Part 3, QB: Bet on teams in need rolling the dice
Scouts view this as a historically weak group. Could a QB surprise? They see Matt Hasselbeck, Johnny Manziel with a touch of Gardner Minshew. The unfiltered analysis…
This is the 38th year Bob McGinn has written an NFL draft series. Previously, it appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette (1985-’91), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1992-’17), BobMcGinnFootball.com (2018-’19) and The Athletic (2020-’21). Until 2014, personnel people often were quoted by name. The series reluctantly adopted an all-anonymous format in 2015 at the request of most scouts … The 12-minute, 50-question Wonderlic test was not administered at the NFL scouting combine this year, possibly the first time it wasn’t included in the schedule. Thus, players generally took the test at spring timing days in 2021 or at pro days in the last two months. The NFL average score is about 19.
Stemming mostly from desperation, it’s possible some team might select one of this year’s quarterbacks in the top 10 of the NFL draft.
Based on interviews with executives in personnel across the league, the consensus is that none of the quarterbacks deserve to go that high even in a draft that’s unusually short of blue-chip prospects.
But let’s assume the first 10 selections come and go without a quarterback. The last time that happened was 2013. In fact, it’s only occurred five times in the last 35 years.
Entering those five drafts (2013, 2000, 1997, 1991 and 1988), the forecast among scouts regarding those quarterbacks classes was about as bleak as it is today.
“I’ll tell you right now, I don’t like any of those quarterbacks in the first round,” one evaluator said this month. “You can have all of them. Just backups. If any of those guys are starting for you, you’re not going to the Super Bowl.”
Who were the first quarterbacks taken in those off years? The list includes E.J. Manuel (No. 16) by Buffalo in 2013, Chad Pennington (No. 18) by the Jets in 2000, Jim Druckenmiller (No. 26) by the 49ers in 1997, Dan McGwire (No. 16) by the Seahawks in 1991 and Tom Tupa (No. 68), who also punted, by the Cardinals in 1988.
Pennington enjoyed a solid, non-Pro Bowl, 11-year career with the Jets and Dolphins, won two of six playoff games and finished with a passer rating of 90.1. As for the others, bust hardly begins to describe their levels of ineptitude.
Manuel was the best, fashioning a 6-12 record and 77.1 rating in a five-year career. As for Druckenmiller, McGwire and Tupa, they combined to start 19 games (seven were wins) and throw 15 touchdowns compared to 35 interceptions.
You can’t say the Bills, Jets, 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals weren’t warned about those latter-day quarterback classes.
In 2013, Geno Smith finished first and Matt Barkley second in my poll of scouts rating the quarterbacks. Manuel was third.
“I think they’re all bad,” an NFC evaluator said. “It’s such a crappy group. You look at them, is anyone sold on any of these guys?”
As wacky as it might be, the best quarterbacks in 2013 turned out to Smith and Mike Glennon.
In 2000, Pennington led my rankings ahead of Chris Redman and Tee Martin. Marc Bulger, who was No. 4 on the list, had a good career with the Rams. And you might remember No. 9 quarterback, Tom Brady of Michigan.
“Personally, I don’t think there’s a first-round quarterback in this draft,” said Tom Donahoe, the Steelers’ director of football operations.
In 1997, it was Druckenmiller followed by Jake “The Snake” Plummer atop my rankings. This was another terrible year at the position. Plummer was the only quarterback that did anything. At the time, the Giants had a woeful quarterback room of Dave Brown and Danny Kanell. In the sixth round, they took a flyer on Murray State’s Mike Cherry.
“One of our quarterbacks better come through because there ain’t none out there,” Tom Boisture, the Giants’ director of player personnel, said not long before the draft. “It’s getting to be pretty damn grim.”
In 1991, my top quarterback was Brett Favre. However, he went No. 33 behind McGwire and Todd Marinovich, who went No. 24 to the Raiders.
“I don’t think there’s a real, real top one,” 49ers director of college scouting Tony Razzano said. “But these guys will play in the league.”
Favre became a legend, but no one else from that draft even played.
