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2019 NFL Scouting Combine: Biggest questions for top four QBs

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Kyler Murray. Dwayne Haskins. Daniel Jones. Drew Lock.

Nearly every NFL executive and scout I've spoken to over the past week has those four at the top of the 2019 quarterback draft class. But good luck figuring out in which order they'll come off the board, as the NFL world descends here for the combine two months before draft day.

This will be the first chance for teams to spend significant time around Murray and Haskins and the second around Jones and Lock, who were at the Senior Bowl last month. And it won't be the last chance, with pro days, private workouts, "Top 30" visits and more ahead in an evaluation process that's more extensive for QBs than at any other position.

Teams have all the game tape (even if many coaches haven't dug into it yet). Area scouts have spoken to everyone they can find (even if they may not have shaken the player's hand). So what's left to figure out?

Here's a look at the big questions facing each QB this week at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, based on recent conversations with veteran evaluators across the league, from decision-makers to area scouts.

Kyler Murray, Oklahoma

Will he really stick to football? No matter how many times Murray says he will, "I don't think you'll ever really feel comfortable with that," one NFC executive said. That's not just because the Oakland A's drafted Murray ninth overall last June, seemingly locking in his future in Major League Baseball until things began to shift in October. Scouts who have dug into Murray's transfer from Texas A&M in 2015 say it raised questions about how he might handle adversity in the NFL. Every scout I spoke to who has studied the Heisman Trophy winner expressed some level of concern that Murray's father, Kevin, who played one season of Minor League Baseball at age 18 before leaving to play quarterback at Texas A&M and now trains young QBs at his Air14 Quarterback Academy, is really calling the shots. As one college scouting director put it: "He's clearly not a kid in control of his career. The question is, OK, if he doesn't go to a team he wants, does he leave for baseball? If he's not starting or getting his way, is he going to go to baseball? If he can leave Texas A&M, he can leave anybody."

I reached out on Monday to Kevin Murray, who doubles as Kyler's QB coach, about those concerns and he told me: "Kyler's got a tremendous support system in place, with me and his mom. But ultimately, he makes his own decisions and we advise him. He's a 21-year-old kid that does things the right way, and we trust his decision-making process. ... We're not surprised that he made the decision he made, and we know he's all in." Even if Murray has given up on baseball, baseball doesn't seem to have given up on him. The A's gave Murray a $4.66 million signing bonus -- a figure that would fall between the guaranteed money on contracts for the 36th and 37th overall picks in last year's NFL draft. One report last month said the MLB would allow Murray to sign a major league contract immediately if the A's can sway him back. "Major League Baseball is changing their rules for the kid," an NFC personnel director said. "If you draft that guy, you've got to have some big balls."

How will his personality play in an NFL locker room? Murray earned respect from teammates at OU with his dynamic playmaking ability, but he's not an alpha-dog leader in the mold of his predecessor (and last year's No. 1 overall pick), Baker Mayfield. "I know everyone's trying to compare him to Russell Wilson," an AFC scout said, "but you saw some of those awkward interviews he did (during Super Bowl week). He's not your typical quarterback. He's very quiet, laid-back." That's not necessarily a negative. Plus, media interviews are different than sitting down with Murray face-to-face, which teams will get to do for the first time this week.

How big is his hand? For all the talk about Murray's height -- and he'd certainly be an exception to every rule at a shade under 5-foot-10 -- several scouts said the most interesting measurement will be Murray's throwing hand. "There's not a quarterback in the NFL that has a smaller hand than like a 9 -- a 9-inch hand, the span from the thumb to the pinkie," an NFC executive said. "They say [Murray's] could be really small, like 8 5/8 or 8 7/8. The difference (from other short QBs) would be like Russell Wilson's is [10 1/4]. Drew Brees is like a 10 1/4."

Small hands usually raise a concern about fumbles, and Murray hasn't been fumble-prone. He also played behind one of college football's best offensive lines and didn't take a lot of hits. "He's got a good arm for a guy that size," an NFC scout said. "You do see him at times not be able to spin it. You see it come out pretty good, but if you're looking at the college ball and counting revolutions on the actual stripes, it doesn't look like there's a ton of velocity just buzzing off his hand." Murray is the only QB in this group who has not declared his intention to participate in Saturday's throwing session at the combine; teams are expecting he'll wait for his pro day.

Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

How much football does he know? Readiness is a natural question about a redshirt sophomore who only started one season, albeit one in which Haskins threw 50 touchdown passes and played better as the season went on. "I see a lot of pre-snap decisions that, man, he's going there regardless of what the defense does," an NFC executive said. "And then anticipation -- to be able to anticipate reading the defense and then anticipate where the player's going to be and throw -- he doesn't do all that well. Now, he gets away with [that] a lot of the time because he can wait to the last second -- bam! -- and then just rocket it in there. That's a strength, and yet it's a weakness, too. Those holes become a lot smaller (in the NFL)."

