My first love was college football. Like every long-term relationship, college football and I have had our ebbs and flows throughout the years. Recently we’ve been in a lull due to the fact that I have Rutgers season tickets and I typically spend 6-8 hours at the stadium on a game day. Factor in an annual away game (Ann Arbor here I come again this year) and I’m missing about 8 weeks of college football action each season. Thankfully, playing on RSO has helped me refocus and concentrate on the incoming rookies and starting with today’s piece my writing on RSO will be devoted to rookies and the college game. Check back throughout the offseason for more rookie-centric research, film study and mock drafts. First up, let’s take a look at the top of the 2017 rookie QB class.
By many accounts, Mitch Trubisky will be the first quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft and much ink will be spilled discussing him.
Trubisky is a Junior who is coming out after just one full season as a starter. The only game in which he had significant reps as a Sophomore came against FCS Delaware when he filled in for injured starter Marquise Williams. In 2016 he totaled 3,748 passing yards, 30 TDs and 6 INTs. He also added decent production on the ground with eight games of either 30+ yards or a rushing TD. Trubisky’s best outing was against #12 FSU where he completed 31 of 38 passes for 453 yards and 3 TDs; he also added a rushing TD. His worst outing undoubtedly came against #25 Virginia Tech when he went 13-33 for just 58 yards, zero TDs and 2 INTs.
I watched Trubisky’s film against Duke and Stanford. One of the first things I noticed about him is that his feet never stop moving in the pocket. He is always poised to throw but is equally able to evade the rush and escape the pocket. Twice in the 3rd quarter against Duke, Trubisky fled the rush and turned a sack into positive yardage (one of them into a first down actually). He did the same a number of times against Stanford and their Top 5 prospect DE Solomon Thomas. Unfortunately a last second two point conversion attempt to tie the game was one example of the pressure getting home and Trubisky being unable to escape. Against Stanford he also threw two bad INTs which ended possessions the Tar Heels desperately needed late in the game.
The second half of the game against Stanford perfectly encapsulates Trubisky’s draft prospects. In the 3rd quarter, on 2nd & 11, Trubisky eludes the pressure and throws a flat-footed pass 40 yards for a first down. In the 4th quarter, 3rd & Goal, down 8 points with 30 seconds left, Trubisky rolls right toward the boundary but is pressured. He circles back towards the field, quickly sets his feet and throws a dart from the opposite hash for a touchdown (he threw a similar TD pass from the opposite hash in the 1st quarter of the Duke game). The next play was the aforementioned two point conversion sack that essentially ended the game.
He certainly has the arm strength and athleticism to make it in the NFL but he’s just a step short. Will he be the first quarterback drafted? I think so and somebody will likely take him in the Top 10 but that is too rich for me.
Kizer will be over-drafted because of his size, plain and simple. He is 6’4″ and 230lb which should peg him as the biggest quarterback prospect other than Davis Webb who will be drafted significantly later. He certainly won’t be drafted for the stats he put up at Notre Dame. He had a horrendous completion percentage of 58.7% in 2016 and did not break 3,000 passing yards in either 2015 or 2016. He does have some “boom” capability though so be careful which tape you watch – he went off for 5 TDs and 0 INTs twice, once in 2016 against Texas and once in 2015 against Pitt. What makes his size so tantalizing is the speed that goes with it – he’s tough to bring down in traffic and if he gets into the open field, he’s gone.
