I’m not an NFL draft expert. I’m just a person who watches a lot of college football and forms opinions on various quarterback prospects. While draft analysts break down combine results and grind hours of film, I mainly sit back and yell, “Hey, that player was good!” or “Hey, that player was bad!”
This line of analysis has proved stunningly accurate. Here are some of my recent documented draft takes:
2014: Excuse me: Blake Bortles?
2016: Excuse me: Christian Hackenberg???
2017: Deshaun Watson is better than Mitch Trubisky.
2018: Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson are both really good.
I was also extremely high on Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes II when both were coming out of college, but never got those takes on paper before their names were called on draft night. To prevent this from ever happening again, I’ve decided to write an annual college football fan’s guide to the NFL draft’s QBs. I have three main takeaways on the crop in 2019.
Kyler Murray Is an Unprecedented Kind of QB1
I thought my NFL Teams Should Run the Air Raid take was bold when I wrote about it last August—and then the Arizona Cardinals went and hired Kliff Kingsbury, an Air Raid disciple with a sub-.500 record in his six years as the head coach at Texas Tech. For the first time ever, a pro team had adopted a more college-centric plan than I had imagined.
My next supposed bold take was that Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray should be the top pick in the 2019 draft. But now the Cardinals have the no. 1 overall selection Thursday night, and once again they seem prepared to out-bold me. A consensus has formed that they will draft Murray despite having taken quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round just last year.
There is no accurate player comparison for Murray. He is the first 5-foot-10 speedster/baseball prodigy/Heisman Trophy winner to set the FBS record for yards per passing attempt (11.6) and garner serious consideration as a first-round quarterback. I feel comfortable saying that he’ll also be the last. Normally, any QB prospects who are different scare away NFL teams, to the point that the league’s proclivity for cookie-cutter quarterbacks has become the subject of parody. (Just ask John Elway.) But Murray’s distinctiveness is not a weakness. It’s a sign that he’s a special player who teams should be thrilled to build their offense around.
Murray’s college career was strange. Ranked as a consensus five-star recruit coming out of Allen High School, he signed with Texas A&M in February 2015 in spite of the fact that the Aggies had landed a five-star quarterback in Kyle Allen only a year earlier. A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin split snaps between the two that season and alienated both, with Allen ultimately transferring to Houston (and later winding up on the Carolina Panthers) and Murray going to Oklahoma, where he redshirted in 2016 before riding the bench behind Sooners starter Baker Mayfield. This was understandable. After all, Mayfield set the all-time record for yards per attempt and passer rating during his senior season at Oklahoma before being taken by the Cleveland Browns with the no. 1 pick in last year’s NFL draft.
What was less explainable was the Oakland A’s taking Murray, who also played baseball for the Sooners, in the first round of the 2018 MLB draft and then allowing him to fulfill his lifelong dream of starting at quarterback for a major college football program anyway. (For the life of me, I will never understand why the A’s agreed to this despite having all the leverage when negotiating with Murray.) In that one year the A’s gave him, Murray broke Mayfield’s records for yards per attempt and passer rating. (Murray fell just short of setting the all-time record for passer rating, because Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa had a higher figure last season.) From an efficiency perspective, Mayfield’s 2017 campaign was the greatest passing season of all time, which is why I wrote a column entitled “Baker Mayfield Should Be the Top Pick in the 2018 Draft.” And Murray’s 2018 college season was better.
Have you ever seen a better throw than this? An on-the-run, 50-yard flick of the wrist to hit a decently defended receiver in stride?
What. A. Throw.— ESPN (@espn) December 30, 2018
Kyler Murray and Oklahoma aren't done yet! pic.twitter.com/BdfBe4BLCV
And that throw wouldn’t have been possible without Murray’s incredible running ability. He can also run without throwing:
Murray is the best passer in this draft and the best running quarterback in this draft. Those skills aren’t mutually exclusive. He shouldn’t be classified as a running QB who happens to be decent at throwing, nor should he be characterized as a passer with above-average speed. He’s an unprecedented playmaker, and his two exceptional skills enhance—not detract from—each other. (Murray is also on track to be the shortest quarterback ever selected in the first round. Not that it matters. Historical analysis shows that QB height doesn’t matter as much as teams think it does, if it matters at all.)
That Murray is being seriously considered as the no. 1 pick is yet another piece of evidence that NFL offenses are interested in creating new problems for opposing defenses, rather than trying to pose familiar problems with increasingly tall players. I would thank the Cardinals for their readership, but they seem committed to stronger takes than those that I could conjure.
I Don’t Get the Daniel Jones Hype
Every year there’s at least one quarterback prospect who I never think of as a potential NFL starter until draft season comes along. And then BLAM! I get rocked in the face by analysts raving about this perfectly unremarkable QB as a projected first-rounder. I should be used to this phenomenon by now, but I’m not.
