Report card: Top QBs in 2019 draft
No night on the NFL calendar changes the trajectory of NFL franchises like the first round of the NFL draft. All-Pros at all levels of the offense and defense hear their name called among the first 32 selections, but none affect a team’s destiny like a franchise quarterback.
Baker Mayfield, last year’s no. 1 overall pick, brought consistency and hope to the Cleveland Browns, a franchise missing both traits under center for nearly 20 years. Four years prior, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jameis Wintson first overall. Winston, who won a national championship and the Heisman Trophy at Florida State, will play for his future in Tampa this fall.
Every quarterback taken in the first round is a lottery ticket. Teams won’t know if they don’t play. For every Andrew Luck, there is a Mark Sanchez. For every Patrick Mahomes, there is a Christian Ponder.
The five men below could all hear their name called before the first round concludes Thursday night in Nashville. As history has so often told us, not every quarterback taken in the first round should have been.
2019 will be no different.
Kyler Murray (Oklahoma)
Kyler Murray was Baker Mayfield 2.0 in Norman last season, setting the college football world on fire under the tutelage of Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley. Murray finished with historic production, falling just shy of the ridiculous bar Mayfield set during his final season in an Oklahoma uniform.
The Russell Wilson comps aren’t just because of his size. Murray doesn’t seem to get rattled and he rarely takes a sack. Those traits alone suggest Murray will find success as a pro.
Physically, Murray is just as talented. He can make accurate throws in the short, intermediate and deep game. Murray has a quick release, and his movement in the pocket creates passing lanes other quarterbacks of his size don’t have available to them.
Any criticisms of Murray’s game related to his size are stupid, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter in 2019. The game has changed. Murray is a glimpse into the future. He may not be as good as his predecessor, but Murray is, far and away, the best quarterback prospect in the 2019 class.
Grade: Top 10
Will Grier (West Virginia)
Most big boards are going to place West Virginia’s Will Grier behind all four of the other passers on this list. I’m not buying it. Grier wasn’t in the national spotlight very often last season, but he is one of the more pro-ready prospects in this year’s draft.
Admittedly, Grier’s physical tools could use a little work. His footwork gets sloppy, he doesn’t have elite arm strength and his release can be a bit slow. A great offensive coach can scheme around a passer with non-elite arm strength, and such a coach can also clean up messy footwork.
Intangibles, something no coach can teach, is what Grier brings to the table in spades. Grier is a natural leader and a playmaker. He makes good reads, both pre- and post-snap. He made the Mountaineers competitive when they had no business being so.
Two years ago, another quarterback prospect was criticized for non-ideal physical tools. That prospect was a natural leader who lifted his program to never-before-seen heights. The Houston Texans didn’t buy into the criticisms, moving 13 spots in the draft order to select that prospect, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Now, let’s be clear: Grier is not on Watson’s level heading into the draft. Grier is a poor man’s Watson, but that isn’t a knock. Plenty of teams in the league should want a player like that. Pittsburgh at no. 20, Los Angeles at no. 28, or New England at no. 32 would be great fits for Grier, who could spend a year or two learning behind a Hall of Famer before taking over as starter.
Grade: Late first round
Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State)
When we’re talking about the most physically gifted quarterback prospects in the 2019 NFL draft, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is right at the top, standing side-by-side with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
Dwayne Haskins is no Kyler Murray, however.
In a way, Haskins is a throwback to the quarterback prospects of yore. He’s a statue — Haskins ran an abysmal 5.04 40-yard dash — with a cannon arm and an above-average frame. The former Buckeye can rip opposing defenses apart … when he can set his feet in a clean pocket.
Muddy up the pocket, or force Haskins outside of the tackle box, and things fall apart pretty quickly. His arm strength and accuracy dip significantly on the run, something NFL defenses will key on from day one.
Just as concerning is Haskins’ lack of experience as a starter. Haskins started only one season in Columbus despite spending three years in the Ohio State program. History tells us a lack of experience doesn’t just disappear in the pros. The team who drafts Haskins will hope those extra years on campus make him more Cam Newton than Mark Sanchez.
Grade: Late first or early second round
Drew Lock (Missouri)
Are Jay Cutler and Josh Allen your type of quarterback? Then Drew Lock is the guy for you!
Like Cutler, Lock is inconsistent and thinks he can throw into any window. Like Allen, Lock has a big arm and significant accuracy issues. Lock also struggles with his footwork, which compounds his issues with consistently completing passes.
There may be a silver lining in Lock’s struggles with accuracy. Unlike Allen, who never completed more than 60 percent of his passes at any level, Lock’s completion percentage rose every year he played for Mizzou. Though his touchdowns and passing yards dropped precipitously from Lock’s junior to senior seasons, his completion percentage increased by 5.1 percent in the same time frame.
All it takes is one team to fall in love with a player, which almost guarantees Lock will be drafted early Thursday night. (I’m looking at you, John Elway.) Lock could provide value in the second round, but is a significant overreach anywhere in the first 20 picks.
Grade: Second round
Daniel Jones (Duke)
Gil Brandt, who was the vice president of player personnel for Dallas and will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, compared Daniel Jones to Peyton Manning. Brandt’s reputation as a talent evaluator is well-established, but this comparison is stunning.
The most extraordinary thing Jones has done on a football field is play under David Cutcliffe, who has a good relationship with the Mannings. Jones completed 59.9 percent of his career passes at Duke, throwing more than 20 touchdowns once in three years as a starter in Durham. Jones has a slow windup to his throws and doesn’t possess the arm strength to justify his delivery.
And yet, there are suggestions Jones will be the second quarterback taken Thursday night. Assuming a team doesn’t trade up to grab Jones, the guy who openly considered giving Eli Manning a contract extension could take Jones in the top 10 and continue to build a 1990s team in the 2019 NFL.
Grade: Round 2–3