2017 NFL Draft – QB Preview (Part 2)

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With the Chicago Bears playoff hopes all but over and Jay Cutler likely on his way out of Chicago before the 2017 season, I’ve decided to start my NFL draft coverage a little early this year. That way readers get a chance to watch some of these guys in action while there is still some time left in the CFB season.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Bears will have a high draft pick in the 2017 draft, which should at least give them a shot the top quarterbacks available. Even if Jay Cutler is still on the roster for some reason, the Bears need to draft a developmental quarterback this year. Luckily, it’s considered a deep draft for QBs with anywhere from eight to twelve players having a potential grade in the first three rounds of the draft.

I covered the top eight quarterbacks earlier this week and listed the next tier below in order of preference with a projected draft round and a brief scouting report on each player.

2017 NFL Draft: Quarterbacks

9.) Davis Webb, Cal (6’4, 230) 

Jared Goff’s failure to see the field for the Rams is going to hurt Davis’ draft status at least a little. Playing in the dame offense as Goff, Davis hasn’t been quite as good. His stats are impressive as are his physical traits, but the air raid offense Webb plays in doesn’t seem to translate well to the NFL.

His physical attributes are fairly similar to Goff’s, as is his production, and he has plenty of beautiful throws on tape. Davis has the arm to make all of the NFL throws and looks good doing it most of the time. His decision making needs some work and it will probably take him time to adjust to playing under center, but the skills are there for Webb to be a solid NFL QB eventually.

Davis has the size and all the tools to be a solid NFL quarterback, but whether he can run an NFL scheme is a major question mark. The fact that Goff hasn’t played yet is going to hurt Davis’ draft stock, but it may result in him being a steal for whatever NFL team is willing to take a chance on him in the middle rounds.

Projection: 3rd round

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10.) Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (6’2, 215)

The shortest QB on this list, but also one of the most productive with 35 passing TDs, just six interceptions, and an impressive 71% completion percentage. The former Texas Tech walk-on has had an awesome career at Oklahoma with 81 total touchdowns and only 13 interceptions in 23 games played.

Mayfield has drawn some comparisons to Johnny Manziel due to his ability to improvise and he’s done a ton of that in 2016 behind an offensive line that hasn’t performed up to expectations. He led his team to a BCS playoff game last season and finished fourth overall in the Heisman voting in his first season with the Sooners. Mayfield is on pace to make another appearance in the Heisman voting this year.

He may lack the ideal build for an NFL quarterback, but he has elite scrambling ability which allows him to extend plays, avoid pressure, and make some big plays. Despite his smallish stature, Mayfield has a good arm with excellent deep touch, unwavering confidence in his ability to fit the ball into tight windows. and can vary his arm angle to avoid too many deflected passes.

Mayfield’s scrambling ability can become a problem at times though as he relies on it a little too often and doesn’t let plays develop from the pocket. His arm is more than good enough in the college game, but would be considered just average at the NFL level.

His lack of size, tendency to ditch the pocket too soon, and lack of elite arm will keep Mayfield out of the top QB tier, but his ability to move the chains despite pressure, make things happen on the ground with his 4.7 speed, throw an impressive deep ball, and hit a high percentage of passes at all levels of the field will get Mayfield drafted at some point in the middle rounds.

Projection: 3rd-4th round

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11.) Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee (6’4, 220)

Has regressed a little since a stellar freshman debut where he led the Vols to a 4-1 finish in five starts. Dobbs showed promise as a sophomore as well with 26 total touchdowns and just five interceptions and came close to pulling off a few major upsets. Much was expected of Dobbs in 2016, but he hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed early in his college career.

Dobbs hasn’t been bad with 23 total touchdowns in nine games, but his interception total has over doubled with 11 already. The Vols play in a spread type offense, so Dobbs stats should be much better considering what other top QBs have done in similar systems.

Dobbs is a lanky QB but with enough strength to break tackles in the pocket or on the move. He has plenty of arm strength, his hard spiral is a thing of beauty, and elite speed (4.67) to make things happen on the run. At times Dobbs has shown the ability to progress through reads, look off safeties, and deliver the ball with zip to a place that only his receiver can get it. The problem is that he’s been doing that less in 2016 than he did earlier in his career with the Vols.

All the tools are there for Dobbs to become a legitimate NFL QB, but his inconsistent accuracy this year and a slight hitch in his delivery make him a less than ideal prospect. He’s also an aerospace engineer which reflects well on his mental capacity.

Dobbs reminds me a bit of Jacoby Brissett last year, a prospect with all the tools but needing refinement and more consistent accuracy before he can become a successful NFL quarterback.

Projection: 3rd-4th round

12.) Brady Gustafson, Montana (6’7, 230)

The next Carson Wentz? Gustafson has a bit in common with Wentz in that they are both FCS quarterbacks from winning programs, who didn’t start until late in their college career, and have ideal size, arm strength, and athleticism.

Gustafson has a great arm with an over-the-top release and easy power. He can also move well for his size and looks faster than his timed 40-speed (4.87). At times he looks like a first round pick and at others looks so raw that he’s barely draftable. Gustafson is still a bit awkward physically and his footwork fails him too often, but the talent is there for him to become a quality NFL quarterback.

Gustafson’s accuracy was a legitimate problem during 2015 with a sub 60% completion percentage generally caused by bad footwork and a tendency to panic under pressure. In 2016 Gustafson is up to 67% accuracy and has thrown 24 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions. He’s made significant improvements in his footwork, decision-making  and ability to handle pressure.

He’s still not asked to make protection calls, change routes, or call the plays, but Gustafson has added some much-needed polish to his game this season and combined with his natural physical tools looks like a lock to be an early-to-mid round pick in the 2017 draft.

