2019 NFL Draft: Ranking the Top QBs Ready to Be Rookie Starters
In today's NFL, there's less patience and more push to see a quarterback learn on the job. All five signal-callers picked in the first round of the 2018 draft started at least seven games—four of them opened 11 or more contests under center.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sat an entire year behind three-time Pro Bowler Alex Smith, but that scenario has become an anomaly. He went to a playoff-contending team and stable situation, which isn't the reality for most passers picked in the first round.
Typically, a club in need of a new quarterback doesn't come into the season with high expectations and usually has a lot of questions to answer. Hence why the rookie signal-caller would have a chance to start at some point during the campaign.
Although the top prospects at quarterback in the 2019 class don't measure up to the 2018 group, a handful of players at the position could go in the early rounds and run the offense Week 1. In reverse order, we'll rank the top five ready to start as rookies. First, let's take a look at draft-worthy field generals who may need a year or two before leading an offense.
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State
Ryan Finley spent six years at the collegiate level, split in half between Boise State and North Carolina State. He sustained an ankle injury three games into the 2015 term, which cost him the remainder of the season before the transfer.
Despite Finley's experience, Joe Marino of The Draft Network picked up on a troubling trend in the quarterback's ability to scan the field. "Rarely has success coming off his first read," he wrote. "Identifies pre-snap where he wants to go with the ball but rarely allows information processed post-snap properly impact his decisions."
A quarterback with an issue going through his progressions spells disaster on the professional level. If Finley doesn't have a top-flight wide receiver or a solid ground attack, defenders will pick him apart.
Teams may look at his 64.5 percent completion percentage and 2.4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three seasons at NC State as something to build upon, but he's not a potential Day 1 starter. Finley needs to show the ability to read the entire field.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Unlike the potential starters, Jarrett Stidham doesn't have a standout year to highlight his ceiling. After transferring from Baylor, his accuracy dropped from 66.5 to 60.7 percent in his final two seasons at Auburn.
Head coach Gus Malzahn's offensive system didn't do many favors in showcasing Stidham's ability to complete throws all over the field with consistency. Auburn averaged 45.9 and 39.4 rush attempts per contest over the last two seasons.
Stidham's production in terms of touchdown passes and interceptions was almost a mirror image between his junior and senior years. Teams may not have a full assessment of what he can do from the pocket, which likely calls for a learning curve in a backup role.
Stidham will have to prove he's capable of consistently completing pro-level throws to elevate an offense before unseating a starter or winning a position battle.
Gardner Minshew, Washington State
Clubs must decide if Gardner Minshew naturally improved between his time at East Carolina and Washington State or landed in a pass-heavy system that inflated his numbers. He completed fewer than 60 percent of his pass attempts with the Pirates. Under Mike Leach, Minshew connected on 70.7 percent of his targets and set a single-season Pac-12 record in passing yards (4,776).
Minshew's shining senior season at Washington State catapults him into the conversation among draft-worthy quarterbacks. Keep in mind, the Cougars averaged 21.4 carries per contest in 2018. The 22-year-old signal-caller had the volume to reach record numbers. He led the NCAA in pass attempts (662) in 2018.
There's still a question about efficiency. Minshew averaged 7.2 yards per pass attempt, which suggests he doesn't push the ball downfield in chunks. The former Cougar could be scratching the surface of his full potential. NFL coaches may want to see more development behind a starter before he's in the discussion to take over the huddle.
Jordan Ta'amu, Mississippi
In 19 contests at Mississippi, Jordan Ta'amu threw for 5,600 yards, 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His collegiate resume won't leave talent evaluators in awe, but he throws an accurate ball with the ability to push the offense downfield. In both seasons, Ta'amu completed at least 63.6 percent of his passes and averaged more than nine yards per attempt.
However, Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network points out simple reads may have helped the senior quarterback, which is common on the collegiate level. "Ole Miss' offense did not put a ton on his plate mentally, which aided his concerns in this area," he wrote. "Ta'amu doesn’t move defenders with his eyes, rarely deciphers coverages post-snap and can struggle to move through his progressions in a timely manner."
This is the reason quarterbacks coming out of pro-style systems have a better chance of becoming contributors early in their NFL careers. Ta'amu hasn't been tasked with the challenges of reading a defense on the fly, which adds some question marks.
