College football returns in less than a week. That means it’s almost time for chaotic Saturday nights with Gus Johnson blessing our televisions and ears with excitement matched by no other announcer. It’s almost time for College Gameday on ESPN and all of the signage in the background designed to irk rival fans and delight those of ours. But most importantly, it’s almost draft season. I say this acting like I didn’t spend a majority of the summer watching film, but for the rest of us it is now time to watch the next wave of NFL talent light up the world of college football.
Starting a series of detailing the top five prospects at each position with the quarterbacks seems fitting. Quarterbacks are undoubtedly the most important players on the field and often get the most publicity during draft season. The exclusive club of the “franchise quarterbacks” peaks the interest of fans every season as the bottom tier of teams search for their own member of the vaunted club. Does the 2019 class feature a franchise quarterback? Let’s go down the list.
1. Will Grier, West Virginia, Redshirt Senior, 6’2″ 223
West Virginia’s long-haired, gunslinger tops my list of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks in 2019. Grier combines his swagger at the quarterback position with the physical traits to make him the premier quarterback prospect. Athletic enough to extend plays and take small chunks out of the defense, Grier also has the necessary arm strength and accuracy to make all the throws.
Looking at his 2019 catchable passing chart, it’s obvious that Grier does a lot of damage in the middle of the field. There, he throws with great anticipation and has great ball placement. Grier also shows the ability to read coverages, go through his progressions, and manipulate defenses to get the throws he wants.
However, Grier also shows deep ball accuracy that comes and goes. The reason for this is in the way Grier changes his mechanics. His ability to throw off-platform and from different angles is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, this uncanny ability is extremely valuable in red-zone/pressure situations, but on the other, it causes Grier to drift when throwing deep. His lack of consistency when pushing the ball deep hurts his accuracy and leaves himself open to throwing interceptions as his passes sort of float out towards his target and often ends up under-thrown.
Grier is the top quarterback prospect entering the 2018 season and he can keep that title with another dominating season.
2. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo, Redshirt Junior, 6’7″ 245
Now we start to get into the “projection section” of the rankings. This means that these quarterbacks might not be the cream of the crop, YET. Tyree Jackson is a mammoth at the quarterback position and possesses arguably the best assortment of traits when compared to the rest of the prospects. With a cannon for an arm and legit speed to run all over defenses, few prospects have the type of game-altering potential Jackson does.
Looking at Jackson’s chart, the first thing that stands out is his prowess as a deep passer. His ability to effectively utilize his strong arm and be accurate down the field is a big positive for his development as a prospect. Jackson also works well in the short passing game as well, showing he isn’t just a chucker.
However, he needs to work on his intermediate game. Jackson has a long throwing motion that can throw off his timing with receivers and allow defenders to catch up to passes they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Now, an awkward throwing motion isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s just that Jackson has to quicken his reads to counter-act his release. Another mechanical issue Jackson has is that he needs to stop rocking his body back as he throws. This causes a lot of his passes to sail high.
Another full year of development, as Jackson missed a portion of last season, will go a long way for Jackson and his potential to be QB1.
3a. Shea Patterson, Michigan, Junior, 6’2″ 205
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson enters 2019 tied for the third spot with Justin Herbert, but there will be more on him later. Patterson packs a lot of talent into his undersized frame, and he has me excited. A former top-recruit, Patterson has had limited playing time (10 starts), but he has flashed high potential.
Patterson is very athletic and has a better arm than you would expect from someone his size. His improvisational style of play is reminiscent of Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, who I was very high on when he declared, and thrives in chaos as illustrated by a high completion percentage under pressure.
Looking at the rest of his chart, Patterson attacks the short and intermediate passing games very well. Much like Grier, he likes to throw off-platform, adding to his improvisational style. Also like Grier, this hurts his deep ball accuracy as he often doesn’t get enough power into his throws. Unlike Grier, Patterson’s footwork inside and outside the pocket is not good. Also, Patterson needs to improve as a decision maker. He often tried too hard to make nothing into something at Ole Miss which ended up hurting the team. That and mechanics are the main things I want to see Patterson improve at Michigan. And quarterback guru Jim Harbaugh is the right man for the job.
3b. Justin Herbert, Oregon, Junior, 6’6″ 233
The consensus top quarterback in the draft, Justin Herbert’s film left me with more questions than answers. His spread-offense is not dissimilar from the other quarterbacks in the class, but he made less reads than the others. He locked on to his first read often and struggled when forced off of it. Arguably my least favorite trait in a quarterback prospect is when their first read is covered, they panic. Also, Herbert’s decision making when faced with even the slightest pressure goes completely to the wayside. His catchable percentage under pressure is still good, but the decisions he makes will get him benched.
Now to what Herbert does well and why many people, myself included, are excited about his potential. First off, Herbert passes the eye test. His 6’6″, 233-pound frame is a perfect fit for what teams look for, but it’s the athleticism he possesses with his size that has people giddy. Herbert has legit speed to be an effective runner and is adept at escaping or evading pressure. Also, his arm is marvelous. Herbert can make every throw in the book with room to spare. He also shows great accuracy when allowed to throw to his first read, which Oregon’s offense allowed him to do often.
Now playing under his third head coach in three years, but a familiar face in Mario Cristobal, Herbert needs to continue a fairly steep development curve if he wants to be the top pick next April.
5. Drew Lock, Missouri, Senior, 6’4″ 225
If I said anything about how good Jackson’s and Herbert’s arms are, Lock is insane. Well, his velocity may not be as good as theirs, but he throws about as far as any quarterback I’ve ever seen. Enough gushing about his arm. Lock is an interesting case study into quarterbacks and their relation team performance. Lock balled out against lower level competition like FCS-level Missouri State or group of 5 teams Idaho. However, his disproportionate stats against good teams aren’t entirely his fault, with an emphasis on “entirely”.
Looking at his pass chart, we see a large number of throws against pressure and a 10 percent difference from catchable pass percentage and his completion percentage. Lock was the Missouri team last season. His defense ranked in the 80s in both yards and points allowed. Lock also didn’t get much help from his receivers or offensive line. His play at times was admirable, despite being futile and sometimes desperate, because his team was completely outmatched.
Now I put emphasis on “not entirely his fault” because Lock does have some fatal flaws to his game. His accuracy is a lot better without drops or passes thrown away, but he still isn’t very accurate. He was very inconsistent all throughout last season, but mental processing is his biggest flaw. Lock will lock-on to his primary read all too often and will make bonehead throws because of it. In addition to locking on to targets, Lock has issues diagnosing and reading defenses. There were many plays in which Lock looked completely lost and threw easy interceptions/incompletions because he misread the defense.
Lock’s arm and athleticism are a great combination, and I see a lot of Matt Stafford in him. It’s just a question of whether or not Lock will reach his lofty potential and become a first round pick.
Other QBs to watch: Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Brian Lewerke (Michigan State), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), Easton Stick (North Dakota State), Khalil Tate (Arizona), Clayton Thorson (Northwestern), Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt), Brett Rypien (Boise State), Ryan Finley (North Carolina State), Jake Bentley (South Carolina), Daniel Jones (Duke)