(Ed’s Note: Icymi, here’s McGinn’s two-part series on “The Rise of Brett Favre.”)
And, in 1988, I had Chris Chandler first, Stan Humphries second and Tupa third. Chandler, who went eight slots after Tupa, and Humphries, a sixth-round choice, would lead teams to the Super Bowl. As for Tupa, he went on to punt for more than a decade after getting a chance to start at quarterback in 1991 and coming up well short.
Asked for his overall assessment of the class, Boisture replied, “I’m not going to answer that. I don’t want to ding any of those guys, but I guarantee you one will go in the first round. It isn’t the strongest draft we’ve ever had, you know.”
The same might be said for next week. After drafting 12 quarterbacks among the top 10 of the last four drafts, and eight among the top five, the dozen or so teams that should be interested in a quarterback more than likely will make their selections sooner than later.
“This is the worst group I think I’ve ever done,” a scout with more than 20 years of NFL service said. “The only one that has a chance legitimately is (Kenny) Pickett. He’s the only starter. Everybody’s grasping for these guys.”
A generation ago, before so many rules change made it easier on quarterbacks and only accentuated their worth, running backs were a valuable commodity. In the six drafts from 1996-’01, almost twice as many running backs (19) as quarterbacks (10) went off in the first round.
Despite the daunting hit-and-miss rate at the position, teams can’t and won’t stop selecting quarterbacks higher than their draft boards would suggest.
A panel of 17 personnel people were asked to rate the quarterbacks 1-2-3-4-5, with a first-place vote worth 5 points, a second-place vote worth 4 and so on.
Pickett led the way with 72 points compared to 69 for Malik Willis, but Willis had nine firsts compared to Pickett’s six. Matt Corral was next with 43 points and one first, followed by Desmond Ridder (35, one), Sam Howell (30), Carson Strong (three) and Bailey Zappe (three).
“When you look back at it, second-round quarterbacks almost don’t even exist,” an NFC scout said. “It’s like you either take them in the first round or they’re not a guy … outside the obvious ones like Brady and (Russell) Wilson.”
Of the 31 qualifying quarterbacks last season, 71% entered the league as first-round picks. The exceptions were Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jalen Hurts in Round 2, Davis Mills and Wilson in Round 3, Dak Prescott and Kirk Cousins in Round 4, Brady in Round 6 and Taylor Heinicke as an undrafted free agent.
A personnel man for an AFC team confident in its quarterbacks paused to consider the unappealing options in the draft and give thanks for his situation. “I’d hate to actually be depending on picking your quarterback,” he said.
When scouts were asked which quarterback had the best chance to bust, one shot back, “Every one of them.”
Willis was the clear-cut leader in the bust poll with nine votes, followed by Corral with four, Howell with 1 ½, Pickett and Strong one apiece and Ridder one-half.
“It’s not good if you need a quarterback,” another AFC exec said in a most somber tone of voice.
RANKING THE QUARTERBACKS
1. KENNY PICKETT, Pittsburgh (6-3, 219, 4.71, 1): It’s the most common comment made by scout about Pickett: he’s the most ready to play of all the quarterbacks. How good he will play is the question. “There’s nothing there that says he’s going to be a top-half of the league starter,” said one scout. “I don’t think you’ll take him and think, ‘We solved our problem here.’ When you’re in quarterback purgatory it’s not a good place to be. I wouldn’t be mad about taking him. But if I’m the GM I wouldn’t be thinking I’m saving my job.” Came from prospect oblivion in 2021, enjoying by far his best season. “He hadn’t really done anything in his career and he had a hell of a year,” said a second scout. “You’ve got to give that to him. The production and the winning and the playmaking that he showed. He makes good decisions. He’s got moxie. I just don’t think that he’s talented physically. He’s a need-everything-to-go-perfect-for-you starter, not an upper-echelon, I’m winning-games-because-of-you starter.” Rated merely the 11th best overall prospect in New Jersey (Oakhurst) as a prep. Fifth-year senior, four-year starter. “Yeah, he is (the best), but he’s reached his ceiling,” a third scout said. “Mark Whipple (Pitt’s offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach the past three seasons) has done everything he can to get him ready. He’s done a magnificent job. He will wind up like Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the physical comparison.” Entering 2021 with an NFL passer rating of 82.9 before registering 116.6 in his swan song. His career mark was 92.9. “His arm is plenty good enough to be efficient,” said a fourth scout. “He can make every throw he needs to make. He’s a good athlete for the position. If he had 9 ½-inch hands I don’t think we’re having this discussion in terms of is he a first-rounder.” His hands measured a tiny 8 ½, largely the result of being born with double-jointed thumbs. “That (rainy) weather day in Mobile, it was embarrassing,” said a fifth scout. “It was like he was throwing a watermelon. He couldn’t grip the ball.” One scout said the difference in the football from the college to pro game and the later NFL season resulting in more rough weather could make his small hands even more of an issue. “He’s produced the most and been the most efficient,” a seventh scout said. “That’s the only reason I put him No. 1. I wouldn’t take him in the first round with the hands. He wears the gloves all the time. He has a chance to bust.” Scored 17 on the Wonderlic.
