Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) drops back to pass against the Auburn Tigers during the second quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
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A new weekly segment will be tracking and analyzing the top quarterbacks in college football for the Cleveland Browns to look at in preparation for next April’s draft.
The Cleveland Browns just began the 2016 season, so it may be too early to start tracking potential draft choices. However, it isn’t too early to turn our attention toward the top quarterback talent around the country.
The Browns season-plan got a major shuffle when it was announced starting quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a serious shoulder injury and would be placed on IR with the earliest time to return being Week 10. The Browns signed Griffin this past March to a two-year contract. With the signing of Griffin, coach Hue Jackson and the front office virtually acquired their quarterback for the 2016 season. Or so they thought.
The Browns passed on drafting Carson Wentz this spring so they could give Griffin the starting opportunity. Griffin put together an impressive offseason in which he gained support of teammates and coaches. The Browns brass planned to give Griffin the season and let him play and see what they had in the former Rookie of the Year.
The ultimate plan was hoping Griffin could stay healthy and that he could develop under offensive-minded head coach Hue Jackson, becoming a capable starter for the organization for the future. However, with the injury plague striking Griffin again, in which he will miss an extended amount of time this season, it changes the Browns’ plans dramatically.
The question now revolves around whether the higher management of the Browns trusts Griffin to still be the quarterback of the future. Without the ability to prove himself for the full season and with yet again another injury it is unlikely the organization can put any trust whatsoever in Griffin’s ability to be a mainstay at the position.
It is a tough break for Griffin, who was excited and motivated to revitalize his career as a starting quarterback. The Browns simply can’t put stock in his comeback project and will need to address the quarterback position with their first draft pick in 2017, as the team must find a franchise quarterback for the future to try to finally bring stability to the position.
Luckily for the Browns, the 2017 quarterback class will be filled with many talented prospects worth giving a long look at. Every week I will break down film and analyze how these top prospects are performing on a weekly basis.
Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) passes against the Auburn Tigers during the first quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
1.) Deshaun Watson, Junior, Clemson, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, 21 years old
Deshaun Watson is considered by most draft experts to be the top quarterback in the 2017 draft class as of right now. The junior quarterback became the Tigers’ full-time starter a season ago when he led them to the National Championship Game, while receiving Heisman finalist honors.
Watson threw for over 4,000 yards and 35 passing touchdowns. A true dual-threat quarterback, Watson emerged on the college football scene by coming up just short in the title game against Alabama, when he had four touchdowns and 405 passing yards. Watson will have all eyes on him this season as Clemson will attempt to make its march back in the college football playoff and as he puts together his resume for NFL scouts and general managers.
Strengths: Watson has natural scrambling ability to avoid pressure. He is very accurate throwing on the run, especially when rolling to his throwing side (right). He has above average arm talent, capable of making all the necessary throws. He has dual-threat ability, displaying great quickness and vision when running read-option plays.
Needs Improvement: Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney uses a quick read offense which limits his ability to read defenses. Often plays are designed on quick hitters which gets the ball to his playmakers in space. This enables Watson time to work through progressions consistently.
Watson needs to work through progressions better post-snap instead of locking on to his number-one option, often Mike Williams a top receiver prospect respectively. The biggest area for improvement in 2016 goes beyond the stellar production he displayed a year ago. Watson must clean up his game from the pocket, showing poise and accuracy.
Early Comparison: Former NFL scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah compared Watson to Tennessee Titans quarterback, Marcus Mariota. “Watson has a similar skill set to Marcus Mariota, but Mariota is bigger, faster, stronger and more accurate,” Jeremiah wrote.
2016 Performance: Through the first two weeks of the season, Clemson has played down to their competition against two unranked opponents in Auburn and Troy, winning 19-13 and 30-24. Watson has made enough big plays late in each game to help his team sneak by. However, his play has been inconsistent and sporadic thus far. As the season progresses Watson must improve upon his ability to protect the football and prove he can make smart accurate decisions from the pocket if he wants to be the top quarterback prospect.
Watson has flashed the natural playmaking ability that scouts have been raving about since last season. In Week 1 against Auburn, Watson made a huge play to help his team pull out the victory late in the fourth quarter. On the play, Clemson works from a shotgun four wide receiver set, while the Auburn defense has six defenders on the line of scrimmage.
On the snap, Auburn blitzes seven, including their safety. This leaves man to man coverage on all four of Clemson’s wide outs. Clemson is outnumbered on the blitz. Watson picks up the blitz quickly getting into his five-step drop quicker. In the face of pressure Watson stays poised and throws a great touch pass on a post-corner route in the back left corner of the end-zone to Hunter Renfrow. This was an A+ play by Watson, for his blitz recognition, his poise in the pocket in the face of pressure, and pinpoint accuracy on a touch pass.
started 2 watch Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, D blitzes 7, recognizes man coverage, throws great touch pass w/ pressure pic.twitter.com/q0QUmbFmkD
This next play comes from last Saturday’s game against Troy. Working inside the pocket on this play, Watson stares down his primary read the entire time, he feels pressure and forces a pass into suffocating coverage. It was a bad decision and the outcome is in interception against a weaker opponent.
Watson still has work to do within the pocket. Stares down receiver, feels pressure & forces pass, bad decision =INT pic.twitter.com/A7zpjsBaDR
Sep 4, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) runs for a touchdown as Texas Longhorns safety Kevin Vaccaro (18) defends in the third quarter at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Texas won 50-47 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
2.) DeShone Kizer, RS Sophomore, Notre Dame, 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, 20 years old
DeShone Kizer is an Ohioan, as he attended Central Catholic High school in Toledo. Kizer, a four-star recruit out of high schoo,l was redshirted his true freshman year. Last season, as a redshirt freshman, Kizer started 11 games including the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State following starting quarterback Malik Zaire’s injury. Kizer completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2015.
