2017 NFL Draft: Predicting Landing Spots for Every Quarterback

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyContributor IApril 20, 2017

2017 NFL Draft: Predicting Landing Spots for Every Quarterback

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The great, overarching question that will shape how the other chips fall in the NFL draft is always the same. Where the top quarterback prospects land not only alters the franchises that select them but also has a major effect on the other surrounding teams as other positional talent falls. The 2017 NFL draft boasts four headliners and enough QB depth that several others could emerge as starters in the future. 

    By pairing talent with value and looking past some of the hype, we'll break down 11 of the top quarterbacks in the class and predict a landing spot for each one. The right situation makes all the difference for many young quarterbacks, and without a clear elite prospect in this class, it appears that fit will be as important as ever.

    As the remaining elite NFL quarterbacks are aging rapidly, it won't be surprising if several teams take mid-draft fliers on developmental quarterbacks. The focus will be on the four likely first-rounders, but like we saw last year with Dak Prescott, there's always a chance a backup will be needed.

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 31 games, 386/572, 67.5 completion percentage, 4,762 yards, 41 TDs, 10 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    Sometimes the best solution to a bad initial investment is to simply pull the plug before the damage continues to snowball. That's what the New York Jets would be doing on both their recent quarterback draft picks, 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty and 2016 second-round pick Christian Hackenberg. Neither is anywhere near becoming a viable starter; both general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles must prioritize getting someone to take the reins of the franchise.

    Veteran Josh McCown has been unable to stay healthy throughout his career, but he's a fine placeholder while Mitchell Trubisky transitions to the NFL. By the second half of the season, Trubisky would be the odds-on favorite to win the starting job, and that could help save jobs throughout the organization. Although the Jets don't have a reliable offensive line, their running back stable and receiving corps are strong, giving Trubisky the opportunity to find early success.

    Trubisky was only a one-year starter, but his progression from the beginning of 2016 to the end of the year meant it was like watching two different players. His growth within the Tar Heels offense was significant, going from more of a game manager to playmaker. Trubisky has the natural accuracy and ability to extend plays enough to be projected as an above-average talent, with a relatively high floor considering his skill set.

    Predicted landing spot: New York Jets, No. 6 overall

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 38 games, 814/1,207, 67.4 completion percentage, 10,168 yards, 90 TDs, 32 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    Deshaun Watson's fantastic career at Clemson couldn't have ended better, with back-to-back national championship appearances and a thrilling comeback victory to defeat Alabama in a revenge game. The moment was never too big for Watson, who is the ultimate gamer and someone coaches should absolutely love for his poise and big-play tendencies. He's the most ready for the NFL based on his experience and on-field execution.

    Watson wins pre-snap, reading initial defenses and picking out where the advantage is. Post-snap is where some of his limitations come into play, as Watson doesn't have a strong arm by NFL standards, and he's not the type to thread the needle with his precision. He gives his receivers a chance at making the catch, though his placement isn't always on the correct shoulder or hitting them in stride. These factors affect his upside, but many average NFL quarterbacks fall into this category—and don't boast Watson's special gift of understanding mismatches pre-snap.

    Some teams may not be as interested in Watson's ability to contribute early and will want to take a chance on someone who excels with more post-snap traits. But some teams that are built to win and have a pending need at quarterback, like the Washington Redskins, the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, should all be interested in Watson since he can start in 2017 or 2018 and have a smaller transition.

    Predicted landing spot: Washington Redskins, No. 17 overall

Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 32 games, 857/1,349, 63.5 completion percentage, 11,252 yards, 93 TDs, 29 INTs

    Best system fit: Vertical/Air Coryell

    My favorite quarterback in the class is not only the most productive passer but also the most explosive. Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes II isn't a sure thing, having played more backyard-style football than in a structured system, but the former Red Raider has the arm talent, athleticism and accuracy worth betting on. His innate traits are the unteachable kind; it'll be up to his coaching staff to help improve the rest.

    According to my accuracy charts, which examined each quarterback's situational ability to throw what was deemed a catchable pass, Mahomes is the most accurate passer in the class overall, best on third and fourth downs and second-best against pressure. He can make any throw on the field despite tight passing windows and, at times, horrible footwork and alignment.

    He compensates well for poor mechanics, but he'll need to improve because he'll be exposed to more timing-based offenses. The Cleveland Browns, currently with a pathetic quarterback depth chart, are perfect for Mahomes, as head coach Hue Jackson has maximized every quarterback he's worked with. If he can shore up Mahomes' penchant for falling backward in a clean pocket and teach him to align his body to his target even 50 percent more, the Browns would have a bona fide signal-caller for the first time since the franchise rebooted in 1999.

