Last week on Draftwatch I looked at Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer. This week I'll round out the top 5 QB's available in this year's NFL draft with a closer look at 3 passers who will bring different strengths (and weaknesses) to their new team's table.
Mitch Trubisky, Quarterback, University of North Carolina
Let's just get this out of the way up front. If you want a QB in the 2017 draft, you want Mitch Trubisky. He checks all the big boxes in bold marker AND he does the little things well too. That will help him survive and thrive while he learns at the next level. My biggest fear with Mitch is that he won't be around for the Bears to pick at #3 overall. If that were the case, would I advocate Chicago trading up a spot to #2 (as Myles Garrett will likely go #1) to get him? I would. He's that good. The Bears need a quarterback to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future and I believe Trubisky has the tools to be that player. If he turns out to be that player nobody will grouse about the price they paid to go and get him.
Trubisky has a very good arm and he knows how to use it in a variety of situations. That's a rare combination in college passers these days. He has the ability to drive the ball with better than average velocity (even on deep out routes) and he combines that with accuracy traits that put him at or near the top of the 2017 class. Accuracy and ball placement are much more important to me in assessing a QB than how strong his arm is. When you find a player with a strong accurate delivery who is able to deliver throws with a high level of consistency, you are looking at a potential starter at the next level. If you find a player like that who combines his passing talent with other, much harder to teach skills, then you are looking at something special.
Mitch mates his downfield throwing ability with solid, quick decisions in the pocket. Trubisky's ability to progress through reads and even return to his progression after evading pressure is unmatched among this year's top college passers. His touch and ball placement routinely lead his receivers into the best possible spot to make yards after the catch. When the play breaks down he has that uncanny "it" factor to roll away from backside pressure just in time to extend the play while keeping his eyes downfield to deliver an accurate throw. It's the kind of thing Bears fans have become used to seeing (and hating) from players like Aaron Rodgers. Now imagine that kind of talent wearing navy and orange on Sundays and you'll get a sense of why I think this North Carolina signal caller can become something special.
Mitch is a talented runner when he decides to leave the pocket. He is a compactly built 220 pounds and has terrific top-end speed. Stanford DE Solomon Thomas has received rave reviews this draft season for both how quick and fast he is. In the Tarheel's game against Stanford this year Trubisky outran Thomas easily for a first down gain. When they left the line of scrimmage Solomon was on Mitch's heels, but by the time he reached the marker Trubisky had a 3-yard advantage. In other words, he is plenty fast for a QB in today's NFL.
Running for yardage is a nice add-on in the modern game but the more important measure of how a pro passer uses his feet is the ability to move around in and outside of the pocket effectively. If done correctly this allows the QB a few critical extra seconds to complete a long pass as the coverage breaks down. Trubisky repeatedly demonstrates excellent feel in the pocket and the ability to step either up or out of it. He can deliver a passing strike on the run and is equally adept at doing this to his left or right. This skill alone is pure gold for a young QB experiencing the increased speed of the NFL. It means when a play does not go as planned (which happens to rookie passers all the time) they still have a chance to create a positive outcome. In the end it adds up to more drives kept alive and less punts to the other team.
A lot has been made of Trubisky's inability to win the starting job at North Carolina from Marquise Williams; a player who is not currently in the NFL. To me this is a non-issue, as the last time I checked college coaching staffs were not making the decisions about what was best for random NFL teams a thousand miles away from their campuses. I am much more concerned about what Trubisky did on the field in live action once he ascended to the starting role, and that was frankly outstanding. I think analysts are looking for some lacking to pin on Mitch, and after finding very little to grouse about on the field they started looking elsewhere to find a chink in his armor.
On tape he is clearly able to rally his team and string play after positive play together. His teammates competed hard under his leadership and forced some superior opponents into difficult situations. If the Bears are going to choose a player in the 2017 draft to lead their offense for years to come I hope that player is Mitch Trubisky. His combination of gifts, both physical and mental, is unmatched at the QB position in this draft class.