Projection: 3rd-4th round

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13.) Seth Russel, Baylor (6’3, 220)

A midseason neck injury ended a very impressive 2015 for Russell (35 TD / 6 INTs) but he has played well for the most part so far in 2016 with 27 total TDs and six INTs. In 15 games as a starter, Russell has accounted for 62 touchdowns and just under 5,000 yards from scrimmage.

Baylor’s gimmick offense has a lot to do with Russell’s prodigious production, but he has a lot of traits that should interest NFL teams. Russell has enough arm to make all the throws in the NFL route tree, has 4.6 speed, natural running skills, and pretty good accuracy despite a completion percentage under 60%.

Russell may have the size and the physical tools necessary to be an NFL quarterback, but his completion percentage should be much higher in a QB-friendly offense like Baylor’s. As a frame of reference, Bryce Petty was over 62% in both his seasons as a starter for Bears. Russell misses on too many relatively easy throws due to inconsistent mechanics and while he looks good throwing on the run the results aren’t as productive as they should be.

The accuracy problems are an issue, but the main knock on Russell is his injury history. Neck problems are nothing to take lightly and he’s suffered a bunch of minor knocks as well. If Russell proves that he can stay healthy for awhile, he has the size, arm strength, and natural QB ability to be a day two pick.

UPDATE: Russell left today’s game with an injury and is expected to be done for the season (11/12)

Projection: 4th-5th round

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14.) Wilton Speight, Michigan (6’6, 243)

The red-shirt sophomore came out of nowhere this year to win the Wolverines starting job and has led them to an undefeated season so far. Speight has thrown for 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions and completed 64.5% of his passes.

Speight has been a solid game manager so far, but has flashed more than that, showing the ability to stretch the field with a powerful arm and surprising touch on his deep ball. He has ideal size which allows him to see over the line with easy arm strength to make all of the throws. If Speight can keep up the accuracy on deep passes, it’s going to make Michigan’s offense much more dynamic and open things up for the run.

His first few games defenses were stacking the box against the run, but Speight has proven he can move the ball through the air and has been so impressive that HC Jim Harbaugh has already compared him to a young Andrew Luck. Speight doesn’t have enough experience to put him in the top tier of draftable QBs yet, but he’s getting there. If he finishes the season strong and leads the Wolverines to a playoff birth, Speight could move into the first two days of the draft.

Projection: 4th-5h round

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15.) Cooper Rush, Central Michigan (6’3, 230)

It might seem weird to see a QB on this list from a two win MAC team, but Rush has been creeping up draft boards for the last two years. He’s accounted for 50 TDs against 23 INTs over the last two seasons, despite poor line play and limited weapons around him.

Rush has just average NFL size, but a thick frame that makes him tough to bring down in the pocket, good enough footwork to avoid pass rushers, and enough speed (4.76) to gain yards outside the pocket.

He’s ability to avoid trouble in the pocket, strength to shrug off tacklers, and enough awareness to keep his eyes downfield under pressure might be Rush’s best traits. Pro Football Focus graded Rush as a top five passer under pressure in 2015 and that skill might give him an edge over most other late round QB prospects.

Rush’s arm is just good (not great), but he’s accurate and his mechanics are sound due to countless hours spent working on his game. His coaches and teammates rave about his work ethic, relentless film study, and his natural smarts. Rush has also played plenty of snaps under center which will give him an edge over a draft class over saturated with spread QBs.

He’s far from a perfect prospect or he wouldn’t be this far down the list, regardless of his conference or team’s record. Rush’s decision making is worse than it should be after three years as a starter and supposedly extensive film study. He is indecisive at times, not being able to decide between staying in the pocket and scrambling. Rush makes too many bad throws for his experience level.

Despite some bad decision making and sub-par conference, there is a lot to like about Rush. His arm is good enough to make all but the toughest NFL throws, he’s more accurate than most QBs on this list, has experience taking snaps under center, has above-average smarts and work ethic, and handles pressure extremely well. There is more than enough talent and drive there for Rush to be selected early on day three.

Projection: 4th-5th round

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16.) Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati (6’4, 215) 

Former 5-star recruit who might have been an early round pick two years ago, but his career has been waylaid by injuries and off-field problems. He even left the team for awhile and was the third string QB for the Bearcats at the start of the 2016 season. Kiel eventually saw the field a couple of weeks ago and is off to a good start with six TDs and just one interception.

Kiel hasn’t played enough this season to update his scouting report, so here is what I had to say about Kiel back before 2015’s bowl season:

2015 Scouting report – Will most likely stay in school for at least another season, but Kiel could be tempted to come out due to multiple draft sites ranking Kiel as the 3rd best QB prospect in the 2015 draft after Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. Kiel, the former #1 ranked high school QB, has all the physical traits teams look for; He’s tall, has a cannon arm, maybe the quickest release in the draft, can run if needed, and his footwork and mechanics are surprisingly polished for a guy with just one year of starting experience.

There are some question marks with Kiel though; I mentioned the small sample size already, he has missed time this year with relatively minor injuries like cramps and bruised ribs, and the Bearcats are Kiel’s 4th college team already which inevitably will lead to questions about his mental toughness.

Kiel will have a shot to be a first-round pick if he plays well in 2016, but a favorable grade in the the 2015 draft might be too tempting for Kiel to pass up. Virginia Tech’s talented secondary with a couple NFL prospects (Military Bowl opponent) will be a great test for Kiel.

Projection: 5th-6th Round 

Honorable mention: J.T. Barrett, Ohio St; C.J Beathard, Iowa; Patrick Towles, Boston College; Riley Ferguson, Memphis; Mitch Leidner, Minnesota; Sefo Liufao, Colorado

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