In the past couple of years I’ve focused on doing a preview of the prospects post-draft, but too often that comes down to talking about the player as a piece of a depth chart, instead of as a prospect. It also feels awkward as I feel like I’m giving away my own draft board, so this time I’m going to focus more on the prospect, and talk about what sort(s) of situation might suit, or not suit them. I’m also going to look at some wider trends in performance.
Anyway, let’s start with the most important position in the NFL, and the one that sits at the top of your fantasy roster – the Quarterback.
Let’s take a quick look at what sort of value a QB can bring. Here’s a list of the first three years for QBs entering the league since 2007, if you total up their fantasy points from those stats (approximately, doesn’t include 2pt conversions and fumbles) then the top 6 rank as follows:
Newton (995), Luck (938), Wilson (887), Dalton (763), Bortles (762), Carr (739) with Tannehill, Ryan, Griffin and Flacco following them. As a rough guide, that 995 points for Newton would be equivalent to having the 2nd ranked QB on average over the last three seasons (who the second ranked QB is will potentially change each season). In fact, Newton, Luck and Wilson’s total points are all higher than the 5th ranked QBs in each of the last three years, despite the fact those individuals change each year and should in theory perform better than an individual who might get hurt, have a down year or whatever (even accounting for the fact those averages exclude week 17, and include fumbles etc I’d still expect them to be better than an individual).
How does that compare with other positions? Well, running back goes deeper. All of the top ten rookies since 2007 at RB scored enough points in their first three years to crack the top ten over the last three years, in fact, all of the top 19 would have cracked the top 19 (and the 20th only misses out by a couple of points). That perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise given that longevity is the exception, rather than the rule, at the position and that these players have much more college wear and tear on them than others. There are some significant caveats here though – draft position is relevant for QBs. 8 of the top 10 were amongst the first three QBs off the board in their drafts, with Wilson – in a deep draft at the position (4 top 10 players) – and Dalton – in a really bad year for QB scouts (behind Locker, Gabbert and Ponder) – the 5th QBs selected. At RB, this is very different, with the top selected RB only making the top 10 once, and the top three only accounting for 4 spots. In fact, only two of the top ten were selected in round 1 (the top 2). There’s also a much bigger gap between the best ranked at RB and the 10th ranked – 300 points (against a max of 800), compared with 250 at QB (against a max of 1000), so it’s easier to hit the top 10 at RB.
At WR is where things get really messy – as at QB, only 3 of the top 10 rookies would make the top 10 WRs, unlike QB though, only Odell Beckham would do more than creep in at the bottom of it. Six of the top 10 were amongst the top three receivers off the board, so draft position is a reasonable indicator, but being first off the board is actually not much of an indication of anything, with only two first pick receivers (Green and Megatron) finding a spot in the top 20 rookies. And being highly drafted doesn’t help either with 5 out of 8 top 10 overall picks missing out on the top 30 rookies. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, WRs can be slow burners and develop late, while they’re being compared with players who’ve learned a system and run a fully developed route tree, as well as having established relationships with their QBs, though being outperformed by other rookies isn’t particularly good. However, in terms of making an extension evaluation down the line, it’s pretty clear that drafting a receiver is going to give a similar reward to drafting a QB, but without the same sort of confidence in the evaluation of the player by NFL teams. However, it’s still most likely that teams will go for a WR over a QB on draft day. In term of spread, the top 10 have a spread of about 190 points with a maximum of 700. Obviously, WR is a deeper position though, and all of the top 20 rookies outscored the average score of the 30th WR, so they’d still be starting quality players, where anyone outside the top 3 QBs would only be fit to cover byes and injuries (ignoring the future development possibilities). The other thing to bear in mind here is that it’s a much deeper position, so the top 20 receivers represents only 1 in 4 of the rookies in the period examined.
But enough about how a QB pick compares with other positions… let’s take a look at this year’s class, starting with the likely top four picks – Watson, Kizer, Trubisky and Mahomes.
It’s not easy to predict the order of these four picks, or indeed where they’ll all go, though I’d be surprised if any remained by the end of the second round. Despite some QB needy teams at the top of the draft, and the importance of the position, it’s unlikely any of the players go in the top six. The depth at the position is part of this, as last year’s two prospects were no less flawed, and there weren’t fewer teams with needs at QB, but an overall weaker draft and worse depth pushed them to the top of the board, despite some serious issues. Anyway, with no real order to fall back on, let’s go with the strength of their college resume.