Patrick Mahomes II, Quarterback, Texas Tech
Mahomes is a streetball legend. He is a magician who makes a regulation college football field look like a basketball court. No down is too daunting and no distance is insurmountable when he has the ball in his hands... which is a darned good thing because Texas Tech faced ridiculous down and distance situations this season more often than any team in my recent memory. Pat has undeniable athletic gifts and when he harnesses them in unison he is unstoppable. The trick is he can only seem to play within himself for short periods of time before he starts drawing up plays in the dirt and willing things to happen with his massive arm. As you can imagine, things often go awry at that point.
This Texas Tech QB has a cannon attached to his right side that would not have been out of place defending the Alamo. Mahomes can put the ball as far down the field as he wants to, from a good stance or bad. His accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, but the velocity alone allows him to slip throws in between defenders that other QB's could only dream of. When he sets and throws with a proper base and arm angle he can be terribly accurate, but he rarely achieves this combination.
I swear that Mahomes favorite play is called "All you guys run deep and scatter. I'll dodge a rusher or two and hit one of you off my back foot for a massive gain" because that's the one he ends up running about 60% of the time. You think I'm exaggerating but I'm not. Mahomes threw 88 times in one game this year. Let that sink in. That is enough passes for about 3 solid NFL games. The majority of his 700+ passing yards in that contest (no, that is not a misprint... thanks for asking) came off what I would classify as busted plays. He does not do the 3-or-5-step-drop-and-fire-a-pass thing very often. He has many plays where he's still running around 5-plus seconds after the snap, looking for someone to break open. Like I said, "streetball". That style will not work in the NFL and he'll take some horrendous sacks for massive losses.
Some team will see his amazing ability and believe that they will be the ones to coax it out of him with regularity. If they can, a number of years down the road they'll win a Super Bowl with him at QB. If they can't, they'll have spent a high draft pick and suffered through frustrating glimpses of potential without witnessing enough consistency to win.
Mahomes is the least gifted runner of the QB's I have studied this year, but he can still motor in the open field. He is tall (6'4") and a long-limbed 220 pounds. He can surely gain yards with his feet but it's not his strength, and he'll never be mistaken for "shifty" as a ballcarrier. His height and long arms do give him some leverage on QB sneaks that is helpful.
In the pocket he is not particularly skilled at rolling away from pressure. He is better at stepping up to avoid it but not as good as players like Watson or Trubisky. I will say he does have a Roethlisberger-esque quality about him of sloughing off a decent sized hit or completing a pass while seemingly in a defender's grasp. He doesn't do it all the time but he's shown flashes of it. He depends on his line to give him more time than the average QB gets after the snap and his erratic, evading style often sets his linemen up in impossible situations where a holding call is inevitable. To Mahomes this isn't really a disincentive as he simply comes back on the next play, does the same thing but completes a bomb for an improbable first down.
If you want to see why Mahomes will get drafted in the early rounds despite all of his non-NFL tendencies watch the opening of the Oklahoma State game. He was on script and dealing consistent timing throws in a way I had not witnessed in the previous 2 games I watched. He absolutely gutted their defense and marched down the field for 2 consecutive scores. It's a sight to behold and it will be beyond tempting for an NFL team come draft time. But if you have some perseverance, keep watching through the end of that game and see his consistency unravel. The yards start coming from junk plays again and his accuracy leaves him, leading to some bad misses and throws that should have been picked.
As a QB Mahomes has to be fun to play with because you are simply never out of it. 3rd & 29? No problem... we got this. I imagine it is also frustrating to see him spray throws all over the field only to come back and complete the 40-yard laser to keep the drive alive. And as a running back? You'd be as bored as Nebraska's receivers used to be in the triple-option days. If Mahomes doesn't throw it 50 times a game he is likely not going to win.
He is exciting to watch and is dripping with physical talent, but as a complete QB able to manage all parts of a football game and stay within a game plan; he's a hot mess. To be successful on the NFL level he'll need a very firm hand in his coaching staff and a lot of patience... which is in short supply in the NFL today. Even if he is lucky enough to get both of those things the chance his game survives the complete rebuild necessary to be an effective pro field general is low. If you like longshots, betting on Pat for long-term success is right up your alley.
