The Other Guys: Sleeper QB Prospects Flying Under the Radar
By now, you know the top four quarterback prospects heading into the 2018 NFL draft. It would be surprising to see any one of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield available after the top 10 picks at this point. Maybe even the top five.
Beyond them, the athletic intrigue around Lamar Jackson likely will earn him a first-round selection. Early in Day 2, Mason Rudolph shouldn't have to wait long to hear his name.
But what about the rest? Who are the other top options for teams in need of a quarterback?
Earlier on, teams will have to decide between Kyle Lauletta, who soared after an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, and Luke Falk, the large-bodied passer out of Washington State with a deep arm. In the mid- to late rounds, Nic Shimonek has potential, and some team is likely to buy low on J.T. Barrett's athleticism.
Let's meet the sleepers at the most important position in football.
Kyle Lauletta, Richmond
Kyle Lauletta entered Senior Bowl week as an intriguing FCS prospect with questions to answer. The most significant one was common for quarterbacks from lower-tier schools: Can he look comfortable against a higher-caliber defense, particularly alongside other passers who have received far more hype?
The answer came quickly, as Lauletta impressed in practice throughout the week and then ripped up the game itself. He threw three second-half touchdown passes and finished the Senior Bowl with 198 yards through the air, which immediately vaulted him into Day 2 consideration.
Lauletta is the ideal target for a team with a fine short-term solution at quarterback and other priorities in the first round. The New England Patriots are one such example, as Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier noted earlier this month.
That link makes plenty of sense. Though Tom Brady is still producing his on-field magic after another MVP season in 2017, he'll turn 41 in August.
The salary-cap reality of paying Jimmy Garoppolo forced the Patriots to trade him in October, leaving them in need of a new long-term succession plan. Lauletta would fit well with them, or a team in a similar situation, after he averaged 8.8 yards per attempt throughout his collegiate career.
Luke Falk, Washington State
Bringing along a developmental quarterback is much easier in theory than in practice. It requires believing in NFL coaching to cover up weaknesses that made the passer in question fall to the middle rounds.
Some general manager who trusts his coaching staff could take on that challenge with Luke Falk.
The Washington State standout may be ideally suited for a situation with a veteran starter firmly in place, providing an opportunity for him to wait, watch and learn for a year or two. That's why Falk has been tied to the Los Angeles Chargers, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, a team that could be looking for a successor at the position with Philip Rivers entering his age-36 season.
It's difficult to peg Falk's draft slot. His size (6'4" and 225 pounds) will be appealing, as will his reliable accuracy that led to a completion perception of 68.3 over his four seasons at Washington State.
Those check marks could get him drafted high. However, Falk's lack of mobility is a concern, as he was sacked 125 times throughout his college career. The 23-year-old's limited deep-ball ability also led to a lowly per-attempt average of 6.7 yards in 2017.
Mike White, Western Kentucky
Mike White could fit with the Patriots as well, and he might be available later in the draft than Lauletta or Falk.
Similar to Falk, he has the size (6'4" and 225 pounds) and arm strength to power the ball downfield. And similar to Lauletta, he's accurate, as he completed 67.3 percent of his pass attempts for Western Kentucky in 2016 and 65.7 in 2017. In both of those seasons, White finished with 4,100-plus passing yards, and he shined in 2016 while averaging 10.5 yards per throw.
Given his glacial 40-yard dash time of 5.09 seconds at the scouting combine, White will never be mistaken for a track star. But after nearly three full seasons of starting experience, he has a refined pocket presence and knows how to avoid pressure.
That extended time as a starter has made him careful with the ball, resulting in limited turnovers. White didn't hit the double-digit interception mark during any season of his college career, and he threw only 31 picks over 1,393 attempts.
He's at his best on quick intermediate throws, as NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks noted, and he may need time to develop more consistent deep-passing accuracy in the pros. But he has the tools and potential to eventually be successful as an NFL passer.
Kurt Benkert, Virginia
Arm strength is often the minimum requirement to be considered a Day 3 project. If teams see velocity on the ball and an ability to heave throws deep with passable accuracy, then a quarterback has a chance of finding himself on a roster at the beginning of training camp.
