By Tom Di Benedetto

Yes folks, the time has indeed come for a deep dive into this year’s quarterback draft class. It is admittedly a tad early, and I look forward to making some adjustments to these evaluations after bowl season, pro days and the combine. However it is becoming increasingly apparent that a relatively unknown and irrelevant figure in terms of the national stage is on track to be the top pick for the second straight season.

I was early on the Jared Goff train last year after becoming a fan during his standout sophomore season, but he remained basically unknown until draft preparation ramped up after the season. I believed he was the top QB in the class (a point I’m now ready to concede) and he did end up going first overall.

If Jared Goff flew under the radar, North Carolina junior Mitch Trubisky is flat out off of it. And yet a report this week from Jason La Canfora added some real fuel to speculation that the Browns are targeting Trubisky for the number one overall pick. If you’re just seeing this name for the first time now, or are largely unfamiliar with his resume, here are some thoughts on Trubisky and the other top QB prospects in the class:

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina – Jr. (6’3” 280 lbs)

A first-time starter this season, Trubisky has put together a highly efficient junior campaign, throwing 28 TDs to only 4 INTs with a very impressive 68.9 completion percentage. He has good size and very good athleticism, displaying effectiveness as runner on multiple occasions. He has above average but not overwhelming arm strength, although touch and accuracy are definite strengths. He had a true stinker against Virginia Tech but standout performances versus Pittsburgh and at Florida State and Miami.

In terms of pro-readiness, Trubisky rates very well. He’s been relied on to carry the offense and make pro-style throws and reads on multi-route downfield plays. He has also competed well in late-game and come-from-behind situations, although he hasn’t demonstrated a killer instinct in closing games. In terms of a pro comparison, he reminds me of a better, more ready Blake Bortles (but don’t let that turn you off). Finally, his reliance on outstanding wide receiver Ryan Switzer could be seen as a plus or a negative. He is certainly able to take advantage of a star teammate, but his ability to maintain his efficiency and production without such a crutch is a reasonable question.

Across the board, the Ohio native will probably check the most boxes on the pro scouting charts out of the 2017 QBs. Due to Trubisky’s lack of starting experience and big-game pedigree, I would grade him out to be a late-first early-second round prospect in most draft years. However, due to circumstances I will describe a little bit later on, this traditional valuation will likely be irrelevant this year. More important will be how teams rank him compared to the two other top quarterbacks in the class. I currently have him as the number two QB coming out.

DeShaun Watson, Clemson – Jr. (6′ 3” 215 lbs)

For the second straight season, DeShaun Watson is putting up incredibly impressive numbers across the board. He is a proven winner, boasting a sterling 29-3 record as the Clemson starter. Watson’s 34 TD/14 INT/67.6 comp percentage this year is an astonishing mirror of his 35/13/67.8 percent line from a year ago. He has been a very consistent player over the last two years and so his traits have been pretty easy to spot.

The first thing the pro scouts will point to is accuracy, which is his main weakness (and likely the most important NFL QB trait), and occasional lapses in concentration leading to some rare but critical turnovers. I think that his accuracy issues are a bit overstated, although his high completion percentage is due in large part to an offense heavy in bubble screens and quick passes. He also doesn’t have an imposing frame, although he is not a slight as Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford.

For me, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses here. Watson’s arm strength sneaks up on you and he has demonstrated on multiple occasions an ability to see and make big time downfield throws. He is also an excellent athlete and competitor with obvious running talent. He has a knack for upping his play in critical situations and bouncing back from errors. Most encouraging is his leadership, experience and football smarts, which bring to mind Cam Newton and Dak Prescott.

His talent level coming out is squarely between these two NFL starters, which is why I would grade Watson in the same late-first early-second round range as I have Trubisky. But due to intangibles, many of which remain untested in the case of Trubisky, I give the Clemson QB the overall nod and have him as the top QB prospect in this class. A quick disclaimer: this is an incredibly unpopular opinion among the pro scouts. In fact, the rumor mill goes so far as to assert that no NFL team has a first round grade on him. He stands as a potential steal in the early second round.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame – Jr. (6’4” 230 lbs)

DeShone Kizer is the big wild card out of the top prospects in this class. Many mockers have had Kizer projected as high as number one overall at multiple points this season and it’s all due to his physical talent. Kizer has a huge arm, good size and is an excellent runner whose frame and running style will likely translate well to the NFL.

Kizer has flashed at a level that Watson and Trubisky haven’t, but these flashes have been too rare, and consistency and accuracy are issues. While he is capable of demonstrating excellent touch from the pocket at times, he completed only 58.7 percent of his passes this season and had a couple of appalling performances against NC State (okay it was a hurricane) and Stanford. He was also very mediocre in his two most recent tests versus Virginia Tech and USC. The final result of these struggles is an ugly 4-8 record this year.

For my tastes, Kizer is a big gamble in the early first round. His potential is certainly legitimate though, and arms like his don’t exactly grow on trees. If he can improve his consistency on the things he does well there is no doubt that he can be a productive pro quarterback. This is a big if though, and may largely depend on the supporting cast of the team that drafts him. I will admit I’m not all that familiar with his personality and leadership ability, but based on what I’ve seen I would grade him as a second round talent and the third best of the top three prospects.

Rest of the Field

After this, the class of 2017 falls off a cliff. Pat Mahomes of Texas Tech, Davis Webb of Cal, Luke Falk of Washington State and Brad Kaaya of Miami (who I don’t even see as a draftable talent) trail miles behind the top three. Mahomes currently has the most interest from pro scouts, but I honestly can’t give any of them a grade higher than the fourth round at this point.

This drop off is extremely relevant as the QB demand in this draft is expected to once again be extremely high. The Browns, Niners, Bears and Jets will likely own 5 of the first 13 picks and are all rumored to be at least investigating selecting a quarterback in the first round. If the Browns do end up reaching for Trubisky at number one, the QB demand will only increase, as will the likelihood that the other two top prospects will be snatched up before the halfway point of round one, or within the first few picks of round two.

A final concluding note: I do think the top of the ’17 class is a step beneath the top of last year’s class (Goff/Wentz), who I considered traditional mid-first talents. But just like this year, the QB demand was extremely high at the top of the draft in 2016, causing both QBs to fly off the board in the first two picks. A very similar situation looks primed to repeat itself in the 2017 draft, but as we all know, there is still plenty of time left in the evaluation process.

Power 7

  1. Matt Ryan
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Derek Carr
  4. Matthew Stafford
  5. Drew Brees
  6. Ben Roethlisberger
  7. Marcus Mariota

Knocking on 7s Door: Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Aaron Rodgers


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