Ta'amu's accuracy and ability to move the pocket should result in a draft spot on Day 3, but he must check a few boxes as a field processor to earn a coaching staff's trust.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Scouts will have more than enough film to break down Brett Rypien's game; he served as the primary starter in four consecutive terms at Boise State and holds the Mountain West Conference record for passing yards (13,578). The 22-year-old finished his career with 90 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions—he didn't throw more than eight picks in a single season.
Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill praised Rypien's mental makeup and the intangibles he brought to the huddle, via The Athletic's Greg Auman. "He's a phenomenal kid and a heck of a leader," Hill said. "He's come a long way in his quarterback progression. He's always looking for knowledge. He's a professional in everything he does, and everything is well thought-out."
Front offices can look at Rypien's resume and intangibles and then come away with a vision for him as a starter in a suitable system. He's not going to make many mistakes in the pocket and has a track record of accountability. On the field, the four-year starter threw an accurate deep ball, which helped him claim the conference passing record.
In the NFL, Rypien will have to overcome critics who question his 6'2", 200-pound stature. It's a collision sport; his frame must withstand the rigors of a full season to shake off concerns about size. Secondly, he doesn't show enough mobility to escape pressure in the pocket.
Overall, a front office will have to overlook shortcomings in Rypien's measurables and focus on what he can do on the field to trust him as a rookie starter. Though it's not ideal, it's possible. His arm strength, accuracy (64 percent career completion rate) and maturity could vault him into a starting role for a team without a clear-cut answer at quarterback.
Daniel Jones, Duke
There's a common thread when it comes to what draft analysts like about Daniel Jones: his size. He's 6'5", 220 pounds with a strong arm and a quick release to hit receivers on short passes. The Duke product garnered first-round buzz after completing his third season as a primary starter.
Jones doesn't have the collegiate production comparable to other top quarterbacks in this draft class. Then again, Duke isn't producing early-round talent at the skill positions every year like Ohio State and Oklahoma. Nevertheless, it's evident the junior signal-caller has the arm strength to push throws downfield, but his deep-ball accuracy may raise some concerns.
Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Jones moved the ball with short attempts, averaging fewer than seven yards per throw in each of his three terms as a full-time starter. A quarterback who isn't able to let loose on the collegiate level may need a learning curve in targeting pass-catchers for chunk plays in the pros.
Jones will score evaluation points for his mobility and mechanics under duress. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. came away impressed with that aspect of his play. "The most impressive trait I've seen from Jones this season is his ability to buy time in the pocket and use his feet to get square and make a throw," he wrote.
NFL teams may look at Jones' physical tools and 1,323 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns on the ground as essentials for a high-upside quarterback. In a system that doesn't require big plays, Jones could grow his confidence through high-percentage, intermediate throws en route to developing into a complete starting-caliber passer.
Will Grier, West Virginia
At 6'2", 223 pounds, Will Grier doesn't have an impressive presence in terms of body frame like Daniel Jones, but he's a quarterback who can make accurate throws while improvising in the pocket. The senior signal-caller also posted palatable passing numbers that should draw interest from NFL teams looking for a potential starter.
At West Virginia, Grier logged 7,354 passing yards, 71 touchdown passes and just 20 interceptions while completing 65.7 percent of his attempts over two terms. Wide receiver Gary Jennings, Ka'Raun White and David Sills V made the quarterback's job easier as solid collegiate talents, but it's a two-way street. Grier also delivered the ball with touch into tight windows.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah used "smooth" as a description for Grier's play inside and outside the pocket in a complex offense. "The WVU offense is more complicated than I anticipated," Jeremiah wrote. "He routinely works from one side of the field to the other. That will make his transition to the next level easier. ... Grier is extremely smooth. He has an ease of movement in the pocket and his throwing motion is very natural."
When discussing a pro-ready-type player, Grier's experience under former West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and responsibilities on the field should help him score points with NFL scouts.
Aside from his size, Grier will have to answer questions about his one-year suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation, which preceded a transfer from Florida to West Virginia. If he's able to add clarity to that pivotal point in his collegiate career, a team may feel comfortable tossing him into the fray as the Week 1 leader in the huddle.