This year that prospect is Daniel Jones, a solidly below-average passer who played on some solidly above-average Duke teams. He was fine! But then I look up and people are saying he reminds them of Peyton Manning and BLAM! Blasted by the draft takes again. Who knew Zion Williamson was Duke’s second-best pro prospect in 2019? At this point, Jones is primarily being mocked as a first-rounder, sometimes as high as no. 5 overall.
There’s nothing reasonable to base this on. SB Nation football analytics expert Bill Connelly has identified a few key stats that predict a QB’s NFL ceiling. Jones is egregiously bad in all of them. Of 22 quarterbacks featured in mock drafts this year, Jones ranks dead last in marginal efficiency and yards per attempt, 21st in adjusted net yards per attempt, and 20th in passer rating and success rate.
This is a guy who completed 50.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions in his three career starts against Virginia. Who never averaged 7.0 yards per attempt over a single college season. Connelly notes that no recent quarterback prospect has managed to improve on their college yards-per-attempt average during their first four seasons in the pros. So we should expect Jones to finish, at best, 25th in yards per attempt in his NFL career.
I understand where the Manning comparisons come from. Manning was 6-foot-5; Jones is 6-foot-5. Manning’s quarterbacks coach in college was David Cutcliffe; Cutcliffe has been Duke’s head coach since 2008. But take a step back. This is like getting hyped about Kyle Orton because he was the Purdue quarterback right after Drew Brees. I guess the difference there is that Orton had way better college stats than Jones does.
Where’s the Love for Tyree Jackson?
My favorite college player to watch last season was Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson, a massive human trebuchet who spent his weeknights obliterating the Mid-American Conference. The MAC plays its conference games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays—a true bummer for fans of the team, who are asked to abandon their weeknight routines to spend hours sitting outdoors in November, but a boon for those of us interested in watching under-the-radar quarterback prospects. After all, Jackson used those Tuesdays and Wednesdays to tear his MAC opponents limb from limb, going 10-2 in the regular season and coming a quarter shy of winning the league championship. (Don’t ask about that last quarter.)
Jackson might just be the most physically impressive quarterback prospect I’ve ever seen. He stands 6-foot-7, 249 pounds—2 inches taller and 24 pounds heavier than any other QB at the 2019 combine. And while many passers of that size are trees in the pocket, Jackson can scoot. He clocked a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, two-hundredths of a second shy of the fastest quarterback’s time in Indianapolis, and registered the highest vertical leap and longest broad jump of any QB in attendance. We often hear about quarterbacks being shifted to wide receiver or tight end. With Jackson’s size, strength, and explosiveness, he might be a better fit at defensive end.
So why is he a quarterback? Well, just look at him throw:
Tyree Jackson bomb ➡️ Wide open Anthony Johnson pic.twitter.com/oR5Xo4j28H— AcrossTheQuadSports (@AcrossTheQuad) October 31, 2018
All three of the above passes traveled at least 50 yards on the fly. None of the three looked like they were particularly difficult for Jackson to make. Quarterbacks with strong arms are regularly said to possess “cannons”; if that’s the case, Jackson has an ICBM launcher. The problem is that Jackson’s ICBMs frequently end up on the wrong continent. Jackson completed just 55.3 percent of his passes and threw 12 interceptions in 2018.
You don’t have to look far for an apt NFL comparison for Jackson—literally, it’s about 20 miles from where Jackson went to college. Bills quarterback Josh Allen was last spring’s tall, strong, fast, and wildly inaccurate QB. I’ve been making this comparison for about a year now, and I’ve recently been joined by SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner. Jackson seems like Allen on steroids: He’s taller, heavier, and faster. Anecdotally, it seems as if Jackson can chuck the ball farther. He also had worse statistics than Allen’s famously bad college statistics, posting a lower completion percentage, fewer yards per attempt, and a lower touchdown rate. You’ll also notice that all three of the clips above were passes to Anthony Johnson, who will also be drafted this week. Allen didn’t play with any NFL-bound receivers in college.
I wouldn’t draft Tyree Jackson. While physically gifted quarterbacks might be fun to watch, I believe that accuracy is much more important for QBs, especially in the NFL. I’m only writing about Jackson because I’m baffled by Allen universally being considered a first-round pick—the Bills trading up to no. 7 to nab him—while Jackson is universally considered a Day 2 or 3 prospect. (NFL.com projects him as going in round 3 or 4; CBS has him listed as its seventh-best QB prospect; Sports Illustrated has him eighth.) Allen and Jackson have the same strengths and weaknesses, except Jackson’s strengths are stronger and his weaknesses are weaker.