There is no Trevor Lawrence in this draft class, but there may be a Joe Burrow or Zach Wilson -- a quarterback who seemed to come out of nowhere and work his way into one of the top picks. Nevada's Carson Strong has a chance to be that guy and he's off to a hot start to his 2021 campaign. Below, we take a look at Strong's impressive performance, as well as how some of the other big-named, draft-eligible quarterbacks played over the weekend.
Note: Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler and North Carolina's Sam Howell are two of the highest-profile quarterbacks in this class, but we haven't included them in this week's QB Watch for a very simple reason: We didn't have access to their games; the Sooners-Western Carolina matchup was pay-per-view only, and the UNC-Georgia State get-together was a regional broadcast. Take solace, however; after up-and-down performances in Week 1 (Rattler was sloppy vs. Tulane and Howell was running for his life vs. Virginia Tech), both quarterbacks were pretty, pretty good on Saturday night. Rattler played just 30 minutes and finished 20 of 26 for 243 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, and Howell went for 21 of 29 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
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Carson Strong, Nevada
If you're looking for an outta-nowhere quarterback prospect who wasn't on the average fans' radar over the summer and is poised for a Joe Burrow or Zach Wilson-type ascent up the ol' media mock draft boards over the coming weeks and months, let us introduce you to Carson Strong. We had him going No. 9 overall in our first mock draft the season and the only reason he lasted that long was because of a knee injury that started in high school and limited him throughout training camp last month.
Of course when you watch him, you'd have no idea Strong was anything but 100% healthy. He was dealing in the Wolf Pack's season-opening win on the road against Cal last week and he was downright dominant against Idaho State on Saturday night. In 3.5 quarters of work, Strong went 34 of 43 for 381 yards, four touchdown and no turnovers.
He was, in a word, clinical.
Whether it was a back-of-the-end zone fade on Nevada's first drive:
Or a back-shoulder throw on touchdown No. 2:
His third touchdown, just before the half, came on as efficient a two-minute drill as you'll see; Strong showed off his arm, his accuracy, his ability to get through reads, and to remain patient in the pocket. And then there's the final TD, which showed off his ability to feather the ball over defenders while on the move:
To recap: Strong is legit. So legit, in fact, that the only thing keeping us from making him our QB1 is his knee. If NFL teams give him a clean bill of health (and they won't be able to get a good look at him until the combine), he could end up being a top five selection and the first quarterback off the board.
Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Back in January, Kenny Pickett had an invitation to the Senior Bowl but instead opted to return to Pittsburgh for his final season. And based on what we saw on the road against Tennessee it was a great decision. Pickett finished with 285 yards, two first-rate touchdown passes and no turnovers, and it he did it while completing 67% of his throws (24 of 36).
It was a marked improvement from what we saw from Pickett at points during the 2020 campaign where his toughness was one of his best attributes but a maddening lack of consistency made it hard to get a feel on his game. There were no such concerns on Saturday afternoon; Pickett was throwing lasers all over the yard, mostly on short and intermediate routes. And it was his mobility -- both in the pocket and when he opted to run -- and, more importantly, his accuracy that was so impressive to watch.
Here's Pickett's first touchdown pass, on a first-quarter drive that saw him go 5-for-5:
And here's his second touchdown, a well-placed strike on a quick slant that solidified the Panthers' fourth-quarter lead:
Pickett isn't in the Top 50 conversation just yet, and we'll be honest, we had a Day 3 grade on him after the 2020 season. But he had a stellar performance against the Vols and he'll get a chance to continue to prove himself next month during a three-game stretch against Virginia Tech, Clemson and Miami.
Kedon Slovis, USC
Two years ago, then-freshman Kedon Slovis stepped in for injured JT Daniels and never relinquished the job. Slovis played in 12 games that season, completed 72% of his throws fore 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Slovis was USC's starter and Daniels ultimately transferred to Georgia. In 2020, Slovis remained the model of consistency; he completed two-thirds of this passes with 17 touchdowns and seven picks in a pandemic-shortened schedule.
