By NFL Draft Bible Senior Writer John Blair | @johnblairjunior
After a little over a year break ‘Inside the War Room’ returns just in time for the football season. In case you need a refresher, this article is broken down in the following format. We will always have the opening article focus on one major NFL Draft issue–this week focuses on the top quarterbacks in the draft. Next up, our Scouting Notes section showcases some of the top prospects in the nation, followed by a look at whose draft stock is rising and falling. Lastly, we’ll wrap up the column with positional rankings and closing notes, enjoy!
TOP 5 SENIOR QUARTERBACKS
Drew Lock, Missouri
Going into the season most NFL teams regard Missouri quarterback Drew Lock as the top senior quarterback in the class and the only quarterback with a first-round draft grade. What’s impressive about Lock is his outstanding arm strength. He shows nice pocket presence, as well as his propensity to avoid sacks (he was only sacked 10 times last season). On the downside, he suffers from a low completion percentage, which is hurt by his lack of touch on short passes. The fact is that he tends to throw the ball too high at times and would be better served to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
Even though Drew Lock is ITWR’s top-rated senior quarterback going into the season, Finley would be the better value pick at this time. While a team might have to reach some and take Lock in the top-15, a patient team could likely snag Finley in the second or third round if the draft was today. As a prospect, Finely impresses me with his accuracy. In 2017, he completed 64% of his passes and had some of his most accurate games against his toughest opponents. When evaluating Finley he shows the ability to deliver an accurate ball from different platforms in the pocket and is also able to hit his targets consistently while throwing on the run. One more positive with him is he has one of the stronger arms in this year’s senior classes of quarterbacks.
Will Grier, West Virginia
No quarterback has a wider range on his draft stock entering the season. Grier has been projected as high as a top ten pick but has also been rated as low as the 10th best senior quarterback in the class. Inside the War Room, currently rates him as the third-best senior quarterback and would give him a second-round grade. The main reasons we don’t see him as a first-round quarterback; his lack of ideal height, the fact he has been in trouble off the field, and he plays in a spread offense. On the opposite side, we are impressed with his arm strength, deep ball accuracy and ability to make plays on the move.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
One of the biggest quarterback questions going into the 2018 season, is how will Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson recover from his torn ACL. From all reports, it looks like he is recovering well from his January surgery and should be ready to go for the season opener against Purdue on August 30th. What impresses scouts with his game is that he has one of the most underrated arms in college football and he also shows good mobility for someone 6-4 220. If Thorson can stay healthy, look for him to earn a solid day two draft grade.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
The most overrated quarterback heading into the year is Mississippi State signal-caller Nick Fitzgerald. While Fitzgerald shows outstanding toughness and competitive drive, I don’t see him as being anything more than a day three pick. This is due to his average arm strength and questionable decision-making, which sees him throw too many passes into tight coverage, not to mention his subpar accuracy, especially on the deep ball. He would make the most sense with a team that likes to run a lot of RPOs, as he shows nice mobility and did a good job in this type of system for the Bulldogs.
- A player who has a long ways to go before he is considered a legitimate pro prospect is Tanner Mangum of BYU. The biggest concern with Mangum is his lack of football intelligence, as he seems confused a large portion of the time when he is in the pocket. This confusion leads to him throwing picks, as he threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year. His lack of football IQ also makes him miss open receivers and leads to him throwing tougher passers then needed. Another concern with Mangum is his injury history, as he suffered an ankle injury in 2016 and had his season shortened last year with an achilles injury. If Mangum is able to beat out Beau Hoge and Joe Critchlow for the starting job, he’s going to need a tremendous year to be anything other than an undrafted free agent.
- The sleeper of this quarterback class will likely be Drew Anderson, who played last season at Buffalo where in only four games he proved to be a legitimate pro prospect. His best game of the season by far was against Western Michigan, where he set a MAC record for passing yards in a game with 597 yards. Despite putting up this outstanding production he likely would have been backing up Tyree Jackson in 2018, which led to him transferring to Murray State, where he’ll play his final season. As a prospect, Anderson shows the size, arm strength and overall potential to be a day three pick and likely the top FCS quarterback drafted.
- Speaking of transfers who will make an impact Tre Neal of Nebraska fits this bill as well. Neal spent his first couple of years playing for Scott Frost at Central Florida and joined Frost in Lincoln this August. In 2017, Neal started all 13 games for the Golden Knights and came away with 68 tackles and three interceptions. As a player Neal enters the year as a free agent as he misses a few too many tackles for my liking and has some questions on his speed. However, if he can improve on his open-field tackling skills and shows the ability to contribute on special teams he could hear his name in the sixth or seventh round of the draft.
- A running back who is getting first-round interest, but will probably end up going closer to the third round is Alabama’s, Damien Harris. While Harris is a powerful runner who does an excellent job of making yards after contact, he lacks the game-breaking skills to be a first-round pick. He lacks the blazing speed that teams prefer high in the draft, and is definitely more of a power back than an explosive back. Even if Harris is not a top 32 pick, look for him to be a back who averages around 700 yards a season, as he splits time with more of a scatback type runner.
