The first major event of draft season is behind us, as the 70th Reese’s Senior Bowl came to a close Saturday with the actual game with the North squad defeating the South squad 34-24, led by Senior Bowl MVP Daniel Jones, who finished the game 8-of-11 for 115 yards and a touchdown, coupled with a rushing touchdown as well.
Unfortunately for Jones, the game is just a small part of the process that takes place down in Mobile, Ala., as the week of practice is what often matters the most. Yes, there are examples of a player struggling during the week yet shining on Saturday, and that helping boost their stock come draft time. Dak Prescott comes to mind. But Prescott shined his way into the fourth round, whereas Jones entered the week with first-round hopes and leaves Mobile with more questions than answers in his wake. With the week behind us, let’s review the performances from each quarterback, tiering them roughly by potential draft day.
Day 1 possibilities
In addition to Jones, the Missouri product entered Senior Bowl week with high expectations. While Jones largely underwhelmed, Lock lived up to the hype for the most part, both on-the-field and off. Reports out of Mobile are that Lock was phenomenal during his meetings with teams, and during the game he displayed some of his ability to adjust arm angles - an ability that drew some comparisons to Patrick Mahomes in the lead-up to the Senior Bowl - when he threw an underhanded pass while rolling out to his right.
During the practice week what stood out was his arm talent. Watching Lock on tape you could tell that arm strength and velocity might be his calling cards in the NFL, and that carried over to the week of practice. He seems like a perfect fit for a vertical-based passing offense, but I wanted to see more evidence of his ability to make throws attacking the middle of the field. This was a task he accomplished during practices, such as a seam route he threw up the hashmark on Day 3 with perfect velocity and placement, or a variety of crossing routes or over routes he threw during the week. In addition, Lock’s footwork seemed to be improving, and gone from Mobile were the various back foot or fadeaway throws that littered his 2018 game tape. All the buzz around Lock right now is that his floor in the draft is the Denver Broncos at 10, and his week in Mobile might push that floor a bit higher.
This week was set up to be perfect for Jones. Watching him on tape my big takeaway was that his best fit was in a West Coast-based offense, as his decision-making and ball placement was strongest on those kinds of designs. He was placed on the North roster with Jon Gruden, and given the chance to operate in Gruden’s West Coast system.
The results, however, were far from what many anticipated.
Jones’s week could be summed up with the first three throws he made during Wednesday’s seven-on-seven portion of practice. This was a day that was closed to the media, given the weather forcing practice indoors, so I was not able to view this live, only late at night at the XOS Technologies film room at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Mobile. Having access to the All-22 of every single practice drill from a variety of angles and levels of zoom is a football lover’s paradise, but I digress ...
Here’s how Jones’s session started. Throw one: A quick out pattern to the outside receiver on the left that he threw too far outside and out of bounds. Throw two: A checkdown to the left, which was the right read, but that he made too slowly, stared down, and was intercepted for “six.” Throw three: A comeback along the left sideline that he stared down, saw his receiver fall, hitched twice and still threw, which was intercepted.
His performance during the game puts a bit of shine on the week, but Jones leaves Mobile with some work left to do at the Combine in Indianapolis.
Day 2 possibilities
Some evaluators might leave this category blank, and just move onto Day 3, but I’ll put four quarterbacks in here, although they are trending in different directions.
If you could have placed a bet pre-Senior Bowl on which quarterback might see his stock rise based on practice week, Stidham would have been a wise selection. His past two seasons at Auburn University showed moments of promise, but between the offensive system and the talent around him, his final season was largely underwhelming. But Stidham has some raw tools and traits, and they were on display during practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. His decision-making was sound throughout the week, he showed the ability to move defenders with his eyes (perhaps my favorite read and throw from any QB this week was a throw he had Wednesday when he moved the underneath linebacker in a Cover 1 scheme towards the tight end with his eyes, and then threw a slant right into the spot the LB vacated) and he made throws with good velocity and placement.
His week does not erase two years of game film, but it has many headed back to the film to see if anything was missed. Stidham, named the Offensive Practice Player of the Week by a vote from NFL scouts, certainly helped himself and is now perhaps in that Day 2 mix, trending up from what many viewed as a Day 2 situation.
Would a Day 2 selection be a bit aggressive for Jackson? Perhaps. In the opening press conference Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl, indicated that he viewed Jackson as a Round 3/4 type of prospect. But we all know that the NFL loves a big arm. Jackson displayed that on tape and then flashed it throughout the week of practice.
I always view velocity as a bit of a double-edged sword. There were moments when Jackson’s velocity was truly impressive, such as a throw he made in the back corner of the end zone on Thursday to LSU tight end Foster Moreau, that was drilled into the only spot where the TE could make a play. It was certainly a wow throw, but for me it came too late, and that is the dilemma with a quarterback like Jackson. Yes, the arm talent can enable him to challenge windows and make throws late, but will it also serve as a crush, and stung his development from a mental standpoint?