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
The 2018 Heisman Trophy separates Kyler Murray from the other prospects on this list. He produced eye-popping numbers: 4,361 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions while completing 69 percent of his attempts as a first-time starter.
Looking beyond the prestigious award, Murray presents the best dual-threat package among the top signal-callers in the 2019 class. Along with 4,000-plus yards through the air, he ran for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
Coming off a season with Lamar Jackson's success as a ball-carrier, the Oklahoma product's ability to escape the pocket and mask holes across the offensive line may propel him into first-round consideration. More importantly, Murray flashed a more accurate arm than Jackson during his time at Louisville.
In a film review, John Owning of the Dallas Morning News noted Murray's variation in delivery. He can make all the throws and adjust his touch on the ball for good placement. "Murray has impressive touch on deep passes, allowing him to nail some impressive throws deep downfield," he wrote. "Murray understands how and when to change the trajectory of the ball to better facilitate a completed pass."
NFL clubs will have to overlook his diminutive stature. He was listed at 5'10", 195 pounds during his senior year. Secondly, he's a one-year starter with an interest in playing baseball who is currently in the Oakland A's organization. Teams may question his commitment to the sport if he doesn't impress scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine and Oklahoma's pro day.
Despite the question marks, Murray's on-field body of work and the threat his legs pose will entice a front office to pick him in the early rounds. As a rookie starter, he could flourish with a run-heavy offense that features a reliable deep threat on the perimeter and a receiver able to rack up yards after the catch on shorter completions.
Drew Lock, Missouri
In his best form, Drew Lock lit up the field throughout the 2017 campaign, throwing for 3,964 yards, 44 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. He's a 6'4", 225-pound quarterback who doesn't have an issue pushing the ball downfield. His body type and aggressive mindset will stand out to team scouts.
Lock's senior year didn't look as impressive, as he recorded 3,498 yards, 28 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. It's likely because the system required him to delve into the intricacies of a pro-style offense, per The MMQB's Kalyn Kahler. "This year, in Dooley's blend of a pro-style scheme with elements of the spread, Lock is being asked to go through more progressions, and execute plays that are a little more complex, like ones with combo routes," she wrote.
Lock may have sacrificed gaudy numbers for a better simulation of an NFL offense, but the tradeoff could pay dividends this year. During Senior Bowl week, he completed multiple passes through tight windows that required anticipation (h/t Mile High Sports). Those throws probably grabbed talent evaluators' attention. It's worth noting his accuracy improved every year; he completed 62.9 percent of his passes in 2018, up from 54.6 two years prior as a sophomore.
The Missouri product isn't as mobile as the three previous pro-ready quarterbacks on this list, but he's sturdy enough to stand in the pocket, take a big hit and connect with his receivers. That's a hallmark trait of a prototypical NFL pocket passer.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
The size (6'3", 220 lbs), the arm talent and collegiate production—Dwayne Haskins checks all three boxes. Like Kyler Murray, he's a one-year starter but produced 4,831 yards, 50 touchdown passes and eight interceptions with a 70 percent completion rate at a top-notch program against high-level competition in the Big Ten.
Haskins didn't show a ton of deep-ball action, but he's displayed the arm strength to hit a pass-catcher in stride 10 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Ohio State product can exploit intermediary areas with pinpoint accuracy, per The Draft Network's Kyle Crabbs.
"Haskins' best system fit is an offense that implements a lot of work in the intermediate areas of the field to capitalize on his accuracy to that area and mitigate his longer drops and prolonged reps holding the ball within the pocket," Crabbs wrote.
Similar to Drew Lock, Haskins profiles as a pocket passer who's not going to evade many speedy pass-rushers with his legs. Because the former Buckeye put together a stronger campaign in a pro-style offense, he's slightly ahead of the Missouri product in terms of readiness to start in the NFL as a rookie.
Furthermore, Haskins' ability to flourish under pressure and in the face of high expectations at Ohio State speaks to his mental makeup. His composure while playing in high-stakes contests in a hostile environment will score points with clubs looking for a true leader to run an offense. He's coming into the league with great tangibles, high production and big-game experience.