2017 NFL Draft – QB Preview (Part 1)

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

With the Chicago Bears playoff chances all but dead, I’ve decided to start my NFL draft preview a little early. It’s looking like Jay Cutler is in the midst of his last season in Chicago, which means the Bears will need a replacement next season. They probably shouldn’t have waited this long to find Cutler’s successor, but that’s where we are right now.

This year’s draft doesn’t have many sure-thing, no-doubt top quarterbacks, but it is a deep draft a the position with as many as ten players projected to be selected during the draft’s first two days. Most of them have significant flaws, but also plenty of physical talent and upside.

I’ve broken down my top eight QB prospects below in order of preference and will have the next eight posted later this week. It seems pretty certain that the Bears will use one of their first three picks on a quarterback, so one of the players below could very well be a Chicago Bear in 2017.

2017 Draft – QB Rankings

1.) Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame (6’4, 230)

Has the ideal height, sturdy frame, and throwing arm for an NFL QB and unlike most players on this list, plays in an offense with at least some resemblance to an NFL scheme. His experience taking some snaps under center gives Kizer a significant advantage over most of the other top QBs in this year’s draft, who may take a year just to adjust to playing anything other than the shotgun.

There is a lot more to like about Kizer besides his size and snaps in a pro-set offense, for one he has a cannon arm and the touch to drop deep passes in the bucket. The fact that he can do it under pressure from the pocket is another plus. Kizer uses his eyes well to look off safeties and has shown the ability to progress through multiple reads.

Kizer is near the top of the rankings in all the relevant categories among this year’s QB draft class and has the potential to get even better. His primary weak spot is his decision making, he already has 17 interceptions in just a season and a half as a starter. That could be chalked up to inexperience though and the rest of his profile is pretty darn impressive including 40 touchdown passes in the same time frame.

This year’s draft class isn’t overly impressive at quarterback but if I had to pick one player who has the potential to be a franchise QB, it’s definitely Kizer. He has the size, strength, footwork in the pocket, speed (4.74), and rocket arm to be the next Ben Roethlisberger or Cam Newton.

Projection: Top ten overall

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2.) Mitch Trubisky Jr, North Carolina (6’3, 220) 

The surprise breakout candidate of the 2017 QB class, despite only eight college starts so far. Trubisky has made the most of his starts so far with a 70%+ completion percentage, 22 touchdowns (four rushing) and only four interceptions.

The quality of defenses Trubinsky has faced haven’t been very impressive for the most part, but his decision making, accuracy, and touch on mid-to-deep range passes have been outstanding. Trubisky has played with surprising confidence given his lack of experience and had combined his cannon arm and 4.6 foot speed to become a dangerous weapon at QB. Trubisky has played as well as any college QB so far this season, but is still raw.

As impressive as his arm strength, athleticism, and accuracy have been so far, Trubisky could use a more experience. His footwork and overall mechanics are too inconsistent to succeed at the NFL level right now and he could use one more season at NC. Though if Trubisky declares for the draft, he’s shown enough potential for NFL teams to take a chance on him with an early round pick.

Trubisky’s size, arm strength, athleticism, and surprising confidence have rocketed him up draft boards and if he can continue to play well through bowl season and clean up some of his footwork issues, could end up as the first QB taken in the draft.

Projection: Mid first round

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3.) Deshaun Watson, Clemson (6’3, 215)

At times Watson looks like he should be the number one pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but at others looks like a borderline day two pick. He came into the 2016 season as almost a lock to be a top-five overall pick coming off an impressive performance against an Alabama defense with multiple starters about to be drafted (400+ passing yards, 4 TDs), but hasn’t improved as much as expected in 2016 and may have even regressed a bit.

Watson has plenty of tools that teams look for in a franchise QB, he’s tall enough (6’3), has a cannon arm with easy velocity, good footwork in the pocket, explosive running ability when he pulls the ball down, and flashes elite touch and accuracy on the full NFL route tree… but there are a few red flags that have become more prominent this season.

Few spread offense QBs have come out of college and adapted quickly to a pro-style offense. Watson hasn’t shown much ability to cycle through progressions from the pocket, his mid-to-deep ball accuracy has regressed this year, and his slight frame (205 pounds) and ability to stay healthy will be a concern to some teams.

Watson would have been a no-doubt top five pick had he come out after the 2015 season and has flashed similar traits this season, just not as consistently. He is a proven winner though who has stepped up in big games and has multiple comeback wins under his belt.

By all accounts, he’s a hard worker and film junkie. Watson’s leadership, natural ability, impressive arm strength, and occasional touch will likely convince a team to take a chance on him in the first round, but if he struggles the last few weeks of the season he could drop to the second or even third round.

Projection: Late 1st round

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4.) Luke Falk, Washington St (6’4, 205)  

Off to a great start this season with 73% accuracy, 24 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. Falk plays in a QB-friendly spread offense, but his lightning quick release, good size, ideal footwork in the pocket, willingness to step up in the pocket, and multiple fourth-quarter comebacks already have rocketed him up draft boards this season.

The offense Falk plays in is an extreme spread scheme which leads to even more questions than usual about his ability to adjust to a pro-style offense, but if Falk keeps his completion percentage above 70% he’s going to silence all but the staunchest doubters. There are a few other question marks in Falk’s profile, including less than ideal arm strength and questionable decision making. He attempts a few too may difficult throws, but his 70%+ completion percentage shows that he hits way more of those tough throws than he misses.

Falk’s work ethic and smarts also get high marks from his coaching staff. He turned down a scholarship offer from Ivy League Cornell, which reflects well on his mental capacity. He’s also a former walk-on, who is a good half season away from hearing his name called in the first two days of the draft.