Both quarterbacks strived in Brian Kelly’s offense and a quarterback competition began this spring for the Irish. Kelly could not choose a starter between both quarterbacks and entered Week 1 at Texas saying he would play both quarterbacks.
Kizer started the game and rotated a few series with Zaire. However, it was evident early in the game who the starter was. Kizer had command, control and looked like a complete prospect, throwing for 215 yards and five touchdowns in the overtime loss for the Irish. He also added 77 yards on the ground and rushed for one score.
Kizer is what scouts look for in a quarterback prospect. Lance Zierlein and Daniel Jeremiah from NFL Network reported earlier this week saying scouts already prefer Kizer over Watson saying, “Kizer has the size, arm strength and passing acumen that NFL teams look for.”
All Kizer needs to do is continue to put together solid game tape for NFL coaches and scouts as he only has 13 college starts under his belt heading into this weekend’s big matchup against Michigan State.
Strengths: Kizer checks off all the boxes for what scouts look for in an NFL quarterback. Kizer is big, strong and has the arm strength and passing accuracy from the pocket that NFL teams covet. He Has shown the skill set to make all the throws and appears to have the mindset to “win” from the pocket first.
For being 230 pounds, Kizer is very mobile and has shown the ability to scramble and run for yardage when plays break down. What I have liked most from Kizer in his young career is that he only runs at last resort or if it is a designed quarterback run. Kizer also appears to be advanced at reading defenses and working through progressions for only having a limited number of starts under his belt. He throws with great anticipation on timing routes, especially over the middle. He possesses advanced passing ability beyond his redshirt sophomore status. Kizer looks poised and comfortable from the pocket and that ultimately will lead him a long way.
Needs Improvement: Kizer doesn’t appear to have many flaws in the limited number of game tapes I have watched on him. However, what stands out is that he often throws with all arm. On many throws, he doesn’t incorporate his lower body and relies solely on his arm strength. This causes some throws to die before reaching their target. Another flaw is that he sometimes tries to release the ball so quickly and with high velocity it causes him to be inaccurate in the short and intermediate passing game. All the flaws I have seen with Kizer are mechanical issues and can be improved upon.
Early Comparison: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Both quarterbacks are similar in size at about 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, the ideal size for an NFL signal caller. Winston excels from beating defenses from the pocket with his arm. Much like Kizer has shown thus far in his career. Both quarterbacks are athletic enough to beat you with their legs but their primary focus is shredding secondaries in the pocket.
Winston burst onto the college football scene the season after E.J. Manuel was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills. Kizer, the subject of quarterback controversy this summer, has earned the Irish’s starting quarterback job which has already led to him becoming the top quarterback prospect in the country.
2016 Performance: Entering Week 1, no one really knew how the snaps would break down between Kizer and Zaire against Texas. As we know now, Kizer dazzled, scoring six total touchdowns in an epic overtime battle. Despite the loss, Kizer has rightfully won the Notre Dame starting quarterback job for the rest of the season.
This first play comes from the fourth quarter of the Texas game where Notre Dame trails by three. Texas shows as if they’re going to blitz seven but only bring five as two linebackers drop into coverage. Pressure gets to Kizer quickly, but he stays poised in the pocket. Kizer has his running back, Josh Adams, running a wheel out of the backfield and knows a linebacker will be on him one-on-one. Kizer realizes the man-to-man mismatch and delivers a great ball down the sideline for the touchdown. It was an NFL like throw by Kizer as he showcased the ability to throw a touch ball perfectly located for his receiver.
ND 🍀 Deshone Kizer, NFL type throw here, poise/stands in pocket with rush, sees RB 1on1 with LB, throws perfect ball pic.twitter.com/Vltj3dHg6O
This next play is an interception from last weekend’s win against Nevada. Kizer is taking a deep shot down the right sideline. The receiver has a step on the defender but Kizer underthrows it and is picked off by the trailing cornerback. This is not an arm strength issue but a mechanical issue. He made this throw with all arm. Despite using a small shuffle step before throwing, Kizer doesn’t have power in his legs when he made this throw. His is an arm throw and the result is an underthrown ball for an interception.
Kizer vs. Nev Doesn’t incorporate legs into making this deep throw. Not arm strength issue. Result underthrown pick pic.twitter.com/O2SSnmYtSD
Sep 10, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) throws a pass during the second half against Florida Atlantic Owls at Hard Rock Stadium. Miami won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
3.) Brad Kaaya, Junior, Miami FL, 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, 21 years old
Brad Kaaya, is entering his third season being the full-time starting quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes. Kaaya has thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and is considered to be a top prospect heading into the 2017 Draft.
4.) Chad Kelly, Senior, Ole Miss, 6-foot-2, 224 pounds, 22 years old
Kelly is the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Kelly originally attended Clemson University but was dismissed for conduct detrimental to the team. He went to East Mississippi Community College before finding an opening at Ole Miss. Kelly won the starting quarterback job in 2015 and is now entering his second season as the starter for the Rebels. Last season, he threw for 4,042 yards and 31 touchdowns.
NFL Network draft analyst Lance Zierlein compared Kelly to a “young Tony Romo.” Zierlein continued by saying, “Kelly’s senior season will go a long way toward determining his draft stock, but he has the skills to compete for a starting job in the NFL.
Other notable collegiate quarterbacks we will follow as the season goes on are,