- On the other hand, a running back who is flying under the radar is Jalin Moore of Appalachian State. Moore posts extremely impressive testing numbers according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, who has Moore running the forty-yard dash in 4.37 seconds, along with a 38.5-inch vertical jump and is able to bench press 390 pounds. On the field, he shows the skill-set that could allow him to develop into a potential starting running back in the NFL. These skills include the power to run inside, the speed to break the long run and even the hands to be a reliable target out of the backfield. One area he will have to improve on to make an impact in the NFL is his vision as he tends to miss running lanes at times.
DRAFT STOCK MARKET
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Francois took snaps for the first time last week since his season-ending knee injury last year against Alabama. Francois had high expectations going into the 2017 season as he led Florida State to 10-3 record. If the Seminole’s weak offensive line can hold up this year, we could see Francois be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.
Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
A very productive player that has been somewhat overlooked is Washington’s, Myles Gaskins. In his first three years at Washington, he has rushed for over 1,300 yards each season and has also been a reliable threat in the passing game. He should even be a more productive player this year, as the Huskies have a boatload of offensive talent coming back including quarterback Jake Browning. If Gaskin can add some weight before the draft, and hold up in pass protection he could be one of the top two senior running backs drafted.
Luke Gifford, OLB, Nebraska
A player who has impressed the new Nebraska coaching staff is outside linebacker, Luke Gifford. He has shown the ability to get after the passer in camp and should have no trouble beating his career high of 1.5 sacks which he posted last year. Gifford also looks back at full health after suffering a season-ending hip injury, which also caused him to miss spring ball.
Jacob Knipp, QB, Northern Colorado
One of the biggest sleepers in this draft class is quarterback Jacob Knipp of Northern Colorado. The main reason Knipp is not receiving much draft attention is that he has only played in six games over the previous two seasons due to shoulder injuries. In his limited playing time over these two years, he has shown plenty of pro potential as he started over current Vikings quarterback Kyle Sloter. As a prospect, he displays the ability to consistently deliver a catchable ball, make plays with his feet in the pocket, and has the size to play at the next level coming in at 6-4 218 pounds. Obviously, the biggest concern with him is his long injury history, and that he tends to flee the pocket quickly which leads to him trying to make something out of nothing too often.
Kelly Bryant, QB, Clemson
Bryant’s last college game of the 2017 season was by far his worst of the year. Against, Alabama in the College Football Playoffs he looked confused multiple times as he only completed 50% of his pass with two interceptions in a 24-6 loss. He also could lose his starting job this season if true freshman Trevor Lawrence lives up to the hype that led to him being the highest rated quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class.
Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern
As mentioned earlier in this article, Thorson is coming back from a severe knee injury, which has hurt his overall stock. On a recent Stick to Football podcast they mentioned how Thorson has not impressed them, which is surprising considering the skills he flashed on film last year. One more reason Thorson is rated low by some people is his poor decision making as he threw 12 interceptions on the year including five games where he threw two interceptions.
Jake Browning, QB, Washington
No senior healthy quarterback saw his draft stock fall as much last year as Washington’s Jake Browning. Despite having a higher completion percentage and less interceptions in 2017, Browning was unable to come close to duplicating the 43 touchdowns he threw in 2016 and he also saw his passing yardage decrease by almost 1,000 yards. In terms of his pro potential, he will likely go undrafted due to his lack of arm strength and ideal size.
OVERALL SENIOR QUARTERBACK RANKINGS
First Round Potential: Drew Lock, Missouri
Top Small School Prospect: Drew Anderson, Buffalo
Most Underrated: Drew Anderson, Buffalo
Most Overrated: Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Biggest Risk: Will Grier, West Virginia
Ready for a Breakout Season: Jacob Knipp, Northern Colorado
Underclassmen to Watch: Justin Herbert (Oregon), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), Shea Patterson (Michigan)
- Drew Lock, Missouri
- Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
- Will Grier, West Virginia
- Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
- Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
- Brett Rypien, Boise State
- Andrew Ford, UMass
- Drew Anderson, Murray State
- Kelly Bryant, Clemson
- Trace McSorley, Penn State
- Malik Rosier, Miami
- Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
- Jake Browning, Washington
- Easton Stick, North Dakota State
- Buckshot Calvert Liberty
- Kyle Kempt, Iowa State
- Devlin Hodges, Samford
- Lamar Raynard North Carolina A&T State
- Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
- Eli Dunne, UNI
- Jacob Knipp, Northern Colorado
- Tanner Mangum, BYU
- Wilton Speight, UCLA
- Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washingto
South Carolina running back Caleb Kinlaw will miss the season with a torn ACL, he will apply for a medical redshirt. … Michigan running back Karan Higdon has added 16 pounds of muscle this offseason. … Northern Iowa has the most FCS players currently in training camp with 11, Harvard came in second place with 10 players in the NFL. … Bowling Green defensive end David Konowalski will miss the season with a torn ACL. Konowalski led the team in sacks last season. … Former Texas DB John Booney has transferred to Texas Tech.
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