Falk has an impressive resume so far and his best days may be ahead of him still. His toughness, courage to make throws in traffic, and gunslinger mentality could win over Bear fans quickly if he can adjust to a pro-scheme and keep his turnovers to a minimum.

Projection: Early 2nd round

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5.) Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma St (6’5, 240)

Prototype pocket QB who in the midst of an impressive season with 22 pasing TDs and just four interceptions. Rudolp has a clean, over-the top throwing motion that adds to his height and generates elite velocity on his throws. His touch and timing to lead receivers has been impressive as well. He’s shown zip, accuracy, and touch on throws to all three levels.

Rudolph benefits from OK St’s spread offense, but his size, arm, and underrated athleticism (4.85 40-time) will play in any scheme at the next level. Like most spread QBs though, he isn’t asked to go past his first couple progressions and his footwork and mechanics get wonky at times. Rudolph hasn’t shown much pocket awareness either and so far hasn’t often shown the ability to side-step in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield.

Right now Rudolph is a QB prospect with ideal size, arm strength, and touch on the deep ball, but he’s far from a finished product. It will take some time for Rudolph to move from a QB-friendly spread scheme to an infintiely more demanding NFL offense. He’ll have to learn to not only go through progressions, but use his eyes to fool defensive backs and his mechanics will need to improve. Despite some possible flaws, the upsdie is there for Rudolph to be a top-tier NFL QB eventually.

Projection: 2nd round

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6.) Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech (6’3, 220) 

My favorite sleeper quarterback prospect at this point of the season. Mahomes has possibly the best arm among the QBs on this list, which isn’t surprising as the son of a former MLB pitcher by the same name.

Mahomes plays in a gimmick offense which inflates his stats, but there is no doubt about his physical traits. He’s made some of the most impressive throws in CFB this season and has somehow escaped more sure sacks than any other QB I’ve watched this year. Mahomes combines a powerful arm with a frame thats tough to bring down, and 4.74 speed which has helped him rush for 10 TDs for far this year.

As impressive as some of Mahomes throws have been, he’s also misfired on what should be easy throws for a DI QB. His mechanics and footwork are sound, but for some reason his accruacy is all over the place. Maybe it’s a mental thing, but the fact is Mahomes misses way too many easy throws. He’s got a lot of work to do on his accuracy before he can be a viable NFL QB but the physical skills are there and then some.

Mahomes has natural feet in the pocket, similar to the way Araon Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger subtly move their feet in the pocket to avoid traffic. His natural awareness, footwork, and good speed have allowed him to extend plays. Mahomes can also throws surprisingly accurate lasers on the run, off-balance, and with guys hanging  on him. It makes it even more confounding when he overthrowns a wide-open receiver in the flat when there is no pass rush.

Like most spread QBs Mahomes needs experience under center, going through his progressions, and using his eyes to fool safeties, but he also has some serious consistency issues to straighten out. On the plus side, Mahomes is a unique talent, who could be a serious playmaker in the NFL if he can adapt to the pro game.

Mahomes could really use another year in college, but his upside and playmaking ability is so tempting that I doubt he will fall past day two.

Projection: 2nd-3rd round

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7.) Brad Kaaya, Miami (6’4, 215) 

It’s hard to know what Kaaya can really do, since his offensive line rarely gives him any time to throw. When they do, Kaaya looks like one of the best prospects out there with a quick release, solid footwork, and consistent accuracy on short-to-mid range throws. His accuracy on deep balls is disappointing, but he hits enough of them to think there is a chance to improve.

Kaaya also progresses through his reads better than most QBs in this class, has good size for the position, and enough speed to keep defenses honest. He’s started since day one of his freshman year and has been on the run ever since behind a series of suspect offensive lines, but has managed to be productive despite less than ideal conditions.

He lacks ideal arm strength, but can get plenty of zip on 20-30 yard throws and shows good touch and timing on most of the NFL route tree. His quick release, intermediate accuracy, and ability to progress quickly through his reads should make him a viable west coast QB early in his career.

Kaaya’s trouble under pressure could be an issue, especially if he ends up on the Bears, and he will need to add strength and weight to his 215 pound frame, but has enough natural talent and developed QB skill to be an effective NFL quarterback early in his career. His upside isn’t as high as Watson or Kizer, but he may be closer to being an effective QB than either.

Projection: 2nd-3rd round

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8.) Chad Kelly, Mississippi St (6’2, 224) 

Unfortunately a torn ligament in his knee ended Kelly’s season early, but he definitely made an impression while healthy. Kelly is the closest thing to Brett Favre I’ve seen in years, which is both a positive and a negative.

Kelly is a true gunslinger, who had moments of brilliance in games which led his team to big leads, but also plenty of terrible decisions which cost his team the lead late in a couple of games.

Physically, Kelly has good enough size and the arm to make every NFL throw with zip. He’s also got good foot speed (4.74) and isn’t afraid to run and even lower his shoulder to gain an extra couple yards if needed. It’s another trait that will be viewed both as a plus and minus depending on the team doing the grading.

He’s proven to be a winner (junior college national championship) and a leader, who his teammates rally around, but there are some serious character concerns as well (was dismissed from Clemson). Kelly is a loose cannon both on and off the field.

Besides concerns over his character and gunslinger mentality, Kelly also has inconsistent footwork and mechanics that will need to be cleaned up at the next level. His recent knee injury is obviously a concern as well, but it’s too early to know when he will be 100% healthy.

Kelly, Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly’s nephew, has a natural talent at QB that will entice a lot of NFL teams. His cannon arm, good speed, a wide frame that can break tackles like a running back, and a knack for completing ridiculous throws will be enough for some NFL team to take a chance on Kelly early. Of all the QBs on this list Kelly probably has the highest chance to bust, but also the best chance to be the next Brett Favre.

Projection: 3rd round

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