2. MALIK WILLIS, Liberty (6-0 ½, 223, no 40, 1): Backed up Jarrett Stidham at Auburn in 2017-’18 before entering the transfer portal the following spring when coach Gus Malzahn placed Bo Nix and another quarterback ahead of him. Sat out the season at Liberty, then started 23 games in 2020-’21. “He’s not the most ready right now but he’s by far No. 1 on this list,” one scout said. “He’s got the best arm of the group. He throws a pretty looking ball. He’s super athletic. He’s a really good kid. He’s going to take some time as far as mental development, but as far as physical talent this guy has everything. You hope for a situation when KC drafted (Patrick) Mahomes. They didn’t have to play him right away. It’s gonna take some balls to pick him but you’ve gotta have brains also. If you throw this kid to the fire right away you’re going to ruin him.” His Wonderlic of 32 ranked third best among the top 12 quarterbacks. “It’s the processing, just going from the Auburn system he was in to Liberty’s spread system,” said a second scout. “He’s got the aptitude to catch up once he gets to the NFL. If he can go to a situation where he’s got some time with a quarterback bridge. Somewhere like Atlanta with (Marcus) Mariota, even Seattle with the combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith.” Finished with a passer rating of 103.1. Rushed for 2,131 yards and 29 touchdowns. Fumbled 17 times in 2020, three times in ’21. “You’ve got to be like the Ravens and commit to what he can do,” a third scout said. “He is explosive. Got a big arm and all that. Just with the mental, I think he’s the one that busts. Chad Kelly lit it up in that (Hugh Freeze-coached) offense. He didn’t pee a drop in the NFL. Was that more character-driven? Yes. But name me somebody from that offense that made the jump to the NFL? Cam Newton’s about the only one. It’s really a sort of spread option. Very RPO-based.” Hands were 9 ½. His 40 time was estimated at 4.47 by one scout. “There is hope,” a fourth scout said. “He’s an athletic half-field read dude. He’s not Michael Vick. He’s in that herd category of quarterback that comes from a system that has to read the full field (in the NFL). The big question is, will he ever be able to win from the pocket, which you have to do in the NFL?” From Atlanta, Ga.
3. MATT CORRAL, Mississippi (6-1 ½, 215, no 40, 1-2): Fourth-year junior. “It’s the tale of two Corrals,” one scout said. “The first few years at Ole Miss he was an absolute (off-field mess). Then the back half he’s the greatest leader and the toughest guy they’ve ever had. (Ole Miss) Lane Kiffin called him the best quarterback in the country. He’s in a system where basically it’s all predetermined. He throws every ball on a line. He doesn’t have a lot of touch.” Started for 2 ½ years, finishing with a passer rating of 106.5. Hands were 9 5/8. “I’d rather have Corral than Willis,” another scout said. “There’s a body quickness that I like. He’s got a very fast release. I know the system bothers some people in terms of a lot of RPO, but there’s elements of that in the league. He can have some early success if he gets in an offense that allows him to throw it around the lot a little bit. He throws it well enough. I’m more worried about him getting hurt. He’s not a big dude.” Rushed 334 times in 37 games (27 starts), gained 1,338 (4.0) and scored 18 TDs. Departed his first high school in California and went elsewhere as a senior after getting into a physical altercation with the son of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Wonderlic of 15 was the lowest among the top 12 at the position. “He has the biggest bust potential,” a third scout said. “By far. He’s got a lot of off-the-field shit. He’s little. He gets hurt a lot … He’s not as big of a dickhead as this guy was, but there’s a lot of Johnny Manziel to this guy. Party boy. The team likes him more than they respect who he is overall because he’s a baller on Saturday. I wouldn’t bet on that guy. He plays in a backyard football scheme and doesn’t have to do much mentally. He’s at the line of scrimmage with one read.” His speed was estimated by a scout at 4.82. From Ventura, Calif.