That's the best way to describe Kurt Benkert in the days leading up to the draft.
Like most of the possible mid-round developmental quarterback picks, Benkert has attractive size (6'4" and 215 pounds) and arm strength. He leaned on the latter quality to throw for 3,207 yards in 2017, his single-season high in college.
But from game to game—or even throw to throw—it's hard to know what to expect from Benkert.
"There is almost no in-between with him," an NFC director of scouting told Zeirlein. "It's either a big-armed throw that whistles in there between defenders, or it's something stupid that turns into an interception or near-interception. I love the arm, but I don't know that I would ever trust him to play, and everybody you draft might play."
He had 46 touchdown passes over only two seasons as a starter at Virginia, but he also tossed 20 interceptions and had a per-attempt average of just 6.3 yards.
Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech
Nic Shimonek took over at quarterback for Texas Tech after the Patrick Mahomes era ended. His brief time under center in a conference not known for defense prompted both the good and bad kind of eyebrow raise.
He showed solid enough accuracy in 2017, finishing with a completion percentage of 66.5 to go with an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. His ability to move the offense also led to 33 touchdown passes during his final collegiate season.
That production alone is enough to earn him the sleeper label in a draft with question marks everywhere at quarterback.
However, Shimonek's ball placement was poor at times, which led to 10 interceptions in 2017. Combine that with his lack of experience in a pro-style offense, and it's likely he'll be available in the later rounds.
Chase Litton, Marshall
Chase Litton has a flaw that might not be correctable.
He locks on to targets far too often, which resulted in 14 interceptions during his final season at Marshall. Worse, those picks came in bunches, with Litton throwing 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions over his final six college games.
But he still has potential, especially if the guidance of an NFL coaching staff can help to improve his vision and post-snap reads. He's a massive presence in the pocket at 6'6" and 232 pounds, and that body type will always be appealing to quarterback-needy teams searching for hidden gems in the later rounds. There's a reason why "about 16 teams" showed up at Marshall's pro day, per Tony Pauline of Draft Analyst.
As NFL.com's Lance Zierlein observed, Litton has a quick release, is a quality rhythm thrower and can put good touch on the ball to hit precise targets. That means he offers something to work with, even if his accuracy and decision-making put up concerning red flags.
Tanner Lee, Nebraska
Almost inevitably, some team late in the draft will want to fill out its quarterback depth chart. That hypothetical team may also have a veteran under center, but it might see a need developing down the road.
Said team would then scan the scraps available in the sixth and seventh rounds and decide which prospect presents the best opportunity to cash in a lottery ticket. That team will survey at all of the flawed options and select the quarterback who has shown the most sprinkles of potential.
In that scenario, such a team could easily land on Tanner Lee.
The problems with Lee are obvious. Over his two years at Tulane, he completed just 53.6 percent of his pass attempts and averaged a lowly 5.9 yards per throw.
His accuracy improved in 2017 after his transfer to Nebraska, but not by much. He finished the season with a completion percentage of 57.5 yards, but his poor decision-making led to 16 interceptions.
Lee did post a passer rating of 137.1 against tougher Big Ten competition this past season. And as Pauline reported back in January, teams are still impressed by Lee's arm strength and overall physical tools—he's 6'4" and 220 pounds—despite his lack of quality production.
That might be all he needs to find an NFL home without having to go the undrafted-free-agent route.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
J.T. Barrett is the kind of quarterback who could solve a specific problem for a specific team. That problem is having a backup passer who can closely reflect the unique athletic gifts of the starter.
And that team is the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks need to upgrade at backup quarterback, as Russell Wilson's scrambling, free-wheeling ways leave him vulnerable to injury.
Barrett will never be a clone of Wilson or any similarly mobile quarterback who's also an effective thrower. But he can do the scrambling part well enough to maintain the foundation of an offense for a short period of time, which would make him a successful backup.
Barrett averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt during the 2015 and 2016 seasons for Ohio State before improving to 8.2 in 2017, and he's underwhelming at best as a passer. But he's dangerous as a runner, as evidenced by the 3,263 yards and 43 touchdowns he recorded on the ground over four collegiate seasons.