The signs of autumn are all around us and they are unmistakable. The leaves falling from the trees. Denizens flocking to Starbucks for pumpkin spice lattes. Children planning their Halloween costumes.
And of course, fans of certain NFL franchises turning their eyes toward the next quarterback class.
For New York Giants fans, that process is well underway. However, the 2019 quarterback class has many more questions than answers at this point in the season, and perhaps the two most exciting prospects might elect to return to campus for the 2019 campaign. While the final book has yet to be written on this group of prospects the general consensus is that it is lacking in depth and talent. I would counter that the class might be lacking with star power, but there are a number of potential NFL QBs in this group, even if some of the bigger names stay in school. But whether the successor to Eli Manning is among them remains to be seen.
Let’s start with the guys gathering the most headlines.
A consensus top two?
Justin Herbert, Oregon
The name generating the most buzz right now is Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. Some of that might have cooled off in the wake of his performance last weekend against the University of Washington, a game in which the Ducks came out with the win but Herbert completed just 18 of 32 passes for only 202 yards and a pair of scores. But Herbert’s hot start - coupled with some subpar play from other quarterbacks - has moved him to the top of may QB rankings lists.
Herbert combines athleticism and velocity into an impressive package. His best outing of the season might have been Oregon’s loss to Stanford University. Watching that performance you case a quarterback able to make anticipation throws with velocity and precision. Those types of traits translate well to the NFL. If the season ended now he would be the top quarterback on most boards, but there is still football left to be played ... and a big decision looming for the junior QB.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Similar to Herbert, Haskins combines size with arm strength to form a very intriguing quarterback prospect. The Ohio State redshirt sophomore has propelled himself into the Heisman discussion with a very strong start to the season, having thrown for more than 2,300 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. Watching him on film his arm talent jumps out. Haskins delivers throws to all levels of the field with velocity. But he is not a Josh Allen clone, in the sense that when the situation or coverage requires Haskins to use touch and feel, he can deliver in those moments as well.
Haskins is not an overly mobile quarterback, and when required to extend plays he is better at climbing the pocket to buy time, or using play strength to stay upright, than he is at using his legs to extend and escape. But many quarterbacks have thrived in the NFL relying on such methods.
The book on Haskins is pressure. If you can get interior pressure on him and flush him East/West, you can see a drop in accuracy as well as some poor decision-making. Penn State was able to force some mistakes from Haskins early in their game relying on pressure, but when they let him climb the pocket and attack toward the line of scrimmage, he was able to make plays.
Herbert and Haskins might be the top two in the class for many, but they might not even enter the draft. What happens after that? They were not the top quarterbacks coming into this season, so let’s check in on some other QBs.
Other risers and fallers?
Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock entered the 2018 season as a name on many lists, and one of the top-ranked quarterbacks according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. But Lock’s draft stock has taken a big hit over the past few weeks, as Missouri has lost three-straight games and Lock has struggled. He threw an interception against Georgia in a loss to the Bulldogs and threw two in Missouri’s loss at South Carolina, and was held without a touchdown pass in either game. Last week the Tigers fell to Alabama, and Lock completed 13-of-26 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown, with a pair of interceptions.
At his best Lock is a quarterback who can thrive in a vertical-based, spread offensive system. Two seasons ago he threw mostly boundary routes (hitches, curls, slants and go routes) on the outside but over the past year or so he started to bring his game to the middle of the field more, a good sign for his development. He, like both Haskins and Herbert, has a fantastic arm with the ability to drive throws in with velocity to all levels of the field. He is also showing more appreciation for touch and feel, and is improving in that area. The production lately has been weak, but he has many traits pro scouts look for.
Will Grier, West Virginia
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier was perhaps in the best position to take advantage of the struggles from other quarterbacks in this class, until a disastrous outing last week against Iowa State that has many revisiting his draft profile. Grier turned in his worst game as a Mountaineer, completing just 11-of-15 passes for a meager 100 yards and a touchdown, along with one interception. He was flustered throughout the game as the Cyclones notched seven sacks.
Grier has a very unorthodox playing style, but he makes it work when he is playing well. He has a more elongated throwing motion than some might like, but he can make impressive throws to all levels of the field and is willing to challenge a defense between the hashmarks. He can make anticipation throws over the middle, in areas other QBs shy away from. His footwork can be sloppy at times, and he needs to take better care of the football when running or scrambling, although he has shown improvement in this area. He fits well with the trend toward more open, spread-base systems, but certainly needs some refinement.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Entering the 2018 season many - myself included - thought Stidham would be a player to make a nice rise up draft boards. He was somewhat protected last season in Auburn’s offense, they did not ask him to do a ton and he was able to deliver on some impressive throws, but when Auburn needed more from him the offense would sputter. There was hope that with another year in the system, he would take on a bigger role in the offense and deliver for the Tigers.
That has not materialized, and out of all of these quarterbacks his fall might have been the steepest.
Auburn currently sits at 4-3, and Stidham has thrown just seven touchdown passes this season to go with four interceptions, two of which came in last week’s loss to the University of Tennessee. His best traits include his arm talent and touch on bucket throws, his ability to move and slide in the pocket and an ability to generate velocity on off-platform throws. But so far this season we have seen more of his weaker traits, such as a hesitation when making decisions which leads him to miss throws or end up forcing risky throws into traffic. If he bounces back he might play himself back into the discussion, but right now it is hard to see Stidham being in the mix for a first- or even second-day selection.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
Finley is a solid, if unspectacular, quarterback prospect who might not move the needle or generate a ton of buzz but he does some things very well at the quarterback position. He struggled a bit last week in N.C. State’s win over Boston College, throwing two interceptions, but Finley is an experienced passer who handles blitzes fairly well when he is able to see them coming, throws a pretty good deep ball — even with pressure at his feet — and shows good timing, placement and velocity on rhythm throws to all levels of the field.