4. DESMOND RIDDER, Cincinnati (6-3 ½, 213, 4.55, 1-2): Led the upwardly mobile Bearcats to a 43-6 record in four years as their starter. “He kinds of reminds me body-wise of Sam Bradford,” one scout said. “Good over-the-top release. Good athlete, good arm strength. Throws the ball very well to the left for a right-handed quarterback. I look for that when I do a quarterback. Has deep-ball accuracy. He’s slippery dipping under pressure. I just didn’t like his thin lower body. I don’t know if that will affect him or not.” Career passer rating of 99.9, including 109.3 as a senior. “He’s not as accurate as Pickett,” said a second scout. “That’s really where the difference is. He’s worthy of taking a shot at in the first round. Are you going to feel like you solved your problems? Or just hoping for the best?” Helped himself at the combine, running the fastest 40 and leading the way in the vertical jump (36 inches) and broad jump (10-7). “He won some big games,” a third scout said. “He’s a very talented athlete for his size. I really questioned his accuracy. The biggest knock on him was his accuracy. You’ve got to figure out if that’s correctable or not.” Ran for 2,180 yards (4.4) and 28 TDs. Wonderlic of 19. Largest hands (10) at the position. ”He didn’t have a good pro day,” a fourth scout said. “He’s the most overrated and is going to benefit from a not very good quarterback class. His intangibles are excellent. He’s a winner. He’s an athlete. I just don’t think he’s a natural passer. His release isn’t very quick. His arm strength is OK. I don’t see a starter.” From Louisville, Ky.
5. SAM HOWELL, North Carolina (6-0 ½, 224, no 40, 1-2): Third-year junior with 37 straight starts. “Like him,” one scout said. “He’s a gunslinger. I like the aggression he plays with. Got a strong arm. Can go vertical. He’s a good athlete for the position. He’s got the makeup to play early and be efficient. He can take advantage of your weapons. He’s got the arm to reach ‘em.” Slipped back in 2021 after the Tar Heels lost many of their best skill-position players to the NFL. Passer ratings were 112.3 in 2019, 122.1 in ’20 and 103.1 in ’21. Still, his career mark of 112.5 was the best of the top 12 passers. “Pound for pound he’s one of the toughest guys in the draft,” another scout said. “His offensive line stunk and he got the shit beat out of him. He’s not afraid to run, and he pops right back up. What’s interesting is, with his leadership, he’s almost a mute. He has no vocal presence at all. But he’s a three-time captain and he’s tough and he goes out and balls. He’s kind of weird; he only leads by example. Joe Flacco was that same way and he ended up to be pretty good. A good comparison is a more talented Gardner Minshew. Just a baller, you know?” Also rushed 369 times for 1,009 (2.7) and 17 TDs. Wonderlic of 34. Hands were 9 1/8. “Everybody wants to compare him to Baker Mayfield,” said a third scout. “It’s not even close. He’s just another short quarterback who’s thick and got an OK arm. In 2020, he had great receivers around him. He didn’t have shit around him this year and he struggles. He feels it (pressure). Just a backup.” From Indiana Trail, N.C.