Deshaun Watson (Clemson) There’s an established narrative around Watson at this point – lacks arm strength, makes some bad throws, has probably the best intangibles of any QB in the draft though. That’s perhaps a little unfair and over-accentuates the negatives. He definitely makes some bad throws, he just sometimes doesn’t see or read coverage correctly, and that results in his high interception count. He also tends to get the ball out too fast, throwing off his back foot and soft-balling passes, which is possibly why there’s a question mark over his velocity and arm strength (although he’s built like Bridgewater more than Newton, so maybe he just doesn’t have that much arm strength), and that poor footwork and low velocity combine to make some very interceptable passes. All of which said, he plays in the ACC, not the PAC-12 and there’s been some good NFL QBs who’ve not looked elite in that conference. Russell Wilson started in the ACC with NC State and hardly set the world alight, with 26 interceptions (Watson had 32) on a similar number of passes, before going to Wisconsin for his Senior year and lighting it up, throwing only 4. Winston (at FSU) threw 28 in 27 games (Watson’s 32 are in 38), also in the ACC and also going to two national championships, but in his case he was throwing much more aggressively downfield than Clemson do. On the non-athletic side, however, Waston is a slam dunk pick. Elevating his team to back-to-back championship games, and producing his best performance in those games, against the best team and best defence in the college game. Perhaps, never more evident than in the defeat in the 2015 final.
He’d be a great pick for a team with a decent defence who can overcome his occasional bad throws, but who desperately need an offensive leader – the Jets and the Bills jump out more than say the Cards or the Texans as a good fit then, and the Broncos (depending on how they feel about Siemian and Lynch) might be a suprise contender where Watson could play with a great D and develop into a true star, as Wilson has in Seattle. Much like Wilson, one of the strengths of Watson’s game is his ability to react to pressure, roll out of the pocket, find space and make a throw, and while he might not end up being as good a pure passer as say Mariota, he offers more dynamism, toughness and that ability to produce with his feet might just make him a fantasy viable option if he can cut down on the bad plays. For a QB-needy team, he’s worth a mid-round pick, just because his upside with his feet make him a potential starter down the line.
Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina) Let’s be clear here, I’m not going to be particularly kind to Trubisky. It’s not that he looks bad statistically (college stats don’t mean much in terms of conversion to the NFL), in fact, his stats don’t look massively dissimilar to Watson in some ways – virtually idential passer efficiency and completion percentages, and a similar ypa. He’s thrown less than half the passes, but only a third of Watson’s interceptions (both playing in the ACC), although also throwing less than half of the TDs, and offering little in the running game. It’s more a question of where’s the excitement, the *thing* that makes him someone to get excited about. He took over an 11-3 team, out-performed Marquise Williams on a personal level, and finished 8-5 with a bowl loss, leading a team who started as high as 15th (and never outperformed that ranking) to 30th in the final rankings. I know the college success doesn’t lead to NFL success, and college failure doesn’t translate to NFL failure either, but there’s something very bland about Trubisky’s college career. No bowl win, a loss to rivals Duke, no signature wins, defeats by 3 of the 5 top 25 teams they faced, including Stanford in the Sunbowl, and a very mediocre schedule (mostly conference games, with defeats in 2 out of the 3 non-conference games against other power 5 teams, and no game against Louisville or Clemson, the best two teams in the ACC), three games against top 25 defences but two defeats in those and easily his least impressive performance against Virginia Tech in probably the biggest game they played all year (aside from the bowl loss).