    Predicted landing spot: Cleveland Browns, No. 12 overall

DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 25 games, 422/695, 60.7 completion percentage, 5,805 yards, 47 TDs, 19 INTs

    Best system fit: Vertical/Air Coryell

    My other favorite in the class is DeShone Kizer. Like Mahomes, Kizer's strengths include operating within the pocket to extend plays and opening downfield opportunities. Just a third-year sophomore, it would've been ideal for Kizer to have had one more season of experience before jumping to the NFL, but his relationship with Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was clearly toxic and affected Kizer in the second half of 2016.

    Kizer checks all of the boxes as a passer, excelling when pressured and being fantastic on intermediate passes. He's incredibly patient and has calm feet despite chaos around him. It's rare to see that out of a quarterback prospect. The knock on Kizer is his consistency in executing more basic functions, including short throws and quickening his internal processing when a receiver has the leverage to get open quickly.

    Some of that is to be expected with a player with 25 intermittent starts. If Kizer goes to a franchise that has confidence in him and he's given time to improve some of the things mentioned above, he has a high upside. The Arizona Cardinals make a lot of sense at No. 13, but Kizer's youth will likely work against him. He'd be terrific value at the top of the second round.

    Predicted landing spot: San Francisco 49ers, No. 34 overall

Davis Webb, QB, California

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 35 games, 841/1,367, 61.5 completion percentage, 9,852 yards, 83 TDs, 34 INTs

    Best system fit: Vertical/Air Coryell

    There's a clear drop-off after the top four quarterbacks in the class as we get to more specialized passers who will need the right situation more than the top crop. Davis Webb of California has received first-round buzz, which is shocking considering he only excels in one area: the deep ball. I'm not going to buy that until it happens, as Webb is the archetypal developmental quarterback. In a class this deep, that's not worth a first-round pick.

    Webb's deep passing is terrific, scoring near the top of my accuracy charts among 11 quarterbacks on throws past 20 yards. But everything shorter than that must be considered a gamble as to whether Webb can get the ball to the receiver. His scattershot accuracy must be a massive concern, as that's the primary reason guys like Ryan Mallett and Derek Anderson are backups in the league.

    For a team that can spend the first few years of his rookie deal grooming him, maybe a Day 2 pick is a worthwhile investment, though I wouldn't. Still, the noise is coming from somewhere, and if the top four quarterbacks go as early as predicted, teams will get desperate and reach as they pass over other, more talented positional players.

    Predicted landing spot: New York Giants, No. 55 overall

Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh

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    Jared Wickerham/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 35 games, 398/662, 60.1 completion percentage, 5,236 yards, 47 TDs, 17 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    Like Webb, Nathan Peterman is another former transfer who was supplanted at his previous school by another draft-eligible prospect in this class. Peterman couldn't beat out Josh Dobbs and Justin Worley at Tennessee, but he found modest success at Pittsburgh in a controlled, simplified offense. Also in the same vein as Webb, it appears the NFL is higher on Peterman's projection than I am, as NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein compared him to Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. I think he's closer to his backup, Colt McCoy.

    Peterman played in one of the most run-dependent offenses in the FBS last year, as Pitt ranked 114th out of 128 teams in pass plays per game. He was a collegiate game-manager, aided by a terrific running game. While that has value as a potentially solid backup in the NFL, the buzz hints Peterman could be a Day 2 pick.

    In the six games I charted Peterman, he was responsible for five interceptions and had another seven drops. His decision-making and arm strength must improve for him to live up to a Day 2 pick. Still, teams will like that he played under center and executes a West Coast offense like the ones Kyle Shanahan, Bill O'Brien and Jay Gruden run, filled with rollouts and bootlegs. If the expectation for Peterman is to run that type of offense, then it's a little more likely he can live up to a lower-end starter role.

    Predicted landing spot: Houston Texans, No. 57 overall

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 38 games, 720/1,188, 60.6 completion percentage, 9,968 yards, 69 TDs, 24 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    Prior to the start of the 2016 college football season, one expectation for the Miami Hurricanes football program was that new head coach Mark Richt would get his hands on quarterback Brad Kaaya. Kaaya, a tall but lean pocket passer who flashed solid accuracy and has great mechanics, failed to launch his career to the next level. Despite that, he declared for the draft as a true junior and projects as a mid-draft pick.

    Kaaya is better than guys who have received more media attention, largely because he finds success how Peterman is supposed to. He's more accurate on short throws, specifically when in rhythm on three-step drops, and he avoids turnovers much better, throwing only nine interceptable passes throughout 2016 compared to Peterman's 12 in just six games. But he hasn't been mocked as high from those in the know, which generally reflects how the league feels about a player. Thus, Kaaya could prove to be much better value than Webb and Peterman, even if he's selected just one round after them.

    The priority for Kaaya's improvement must begin with his core strength to enhance his ability to drive the ball to the far hash mark and sideline. That's a tough throw that consistently troubles him. Then, it's a matter of keeping his shoulders squared and playing better when pressured. Kaaya fell apart when pressured, and much of it was blamed on his offensive line, but he induced a lot of his struggles. He's a flawed prospect, as essentially all mid-draft picks are, but there are definitely traits worth developing into a backup or spot starter.