6. CARSON STRONG, Nevada (6-3 ½, 230, no 40, 3-6): Fourth-year junior, three-year starter. “From a physical component standpoint he’s like the best pure pocket passer in the draft,” one scout said. “He has good arm strength and can throw accurate touch balls. But he can’t avoid the rush. He’s Paxton Lynch 2.0. He’s got an arm, but he’s a statue. That will always be his downfall. It all comes down to the right knee.” His knee problems began late in his prep career at Vacaville, Calif. Had surgery on the knee in high school and then two more in college. “He reminded me of Nick Foles,” another scout said. “He can’t move. He’s got a bad knee. He can get pretty streaky.” Finished with a passer rating of 103.4. Never ran for a TD. “I’d take him in the third but he’s got a bad knee,” said a third scout. “He throws the football as good as any of ‘em. But he’s probably got the best chance to bust because he’s got a bad knee.” Hands were 9 1/8. Wonderlic of 22. “That guy’s got no chance,” a fourth scout said. “He’s not accurate. He’s streaky. He takes a million sacks. I just don’t see how that guy survives in the NFL.”
7. BAILEY ZAPPE, Western Kentucky (6-0 ½, 217, 4.85, 5): Started at FCS Houston Baptist from 2017-’20 before transferring up a level to the Hilltoppers in ’21. “At the beginning of the season I wouldn’t have given you shit for him,” one scout said. “He looked awful on the hoof. He’s coming out of the Air Raid offense. Name me a quarterback not named Mahomes that succeeded from there? I watched the Houston Baptist film and it was like playground football. But he had a great season (’21). He elevated the team at Western Kentucky. He has a really quick release. He’s got a lot of swagger. He’s smart (Wonderlic of 35). He’s got some baller in him. But he’s not a very good athlete for a smaller guy. Arm strength is an issue. He’s like a West Coast, dink-dunk, poor man’s Chase Daniel, maybe. If you want to keep a third guy and develop him as a backup … he’s got something to work with.” Improved his passer rating each season, finishing with 97.8. Hands were 9 ¾. “He had a phenomenal year,” said a second scout. “There’s no way this guy’s a real NFL quarterback. But, with some of these spread coaches coming into the league, maybe somebody would take him as a No. 3. He got exposed in the Senior Bowl game. Looked like he was in the wrong weight division.” From Victoria, Texas.
8. BROCK PURDY, Iowa State (6-0 ½, 212, 4.83, 6): Went 30-17 in rewriting the Cyclones’ record book. “Undersized game manager,” one scout said. “He showed good decision-making but he was inconsistent (with that) this year. Lacks arm strength to throw down the field. Smart guy. Backup who can get you out of a jam. I wouldn’t draft him.” Posted a passer rating of 102.1. Wonderlic of 23. Hands were 9 ¼. “He’ll get drafted but in my mind he’s a free agent,” a second scout said. “If you don’t have physical skills moxie ain’t buying it for you in the National Football League.” From Gilbert, Ariz.
9. SKYLAR THOMPSON, Kansas State (6-2, 219, 4.90, 7-FA): Sixth-year senior with 40 starts in 45 games. “He’s got a chance to make it as a No. 3 early and eventually be a backup,” said one scout. “He’s tough. He’s got enough mobility, enough size. He’s only got an average arm but there’s some accuracy. Look at the kid in Washington, Taylor Heinicke, who’s a great competitor and tough. He’s a little bigger than him but he’s got a similar kind of tool kit.” Finished with a passer rating of 95.9. Missed substantial time with injuries in 2020-’21. Wonderlic of 17. Hand size (8 5/8) certainly won’t help his chances. “Real football player,” a second scout said. “Understands situational football. Will be a great developmental No. 2.” From Independence, Mo.
10. JACK COAN, Notre Dame (6-3, 217, 4.91, 7-FA): Went 12-6 at Wisconsin from 2017-’19 before missing all of ’20 with a broken foot. Became the starter in South Bend last year and posted an 11-2 record. “He’ll get drafted but in my mind he’s a priority free agent,” said one scout. “He has (won). He’s also f----- up a lot, too.” Compiled a passer rating of 102.3. Hands were 9 ½. “He’s in the Zappe mold but bigger, stronger,” a second scout said. “He played in bigger program and had success. A good guy to have around the program.” Wonderlic of 28. “You want to like this guy based on the way he looks and how they (his college coaches) talk about him,” said a third scout. “Awesome kid, super smart, great leader, tough. He just cannot throw the ball. His arm strength is functional but accuracy is terrible. He’ll spray it all over the place. If you’re kind of set at quarterback and you just need another guy, that’s what he is.” From Sayville, NY.
