West Virginia's Will Grier Is the NFL Draft's Forgotten 1st-Round Quarterback

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 2, 2019

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2018, file photo, West Virginia's Will Grier (7) looks to pass against Tennessee in the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Charlotte, N.C. Grier is married with a young daughter. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

West Virginia's Will Grier isn't often mentioned with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, Missouri's Drew Lock and Duke's Daniel Jones as a first-round quarterback prospect, but he should be. 

NFL draft narratives don't always reflect reality. 

A year ago, Baker Mayfield wasn't a lock to become the first overall pick. He was too short, didn't have a big enough arm and may have had attitude issues. None of those ideas were actually true, but they surfaced throughout the predraft process. The Cleveland Browns weren't swayed, and the signal-caller rewarded the franchise by setting the single-season rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. 

Fast forward 11 months, and a few more incorrect narratives have rooted themselves among this year's quarterback class. Some involve how the top prospects are viewed, while others deal specifically with Grier's skill set and overall standing. 

Murray and Haskins are expected to be top-10 picks. The perception is that Lock is next in line and then Jones, an intriguing prospect multiple teams will consider in the opening frame.

An NFC assistant coach told The MMQB's Albert Breer this year's class is shaping up more like the 2014 version. That year, Teddy Bridgewater was considered the top prospect yet plummeted to the 32nd overall pick. The Jacksonville Jaguars surprised nearly everyone by choosing Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. Despite all of the warning signs, the Browns still chose Johnny Manziel with the 22nd selection. This year may have just as many surprises. 

"In that you're not really sure how these guys are going to come off the board," the coach said of his comparison.  

Grier is generally viewed as a second-day prospect. NFL decision-makers aren't necessarily in agreement, and his status is changing as evaluators get a chance to learn more about him and see him throw in different settings. 

Another NFC assistant attended West Virginia's pro day and openly wondered whether Grier is the class' third-best quarterback prospect, per Breer: 

"He's got a good demeanor, and the ball jumps off his hand. A lot of confidence, a little bit of gunslinger. Physically, he threw the ball well. … I thought it matched up [with the tape], and I think the tape was good. … Haskins was one-year starter and, to be honest, when it comes down to it, Grier might be at these guys' level. Murray's a unique case, but after that, and Haskins, Grier may be third."

An anonymous scout told ESPN's Adam Schefter Grier "put on a show" during the event and considered the 23-year-old quarterback a "riser." Granted, that is draft parlance for outsiders catching up with the league's thinking because the interest from multiple teams is real. 

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

At least 10 teams will meet with Grier before the draft, per Schefter. Those teams include the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. The Saints don't have a first-round pick, so they're the least interesting option. Washington, New York, Los Angeles and New England all land between the 15th and 32nd draft selectionwhich is a realistic range for Grier. 

The quarterback already met with the Giants and Washington head coach Jay Gruden, according to NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala

The entire process plays into Grier's strengths. He's mature, experienced and intelligent. His personality is a major selling point as the potential face of a franchise. 

"If you read the pundits, you'd expect Will Grier will be available maybe in the second round or later," Fox Sports draft analyst Joel Klatt said during an episode of Undisputed. "But if you talk to people within the National Football League, they're much higher on Grier than those writing about the draft. 

"Will Grier is a guy that has impressed in the meetings with these teams, and he played really big in his biggest moments last year."

Grier compares favorably to the other top prospects in certain areas. As talented as Haskins and Murray are, for example, they're not experienced. Each only started one season. Some teams won't be entirely comfortable with their lack of playing time. Grier has 27 career starts, and coaches tend to love him because of his understanding of the position and expectations. 

"His ability to stay in the pocket and extend plays, his poiseit's probably the best I've ever had in terms of his poise," former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital told ESPN.com's David Newton

"When you get him in those one-on-one meetings, those interviews, he's a sharp kid." 

Spavital coached Case Keenum, Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel during his various stops. 

Despite these qualities, Grier can't top Murray and Haskins' natural talent and potential; but he does provide an alternative if a team—such as the Giants, for example—is willing to wait. Schefter reported Grier and Jones are the names associated with New York's search for Eli Manning's heir apparent (via Redskins Capital Connection's Robert Henson). 

While Grier doesn't present the same physical skill set, this doesn't mean he lacks first-round upside. The Florida transfer excels in multiple areas, which creates the possibility that he'll leapfrog Lock and Jones, even though their natural potential is considered superior. 

The quarterback position requires baseline physical tools, and Grier doesn't fall below any threshold. He's 6'2" and 217 pounds with 9⅜-inch hands, though his arm strength came under fire throughout the evaluation period. 

A particular stat and two subsequent performances disprove the supposed knock. 

First, Grier led major college football last season with 32 big-time throws. These are considered NFL-caliber throws by Pro Football Focus. 

The West Virginia product was one of the nation's best deep passers the last two seasons in the Mountaineers' vertical passing attack. Timing, touch and accuracy are just as important to deep throws as pure arm strength. 

But Grier's arm strength showed up at the NFL combine when he tied for the fastest ball speed, according to The Athletic's Dane Brugler: 

Recorded velocity can be misleading and not a perfect indicator of a quarterback's arm strength. Some can fire the ball hard in short distances yet lack the torque and arm speed to drive the ball consistently outside the numbers. Talent evaluators insist on seeing quarterbacks in person to gauge how the ball explodes (or doesn't) out of their hands. 

The following throw from West Virginia's pro day, courtesy of WVSports.com's Patrick Kotnik, shows Grier reset with quiet feet and deliver a quick release to easily complete the speed out even though he originally moved away from the pattern: 

The ball left Grier's hand after one hitch. He didn't require multiple hitches, a crow hop or an elongated stride to complete a difficult throw that's usually an indicator of a quarterback's arm strength. 

Granted, no one is going to mistake Grier for Haskins or Lock in this year's class, but the second-team All-Big 12 performer can make the necessary throws. 

The two-plus-year starter is unflinching against the blitz. His understanding of pre- and post-snap reads and where the ball should go when defenses attack is exceptional. According to Pro Football Focus, Grier completed 68.5 percent of passes against the blitz with a 22-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

The problems start when the blitz gets home and Grier is forced to maneuver. He struggled when moved off his spot, per PFF's Steve Palazzolo: 

Grier is a solid athlete with a 4.84-second 40-yard dash and top-five performances among quarterbacks at the combine in the three-cone drill (7.09 seconds) and short shuttle (4.28 seconds), but he's far more effective working within the structure of the offense and pocket confines. 

"I feel like he is underrated," former West Virginia teammate Trevon Wesco told NFL Draft Bible's Ric Serritella. "I mean, I know he's good. He knows he's good. I know he is a great player. He ran our offense pretty much. He ran the show for us."

The transfer excelled during his two years in Morgantown, West Virginia. Grier completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 7,354 yards, 9.4 yards per attempt, 71 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid variant. He's a natural passer with the experience to shoulder an offense. 

His maturity is also a major selling point. Grier is married and has a two-year-old daughter. He understands football is a full-time job after the Florida Gators program suspended the starter for performance-enhancing drug usage. 

"I've treated it like it's my job, and it's only going to get more and more intense," Grier said, per Mountaineer Sports' Sean Taylor. "I want to be the greatest that's ever played, and that's going to take a lot of hours and a lot of reps and a lot of work. I have an opportunity to go play in the league now and make this my job. I'm going to do all I can to take advantage of that opportunity."

The opportunity should begin after Grier hears his name called in the first round. 

        

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.

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