We’re a week away from the mid-way point of the NFL season, and if you think that happened fast, wait for the next two months to fly by.
Of course, the Senior Bowl isn’t until the end of January, so that still feels far enough away that most of our minds aren’t there yet. But players start getting invites in November, with a bevy of acceptances coming during that time as well. Like it or not, the Senior Bowl process is getting underway very soon.
Determining who the eight quarterbacks will be in Mobile is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs for the Senior Bowl staff, but it might even be tougher than normal this year. While the quarterback class isn’t top-heavy, there is a ton of depth amongst the senior group, which makes distinguishing the top eight a difficult proposition that may come down to personal taste as much as anything else.
Nevertheless, here is my best crack at what that crop will look like more than halfway through the college football season.
1. Drew Lock, Missouri
The big, strong-armed quarterback from Missouri hasn’t made major strides this season, which is disappointing for someone like myself who was high on his raw gifts coming into the year. Regardless, he’s a clear-cut lock to get invited to Mobile, where he’ll have a chance to prove his football intelligence and show off his arm to NFL scouts.
2. Will Grier, WVU
Grier wasn’t even a legitimate prospect based on his 2017 tape in my opinion, but he is one of the few quarterbacks that has shown improvement this season. He’s still reckless with the ball, lacks a great feel for pressure in the pocket and will face a steep learning curve coming from WVU’s offense to the NFL, but Grier has the tools, toughness and athleticism that teams will want to see in Mobile.
3. Ryan Finley, N.C. State
I think Finley is a lock? But maybe this one is more of a question mark than I originally thought. His biggest strengths used to be his turnover averse ways and smarts, but lately he’s made a lot of mistakes the should have cost him in the box score. Similar to Luke Falk a year ago, Finley will get in on reputation and strong commendation as a leader and mentally sharp football guy, but his physical tools are weak, and his ability to handle pressure is a big question mark.
4. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Stidham is technically a redshirt junior that could return to school coming off of a weak season, but has seemed primed for awhile now to make the jump to the NFL this spring. Based on Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy’s tweets, I think it’s safe to assume the expectation is that Stidham will graduate on time to be a candidate for the roster in Mobile, making him a Senior Bowl lock if he declares for the draft.
The @seniorbowl is looking live at @MizzouFootball vs. @GamecockFB. Getting a second exposure on @DrewLock23 after seeing him Week 4 vs. Georgia. Like all NFL teams, we are trying to stack a loaded QB class that includes Lock, Grier, Stidham, Finley, Thorson, McSorley, et al. pic.twitter.com/pMNVYPCFtU
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 6, 2018
Stidham checks the physical boxes, although not emphatically, but almost everything else is a mess. He’s played poorly against top competition, his accuracy has been an issue down the field this season and his decision-making and ability to move through progressions has been especially ugly. The NFL will want to see his physical traits in Mobile, and he should do fine there, but in-game situations have seemed to doom Stidham throughout his career at Auburn.
Should Be In
5. Brett Rypien, Boise State
Rypien may not have outstanding physical gifts, but he’s smart as a whip and generally accurate to all levels of the field. There are some limitations to his game, but his arm isn’t terrible, and he’s operated one of the best offenses in the nation at a high level this season. In a bad quarterback class, he deserves more buzz than he’s getting.
6. Trace McSorley, Penn State
Do I think McSorley deserves to be one of the eight in Mobile? Yes, but barely. I think he’s a borderline NFL prospect at best, but who should get in over him? I would rather have Jordan Ta’amu than McSorley, but Clayton Thorson, Kyle Shurmur and Jake Browning do nothing for me. Nick Fitzgerald does less than nothing for me.
McSorley isn’t good, but he’s a big name for an event that values that aspect of things, as they should. On top of that, McSorley is tough and a great leader, and NFL teams will want the opportunity to see him up close and chat with him in Mobile. I don’t think he’ll get drafted, but that’s not a requirement to make the Senior Bowl roster either.
The Fringe Candidates
7. Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss
Ta’amu should be a lock, but I just have no idea if the NFL will see him that. I think he’s a better prospect than Stidham, McSorley and probably Finley, but will the league see it that way? And if they don’t, will the Senior Bowl lean toward bigger, more traditional looking passers like Shurmur and Thorson?
Ta’amu has a good arm, is generally accurate to all levels of the field and is a very good athlete. He’s improved rapidly during his time at Ole Miss, and while he isn’t a great prospect, he deserves to be one of the top signal callers in Mobile. We’ll see if he gets that chance.
8. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
It’s been a rocky road for Thorson coming back from injury, but we’ve been hearing whispers of the NFL’s mild interest in him for a long time now, which I think will be enough to get him an invite to the Senior Bowl. Thorson has some physical traits that teams will like, but decision-making and poise are big issues.
The Other Contenders
9. Easton Stick, North Dakota State
It certainly hasn’t been a great year for Stick when you look at the numbers, and the quarterback gurus I trust the most say there is very little here, if anything. But the Senior Bowl does like to bring in small school prospects and Stick will certainly attract some buzz as Carson Wentz’ heir, which could make him more valuable to the game than someone like Thorson.
10. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Pat Shurmur’s son has struggled mightily this season, both in the box score and on the field. His physical traits are ok, but he’s a rough watch under pressure, and hasn’t made the strides you’d hope to see this season. NFL bloodlines don’t hurt your chances though.
11. Jake Browning, Washington
I know some people expect Browning to be a lock, and I think he is – for the East-West Shrine Game. Browning’s arm is a candy cane, his poise under pressure is nightmarish and he doesn’t have the physical or athletic ability to get away with some of the poor decisions he makes. I can’t see the NFL caring to see him in Mobile.
12. Devlin Hodges, Samford
Shoutout to the best quarterback mind in the business, Mark Schofield, for turning me on to Hodges. I have yet to watch the 6-foot, 205-pound passer, but Schofield thinks he could be the sleeper to slide into one of the final spots in Mobile, which could be very interesting. His numbers are wild right now, as Hodges is completing 70 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns, but has also thrown 12 interceptions in seven games.
Last thing to consider…
Always watch out for a redshirt junior or true junior to graduate early and potentially join in the fun. The latter group seems more likely, with Duke’s Daniel Jones among those who would be considered a lock if he declares and he’s eligible for the game. Other names to watch, Florida State’s Deiondre Francois, Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins, Colorado’s Steven Montez and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke, although I only expect Francois to declare out of that group.