Under the Radar 2019 NFL Draft Targets: QB (Fantasy Football)
Typically, any team seeking a franchise quarterback had better be picking at the top of the NFL Draft. Considering the premium organizations place on the position, quarterback prospects are typically elevated to the top, and teams annually scramble to move up in the hopes of landing one. In 2018, we saw five signal-callers get selected in the first round, with four of them going off the board in the first 10 picks. The early returns on Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson have largely been promising, as each of these men took over as his respective squad’s starting quarterback by Week 11.
While five first-round passers might seem like a high number, 16 have been taken over the last five NFL Drafts, with 11 coming off the board in the top 10. It’s a quarterback-driven league, and if you want to compete, you need to find a competent one. But what if you don’t have the luxury of a high pick? What if a quarterback-needy franchise doesn’t have a premium opportunity to grab a highly touted passer? Is it possible to find your guy in the mid-to-late rounds?
The answer is yes. In case you hadn’t heard this 1,000 times, six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles, was a third-rounder, as was Russell Wilson. Drew Brees was taken in the second, Kirk Cousins went in the fourth, and Tony Romo went undrafted. The list goes on and on. Clearly, while it’s very difficult to find a franchise quarterback outside of the first round, it’s not completely impossible.
The 2019 quarterback class is not expected to be particularly strong, especially when compared to the array of potential studs from a year ago. Having said that, there are a number of signal-callers who could make an impact at the professional level. By now, you’ve heard a lot about likely first-round passers like Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, and Daniel Jones, so let’s take a look at some under-the-radar prospects to consider as the NFL offseason kicks off.
Will Grier (West Virginia) – Draft Projection: Round 2-3
Grier has been a tough prospect to evaluate as draft season approaches. While some scouts love him and see him as a potential first-round pick, others aren’t as optimistic. He was prolific in his final collegiate season, throwing for 3,864 yards, 37 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in only 11 games for a completion percentage of 67.0 and yards per attempt tally of 9.7.
While much of his production is often attributed to West Virginia’s wide-open offensive scheme, there is no doubting his accuracy and determination. Questions about his arm strength linger after the Senior Bowl, but his resume speaks for itself. Currently, he has the look of a second-day selection, but he could move in either direction, depending on how the draft process unfolds over the next few months.
Ryan Finley (N.C. State) – Draft Projection: Round 2-3
An efficient passer without a major league arm, Finley joins Grier as a prospect with a wide range of outcomes. The former Boise State transfer threw for 3,928 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 11 picks while leading the Wolfpack to nine victories in 2018.
Scouts love his accuracy, poise, and touch, though some question his athleticism. At 6’4″ and only 208 pounds, he’s somewhat slightly built for the position, but he’s put enough on tape to demonstrate that the right coaching staff should be able to get the most out of him.
Although Lock seemed to get the biggest bump in draft stock after the weekend, Finley performed admirably at the Senior Bowl, completing seven of 11 passes for 83 yards. At present, Finley looks like a potential second-rounder, but his stock will likely be affected by how he tests athletically over the next few months.
Clayton Thorson (Northwestern) – Draft Projection: Round 3-4
Thorson started 53 straight games at Northwestern (the most in Big Ten history) and won three straight Bowl games to close out his college career. While he was unable to participate in the Senior Bowl because of a high-ankle sprain, it’s not like there’s a lack of game tape to watch.
Consistency has been an issue for Thorson, as he never really put it all together for a sustained stretch at Northwestern in spite of his continued success. In his final collegiate season, he only tossed 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions, a ratio that certainly needs to be improved upon.
However, at 6’4″, 225 pounds, he has the size that catches scouts’ eyes. It’s all guesswork this early in the draft process, but I expect his combination of prototypical size and experience will make him a target as a late day two, early day three selection.
Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) – Draft Projection: Round 3-4
Stidham entered the 2018 season with first-round buzz, but his numbers took a hit in his second year as the Tigers’ starter. His passing yardage dropped from 3,158 to 2,794 on only one fewer pass attempt. Furthermore, his yards per attempt plummeted from 8.8 to 7.9, and his completion percentage dipped from 66.5 to 60.7. For the second consecutive year, he only tossed 18 touchdown passes while playing in a run-heavy offense.
Unfortunately, he followed up his disappointing campaign with a two-fumble performance in the Senior Bowl. With that said, there’s still plenty of reason for coaches to be intrigued by his upside. Stidham possesses an above-average arm, is fairly athletic, and has good speed to boot. There are plenty of tools for NFL coaches to work with. At 6’2″ and weighing in at 214 pounds, he doesn’t necessarily possess prototypical size, but he could be an interesting prospect at the next level given his upside.
Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) – Draft Projection: Round 4-6
Jackson is a 6’7″, 249-pound quarterback who passed for 3,131 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, adding 161 rushing yards and seven ground scores en route to being named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2018. On paper, that sounds pretty fantastic. On top of all that, he possesses terrific arm strength. So where’s the problem?
In 2018, he only completed 55.3 percent of his passes, the second time in his career he failed to exceed a completion percentage of 56.0. That’s not usually an encouraging sign of potential at the next level. However, his remarkable tools will likely lead to him climbing draft boards as the offseason rolls on and the draft process unfolds. At the Senior Bowl, he went 13-of-21 for 165 yards with two passing touchdowns and a pick while displaying an incredible skill set.
A year ago, a 6’5″, 237-pound mobile quarterback with a huge arm and a completion percentage of 56.3 was drafted seventh overall by the Buffalo Bills. While there are mixed opinions on Allen’s NFL future, there is optimism in Buffalo for the first time in years. Jackson will likely intrigue many NFL executives who have drawn the same parallel.
Brett Rypien (Boise State) – Draft Projection: Round 6-UDFA
Rypien is the latest in a long line of highly productive Boise State quarterbacks, and his senior season resulted in 3,705 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. This all came on a career-high 447 pass attempts and led to a career-best 67.3 completion percentage. Rypien also performed admirably in the East-West Shrine Game, completing 10 of 14 passes for 134 yards. Perhaps most notably, he reportedly met with the Denver Broncos during the event.
As the draft approaches, he’s looking like more of a late-round option, but there’s a lot to like about his profile. While he lacks a big-time arm, he’s very accurate and intelligent and could be a capable spot starter with upside for more at the NFL level. Boise State signal-callers have a tendency to get overlooked during draft season, so we’ll have to wait and see if Rypien can buck that trend.