Then there is the mechanical issue. As with many tall quarterbacks, he tends to over-stride and this leads to a straight lead leg, causing accuracy issues (this was highlighted in the preview piece). We saw this again during the week:
Tyree Jackson. Notice the straight front leg. pic.twitter.com/3zeFPGncQG— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) January 24, 2019
So, the mechanics remain an issue and you wonder about the development. However, if a team does not have an immediate need at the quarterback position and lacks glaring needs elsewhere, perhaps drafting a QB like Jackson and letting him refine things for a season or two makes a bit of sense. Especially one that is going to be running a vertical-based passing offense and just hired a coach with a “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy.
I was most excited to see the Washington State quarterback in person, given the fact that with just one season of action under his belt, my limited exposure to him was largely positive. For me, his week got off to a strong start during the Media Day portion, when in response to a question I asked about Mike Leach’s offense he talked about how the Air Raid system gets a quarterback ready to make full-field reads much more than the “college pro style offenses you hear about.”
And yes, he used air quotes. I tried to hide my joy and remain professional but I think my face gave me away ...
What I liked about his tape translated to the practice field. From mind to eyes to feet, watching Minshew work full-field progressions from left to right and back, or sideline to sideline, is like watching teaching tape. The feet and mind are always in synch, and it was on display in practice.
But some of his limitations were on display in practice, and later on Saturday during the game. He lacks an overpowering arm, which might place a schematic limit on him, and his ball placement was erratic at times. I still view him as a quarterback who has enough to push him into the late Day 2 range, but he’ll need to do some things in Indianapolis to solidify that positioning.
The quarterback that I had as the best of the bunch heading into Mobile leaves Alabama as anything but, and perhaps trending down. We can start with the positives. All quarterbacks are confident, but in the post-practice scrum on Tuesday Grier was supremely so, declaring himself the best quarterback in the class and glowing about his arm strength. That prompted a follow-up question about throwing at the Combine and his one word response of “absolutely” spoke to his self-belief. Grier is also a rhythm passer, and when he is feeling it you can see the results on the field.
Now the negatives. His decisions were slower than they should be, his mechanics are a bit of a work in progress when it comes to the upper body, and when he is not in rhythm, his ball placement can be scattered at best. Inconsistency might be the best word to describe his week. During a red zone seven-on-seven session Thursday he started by making a late throw on a checkdown that could have been intercepted. Then he missed Moreau on an open post route. Then he threw a perfect fade route to Tyre Brady, the wide receiver from Marshall University. Slow, a miss, and then a perfect throw. During the game, his biggest splash play was a route he threw downfield that was hauled in by Hunter Renfrow, when Grier was rolling to his left, and it’s unclear whether Renfrow was even the intended target.
If he can put in a consistent performance in Indianapolis, he might strengthening his hold on a Day Two spot, but he leaves Mobile trending towards Day Three of the draft.
Day 3 prospects
To me, Finley is interesting in that he might have a very solid floor, perhaps the most solid out of any of these quarterbacks. I feel confident in saying that he could very well have a ten-year career ahead of him as a backup/spot-starter that can win you a game or two. The question on him is whether the ceiling is much higher than that.
I love Finley in a timing and rhythm based offense, and when I got the chance to talk to him on Tuesday after practice we chatted about one of North Carolina State’s three-receiver concepts that often had him targeting the inside trips receiver on an out route against either a linebacker or a safety. The Wolfpack ran that play a ton and Finley seemed confident in making that read and throw on time and in rhythm. His velocity was a bit better than I anticipated, as on film he seemed to rely more on touch and feel than the fastball. Drafting a quarterback who might top out as a backup might not seem like an exciting move, but in today’s NFL you need two QBs and life without a Plan B can translate into a lost season. Plus, in the right offense that ceiling might just rise a bit ...
Stares at the New England Patriots.
McSorley came into the week perhaps needing to prove that he belonged, as some in the draft community thought there were other options for this spot, such as Easton Stick from North Dakota State, Jordan Ta’amu from Mississippi and Brett Rypien from Boise State, all of whom ended up in Tampa for the East-West Shrine Game. McSorley told me Thursday that he showed during the week that he can make all the throws, and talked about the leadership role he took on at Penn State, and to hie credit he was an very talented college quarterback.
Whether he can make that leap to the NFL is another question. He showed moments during practice where he can make throws in the short are of the field with velocity, and his first pass during the game - an inside slant route to a receiver facing off coverage - displays how effective he can be when his pre-snap is open and available. However, when forced to get to a second or third read, or when tasked with pushing the ball downfield a bit, McSorley’s execution can drop off. It is likely that he hears his name called late on Day Three, and with the way offenses are trending you can see a potential path to him becoming a viable backup in the right offense, but that is likely his ceiling in the league.
Next stop? Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine. This will give us a chance to see all of these quarterbacks together and in action, including the players who were in Florida for the East-West Shrine Game, as well as perhaps the two most intriguing passers in this group: Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray. Still a long way to go until we solidify this draft class, but the work is well underway.