Nobody likes insurance.
But in life — and football — you need to have insurance. Why? Because in the immortal words of Chris Rock: “In case [bleep].” In case someone rear-ends you on the way to work, or a tree falls on your house, or you slip and fall on ice.
Or your young quarterback fails to take “the leap.”
The entire New York Giants’ offseason has been building to a critical moment: Whether third-year passer Daniel Jones takes that big step forward in his third NFL season. With new weapons and now in his second year in the Jason Garrett offense, expectations are that the QB will take that step forward, making all the investments around him worthwhile.
But ... what if he does not?
That might lead to the Giants resetting the quarterback clock. After all, the organization is facing in the near future a decision on his fifth-year option. As we have seen from other organizations (the Chicago Bears, the New York Jets) teams are more willing to move on from young quarterbacks in today’s NFL. Why? Because the sunk cost is not as steep as it used to be. No longer are first-round quarterbacks automatically among the game’s highest-paid players. As such, moving on from mistakes is easier to swallow.
To that end, here is the insurance list Giants fans hope they never have to use, much like insurance. The list of quarterbacks worth studying for the next draft cycle.
You know, “in case [bleep].”
Sam Howell, UNC
At or near the top of every mock draft or watch list is UNC passer Sam Howell. Almost since the moment he took over the Tar Heels offense Howell has been mentioned as a potential first-round passer. After throwing for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns as a true freshman, he completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,586 yards and another 30 touchdown passes last season as a sophomore. On his career, Howell has completed 64.4 percent of his throws for 7,227 yards, 68 touchdowns (against 14 interceptions) and an NCAA passer rating of 168.8.
Of course, there are some caveats. Those numbers are perhaps inflated by the system Howell is running at UNC. According to data from Sports Info Solutions, last year he attempted 189 throws off play-action, third-most in college football (Mac Jones was first with 212). He also had the most passes on run/pass option plays, with 109. That will probably lead to a lot of “scout the traits not the scheme” debates come this fall.
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Another passer generating a ton of buzz during the summer scouting season is Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler. After the departure of Jalen Hurts the redshirt freshman took over last season as the starter for the Sooners, and posted some impressive numbers, throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 28 touchdown passes. Rattler fits the mold of the modern quarterback, with the ability to create outside of the pocket and off structure. He also plays the position with what one might term “reasoned aggression,” as he will attack some throwing windows that other quarterbacks might shy away from, but every time he makes that kind of aggressive decision you can understand the reasons why.
Learning to handle the pocket more effectively could really improve his draft stock, but given the numbers he could put up in the fall, there is no reason not to expect Rattler to be in the QB1 discussion as the season wears on.
Kedon Slovis, USC
Another passer entering his third season as a starter is USC’s Kedon Slovis. After an injury to J.T. Daniels propelled Slovis into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2019, he responded by completing 71.9 percent of his passes for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns, against just nine interceptions. In a COVID-shortened season last year, Slovis threw for 1,921 yards and 17 touchdowns, over just six contests.
Slovis is more of a traditional pocket passer, and having just lived through those debates with Mac Jones I’m not sure many football fans are ready for another draft cycle of “can a pocket passer thrive in today’s NFL or not?” Still, his accuracy and experience will make him enticing to any number of teams. He might face some questions about his arm strength — although reports of a lingering arm injury might explain that issue — but with a solid junior season he could be in the QB1 mix.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Many draft observers were surprised when Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder decided to return to campus for his senior season rather than test the 2021 draft waters. Viewed as potentially an early Day 2 selection, Ridder could have threatened the first round with a solid pre-draft cycle. Instead, he’ll return to Cincinnati for his fourth year as a starter, looking to improve on an already solid college career. Ridder is athletic with a big arm, and can also offer something as a runner and in the zone-read game. His proficiency in the downfield passing game could be a fit for what the Giants are building on the offensive side of the football.
Another benefit to returning for a senior season? The opportunity to play at the Senior Bowl. Other quarterbacks — including Jones himself — have used the showcase event to launch their draft stock into the stratosphere. Ridder could be next.
J.T. Daniels, Georgia
We return to the previously-mentioned J.T. Daniels. Daniels has taken a fascinating path to this moment. He started at Mater Dei High School as a freshman and put together three incredible seasons, and was ranked as the third quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class, behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. He graduated high school a year early to enroll at USC a season earlier than expected, and he won the starting job as an 18-year-old true freshman. Daniels started 11 games for the Trojans as a true freshman in 2018, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,672 yards and 10 touchdowns, against ten interceptions.
But his sophomore season ended early and Daniels transferred to Georgia to assume that team’s role as the starting quarterback. Once he was finally cleared to return to the field Daniels played in four games last year, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Georgia is expected to contend for the SEC this season, and perhaps more. If the Bulldogs indeed make a deep run, Daniels could ride that wave to the top of the draft.
Malik Willis, Liberty
With the growth and popularity of the draft the hunt for the next “diamond in the rough” is a never-ending cycle. Scouts and draft analysts spend hours and hours each summer trying to find the next player who will rise up boards in the fall. Last summer it was North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, and this summer that player might be Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. Willis enrolled at Auburn and played in 12 games over two seasons with the Tigers, completing 11 of 14 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. He transferred to Liberty and took over as the team’s starter last year, and put on a show. In 10 games he threw for 2,250 yards and 20 touchdowns, against just six interceptions. He added another 944 yards on the ground with 14 touchdowns.
Recently, Bruce Feldman did a piece on the “next Zach Wilson” — more on that in a second — and Willis’ name came up rather frequently. In that article Feldman quoted from noted quarterback expert Quincy Avery, who stated that Willis “has the strongest arm of anybody I have ever seen.” Another season like the last one with the Flames, and Willis could rocket to the top of the board.
Who is the next Trubisky/Burrow/Wilson?
As we have seen the past few draft cycles, there is often a quarterback who rises up boards in the fall, seemingly coming “out of nowhere.” A few years ago it was Mitchell Trubisky, who rode his first season as a starter for UNC to the top of the 2018 draft. Two years ago Joe Burrow capitalized on a magical season with the LSU Tigers to become the first-overall selection. This past cycle it was Zach Wilson, who’s impressive 2020 season ended up with him coming off the board second overall.
Over at USA Today’s Touchdown Wire I put together a list of potential QBs who could make a similar rise, and I’ll just drop that here for reference. Some names have already been mentioned, such as Malik Willis. Some other quarterbacks to keep in mind? Tyler Shough from Texas Tech, Matt Corral from Mississippi, Jayden Daniels from Arizona State, Phil Jurkovec from Boston College, Emory Jones from Florida, D’Eriq King from Miami, Grayson McCall from Coastal Carolina, Carson Strong from Nevada and Dustin Crum from Kent State.