Simply put, he’s a mediocre candidate, promoted to the top of many mocks because there’s nothing significantly offensive that pundits can mark him down for. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the first QB off the board, but I’d also not be surprised if he was third or fourth either, just because he’s the equivalent of eating vanilla ice cream in a magnolia room while listening to Ed Sheeran, and any team evaluating him probably fell asleep at the sheer boringness they encountered. As a player, he doesn’t have exceptional arm strength, it’s not questionable, like Watson’s, but not particularly notable either. He’s neither inaccurate, nor accurate. He’s OK under pressure, moving and buying time, but he doesn’t scramble or make plays with his feet, his mechanics aren’t perfect, and his footwork on throws could use some work. He’s played almost exclusively out of the shotgun and pistol, in a simple zone-read, so he’s not NFL ready in that sense, and there’s no cleverness to his play, locking on to and staring down his targets. Unlike Watson or Mahomes there’s no real players you can point to and say he’s got a bit of Cam Newton, or Russell Wilson as there’s just not that much tape to look at and no obvious comparisons. I’d guess just for his sheer bland, inoffensiveness and total lack of excitement there’s Andy Dalton, and for his total lack of anything worth getting excited about in his college career there’s Matt Ryan, but ultimately trying to compare him or project him to the NFL is going to be really tough, as a result, I wouldn’t recommend spending a pick on him in a fantasy draft, no matter where he lands. Anyway, here he is absolutely stinking the place out against Virginia Tech, with bad throws and bad decisions galore against one of the better defences he played.
Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech) I don’t really know if Texas or ND were worse this year, let’s just settle on saying neither will be selling commemorative DVDs of their seasons. Mahomes displaced Davis Webb (we’ll get to him later) midway through 2014 and held the job at Texas Tech for two and a half years. There’s clear progression and development over that time, adding more TDs, improving his accuracy and cutting down on the interceptions. However there’s no real improvement to Texas Tech. Unlike Trubisky, I’m not putting that on Mahomes, who had to contend with the worst defence in the entirety of FBS football this year, yet somehow managed to go 5-7 with a team who conceded an average of 550 yards and 45 points a game. As a result, a lot of their scorelines look more like they belong more on Cricinfo than a football game, but they were fun to follow. And that’s something you can certainly reflect on Mahomes himself. He’s a gunslinger in the Favre model, feeling his way through games and defences, rather than having a carefully scripted plan that he sticks to. That’s probably not going to be entirely popular with NFL teams, but it does mean that when plays break down he’s not going to be afraid to improvise and make things happen – although not with his feet, he’s not much of a rusher/scrambler. That can count against him, with the odd bad decision – usually throwing late trying to make something happen, instead of throwing it away – but he has probably the best arm strength of the top candidates and good touch and placement, as befits the son of a former MLB player, and a kid who played baseball himself (even being drafted by the Tigers).
He didn’t take a lot of snaps under centre, like Trubisky, he worked mainly from the shotgun, and the air raid offence at Texas Tech is one of the most QB friendly in all of football, so he’s definitely not pro-ready, basically. But… and it’s an important but, there’s a lot to like, and a lot that can be worked on. This isn’t like Watson’s arm-strength issues, that are probably going to dog him all his career. Mahomes has the scope to improve, assuming he has the right attitude to do so. Most of all, he’s a tough competitor, playing through some pretty tough hits and injuries. Which is probably for the best as he has all the pocket awareness of a tackling dummy. If he can learn to read and feel pressure (and know when to throw it away, or get it out fast), he could be a top fantasy QB, particularly if he ends up in the right spot – behind Roethlisberger or Carson in Pittsburgh or Arizona, in an offence with playmakers who like to be aggressive, and won’t be scared of his tendency to be a gunslinger. He’s a stash and see, wherever he lands, but don’t be too surprised if he ends up being the best fantasy option in this draft, and even if he isn’t, you’ll have had the fun of watching him play. Anyway, here he is setting an NCAA all-time record with 819 passing yards against Oklahoma
DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) There was a point in 2016 where Kizer was the presumptive number one QB, on one of the best teams in football. Then they actually played some games, and it became very clear, very fast that Notre Dame stunk and that Kizer was not going to have the breakout season many expected. Perhaps those expectations were unfair, Notre Dame had lost a lot of talent to the NFL (Ronnie Stanley, Will Fuller, CJ Prosise being just some of the players who left), but in Josh Adams, Equanimious St Brown and Torii Hunter Jr they weren’t exactly left with a bare cupboard on offence either. Kizer did improve – adding more TDs, and cutting down his interceptions, but doing so by cutting down the distance on his passes, and despite this losing accuracy. That’s not a great combo, but it’s not entirely on him. Much like Trubisky, I have the concern that the coaches working with him every day didn’t seem to be sold on him. ND did stick by Kizer, but Kelly never seemed totally convinced.