Finley also shows an ability to move defenders with his eyes, and to identify and take advantage of leverage advantages in the secondary.
As far as weaknesses, Finley can get panicky in the pocket at times when he is confronted with unexpected pressure. In addition, while he is a veteran quarterback his processing speed could speed up a bit, which would help his overall potential.
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
Lewerke caught some early attention late this summer as many draft evaluators were working through their watch lists and came to the Michigan State quarterback. One thing that stands out immediately when watching him is that he is a true dual-threat quarterback, dangerous with both his arms and his legs. Lewerke can make some very impressive throws while on the move, but also has the ability to slide and extend in the pocket, and can even carve up defenses when forced to tuck the ball down and continue as a runner.
His ability to throw on the move is a bit of a double-edged sword, as he trusts his legs perhaps too much and while that bails him out of situations on Saturdays, it is a different story when you’re trying to outrun the Khalil Mack’s of the world on Sunday afternoons.
Lewerke operates more of a “pro-style” offense, and for those who want to see their quarterback lining up under center, executing play-action fakes with his back to the defense, and checking the ball down and throwing to tight ends, Lewerke might be your guy. He shows good play speed and processing speed on West Coast passing concepts, shows pretty good deep accuracy, and can make some good reads and decisions when the post-snap look is different from the pre-snap look he was expecting.
If he cleans up some areas, such as inconsistent ball placement when working to his second and third reads, and some hesitation in the pocket, Lewerke could be a very strong quarterback prospect.
Now we are going to get into some more below-the-radar guys who, in my opinion, are definitely worth knowing about.
Daniel Jones, Duke
Jones has become a favorite in the NFL draft community, or at least on the behemoth known as #DraftTwitter. The Duke quarterback moves very well in the pocket, shows good velocity on his throws, and shows good processing speed even in the face of pressure. He is very clean and crisp mechanically with a solid throwing motion. Jones is also active in the pre-snap phase of the play, and for those of you who love a good hard count, he brings that to the table as well. His processing speed is best on West Coast passing concepts and he shows good anticipation on those route designs, making him a good fit for that type of offense.
As far as some weaknesses, his footwork is a bit sloppy and some of his drops into the pocket lack structure. He under throws some vertical routes, which might bring the scheme fit question into play. Like many young quarterbacks, he can be forced into mistakes, especially when confronted with blitzed from the slot or the outside. Those have baited him into errors and turnovers in the past. His accuracy is generally pretty good, but when forced to reset his feet in the pocket his ball placement does tend to suffer.
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
What if I told you there was a quarterback potentially in this class who was the player many thought Josh Allen was, albeit one with a better understanding of touch and feel despite having worse mechanics? Because University of Buffalo junior QB Tyree Jackson might just be that player.
Jackson is an exciting quarterback to watch, with tremendous size and athleticism and an arm just as impressive as Allen’s. Jackson displays great touch on vertical routes such as fades or straight go routes, but also has impressive velocity and enough arm strength to make any throw asked of him. His play strength in the pocket or as a ball carrier is impressive, and he shows great burst as a runner. On routes such as hitches, curls and stops Jackson’s anticipation is solid, with the ball exploding out of his hand well before any break from the receiver. When faced with pressure Jackson has the ability to drop or adjust his arm angle to fit throws around defenders.
He is raw and inexperienced, as this is only his second year as a starter and the first as the full time guy. While he generally handles pressure well, there are times when he seems to shy away from contact, attempting throws off his back foot or fading away when there were opportunities to step up in the pocket. His footwork on drops is sloppy most of the time, and he could also benefit from speeding up his decision-making in the pocket. But if he decides to come out, he would be a very intriguing prospect with in my opinion a very high ceiling.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
If there is one quarterback whose name I want you to remember from this group, it is this one. A veteran QB who was a starter for the Broncos as a freshman, Rypien is a quarterback who excels at many of the small things, and this season has shown an ability to make some truly impressive throws with velocity and accuracy, adding one more positive trait to his growing list. Rypien is experienced in a more pro-style offense that tasks him with operating under center and in the shotgun, and he is required to be active in the pre-snap phase and also works well on play-action designs, turning his back to the defense as necessary. He is not afraid to challenge the middle of the field, and shows competitive toughness in the face of the blitz or pressure. He can adjust his thought process when the post-snap look does not mirror his pre-snap expectations, and still makes good decisions in those moments.
Rypien does get flustered at times against pressure or in the face of blitzes, and has a tendency to stare down his first read. His arm talent is not elite, and there are others in this group with a more impressive arm or with better velocity, but he can still make all the throws asked of him and is not limited schematically.
There are some other quarterbacks to keep in mind out of 2019 class who I just wanted to list here, as we start to build a quarterback watch list for draft season:
Nate Stanley, Iowa
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Easton Stick, North Dakota State
Taryn Christion, South Dakota State
Jake Browning, Washington
Trace McSorley, Penn State
K.J. Costell, Stanford
Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt