Put aside all of your preconceived notions about top draft picks, because Baker Mayfield broke all of the “rules” in becoming the number 1 overall pick in 2018. Former walk-on, a transfer, undersized at 6’0, arrested in college, a redshirt senior, etc. Baker wasn’t exactly the prototype for top pick in the draft. But alas, the Browns pulled the trigger on Mayfield, and for good reason. The Heisman trophy winner threw for 43 touchdowns, averaged 11.5 yards per attempt, and completed over 70% of his passes in 2017.
The crazy part about Mayfield’s production is that there was another Big 12 quarterback who wasn’t far behind. Steelers’ third-round pick Mason Rudolph put up 37 touchdowns, averaged 10.0 yards per attempt, and completed 65% of his passes.
You may assume that after losing the first-team and third-team all-american quarterbacks to the same draft class, that the Big 12 could be in store for a down year at the position. In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!” Will Grier may be primed for his very own Mayfield-esque season, and Mayfield’s own replacement Kyler Murray has the tools to be an electric playmaker and Heisman candidate. But which quarterbacks from the rest of the conference have a chance at the NFL? Let’s dive in.
1. Will Grier, West Virginia (6’1 214)
Will Grier is the top quarterback prospect in the Big 12 by a wide margin, and has a chance to be the best quarterback prospect in the whole country. On film, he has seamless technique and footwork in his drops. He operates with a certain level of pace and smoothness, and can immediately diagnose coverages and deliver the ball with his quick release. Grier has the necessary arm strength to generate enough torque to fit the ball through intermediate windows. He has consistent accuracy in his short and intermediate throws, and can place the ball with touch to all areas of the field. Grier thrives driving the ball up the seam, and is aware of defensive backs leverage while placing the ball back-shoulder. Grier has the athleticism to escape the pocket and make off-platform throws with accuracy.
Grier is slightly undersized for an NFL quarterback, and could stand to add more thickness in the offseason. Aside from his measurements, Grier has a few improvements to his game to still be made. Namely, his deep ball accuracy can come and go. Additionally, he will occasionally float away from cleaner pockets and make throws off base, rather than step up and deliver the ball with velocity. The production that Grier has put up will come with questions as to if it’s merely a product of his offensive system, as it generally affords him to make throws against single coverage, and he hasn’t consistently shown his ability to manipulate zone coverages.
Grier has first-round potential if he takes a similar leap forward as Mayfield. His slight physical limitations may push him down into Day 2, but he is without question the best pro prospect from the Big 12 and an outstanding collegiate passer.
2. Kyle Kempt, Iowa State (6’5, 224)
The crop of Big 12 quarterbacks who are draft eligible and have pro potential gets murky after Grier with just a handful of returning starters that are draft-eligible. Possibly the only other returning starter in the conference with NFL-potential is Kyle Kempt.
With the size that NFL teams covet, Kempt will be on teams radar entering his second season as a starter. In 2017, he threw for 15 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, showing off pre-snap awareness and post-snap decision making. Kempt shows accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field and will step up in the pocket to delivery passes with zip.
Despite the ideal size Kempt has some limitations in his arm strength, too often fluttering deep balls. His anticipation is inconsistent at best, and he can occasionally underthrow intermediate and deep balls.
Kempt does a good job of not taking risks that would expose his lack of arm strength, reading and delivering passes on time. He’s an intelligent passer with the size that NFL teams will seek, but his arm talent only suggests a potential late-round draft pick.
3. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (5’10, 190)
Kyler Murray will become the full-time starter for the first time in his collegiate career, and the former heralded recruit is in line for a massive season in Lincoln Riley’s offense. A true playmaker, Murray has elite athleticism for the quarterback position and is consistently a threat to make plays with his legs. Murray has strong footwork, and it leads to accuracy and touch when throwing from the pocket to the short and intermediate areas of the field.
Murray would obviously be undersized as an NFL passer, and his elongated release and low arm angle poses problems when throwing towards the middle of the field. Murray doesn’t do a great job getting through his progressions, and can bail on a clean pocket too often. His lack of arm strength limits his accuracy and touch on downfield throws, and he can hesitate to even attempt them.
Murray is in line to have an excited season because of his talent and offensive system. Additionally, he has playmakers at receiver, running back, and tight end at his disposal. Despite the prospects of his senior season, Murray is probably too undersized to be in consideration as a franchise quarterback, and he’s signed to play professional baseball after college. It’s safe to say Murray will probably never play in the NFL, even though he has the potential ability to be a packaged quarterback or offensive playmaker.
4. Alex Delton, Kansas State (6’0 204)
Alex Delton was the most effective quarterback for Kansas State last season, and will enter 2018 as the starter. An excellent athlete for the position, he regularly makes plays with his legs in the open field. His quick feet allow him mobility in and outside of the pocket, and he makes safe decisions as a thrower. Delton might be at his best while out of structure, throwing on the run and showing elusiveness to extend plays.
Delton lacks the height and necessary bulk of an NFL quarterback, and has already had durability problems in college. He can occasionally struggle reading defenses, and lacks the necessary arm strength to fit the ball through tight windows. Though showing the ability to throw with touch, it can come and go far too often.
More likely than not, Delton doesn’t have an NFL-caliber arm or body. His athleticism may be worth a look to be used in certain packages, but it’s hard to find a path where he sticks on an NFL roster.
5. Shane Buechele, Texas (6’1 205)
Buechele burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2016, throwing for 21 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards. However, last season he was in and out of the lineup while competing with Sam Ehlinger for reps. Ehlinger looks poised to begin 2018 as the starting quarterback, which will surely limit Buechele’s pro prospects.
On film, he has a quick release and evades pressure in the pocket well. An underrated athlete, Buechele can make plays with his legs improvising while off platform. He has stretches of accuracy and has performed well when given the opportunity to be the leader of the Longhorn offense.
Buechele lacks consistent touch and trajectory on his passes, unable to drive the ball down the field. He is undersized for an NFL quarterback and comes with durability concerns. Despite the strong freshman season, being on the outside looking in for the starting role will limit his pro potential and suggest that he does not enter the Draft despite his eligibility.