The NFL has a quarterback problem. The talent discrepancy is bigger than it's ever been in my time covering the league and the draft. And the talent pipeline might be running dry in the college ranks. That is, unless the NFL or college find a compromise on how to develop quarterbacks. Because right now, it looks like the NFL hates star college quarterbacks.
What does the NFL have against the Saturday stars? So much of what pro scouts look for is between the ears and not the video-game numbers the passers are putting up on Saturdays. Let's take Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph as a current example.
Last Saturday, against Pitt, Rudolph completed 23 of 32 passes for 497 yards and five touchdowns, and he didn't play the fourth quarter. At 6'5", 230 pounds, Rudolph should be the type of player the NFL is drooling over, right? Wrong.
NFL scouts I spoke to over the summer graded Rudolph as a Day 3 guy. What's missing? Here's what one area scout had to say this week: "Arm strength is a major concern with Rudolph, but you can get around that. What really worries you is what's between the ears. That offense [at Oklahoma State] doesn't make him think. Coach [Mike] Gundy draws it up and he executes it. He's a robot."
My thoughts on Rudolph? He's a solid mid-second-rounder at this stage. That can change with more time to study his offense and his duties in it, but on traits his only flaw is a lack of elite arm strength.
Rudolph is one of the bigger names in college football, as is Lamar Jackson, who took home the Heisman Trophy last year and was poised for another run before playing against Clemson last weekend. What do scouts think of the Louisville star, you ask? While many in the media are promoting Jackson as a legitimate franchise quarterback, I have not spoken to one NFL evaluator (scout, director, general manager) who believes he's an NFL quarterback.
One director I spoke to believes the scheme Jackson is in will limit his NFL potential. "List me the quarterbacks Bobby Petrino has sent to the NFL that are any damn good." He's right; there aren't any. Petrino is a noted quarterback guru and excellent schemer, but his players haven't translated to the pros. Jackson's struggles to win from within the pocket against Clemson—a defense with legit NFL talent—were pointed out multiple times this week in conversations with scouts.
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When evaluating players, more and more we have to either throw out the statistics or do a ton of homework to give the stats context. When asked about this, one owner told me that good evaluators must "be scouts, not statisticians." It used to be that you could watch three games of a quarterback and evaluate him. Now that job is harder because, as one scout told me, scouts might watch three games but only get a handful of plays to find traits that might translate to the league. This is why we see quarterback "stock" rise every year at the Senior Bowl, combine, pro day and in interviews; because the players are being asked to do only pro-style things.
It's too early to say that Rudolph and Jackson won't be successful NFL quarterbacks, but the opinion of the decision-makers around the league is already stacked against them.
Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five matchups to watch in Week 4
- Grading the top QBs' Week 3 performances
- Why Sean McVay might be the Coach of the Year
- Stick to Football Episode 24 with Barstool Sports personality Uncle Chaps
The Scout's Report
— Josh Allen Week 3 grade: F
The Oregon-Wyoming game was played at the same time as Clemson vs. Louisville, and there wasn't a way for me to keep up with it in the press box so I watched the game film afterward. My Twitter mentions informed me during the game that my QB1 played poorly, though, and I had to take a look. Allen's struggles against Power Five teams have to be looked at and weighed. As does the lack of help he has. There is no doubting his natural talents, but his poise and instincts are concerning.
—Sam Darnold Week 3 grade: B+
Darnold once again showed his poise and toughness in an exciting, double-overtime win over Texas. In the early part of the game, USC mostly called underneath routes and played conservatively, but Darnold took over late with more downfield passing. He did throw two interceptions, running his total on the year to six after throwing just nine last year. It would be unfair to put all those picks on Darnold, as some have come on tipped and dropped passes, but it will be something to watch.
—Josh Rosen Week 3 grade: B
Rosen went up against a good Memphis team on Saturday, and it showed in his uneven performance. There are times when Rosen tries to do too much and it gets him in trouble. Dropped passes and missed assignments (one led to an interception) also hurt his numbers. Rosen's first two picks of the year came in a game where he did struggle to handle pressure in the pocket. That's a trait to continue watching for moving forward.
—Lamar Jackson Week 3 grade: D
Seeing Jackson in person for the first time highlighted some of the issues NFL scouts have pointed out. He struggles from the pocket. His accuracy is often high and off target. Jackson is an electric runner and can make something out of nothing, but he has to improve as a spot passer and at throwing off his drop and not on the run. Facing real NFL prospects for the first time this season, Jackson was bad.
—Baker Mayfield Week 3 grade: A
Mayfield gets an "A" this week, but the matchup against Tulane didn't offer much resistance. In the easy win, he completed 17 of 27 passes for 331 yards and four scores. His stock remains steady in Round 2.