11. COLE KELLEY, Southeast Louisiana (6-7 ½, 248, 5.18, 7-FA): Biggest quarterback prospect in years. “The ‘Louisiana Steamboat,’” said one scout. “CK is similar to like a Ryan Mallett. He was as heavy as 270 at one point. He can throw the football. He had two good years at Southeast against marginal competition. They swear that this guy can be an NFL player. I don’t doubt that. He’s not a run-around, mobile guy but he’s not stuck in the mud … a statue. There are very few big guys this big that actually end up (playing). He kind of reminded me of a Kent Graham. He had a great year. Reinvented himself. He had some issues at Arkansas. Had a DUI. They sort of used him as a situational RPO-zone read quarterback. If he falls forward it’s 3 yards because he’s so big.” Redshirted in 2016 at Arkansas before starting six of 18 games in 2017-’18. Backed up at his new school before starting for two years. “He’s not bad,” a second scout said. “He throws the deep ball well but he’s not a very good passer short and intermediate. More of an elongated, heavy-footed runner. Just an average athlete.” Wonderlic of 25. Hands were 9 7/8. From Lafayette, La.
12. BRANDON PETERS, Illinois (6-4 ½, 228, 4.72, 7-FA): Height-weight-speed prospect led the position in the vertical jump (36) and also had the largest hands (10 1/8). “He kind of bounced around in college a little bit,” said one scout. “You could see flashes where he’s got pro-level arm talent.” Started four games at Michigan as a redshirt freshman in 2017 before losing the job in ’18 and transferring. Started in Champaign when healthy from 2019-’21. Missed one game in three different seasons because of concussions. “Talented but inconsistent,” another scout said. “Has size, arm strength and athletic ability to mold. Sporadic accuracy, marginal pocket poise. Productive runner. Rarely speaks up or talks. Very soft-spoken and flat line.” Wonderlic of 24. From Avon, Ind.
OTHERS: E.J. Perry, Brown; Dustin Crum, Kent State; Chris Oladokun, South Dakota State; Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan.
E.J. Perry, Brown: Backed up for two years at Boston College before posting a 4-16 record as a two-year starter in the Ivy League. Perry (6-1 ½, 208, 4.68) was athletic enough to play two games for the Brown basketball team in ’19. “Ran and tested well,” one scout said. “Not a high-end arm but he’s got gamer-type play.” Comes from a highly athletic family.
Kaleb Eleby, Western Michigan: Made the puzzling decision to depart a year early as a fourth-year junior. He has an outstanding arm. However, he lacks size (6-0 ½, 206) and speed (4.90), wasn’t a diligent worker, didn’t call much at the line of scrimmage and was seldom effective out of the pocket.
SCOUT TO REMEMBER
Ed Lambert: A warm, welcoming man, Lambert closed a 45-year football career by retiring as a scout for the Texans after the 2016 draft. His NFL scouting career spanned 15 years. Before that, he was the first African-American assistant coach at Baylor and the first African-American coordinator in Southeastern Conference history at Vanderbilt in 1997. A native of Beaumont, Texas, he played and coached in high school and college. His pro coaching experience included two years in the USFL. He and his wife, Jeanette, were married for 48 years. He died in January. He was 73.
QUOTE TO NOTE
NFC personnel man, on pro days for quarterbacks: “No value for me. Look. I can take every top quarterback in the NFL and ask them to do the same type of workout and I’m pretty sure most of them would wow people. JaMarcus (Russell) had the greatest pro day ever. Jesse Campbell had a huge pro day. What do you expect? They’re throwing on air. Sometimes you go and see a lot of bad habits. Guys roll out for 12 seconds. They might do that two or three times a year and they do it 10 times in a workout.”