    Predicted landing spot: New Orleans Saints, No. 76 overall

Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech

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    Chris O?Meara/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 14 games, 268/422, 63.5 completion percentage, 3,552 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs

    Best system fit: Vertical/Air Coryell

    Jerod Evans is the developmental quarterback worth investing in, boasting the size, arm strength and movement to reach heights that others are unable to, even if Evans has sizeable leaps to make. A one-year starter at Virginia Tech and former junior college star, Evans can make all of the throws—and did so for the Hokies until an ankle injury limited his play late in 2016.

    The 6'3", 232-pounder took surprising care of the ball considering his inexperience at the FBS level and play style. Most downfield throwers tend to be more reckless and trusting of their arm strength on short and intermediate attempts, causing them to overlook coverages and sitting defenders. But Evans limited those opportunities for defenders to jump in passing lanes, with eight total interceptions.

    There are a lot of positives, but the concerns that see Evans falls this far in our prediction are worth mentioning. He played in a quarterback-friendly system with excellent playmakers around him, leaving him in a position to do little pre-snap. While he reads defenses nicely post-snap, many of his decisions were made for him, leaving him to not have to improvise too often. Not many NFL teams can offer that, and at some point, he'll have to become more of a creator to become a starter. He's worth banking on for a team with at least a year until it has to seek out a better option than its incumbent.

    Predicted landing spot: Kansas City Chiefs, No. 91 overall

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 37 games, 614/999, 61.5 completion percentage, 7,138 yards, 53 TDs, 29 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs is known for his brilliance off the field, as the aerospace engineering graduate is surely going to accomplish impressive feats after his NFL career is over, but his on-field prospects bode well for a long stint as a professional. Dobbs isn't a flashy downfield passer who projects as a starter, but his time with Tennessee led to gradual improvement as an anticipatory passer who did his best on short routes and limited deep shots.

    With the right expectations as a solid backup who can terrorize defenses with his legs and then pick apart zone coverage on short, timing routes, Dobbs is worth grooming for a long-term backup job. He's not the strongest or most accurate passer, and that hurts his upside projection. But he did do well against the blitz, and his 2,160 career rushing yards must be factored into the discussion.

    For teams that may want to get more out of Dobbs, reworking his passing motion to make it quicker and more efficient should improve his downfield accuracy. At 6'3", 216 pounds, he also has more room to add some size, so improving his core strength could help his arm strength and velocity on longer passes. Even if none of that happens, a Day 3 pick could yield worse results than what Dobbs will bring to a team.

    Predicted landing spot: Indianapolis Colts, No. 137 overall

Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

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    Thomas Graning/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 27 games, 513/803, 63.9 completion percentage, 6,858 yards, 50 TDs, 21 INTs

    Best system fit: Vertical/Air Coryell

    Maybe the most polarizing quarterback prospect in the class is Ole Miss senior Chad Kelly. Kelly suffered a torn ACL in November and has dealt with a wrist injury this offseason, but he projects to be healthy for the 2017 season. He was not invited to the NFL combine because he's had several off-field incidents that highlighted poor judgement and immaturity.

    His off-the-field concerns translate to the field, where Kelly was highly reliant on 50/50 balls and having a terrific surrounding cast to make plays. Ole Miss' simplified offense gave him easy pre-snap reads, and transitioning to the NFL will be difficult even if Kelly commits to mastering the playbook and understanding defenses. He has physical tools worth investing in, but red flags are all over his resume.

    In my accuracy charts, Kelly was strikingly poor when pressured and on third- and fourth-down situations. His overall accuracy outside of those two specific areas was fine, but Kelly's gunslinger attitude must be refined and honed for him to reach his ceiling. He's a case of extremes. Either he'll figure out what's needed to be a professional and buckle down or he won't. And if he doesn't, he's not good enough to be more than a journeyman project.

    Predicted landing spot: Buffalo Bills, No. 195 overall

Alek Torgersen, QB, Penn

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Career statistics: 30 games, 627/963, 65.1 completion percentage, 7,025 yards, 52 TDs, 18 INTs

    Best system fit: West Coast

    The last quarterback we'll highlight isn't a household name and played in the Ivy League. Power 5 quarterbacks who are much worse and have little to no NFL future have received more attention, but Alek Torgersen is a more efficient and talented passer than anyone left at this point. Torgersen has the size, accuracy and touch needed to stick in the NFL as a backup.

    With a gifted arm and his 6'2", 218-pound frame, Torgersen looked the part of a late-round NFL prospect at the East-West Shrine Game and practices earlier this offseason. He may not have the starting potential and huge sleeper status that many yearn for in the latter rounds of the draft, but he can compete as a backup and practice squad player for a team like the Los Angeles Chargers, who aren't in a rush to invest a major amount into the position.

    Predicted landing spot: Los Angeles Chargers, No. 225 overall