—ESPN's Mike & Mike shared a story from Chris Mortensen in which he was told by an NFL general manager that Josh Allen's issues this year are more about lack of talent around him than individual problems. You can't watch Allen without noticing that the supporting cast is bad. The goal for NFL evaluators will be to determine if his struggles under pressure are a result of poor blocking or poor poise.
—Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams left the USC game with a knee injury that was later diagnosed as an MCL and PCL sprain and meniscus tear. Williams had surgery, and at this time his return status is unknown. This will only affect the junior's draft stock if a problem is found after the fact like with Myles Jack's knee injury before the 2016 draft. A routine clean-up with no lingering issues won't bring Williams' stock down from OT1.
—On the other side of the ball for Texas, linebacker Malik Jefferson is putting all his special tools and traits together on the field. The junior linebacker was hyped as the savior of Texas football when he signed under Charlie Strong but hadn't yet made the splash plays on the field to back that up. This year has been different, as Jefferson looks at home in the middle of Todd Orlando's defense. As a pass-rusher, run-stopper and in coverage, Jefferson is playing like a first-rounder.
—Another linebacker making a name for himself is Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds. Another junior, Edmunds has ideal tools to play the off-ball linebacker spot in the NFL. He and Jefferson aren't that different as prospects or athletes.
—You never want to get too high or too low with a player comparison, which is why this one scares me. On traits, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley reminds me of NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Like Faulk, Barkley is a good-sized back (5'11", 220 lbs) but has breakaway speed and excellent ability in the passing game.
—Deebo Samuel had been South Carolina's best player so far this season. The junior receiver was having a fantastic year before breaking a bone in his lower leg. He had surgery to repair the break, but his return time table is unknown. Samuel has options and could return to school for his senior season. Prior to the injury, he looked like a top-50 prospect.
—Two names I keep hearing when talking to scouts that I haven't had a chance to study on film: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo at Oklahoma and USC's Uchenna Nwosu. In my last big board release, neither player was in the top 25, and that caused more than a few scouts to text in shock. I'll be checking both out this week.
—Washington receiver Dante Pettis tied the NCAA record for career punt-return touchdowns last week when he took his eighth punt to the house. Pettis is among the most dangerous return men in the last five years and is also a threat as an inside or outside receiver.
5 Matchups to Know
5. Martinas Rankin (Tackle, Mississippi State) vs. Georgia Bulldogs Pass Rush
Mississippi State has a few solid NFL draft prospects, including quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, but more than any Bulldog this week, offensive tackle Martinas Rankin has a potential "prove it" game on his hands. Against a talented Georgia defense featuring edge-rushers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, the big tackle can get his name among the top tackle prospects in the country.
4. Saquon Barkley (Running Back, Penn State) vs. Josey Jewell (Linebacker, Iowa)
"The Outlaw" Josey Jewell leads a stout Iowa run defense against the nation's best running back. Saquon Barkley can beat defenses with speed, power, vision and his hands, meaning Iowa will be smart to have Jewell spying him all game long. This is my favorite matchup of the weekend.
3. Dante Pettis (Wide Receiver, Washington) vs. Isaiah Oliver (Cornerback, Colorado)
There is a lot of speed in this one. Pettis, as mentioned above, is one of the best punt returners in the nation. When he's on offense, look for those times when Pettis lines up across from Isaiah Oliver. The Colorado cornerback was buried on the depth chart last year because of the NFL talent (Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon) but has the look of a solid pro.
2. Josh Rosen (Quarterback, UCLA) vs. Stanford Cardinal Defense
The Stanford defense was mentioned previously as a key matchup to watch for USC's Sam Darnold. It's one again this week for Josh Rosen. It'll be fun to not only compare the play of Rosen and Darnold against a common opponent, but also to see how well Rosen bounces back from his toughest game of the season last week against Memphis.
1. Rashaad Penny (Running Back, San Diego State) vs. Air Force Defense
Rashaad Penny is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the nation. He's a thick back (5'10", 220 lbs) but has the speed to break off long runs and returns. His best test of the year comes against Air Force. The Academy might not have a ton of NFL prospects, but they live and die by stopping the run game. Penny will have to be on his game to break 100 yards.
10. Bruce Arians was asked in a press conference if the Denver Broncos had laid out a blueprint for beating the Dallas Cowboys. His answer is amazing.
"If you can borrow Denver's players."
Arians is always good for a quote, but he's been particularly snarky this year. In the preseason he openly criticized his wide receivers, last week he went at Carson Palmer, and now this. Many have speculated that this might be Arians' last year before retirement, and he certainly seems to be comfortable enough in his situation to put his team on blast.