When I watched Kizer’s film, I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked under pressure which I thought might be a strength given his athleticism and speed. Kizer often seems to forget about the rush once it gets behind him and gets sacked from behind rather than stepping up and out of the pocket. Against Stanford, I counted four sacks like this; two of which came on the last drive when the Irish were down 7 points. I was not impressed with his accuracy or arm strength when rolling out. I also question his attention to detail: between the two games I watched, Duke being the other, Kizer dropped two snaps and botched a handoff. Lastly, his awareness of game situation and field position worries me. Of all of the film I have watched so far of the rookie QBs, Kizer has by far the worst throw. Let me set the stage… it’s 35-35 against Duke with just 5 minutes left, Notre Dame has the ball in the shadow of their own goal posts and it’s 3rd & 20. Kizer drops back to pass, into his own endzone, shuffles left and throws a duck without setting his feet. The pass is easily intercepted at the Notre Dame 45 yard line. The announcer basically says, “no big deal, they would have punted anyway” but that is asinine. If Kizer was able to gain even 5 yards to give his punter some room, they could have ensured that Duke at least got the ball back in their own half instead of plus territory. Duke took over, killed 4+ minutes and kicked a 19 yard field goal that ended up being the game winner.
Some quarterback desperate team will inevitably take Kizer in the Top 15 due to his physical tools but I wouldn’t want my team making that mistake – he will need time to develop and he won’t get that if he’s taken in the top half of the first round.
DeShaun Watson will be the name that most casual fans will be familiar with and the one that I am most worried about RSO owners reaching for. Watson has played in two National Championship games, one of which he won, has finished in the Top 3 of Heisman voting twice and has more than 10,000 career passing yards. Watson certainly has a championship pedigree but can he turn that into success in the NFL? Not unless he can stop throwing interceptions.
Without even watching any film of Watson, you can quickly determine his biggest negative… he throws way too many INTs. In 2016 he threw 17 and in 2015 he threw 13. Does this sound familiar? Okay you’re right I ragged on Watson for his interceptions in the lead up to January’s championship game, so I’ll move on.
When I started watching film of Watson, I had a preconceived notion that his interception problems were caused by his limited reading of the field. After watching 2016 outings against Auburn and Ohio State, I still believe that. Against Auburn, the first game of the season, you will find very few throws when Watson looks away from his primary receiver. Against Ohio State, in the semi-finals, he was improved but still not what you would hope for from a franchise quarterback. Going back to the Auburn game, I also noticed three times when Watson’s throw was deflected at the line of scrimmage. Depending where you look he is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’2″ – I would not be surprised if his height becomes a problem come combine.
Watson is obviously supremely talented and I think that his field vision issues could be helped by the right coach (whether that means giving him half-field reads or actually helping him improve) so I’d be willing to give him a shot in the late 1st round.
If there is one quarterback in the first round that I would be targeting it would be Mahomes. Many draft resources have him listed as the 4th prospect behind Trubisky, Kizer and Watson but I believe he should be right up there with Trubisky. Given the difference in draft pick needed to nab the two, Mahomes would be my pick.
It’s easy not to give any credence to the numbers that Mahomes (and past air raid quarterbacks) put up but let’s just take a quick look because they are insane. He threw for over 11,000 total passing yards in his career and 93 TDs. In 2016 he had six games of 400+ yards, three games of 500+ and one of 700+. Add in 22 career rushing TDs and you have an all-around prolific quarterback. All of Mahomes’ stats (yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, interceptions, etc) improved year over year from 2014 to 2016.
Watching film of Mahomes is a bit misleading due to how many attempts he has each game, but it was sill instructive – anybody could find pros and cons when you have 50+ attempts. You will notice immediately that his footwork needs improvement – he throws off one foot often – but he has the arm strength to overcome. To my eye, he looked most comfortable when rolling out of the pocket and only had half of the field to read. When on the run, he throws accurately. Like Kizer, he seems to struggle with stepping up and out of the pocket, oftentimes he just stepped right into a sack. Two things that I loved when watching Mahomes play against Arizona State… First, he drew two offsides and turned one of those into a touchdown on a free play. That is something you see in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers anybody? Just kidding) and not so often in college. Second, he executed this one play perfectly a few times, once going for a touchdown, where he has a long fake at the mesh point and then fires a quick bullet to a slanting TE. He was knocked out of the game against Kansas but it was not a serious injury.
Mahomes, like the other three profiled here, is not perfect but I think his trajectory is pointing in the right direction and he is worth a pick by a fringe playoff team around 20th overall.
Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample. When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…
Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey. Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.
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