The NFL combine marks the beginning of draft season the same way the winter solstice marks the end of fall. While draft prospects like Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Alabama’s Quinnen Williams can garner hype about going no. 1 overall, no position solicits as much attention, scrutiny, or unwarranted hope as quarterback. This year’s quarterback class is not as famous or prolific as last year’s, which saw two Heisman-winning quarterbacks bookend the first round. Nor does this year’s draft have a surefire NFL All-Pro-caliber QB on the level of 2020 and 2021, which will likely feature Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, respectively. Yet this year’s group has plenty of stars and worthy names to keep tabs on, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is projecting four quarterbacks to go in the first round. So with draft season officially upon us (the NFL’s winter is here!), let’s look at the players who will be scrutinized as much as anyone in the coming months: the QBs of the 2019 draft class.
The Potential First-Rounders
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Path to the draft in one sentence: Drafted by the Oakland Athletics as an outfielder, signed a $4.66 million contract that somehow allowed him to keep playing college football, replaced Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and promptly won the Heisman Trophy, gave a hilariously indecisive interview with Dan Patrick, and then committed to working to be an NFL quarterback and announced he’d attend the NFL combine instead of spring training.
What he can do:
- He has a big arm and he’s accurate, too (you’ll hear it a lot, but it’s worth remembering with each deep throw—he was an outfielder!). He was the most accurate downfield passer of all the quarterbacks in this year’s class, according to Sports Info Solutions.
- He led the nation in yards per attempt (11.6) and was third in touchdowns (42), and his 199.2 passer-efficiency rating is the second-highest single-season mark for a quarterback in college football history.
- He extends plays with his legs and throws accurately on the run. He gets to top speed quickly, which allows him to carve defenses that sleep on his rushing ability.
The knock: “I think certainly he’s the most intriguing, most fascinating player right now, in the history of the NFL draft,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said earlier this month. Because the Heisman trophy winner could have also been a professional baseball player, right? Nope! It’s because he’s short. “We have never seen a player 5’9”, 5’10” at the quarterback position go in the first round, let alone the top 10 to top 15,” Kiper said. “The GM who takes him will be doing something no other GM in the history of the NFL has ever done.”
There’s some debate about Murray’s actual height (is he 5-foot-10 the way Dustin Pedroia is listed at 5-foot-9 but says he’s 5-foot-8?). We’ll find out at the combine, but no matter what he measures out as, we’ll be hearing about his height as long as he’s relevant.
Fun fact: Wherever Murray ends up in 2019, remember his alternative was not playing for the Oakland A’s in 2019, but likely the A’s Single-A affiliate, the Beloit Snapping Turtles.
Completely unfounded rumor about his future: Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said he’d take Murray no. 1 overall a lifetime ago, when he was the coach of Texas Tech in October. That coincidence may have been a prophecy, as Murray hired the same agent that represents Kingsbury. It’s unlikely the Cardinals would trade Josh Rosen and draft Murray, but it’s in play.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Path to the draft in one sentence: Grew up wanting to be the quarterback for Ohio State, redshirted there in 2016, won a QB competition in 2018, led the nation in passing touchdowns (50), which broke Drew Brees’s single-season Big Ten record (impressive); also broke Curtis Painter’s Big Ten record for passing yards (less impressive).
What he can do:
- Haskins may have the highest conceptual understanding of the game among all the draft prospects this year. He recognizes coverages, and is poised under pressure.
- Marries his understanding of the game with the accuracy to make hard throws.
- Mobile enough to shake defenders in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, like Carson Wentz.
The knock: Haskins started at Ohio State for just one season, so he’s yet to prove he can perform well for an extended stretch of time. He’d benefit from another year to develop, but his skill set is pretty well-rounded.
Fun fact: His nickname is Simba, which has become his Twitter and Instagram handles, and he really leans into it. It’s a bit bold to take on a nickname implying you’re a future king, but I respect it.
Completely unfounded rumor about his future: He grew up a big Giants fan and tweeted (and deleted) a photo of himself Photoshopped into a Giants uniform in January. The Giants have the sixth pick in the draft and their current starting quarterback, Eli Manning, has an arm made of pipe cleaners and congealed Elmer’s Glue, so New York might be in the market.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Path to the draft in one sentence: Drew Lock, the most Madden auto-generated name in the history of Madden auto-generated names, was a four-year starter at Mizzou and led the nation in touchdowns in 2017 while finishing fourth in yards per attempt, but his stats dipped sharply in 2018.
What he can do:
- Throw the ball very far—not Josh Allen–far, but pretty far nonetheless.
- Can avoid the pass rush and improvise well under duress.
- Confident passer who will take risks and isn’t afraid of tight windows.