Brad Kaaya, Quarterback, University of Miami
Studying Brad Kaaya for this article was a tough thing for me to do. Why? Because Kaaya caught my eye three years ago as a true freshman sensation. Although the Hurricanes did not win a lot of games that year under head coach Al Golden they were loaded with talent. This was evidenced when draft time rolled around and all 3 of Kaaya's main targets (RB Duke Johnson, WR Phillip Dorsett and TE Clive Walford) were drafted into the NFL.
I was hopeful at that point that Kaaya would continue to learn and grow to become an incredible pro prospect. Well a funny thing happened on the way to the forum as they say. Golden got fired but his replacement (former Georgia head coach Mark Richt) had a great track record with QB's. Kaaya was on his way to the promised land for sure, right? Wrong. It just hasn't happened for Brad and I'm not entirely sure why... but tape doesn't lie.
Brad Kaaya absolutely looks like a pro QB. He's a tall, lean 6'4" and 209 pounds. He stands tall in the pocket, scans the field and fire throws with what looks to be a fairly fundamental over-the-top throwing motion. The problem lies in the results not looking quite so picture perfect. On screens, swings and short outs Kaaya hits the mark early and often with good velocity. When he starts to throw a little deeper and across the middle he often displays the maddening and dangerous tendency to throw the ball high, above his receivers grasp. When the target is running away from him and down the sideline he often loses the ability to hit the broad side of the barn. His inability to land deep sideline throws consistently is inexplicable; to the point where I was honestly more surprised when he connected with one than when he missed it by 3-plus yards.
I can usually tell what has a passer spraying balls with lousy accuracy, but with Kaaya I cannot. It's almost like he has a golfer's case of the yips and just has a mental block on certain throws. His body looks good doing it but the results tend to be terribly low percentage. If I knew he couldn't make that throw or was physically pushing to do so, that would be one thing. But Brad is a strong, easy thrower of the football and makes some amazingly difficult touch throws from time to time, so you know he can... he just doesn't with regularity. It's a riddle wrapped in an enigma and if some NFL team is able to solve it they will have gained an exceptional thrower for a fraction of the normal cost.
Kaaya is a gifted athlete and shows it when he takes off. He rarely takes chances that will cause him bodily harm and lives to throw another play. When there is space in a defense to take advantage of (and doing so will benefit his team) Brad is both willing and able to gain those yards with his legs. His movement in the pocket is good and he can get away from a medium amount of pressure by scrambling. He is able to keep his eyes downfield for a possible throw about half of the time. However his accuracy on the run is sometimes good and sometimes awful.
Kaaya does a great job operating a pro-style of offense and often gets to the third read in his progressions. This signals a high level of football acumen. He'll certainly adapt more quickly to an NFL offense than many of his college brethren who run less-traditional offenses. Despite his impressive array of physical abilities Kaaya does not look terribly solid when pressured. He doesn't flat out panic, but when the rush gets near him the likelihood of a positive outcome for the play dips dramatically. This is concerning given his three years of starting experience. While he doesn't fumble or toss up crazy picks when getting hit, the resulting sack still sets an offense back in a serious way. If he is to succeed, especially under the heavy pressure defensive coordinators have been know to throw at young NFL QB's, he will have to improve in this area.
If you want to see why some team may take a chance on Brad as early as the 3rd round this year, watch the middle of the game vs. West Virginia. Stacked up against a very good pass defense with an aggressive rush Kaaya goes on an impressive tear, completing 11 or 12 throws in a row and absolutely marching Miami down the field. If you want to see why teams are worried about him and might avoid him until much later in the draft, watch the Virginia game. That game is chock full of examples of his tendency to throw high balls over the middle and overthrow multiple routes down the sideline. He struggled all day and never really got anything going for the Miami offense.
So that rounds out the top 5 available QB’s in this year’s draft. Based on the voting from both WCG writers and readers there are four more major categories of need for the Bears to address: safety, cornerback, defensive line and tight end. As Draftwatch rolls on this year I’ll profile the top 5 prospects at each of those 4 remaining positions.
In the meantime, which of the five QB’s I covered would you like most like to see in Chicago next year? Which of them would you least like to see in Vikings purple?