With the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine upon us, Bucky Brooks is ranking the top prospects at key positions. Today's focus: quarterbacks.
Strengths: Classic dropback passer with exceptional arm talent and sneaky athleticism. Kizer is built like an old-school quarterback (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), but he has a unique skill set that allows him to play a new-school game. He can function as a dual threat in a spread offense or pick opponents apart as a dart thrower in a traditional scheme with full-field reads and pure progression concepts. As a passer, Kizer is like an MLB pitcher with an assortment of pitches that allows him to throw with zip, touch, timing or anticipation whenever needed. He is one of the few passers in the draft capable of changing his trajectory to drop the ball over the linebackers but in front of the safeties on deep in-breaking routes. Kizer's exceptional arm strength enables him to fire strikes to the boundary on speed outs and post-corner routes. With the Notre Dame standout also capable of dropping the ball into the bucket on vertical routes, he can challenge the defense at every level with his natural arm talent.
As a runner, Kizer isn't flashy, but he is effective as an occasional ball carrier on zone-read plays. He scored 18 rushing touchdowns in 25 career games and churned out enough explosive plays as a runner to force defensive coordinators to respect his running skills on the edge.
Weaknesses: After regressing a bit as a second-year starter under Brian Kelly, Kizer must convince scouts that he has enough confidence and grit to battle through adversity as a franchise signal caller. In addition, he must answer questions regarding his ability to handle hard coaching after he seemingly wilted at times under Notre Dame's fire-breathing head man.
From a playing standpoint, Kizer's sub-60 percent completion rate in 2016 raises concerns about his accuracy and efficiency as a rhythm passer from the pocket. Although he played with a less-than-stellar supporting cast as a part of last year's 4-8 Fighting Irish, elite passers are expected to complete a higher percentage of their throws, particularly when playing in a spread offense that features some layups in the passing game.
Strengths: Quick-rhythm passer with outstanding passing skills and arm talent. Trubisky can make all of the throws with zip, touch or anticipation, particularly on intermediate throws to the boundary or between the hashes behind the linebackers. In addition, he is capable of dropping a dime on a deep ball to a streaking receiver on a post route along the hash. Trubisky's ability to consistently make tight-window throws with accuracy and precision separates him from other quarterbacks in this class. Quarterback gurus will have a tough time bypassing a polished passer on draft day. While the skeptics will point to Trubisky's limited starting experience at North Carolina as a reason to drop him down the charts, it is hard to find precise passers with a nice combination of arm talent and athleticism to challenge the defense.
Weaknesses: As a one-year starter, Trubisky hasn't had enough high-level reps at the position to immediately step in as a first-year starter. He hasn't figured out how to decipher complex reads, which could make him a turnover machine as a young player. Trubisky's quiet demeanor also comes into play. Some scouts question his leadership skills as a "lead by example" type. If he doesn't exude confidence or have a presence when he meets with executives at the NFL Scouting Combine, it could be hard for him to convince some teams that he has the "it" factor to be a difference maker at the position.
Strengths: Big-game player with a winning pedigree -- 32-3 as college starter with a national title (and nearly two) -- and extraordinary leadership skills. Watson always appears to play his best on the biggest and brightest stages, which is why teams are giving him a second look after downplaying his potential earlier in the process. The two-time Heisman finalist is a quick-rhythm passer adept at working the 15-yard box on hitches, slants, seams and skinny posts. When he is able to deal on pick-and-stick throws, he is as good as any quarterback prospect in the country.
Watson is an outstanding performer in late-game situations. He displays exceptional confidence and poise directing two-minute drills, as evidenced by his clutch performance on the game-winning drive in January's national championship game. Considering how many NFL games are decided in the final minutes, Watson's confidence, poise and composure could pay huge dividends for a team in need of a leader.
Weaknesses: Watson's accuracy and turnover woes have been cited as huge concerns by the scouts. With the Clemson QB tossing 30 interceptions over the past two seasons, evaluators wonder if he can take care of the ball in the pocket. Moreover, they question whether he can read exotic defenses and find the primary target in a timely manner. With the Tigers frequently operating at breakneck speed, Watson rarely saw complex pre-snap disguises, which is an issue for a young quarterback breaking into the NFL.
In addition, Watson must improve his deep-ball accuracy, having missed the mark on several vertical throws throughout last season. In a league where explosive plays are hard to come by, Watson must be able to connect on a few deep balls to force opponents to defend the entire field in the passing game.
Strengths: Classic dropback passer who offers fine arm talent. Davis is best described as a quick-rhythm thrower with a compact release and an over-the-top throwing motion. He delivers the ball swiftly to his receivers with plenty of zip and velocity, but also shows the ability to change ball speeds and trajectory when needed. Davis' deft touch allows him to drop balls in between the linebackers and safeties on in-breaking routes at intermediate range. As a deep-ball thrower, Davis shows nice timing, anticipation and touch dropping the ball into the bucket over the receiver's shoulder, particularly on go routes.
Weaknesses: Davis' extensive experience in the Air Raid offense will turn off some NFL offensive coordinators, due to the long learning curve he might experience while acclimating to a pro-style offense. There just haven't been many success stories for Air Raid alums. From a playing standpoint, Davis' inconsistent ball placement is a bit of a concern. He doesn't consistently put the ball on the receiver's upfield shoulder, which limits RAC (run after catch) opportunities for his playmakers.
Strengths: Gunslinger with an extraordinary combination of athleticism and arm talent. Mahomes is a sandlot player with the arm strength to make every conceivable hero throw imaginable from a balanced or off-platform setup. Although his unorthodox style will drive some offensive coordinators crazy, the Texas Tech standout's natural talents allow him to pull rabbits out of the hat as a magician-like playmaker from the pocket. Whether it is dropping a dime down the boundary on a fadeaway jumper or drilling a ball into a tight window while on the move, Mahomes' rare arm talent allows him to make throws that ordinary passers cannot, due to a lack of arm strength or courage. Considering how naturally talented players always go to the front of the line, Mahomes' impressive traits could shoot him up the charts during the pre-draft process.
Weaknesses: Despite his ridiculous production as a starter for two-plus years at Texas Tech, Mahomes is still viewed as a questionable quarterback prospect due to the pass-happy approach employed by the Red Raiders. As mentioned above, the Air Raid system rarely produces effective NFL products, and Mahomes' inexperience running a traditional offense could stunt his growth at the next level.
In addition, Mahomes' sloppy footwork and mechanics will need to be retooled before he can become a more accurate passer from the pocket. Sure, he was able to overcome his shoddy technique as a collegian, but NFL defenders will make him pay for his errant tosses by snagging picks off tips or overthrows. Given the impact of turnovers on the outcome of NFL games, Mahomes' sloppy footwork must be addressed to help him play winning football at the position.