much grumbling in the big media circles. When it became evident that the NFL was actually interested in quarterbacks in the first round, somehow the one-year starter from UNC got jumped to the forefront. A strange fact indeed, but Trubisky will wow with some deep ball accuracy and quick thinking in the pocket. Like Watson, Trubisky led some furious comebacks, but in one, against Stanford, he dug his own hole and came up just short. Beyond those games, he just doesn’t have the resumé Watson put together in the same conference. Trubisky is athletic, has a quick trigger, and plenty of arm, but he has the fewest reps and is the oldest of the top four quarterbacks in this draft.

Grade: 2nd Round

Jerod Evans Virginia Tech 6’3” 232

  • DOB: 1/16/1994
  • One-year starter
  • 2016: 268/422 (63.5%) 3546 YDS 8.4 YPA 29 TD 8 INT 12 rush TD
  • Career: 268/422 (63.5%) 3546 YDS 8.4 YPA 29 TD 8 INT 12 rush TD

Like Trubisky, Evans is a one-year starter who will be a 23-year old rookie. I have to believe that his age played a role in his decision to declare, as well as his younger brother’s disability, which has motivated Evans throughout a roundabout college journey that started at the Air Force Academy and detoured through the junior college ranks.

What struck me most about Evans initially was his touch down the field. He has a strong arm, but was able to change his velocity to match whatever throw he needed. He was a man among boys at the Juco level. However, at Virginia Tech he wasn’t quite able to develop the same timing, and many downfield throws tended to hang and come up short. Evans has been a highly productive runner, but he’s more of a tank than a sports car in the open field. Athletically, he’s similar to Kizer. And Evans’ third down passing numbers were very similar to Watson’s. I was impressed with how quickly Evans was able to integrate into the Virginia Tech program, win the starting job, and lead his team to an ACC Championship Game and 10 wins, and I think he presents excellent Day Three value.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Davis Webb California 6’5” 229

  • DOB: 1/22/1995
  • Three-year starter
  • 2016: 382/620 (61.6%) 4295 YDS 6.9 YPA 37 TD 12 INT 6 rush TD
  • Career: 841/1367 (61.5%) 9852 YDS 83 TD 34 INT 9 rush TD

I’m not buying the talk of Webb sneaking into the first round. His situation reminds me of Tom Savage’s in 2014, or Jeff Driskell’s last year, in that Webb is a graduate transfer who has generated postseason buzz with his prototypical build, plus athleticism, and strong arm. Of course this is an intriguing skill set, but Webb’s on-field play doesn’t match the hype.

Anyone who watches Webb will recognize his high-end velocity immediately, and early in games I thought he displayed good touch down the field, and timing in the intermediate areas. However, Webb tended to become more erratic as games wore on, mistiming throws to the sideline or leaving passes short to all levels of the field.

On third downs he converted only 34.7% of first downs, and on third and long that number dipped to 33.3%. Webb also averaged only 6.9 yards per attempt - 22nd out of 28 QBs I sampled - despite playing in a pass-happy offense. Kizer, Mahomes, Trubisky and Evans all averaged over 8.0 yards per attempt, and Watson was a full yard better than Webb as well. Jared Goff, coming off a disastrous rookie season, averaged 8.9 yards per attempt in his last season at Cal. Webb did a lot of dinking and dunking, and simply didn’t hit on enough big plays. He’s apparently a very coachable player, who lives and breathes football. That’s the type of kid NFL teams love to groom as a backup, and with an arm like Webb’s, even better. But he’s the most erratic player on this list so far, and I’d be surprised if he’s drafted before the end of the third round.

Grade: 4th-5th Round

Joshua Dobbs Tennessee 6’3” 216

  • DOB: 1/26/1995
  • Three-year starter
  • 2016: 225/357 (63.0%) 2946 YDS 8.3 YPA 27 TD 12 INT 12 rush TD
  • Career: 614/999 (61.5%) 7138 YDS 7.1 YPA 53 TD 29 INT 32 rush TD

Mike Mayock said during the Senior Bowl practices that Dobbs has a “whippy” arm, and I knew exactly what Mayock meant. Dobbs never struck me as a great NFL prospect prior to his final season at Tennessee, but I actually found him enjoyable to watch. Then I looked inside the numbers and found some cringeworthy stats. Despite a 63% completion percentage, that accuracy plummeted to 48.5% on third down, and 40.7% on third and long. The latter number was the worst among the 28 passers I sampled. Dobbs’ conversion rate wasn't much better, 24th of 28 on third down and third and long, and he finished 25th in interception and fumble rates (12 INTS and 10 fumbles on the season).

Not all is alarming. Dobbs ran the ball often, no doubt impacting his fumble stats, and he took a lot of shots down the field. Once we got into the offseason, I thought Dobbs threw the ball well (grain of salt alert, limited TV views), and that his Senior Bowl game performance topped Webb’s. Dobbs is also one of the most intelligent players at any position in the entire draft. Coaches are probably already in love with the guy, and I think he projects as a long term backup.

Grade: 4th-5th Round