9. The "Josh Allen Debate" is only starting, folks. And both sides have valid points.
On one side, many people on Twitter point to Allen's poor completion percentage, interceptions and struggles under pressure. Contrasting that are those anonymous NFL sources telling me, Chris Mortensen and others that Allen's struggles aren't his alone but also a byproduct of a decimated Wyoming offense.
That's the thing; we won't know for three years, probably. It's Twitter, so everyone has to take a stance and defend it to the death, but the actual process of evaluating Allen has just started. There's no doubt that he's struggled in two of three games this year (the good being against Gardner-Webb). That said, I still wouldn't be surprised if Allen is a top-five pick in April based on his traits and potential.
It takes one general manager to see Allen's right arm and mobility and think he can build an offense around him if he's supported. And as one area scout reminded me this week, Allen has started and finished 17 games at the FBS level. There is a belief that he can be developed at the pro level and will need less work than others because of his experience in a pro-style offense in college.
8. Jared Goff was once again impressive, and this time the opponent can't be discounted as the San Francisco 49ers have serious talent on defense. Goff is playing faster, smarter and being more aggressive as a passer.
I can't stress this enough—THIS is what happens when you give a talented quarterback a good play-caller and some help at receiver.
Goff is throwing to a group that doesn't feature a true No. 1 threat at receiver, but his ability to find the open man and distribute the ball should give every Rams fan a ton of hope.
7. I'm not feeling great about betting the over on the 3.5 wins total for the San Francisco 49ers, friends. The 49ers offense woke up Thursday night, but this time it was the defense struggling. This is a young team defensively, and the 49ers are without their best player (Reuben Foster), so I expect improvements there. Through three games, the Niners are improved over last year, but there is still a ways to go before they're competitive.
6. Goff can be happy about what Sean McVay brought to the Los Angeles offense, but no one should be happier than Todd Gurley (and those of you who drafted him in fantasy). Gurley's hot start Thursday night echoes what we've seen all year. Even when the big stats weren't there in Week 1, Gurley was running hard behind an offensive line he believes in.
On talent, Gurley was a special prospect before injury at Georgia. Now in his third NFL season, he looks like the kind of player that could lead the league in rushing.
5. I spent the week trying to get caught up on Alabama game film and notes after three weekends on the road working. Two things I learned:
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick has a chance to be a top-five player. His impact on the defense can't be judged in numbers. He's smart, athletic, tough and, from what teammates and coaches tell me, a great leader. He might compete with Jamal Adams for my all-time safety draft crush spot next to Earl Thomas.
2. Ronnie Harrison is tailor-made to play strong safety in the NFL. He's a hitter with blitz skills and the size (6'3", 216 lbs) to make a Day 1 impact in the league. If you need a Kam Chancellor type, he's your guy.
Both Fitzpatrick and Harrison should remain locks in my top 32 prospects for the rest of the season.
4. Watching Louisville against Clemson last weekend, one player routinely stood out. The only thing is he's a true sophomore and not draft eligible.
Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence is one of the best players in the nation. He's a monster (6'4", 340 lbs) who consistently gives chase in the run game and has excellent strength and quickness as a pass-rusher. It's incredibly early, but the 2019 draft class featuring Lawrence, Ed Oliver (Houston) and Rashan Gary (Michigan) all on the defensive line is going to be fun.
3. Sean McVay seems to have the magic touch, at least through the first three weeks of the season. It's no coincidence that Kirk Cousins is struggling while Jared Goff looks like a completely different player this season.
There are some extenuating circumstances—Cousins has fewer weapons, while Goff has a better supporting cast than he did last year—but the common denominator is the first-year head coach.
It's interesting that in Atlanta, Matt Ryan and the offense seem to be rolling with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, while the San Francisco 49ers struggled offensively for the first two weeks after stealing Kyle Shanahan from the Falcons. So far, at least, Shanahan's impact hasn't been the same as McVay's, but they are improving. Getting Shanahan the right personnel (and a quarterback) will help.
2. Thank you so much to the amazing people at the University of Louisville for hosting us last week. From the lady cracking jokes at us in the elevator to the fans who were upset because "Bleacher Report is here and will write about how much we suck!" and even the guy who called me Chris Simms, thank you!
1. Stick to Football Episode 24 is ready to download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe with a five-star review!
This week, Mello and I hit the road to scout Clemson vs. Louisville. We have our full breakdown of Lamar Jackson, Deon Cain and that talented Tigers defensive line. Connor and I also talk top quarterback performances, dive into the Josh Allen debate and sit down with Barstool Sports personality Uncle Chaps.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.