Another scout said inconsistent ball placement is partly to blame for some of the drops by Buckeyes receivers. Haskins is an unrefined passer and his footwork and mechanics can get out of whack. Ohio State coach Ryan Day has a good reputation for how he teaches quarterbacks, though. Haskins is still only 21 (he turns 22 in May), and scouts believe he has the aptitude to learn. Quincy Avery, who has worked with Haskins since his sophomore year in high school, told me they begin each day of training with roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes of board work and "people will be blown away by how smart he is" when they test his football IQ at the combine. In terms of presence, Avery compares Haskins to another of his star pupils: Deshaun Watson.

"This guy can operate from the pocket -- he's got that ability," an AFC scout said. "He can pull the trigger. He's got arm talent, that's for sure. And you've got to really give the kid credit, because as the year progressed, the last couple games, he was lights out. You've got to take that into consideration with him being such a young guy and played his best ball at the end of the year. Obviously, you hope for it to trend forward."

What kind of athlete is he? No one is particularly concerned here, given that Haskins is a pocket passer who ran for just 194 yards in his college career. That's where he'll make his money in the NFL, too. But as one personnel director put it: "His feet are just OK." Testing will give teams a better idea of how he stacks up against QBs with similar games. "I saw some throws he made on the run that I didn't question the kid's athleticism or mobility," an AFC scout said. "Those guys (at Ohio State) all kind of play a different style with the quick reads that they have. If stuff's not there, it's easy to get rid of it. Now, I don't think he's going to wow you with his testing numbers. I think they're just going to be average, but good enough."

Daniel Jones, Duke

How will his personality play in an NFL locker room? Jones' coach at Duke, David Cutcliffe, also mentored the Manning brothers. And word out of the school is Jones' personality is more Eli than Peyton -- which interviews at the Senior Bowl confirmed. "Usually meeting a quarterback, they shake your hand and just take over the interview, and that was not the case," an AFC scout said. That's not necessarily a problem, though it does raise potential questions about how quickly Jones will be able to command a team of grown men. He didn't go from a grayshirt to a two-year captain at Duke for no reason, though. He's regarded there as tough, authentic, always around the building, always putting in the time.

"One of his best friends is one of the assistant equipment managers," an NFC scout said. "He'll come in and scrub his own [footballs], takes care of himself -- just not a lot of pompousness or arrogance about him. They say he's just a very likeable guy. And they thought he could be a face-of-a-franchise type of guy -- he's a great locker room guy, but just that quiet leader." Teams accustomed to Type-A quarterbacks will have to get comfortable with that approach. The rest of Jones' makeup is strong, and no one questions his aptitude. "They're not all perfect, because (Joe) Flacco won, Eli wins," a college scouting director said, "but man, it's hard to pull that card when you don't feel like they've got a lot of juice for your team."

How strong is his arm? Scouts say it's good enough, but those concerned about Jones' ceiling say limitations show up when he's throwing downfield. At times, the ball seems to float. "It may be a mechanical thing more than an arm-strength thing," an NFC scout said. "It may be base, transferring weight, being able to [have] the ball explode off his hand, because you did see him speed it up at times." Whatever the cause, Jones' arm is the biggest hang-up for those scouts who have him a notch down from one or more of the other QBs. "I don't have a problem with it," an AFC scout said. "I really don't, because he throws with such great anticipation and timing." Jones completed just 59.9 percent of his passes over three seasons at Duke and some scouts do point to inconsistent accuracy, but drops were a huge problem for an underwhelming supporting cast. "I think his arm is strong. And I think he's getting stronger now," said David Morris, another Cutcliffe protege who has trained Jones since he was a high school sophomore. "Physically, he looks great. I think he feels really confident about where he is on all the throws that they'll throw at the combine -- and it should show up, that he can go toe-to-toe with any of those guys that have 'big arms.' "

How's the medical report? No issues are expected, but Jones broke the collarbone on his left (non-throwing) side in September -- and returned less than three weeks later, with a plate and screws inserted to stabilize the bone. Teams will want to make sure that healed correctly as part of the overall picture on a player who took a lot of hits in college.

Drew Lock, Missouri

Can he put it all together? This question really encompasses everything for Lock, who has a huge arm, excellent athletic ability, durability, work ethic, a gregarious personality and all the physical traits teams look for ... but he didn't emerge as the clear-cut QB1 in this draft after throwing 44 touchdown passes as a junior in 2017 and opting to return to school. The consensus is Lock heads into the combine third or fourth on this list, but he has the skills to rise through the process. "He's got the best arm of the group. His arm strength is amazing. He can really, really zip it," an NFC executive said. "Sometimes, he's just a little inconsistent." Another veteran evaluator said he was frustrated watching Lock's tape because there's so much ability -- "Wow, arm talent," the evaluator said -- yet there were multiple games in which he was waiting for Lock to elevate the team in critical moments and it didn't happen. "While he can make some special throws downfield and on the intermediate stuff, he just needs more footwork and mechanic consistency," a college scouting director said. "I'm not talking about throwing the ball -- he can do that fine. (Missouri OC and QBs coach) Derek Dooley did a good job with him, but he just needs more time."

Lock told me at the Senior Bowl that being perfect with his feet in the pocket has been a big emphasis in his work with QB coach Jordan Palmer, who also helped Josh Allen smooth out his feet and mechanics before last year's draft. He'll try to show off the progress Saturday.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.

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