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Next wave of top QB prospects: Justin Herbert fits NFL prototype

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After spending the past 12 months riding the 2018 quarterback class hype train, I couldn't wait to cast my eyes on the next wave of prospects at the position to see if they could live up to the lofty expectations set by their predecessors. Even though this next group of QBs has been described as weak and shallow by some observers, I find it hard to believe that these players will have more questions about their respective games than those in the 2018 class.

Remember, the 2018 class saw a two-time walk-on (Baker Mayfield) with less-than-ideal physical dimensions and athleticism come off the board at No. 1. Also landing in the top 10 despite concerns about their games: a turnover-plagued signal-caller (Sam Darnold), an inaccurate flame thrower (Josh Allen) and an oft-injured passer with a prickly personality (Josh Rosen). With a so-called run-first playmaker (Lamar Jackson) who faced questions about whether wide receiver would be his best position in the NFL also landing in the first round, you could say that the 2018 class is hardly the epic group that many were billing it as a year ago.

That's why we should keep an open mind about the next class of quarterbacks. There are plenty of intriguing options within the college football ranks. Although they're not quite the finished products that some NFL scouts and coordinators covet, they have enough potential to grow into solid QB1 prospects down the line. With that in mind, let's take an early look at field generals that we will discuss over the next 12 months. Here are five upperclassmen I'm most excited to watch:

Justin Herbert, Oregon: Herbert is the new prototype at the position as a big, athletic QB1 with the ability to make plays as a passer and runner. He's an efficient distributor in a quick-rhythm offense that features screens, bubbles, seams, and verticals off misdirection. While there are a high volume of layups built into the Ducks' offense, Herbert is a deadly accurate passer on intermediate and deep routes inside or outside the numbers. He routinely makes pro throws with precision and flashes all of the tools that NFL coordinators covet in a QB1 (touch, timing, anticipation, and accuracy). Although Herbert still needs a little seasoning as a starter, he has all of the ingredients to be a franchise player at the position.

Will Grier, West Virginia: The ex-Florida standout enters his second season as the Mountaineers' QB1 after transferring from the Gators in the midst of a one-year suspension for violating the NCAA's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He's as good as advertised as a gunslinger. Grier displays A-plus arm talent as a quick-rhythm passer with outstanding range and a feathery touch. He's one of the few passers in college football who can pick apart defenses as a scheduled thrower or as an improvisational wizard from the pocket. With an impressive resume that includes a strong completion percentage (64.4) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (34:12) in WVU's Air Raid-like system that features a lot of NFL throws, Grier could be the next Big 12 quarterback to land at the No. 1 spot on the board.

Drew Lock, Missouri: Don't let the low completion percentage (54.5) fool you. Lock is a pinpoint passer with the kind of A-plus arm talent coaches covet in a QB1. He can rifle the ball to every area of the field with zip, velocity or touch. He also displays outstanding timing and anticipation. Lock consistently delivers the ball within the strike zone, which should make his sub-60-percent completion rate a non-factor in the evaluation process when scouts scour the tape. If he gets better play from his receivers in 2018, the Mizzou QB1 could vault to the top of the charts as the No. 1 player at the position.

Jarrett Stidham, Auburn: The Baylor transfer is entering his second season as Auburn's QB1. He's a classic drop-back passer with outstanding size, strength, and arm talent. Stidham is a deep-ball specialist adept at throwing "shots" off play-action. As a vertical passer, he shows excellent range, anticipation and touch connecting with receivers on posts, switches and go routes down the field. Stidham is also effective firing darts to receivers on seams and slants between the numbers. Although Auburn's system doesn't feature a lot of NFL-like concepts, Stidham's natural talent and efficiency running a scheme loaded with screens and deep "shots" will give him a chance to climb up the charts during the evaluation process.

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Ryan Finley, N.C. State: QBs billed as "game managers" rarely earn rave reviews from observers, but NFL personnel executives love a dependable playmaker from the pocket like Finley. He excels at distributing the ball to receivers on short and intermediate throws as part of a dink-and-dunk offense that places a premium on ball control. As a vertical thrower, Finley displays enough arm strength to push the ball down the field, but he is a selective "shot" taker with a game that's built for a West Coast Offense-like system. With some coaches favoring a high-completion-percentage playmaker at the position, the way Finley is valued could depend largely on a team's preference for its style of QB.

Some other QBs I'm keeping an eye on: Shea Patterson, Michigan; Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State; Trace McSorley, Penn State; Brett Rypien, Boise State; Clayton Thorson, Northwestern.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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