On Saturday, the 14th-ranked Trojans played host to Stanford and here's the truth: Slovis was outplayed by Cardinal sophomore Tanner McKee, who was part of a quarterback rotation in Week 1 and had appeared in just one game with seven attempts in 2020. This was his first career start and McKee finished an efficient 16 of 23 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
That's not to say Slovis was bad, because he wasn't. In fact, he looked a lot like the quarterback we've seen the last two seasons. He ended the night 27 of 42 for 223 yards, with a touchdown and a very costly late-game pick six. He's not an elite athlete like Trey Lance or Justin Fields (think more along the lines of Mac Jones) but he throws with great anticipation and accuracy. First there's the back-shoulder throws to wideout Drake London:
And this put-it-only-where-your-guy-can-catch-it ball between two defenders in the back of the end zone that was dropped:
That said, the aforementioned interception was on a slant that was just behind his intended target and the results were catastrophic for USC's chances at a comeback. All told, Slovis has solid footwork, gets through his reads, often makes the right decisions with the ball coming out on time. The issue is that he doesn't have elite arm strength, and more importantly, doesn't consistently put the team on his back and lead them on late-game touchdown drives like Jones at Alabama, or even a Kyle Trask at Florida.
Don't misunderstand: Slovis is a solid quarterback who possesses many of the attributes NFL teams are looking for, it's just that his style of play leaves very little margin for error.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
We've been writing about Brock Purdy in this pace for three seasons now, and while we were really impressed with his sophomore campaign, he regressed a little in 2020. We marked up some of those struggles to playing through a pandemic and were excited to see what he could do in '21. Iowa State opened the season with 16-10 win over Northern Iowa and Purdy finished 21 of 26 for 199 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception.
On Saturday against Iowa, the Cyclones' offense sputtered early but cut the Hawkeyes lead to a 14-10 at the half, thanks in large part to a late second-quarter Purdy middle-of-the-field seed to Darren Wilson for a 49-yard gain. Iowa State got into the end zone a play later. Then things got ugly. Really ugly.
Purdy had already tossed a second-quarter interception when he slightly underthrew his receiver -- and Iowa's Matt Hankins made an incredible play on the ball -- when it all went sideways in the third quarter.
The first two offensive drives after the half ended with Cyclones punts. That was followed by three drives that ended thusly: a Breece Hall fumble returned for six, a Purdy interception that went off the hands of his receiver running a short crosser, and a Purdy interception that was tipped at the line of scrimmage (have a day, Mr. Hankins).
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Purdy, who had started all but three games the last four seasons, found himself on the bench, replaced by redshirt freshman Hunter Dekkers. His final stat line: 13 of 27 for 138 yards, no touchdowns and the aforementioned three picks.
Purdy barely resembles the quarterback we saw in 2019, and he'll need to play with more confidence and consistency to turn things around. He has time, but for now there are a lot more questions than answers about his game.
Emory Jones, Florida
Emory Jones attempted just 32 passes last season because this was Trask's team. But Jones was supposed to be the guy heading into the 2021 season. Yes, coach Dan Mullen named Jones the starter before the season, and again reiterated as much after a lukewarm performance against FAU, but his grasp on the No. 1 job is tenuous at best because of the lights-out effort from freshman Anthony Richardson.
There's a lot to like about the dual-threat nature of Jones' game but the lack of consistency from one play to the next, along with Richardson's emergence, could ultimately land him on the bench. First, the good from Saturday's matchup against USF: This 35-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter was a dime:
Jones also ran for 81 yards and a score against USF, and the week before he had 74 rushing yards, and Mullen made it clear last week that Jones' grasp of the offense is one of the reasons he's atop the depth chart:
But Jones also threw two picks against FAU in Week 1 and had two more on Saturday, both of which, if not inexcusable, bordered on the inexplicable. The first interception, which game in the third quarter, with the game already in hand, came after Jones threw to the flat even with a defensive back standing between him and his intended target. The next interception came on the very next drive, after Jones was two beats late hitting his receiver on a crossing route, and in the process allowed the far-side defensive back to make a play.
Richardson, meanwhile, threw three passes, two of which went for touchdowns and the other was a jaw-dropping sideline throw:
Richardson also rushed four times for 115 yards and a score, and he had 160 rushing yards in last week's win. He left the game in the fourth quarter with a tweaked hamstring and that might have been the only reason Jones got back on the field. Next up: Alabama, y'all.