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So you’re looking for a future franchise quarterback, but the 2018 draft class isn’t floating your boat?
Maybe you’re discouraged by the fact Sam Darnold committed 22 turnovers last season. Maybe you’re concerned that Josh Allen put up so-so numbers in the Mountain West Conference. Maybe you’re afraid that Baker Mayfield’s height and/or ego could cause problems. Maybe you’d prefer that Josh Rosen not have real-world opinions. Maybe you aren’t convinced Lamar Jackson can become a regular NFL starter under center.
Or maybe you just aren’t in a position to land the 2018 quarterback prospect you do believe in.
Might you be better off waiting for the 2019 draft? A lot can and will change over the course of the next 13 months, but early indications are that class will actually be weaker and shallower than this one.
Here’s a way-too-early peek.
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Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson is still waiting to find out whether he’ll be eligible to play in 2018 after transferring from Ole Miss, which was sanctioned in December as a result of a recruiting scandal. But if he plays in the fall, he has ability to become top-five pick next spring.
The mobile, accurate and efficient Patterson looks and feels a lot like Baker Mayfield, and predictable Russell Wilson comparisons have been made. He’s elusive, strong-armed and highly-instinctive for a quarterback with only 10 college games under his belt.
“He’s as good as advertised,” Kevin Wright, Patterson’s former head coach at IMG Academy, told MLive’s Aaron McMann in December. “As I watched him in his first SEC game against Texas A&M (in 2016), I was sitting there watching the game kind of laughing. Because he’s running around making plays just like he did in high school. He’s making SEC defenses look like he made high school defenses look. At times, it’s amazing. He makes it look easy. He’s definitely a special player.”
Patterson completed 63.8 percent of his passes, averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and posted 17 touchdowns to nine interceptions in half a season at Mississippi in 2017, but the 21-year-old suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.
In order to become a hot prospect in the draft, Patterson will need to put together a complete season under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. But he might not even get that opportunity until 2019.
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Coming off a junior season in which he averaged 9.5 yards per attempt and posted an SEC record 44 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions, Missouri’s Drew Lock decided to stay in school rather than compete with Darnold, Mayfield, Allen, Rosen and Co. for draft positioning in 2018.
Now, the big-armed 21-year-old probably needs one strong senior season in an offense with more pro-style elements under new coordinator Derek Dooley in order to be viewed as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. He completed just 57.8 percent of his passes in a fairly simple offense last year, and that number will have to grow under Dooley’s tutelage.
The completion rate should be accompanied by an asterisk, though, because Lock went deep so often in that offense, which lit up the SEC during the second half of the 2017 season.
“Drew Lock is every bit as talented as any quarterback coming out of school,” Trent Dilfer told 590 The Fan in December. “Josh Rosen. Sam Darnold. Baker Mayfield. Any of them.”
He has one year to prove it.
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In his first season at Auburn, Jarrett Stidham completed 66.5 percent of his passes and posted 18 touchdown throws to just six interceptions while leading the Tigers to victories in seven of their eight games within the SEC.
Two of those wins came in a three-week span against heavyweights Georgia and Alabama, with the transfer from Baylor completing 73 percent of his passes for 451 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while the Auburn offense scored a combined 66 points in those two.
Stidham already has the size (6’3″, 214 pounds), the arm talent and the quick release you want from a franchise quarterback. Now he’ll need a strong redshirt junior season in order to overcome potential concerns regarding the fact he hasn’t taken many college snaps under center.
Of course, it’s always possible he’ll stay in school until 2020 anyway.
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A three-year starter in the Big Ten, Clayton Thorson might have been viewed as a strong second-tier quarterback prospect in the 2018 draft had he decided to leave school.
And while the redshirt senior remains intriguing as an athletic, 6’4″, 225-pounder who can make every throw, he faces an uphill battle after tearing his ACL in January.
It’ll be tough for Thorson to return rust-free in time for the start of his final year of eligibility, and even if that happens, he’ll have to prove that he’s a good enough decision-maker (he threw a career-high 12 interceptions last year) to be considered a high-round selection. His numbers weren’t exceptional in 2017, but he deserves a lot of credit for leading the Wildcats and their pro-style offense to 27 wins and a pair of bowl victories in a three-year span, despite a lack of talent around him.
Even before he helped Northwestern get to the Music City Bowl with a 10-win 2017 campaign, Thorson was getting props from ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.
If he can bounce back and build on a completion percentage that has increased significantly in each of his first three seasons as a starter, he’ll have a chance to be a first-round pick in April 2019.
Safe to say this is a make-or-break year.
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Despite putting up superb numbers at West Virginia in 2017, Will Grier decided to stay in school. That’ll give him a chance to prove that his first full season as a college starter wasn’t a fluke.
The Florida transfer completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 3,490 yards, 34 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and a 9.0 yards-per-attempt average as a redshirt junior. Prior to bowl season, that earned Grier the second-best Pro Football Focus grade among all college football quarterbacks.
“He’s along the lines of [Baker] Mayfield and [Kenny] Hill in terms of he’s really, really accurate throwing the football,” said Texas head coach Tom Herman in November, per Zach Barnett of College Football Talk. “He’s a tremendous passer. But he can make you pay with his feet, too. He’s as good as we’ve played, and we’ve played some really, really good ones.”
PFF concluded that Grier is a big-time thrower who excels against the blitz, which is pretty much exactly what NFL evaluators want. But he’s also trying to overcome the red flag associated with a PED suspension that cost him his 2016 season and ended his tenure at Florida.
One more year of polish could help Grier bury that a little more and gain some first-round buzz entering 2019.
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Even if all five of the quarterbacks above perform well in 2018 and enter the draft in 2019, and even if other potential 2019 blue-chip quarterback prospects like Florida State’s Deondre Francois and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald come through with big years, it’ll be hard for the 2019 class to hold a candle to a flawed-but-deep, high-upside 2018 class.
Nobody in the 2019 class looks like Josh Allen, and few of them are likely to have resumes that resemble those of Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield.
That means teams that decide to wait this year could have to be patient enough to hold out until 2020, when Washington’s Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, his replacement Jake Fromm and hyped Alabama lefty Tua Tagovailoa will all be eligible.