2019 NFL Draft: Here are the flaws next year's top quarterback prospects must fix
College football's best QBs have some work to do to bolster the reputation of the 2019 class
Next year's quarterback draft class has an extraordinarily tough act to follow, and there's some thought scouts are "terrified" of the 2019 crop of signal-callers, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
From his June 27 article, "One scout specifically said: 'There's maybe three—(Justin) Herbert (Oregon), Drew Lock (Missouri) and the Auburn kid (Jarrett Stidham)—who look like dudes. But there are a lot—a lot—of issues here. I'm terrified of this class. I hope everyone got their guy last year."
I already took a deep dive on, which features strengths, weaknesses, and an early pro comparison for each. Also, , which will obviously fluctuate a great deal over the next 10 months.
Below I'll take a specific look at the flaws some of the top quarterback prospects need to fix to ease the minds of scouts before the 2019 draft.
Must improve: Pocket patience and ball placement
For as excellent as Finley is pre-snap, which leads to him typically knowing where the coverage dictates he can throw the football, he's not noticeably snappy through his reads. He flourishes in the quick game and when he gets clear one-on-one coverage on the outside for a deep shot, but he is antsy when his first read is covered.
Finley flashes keen pocket movement but too often prematurely vacates the pocket, a red flag for the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks. His ball placement can be a little hit or miss but his overall accuracy isn't an issue. To me, that means he's almost always "on-target" with his throws, but they aren't always easily catchable. The veteran NC State signal-caller has to get faster moving from his first to secondary to tertiary target. Tightening up his ball placement would work wonders for his draft stock as well, especially if he's going to bill himself as a West Coast offense, quick-game technician.
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Drew Lock, Missouri
Must improve: Anticipation and accuracy
Lock has a stupidly strong arm. It's Matthew Stafford-esque. But similar to fellow gargantuan-armed quarterback Josh Allen, his misses aren't "juuuuuust a bit outside." He needs to rein in the bad misses, because they're noticeable blips on the radar. His on-target throws usually hit receivers in stride, so he doesn't have what is the more specific ball-placement issue. Also, up to this point in his college career, Lock obviously has to be able to lean on his ability to launch rockets across the field at the expense of developing his anticipatory throwing, an aspect of playing the position the game's elite have mastered in the NFL because the passing windows close so rapidly in the pros.
With Lock, it's easy to notice him seeing a receiver come open well before he releases the football. He's certainly not timid with the football, so the anticipation flaw isn't lack-of-aggression based. For his draft stock to skyrocket, he must process coverage and route combinations faster which should allow him to throws passes before receivers' breaks and when they're a few steps away from being open. If he can do that and discard the wild misses from his résumé, given his monster arm, he'll garner top 5, if not No. 1 overall pick consideration. He's that naturally talented.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Must improve: Pocket drifting
You can identify the bad quarterbacks from the good quarterbacks even if you don't watch them throw the football. The bad quarterbacks are almost always abysmal under pressure. They sink into full-blown panic mode and in the worst cases, drop their head when their pocket isn't perfectly clean. The good ones seem natural, moving away from oncoming defenders, finding slivers of room to get rid of the football, and routinely keeping their head up.
Herbert isn't a "bad quarterback" in this facet of the game, because he does typically keep his head downfield while being pressured, but in 2017, he tended to drift right into defensive linemen and linebackers, which led to far too many sacks that weren't necessarily the offensive line's fault. He needs to fine-tune his work under pressure and find those holes in the pocket to set his feet and get the ball to his pass-catchers. Many believe it's a natural skill that's almost impossible to teach, and while I think that's mostly true, Herbert has already shown the ability to "drift" inside the pocket. He just isn't always drifting in the right direction. Not morphing into a running back the moment the pocket begins to crumble does seem to be inherent with him. That's vital. The foundation of this refined skill is there for Herbert, he simply needs to get more polished maneuvering between the tackles.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Must improve: Footwork and processing
Stidham is playing in an option-based offense, which based on the increasingly popular RPOs in the NFL, bodes well for him at the professional level. His arm is good. He has a quick release and rarely made bad decisions last season. The accuracy part of the game seems to come natural to him. However, poor footwork was far too common on his 2017 film for him to be considered a first-round caliber prospect at this juncture.
Sometimes against pressure and frequently when launching the ball downfield, Stidham faded away from his throws, and a byproduct of that was floated passes that were seemingly put up for grabs. Luckily, his receivers came down with many of those "YOLO" balls, but that style of play won't fly in the NFL. Also, because he is in Gus Malzahn's Misdirection City scheme, he isn't lightning quick from read No. 1 to read No. 2 and wouldn't be labeled as a full-field reader right now. The latter isn't nearly as important as it was, say, 5-10 years ago because of the utilization of option-based plays for quarterbacks, but it's something Stidham will want to add to his repertoire as he moves to the NFL.
Must improve: Arm strength
The final two quarterbacks on this list are the two most fundamentally sound signal-callers -- especially from a traditional sense -- among the NFL-caliber passers in next year's draft class. At around 6-foot-2 and around 200 pounds, Grier doesn't look like a traditional pocket quarterback. And, unsurprisingly at that size, he's lacking in the arm-strength department. At the collegiate level, the power on some of his longer, across-the-field and deep shots are serviceable. In the NFL, his arm would be categorized as below-average.
Don't get me wrong -- arm strength is overrated in general, but the signal-callers with weak arms are limited in the amount of passes they can make throughout a game. Grier processes quickly, doesn't have ball-placement issues, and is outstanding drifting around and standing in the pocket in the face of pressure. He needs to demonstrate more velocity on the longer throws he unloads during the 2018 season. If he can do that, he'll have one of the most well-rounded games in next year's quarterback class and very well could rise into the first round of the 2019 draft.
Must improve: Overextending
Like Grier, by NFL standards, Browning is a smaller quarterback with average-at-best arm strength. He can drive the ball a bit more impressively than Grier, and like his West Virginia counterpart, he owns the pocket in almost every occasion. Browning gets into trouble when he tries to do too much and holds the football seemingly forever behind the line of scrimmage in improvisation mode.
A few positive plays came on these prolonged scramble drills last year, but for the most part, Browning should've thrown the football away many times when instead he kept it, reversed his field -- in some instances, multiple times -- while attempting to elude many defenders and threw ill-advised passes. That tendency is telling. Browning has a intense urge to continually make plays, but part of thriving as a quarterback in the NFL is living to see the next play without making a game-changing mistake. He must accept throwing the football away right after he leaves the pocket if nothing is there isn't necessarily an indication of brutal quarterbacking. And it'll lead to him getting sacked fewer times as a senior.
So, which QBs will be first-round picks?
Finley, mainly due to his experience and mastery-level work in the quick game, has first-round potential. Lock too, solely based on some of the outrageous downfield rockets he can launch, will probably be in the first-round conversation. Herbert's a plus athlete with a big frame, live arm, and flashes of awesome downfield accuracy. With another strong season, he'll likely garner first-round attention.
At this point Stidham, Grier, and Browning have the overall profiles of second- or third-round selections. The latter two are ahead of some of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in their class when it comes to pocket maneuverability and anticipatory throwing.
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