The knock: His play (not personality) is often compared to Jay Cutler, which is a scout’s way of saying he has a big arm but does dumb shit sometimes.
not a great play by drew lock pic.twitter.com/wzdhb6YYEF— charles mcdonald (lakers 29-30) (@FourVerts) February 13, 2019
The fear is that he hasn’t learned the position at a high level because he could rely on his arm in high school and college.
I still have five more games to chart for Drew Lock, yet 8 of 9 interceptions I've logged can be attributed to misreading the defense and struggling with leverage. The mental side of his game needs considerably tuning and improvement. pic.twitter.com/rMBXRFXANA— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) May 31, 2018
Fun fact: Texas coach Tom Herman once went viral for mocking a Drew Lock touchdown celebration during a game Texas won in December 2017.
Completely unfounded rumor about his future: The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla wrote in January that, “The worst-kept secret at the Senior Bowl: John Elway is smitten with Lock.” The Broncos have since traded for Joe Flacco, but Flacco is 34 and more of a stopgap than a long-term option.
Daniel Jones, Duke
Path to the draft in one sentence: A two-star recruit in high school who walked on at Duke, started three years for a team that went 17-19 while he was under center, and won the MVP of the Senior Bowl.
What he can do:
- Quick and decisive decision-maker.
- Mobile enough to throw on the run and is a rushing threat.
The knock: He’s not always accurate, and that problem often isn’t fixable. That’s a major problem when playing in the ACC, nevermind the NFC East.
Fun fact: Jones ran a modern offense at Duke under head coach David Cutcliffe, who was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee and recruited Eli Manning to Ole Miss. So in other words, Daniel Jones is Peyton Manning.
Completely unfounded rumor about his future: He was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana and he once watched Eli Manning work out with his Giants receivers at Duke last summer, so he’s basically already a Giant.
Will Grier, West Virginia
Path to the draft in one sentence: Suspended for part of 2015 while at Florida for violating NCAA rules on PEDs, transferred to West Virginia, got married, had a baby, started two years for the Mountaineers, and was fourth in yards per attempt and fifth in passing touchdowns in 2018.
What he can do:
- Throws with touch, good arm strength for short and intermediate distances.
- Anticipates when receivers will be open.
The knock: He’s guaranteed to be grilled about his PED suspension during the infamously inquisitive interviews at the combine (fair or not, they’ll also likely press into his competitiveness after he skipped his final bowl game with WVU). Scouts will also debate how much of his success stemmed from operating the well-oiled West Virginia offense.
Fun fact: Football is the least interesting part of his journey as a draft prospect. His three younger siblings are all Instagram influencers with more than 16 million combined followers (Nash has the most with 9.9 million, Hayes has 5.5 million and was the second-youngest contestant on Dancing with the Stars, and 9-year-old Skylynn has 1 million). He officially has a (literally) in-house marketing team to boost his stock, which will be far more exciting to watch than his Pro Day. His biggest question might be off the field after he was suspended for all of 2015 for violating the NCAA’s rules on performance enhancing drugs with what Grier said was an over-the-counter medication.
The Mid-round Prospects Worth Knowing
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
A 6-foot-7, 245-pound bowling ball who can throw a country mile and carry Kyler Murray on his shoulders like a small child.
By far the most fun quarterback a team can draft in the middle rounds.
Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson throwing on the move pic.twitter.com/Y5t3MNcazC— Bills QB Watch (@BillsQBwatch) October 6, 2018
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Rypien replaced the next QB on this list, Ryan Finley, after Finley broke his ankle in 2015, and Rypien started for Boise for the rest of the year as a true freshman and the next three seasons. He’s accurate, and he’s a good thrower when his feet are set. However, he needs to play in the right system.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
After six years of college football, three degrees, and two colleges after transferring from Boise State, Finley is in the draft. Some see him as a diamond in the rough who has followed a similar-ish path to Russell Wilson. But he turned 24 in December, and he’s played a lot of football but still doesn’t see the field or process defenses particularly well, and he doesn’t have great arm strength either.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham entered 2018 with a chance to propel himself into the first round, but his draft stock fell throughout the year as he threw just 18 touchdowns in 13 games and Auburn fell out of the top 10 in the AP poll, out of the top 25, and then out of the rankings altogether.
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Shurmur is a three-year starter that is interesting because of his last name: He’s the son of Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. It’s unlikely a team drafts Shurmur because of his dad, though favoritism and blatant favor-trading by drafting family members is all the rage in the late rounds of the MLB draft (the NBA draft, on the other hand, can be pretty cold). If he ends up on a team that the Giants play in 2019, or even in the NFC East (nevermind the Giants themselves), it will be a fun subplot.