So why are teams so interested in a guy who has easily the worst statistical record of any of the top four candidates? Kizer is probably the best athlete, and the closest to the physical shape and build teams look for in a QB, he’s just a natural athlete, he’ll be a mobile QB, comfortable in the zone-read offence, but he’s capable of more than that – he’s got good pocket presence and he keeps calm and stands tall even as the pocket starts to crumble. That’s mostly a positive, but it does also dovetail with his biggest weakness – he holds onto the ball too long, not taking on passes at times that are there to be made. That’s not a killer for the modern NFL QB, as taking the sack is definitely better than making a bad throw and turning it over, but it’s also a signal that he can hesitate or be put off a throw by a DB, which could be problematic. As for his fantasy prospects, despite being a great athlete, he’s not a Kaepernick or a Newton who’s going to be better with his feet than his arm. It’s early to say how his career will play out, but perhaps the best comparison might be last year’s surprise package, Dak Prescott. Naturally athletic, far from stellar accuracy in college, but careful with the ball, capable of making enough throws and likely to be a success if he lands in the right spot with a good, balanced offence around him that doesn’t require him to do too much. I’d expect Kizer to be the most successful of the four QBs over the first three years before his owner needs to make an evaluation, but I think his long-term ceiling is probably low-end top 10 at best, and he could simply end up an Alex Smith type of QB, who’s solid, but never someone you’d be happy to have as a fantasy starter in a ten man league. Good fits for Kizer would be somewhere like Houston or the New York (Giants) – I just don’t trust him to elevate a team like Cleveland or San Francisco – but I think he could be a very effective fit on a team with a lot of talent around him.
There’s no standout tape of Kizer, so I’ve settled for the 2015 Fiesta bowl game against Ohio State – he played well enough in a loss against a very good team featuring NFL talent like Bosa and Lee on defence.
Right, that’s the main four covered in depth, so a quick scan of a couple of other candidates:
Davis Webb lost the job to Mahomes at Texas Tech due to injury and never won it back. Transferred to Cal this year after Goff went to the NFL. He’s not terrible, but given Mahomes was clearly considered better at Texas and that Goff has been an unmitigated disaster in LA, I’d not be in a hurry to go back to that well and draft a guy who was objectively worse than him in pretty much every category on the same team. That he’s considered the consensus 5th best option in this draft is a clear sign of how quickly it falls off a cliff at this point. Not a fantasy relevant option.
Brad Kaaya is what you draft if you wanted Kizer, but didn’t have a pick for him. He’s not quite as athletically developed and he’s even more hesitant – especially under pressure, where Kizer is quite strong – but I’d take him over Webb, he played in a much more pro-style offence in his final year at Miami, and put up good, if not stellar numbers in it. He should transition to the NFL and he could be a surprise success story, like Dak Prescott. More likely though he’s not going to be able to live with the looks and pressure NFL co-ordinators throw at him and he’ll end up with a decent career as a scout team QB after a brief and disastrous stint as a starter following injury. That’s probably harsh on Kaaya – Miami aren’t an elite team, and spent time in the top 25 this year before a four-game losing streak ended that. The thing is, that streak was against some good teams, and they were a team who won comfortably when they won (including their bowl game), but lost narrowly in three out of the four defeats. Kaaya’s line is not too different from Trubisky’s or Watson’s, coming out of the same ACC, and practically identical to Prescott’s, so it’s not like there’s not something there to work with. I’d not be spending a pick on him, even late, nor spending a taxi squad spot on him but if he lands in the right spot, he might be worth keeping a watching brief on as a future free agent or in-season pick up if he ends up in a starting role.
Chad Kelly is only included in this write up so I can make a joke about how if he actually gets drafted he might get drunk and send a third DM to Mia Khalifa, which will get published and we’ll all get to lol at the fratboy getting turned down by a porn star three times. Seriously though, Kelly has a small chance of making the transition to the NFL, he’s shown some stuff at Ole Miss, particularly in the last two seasons against Alabama. He’s just not shown it consistently enough, and he’s unlikely to hear his name until the last day of the draft. In the right spot, behind a shaky starter he might surprise, but it’s definitely not worth spending a pick to find out.
There’s some other candidates, like Peterman, but they’re not going to be fantasy relevant, unless they end up drafted by a team who’ve a clear and obvious need for a QB and will be looking to start him early. Even then I’d hold back – ultimately, they’re not going to be fantasy relevant year one barring a major surprise, so you’ll be able to see how they develop and make a play for them in free agency in 2018.