Every quarterback prospect wants to separate himself from the rest of the pack, and it’s much easier to do so when you have a trump card in your back pocket. K.J. Costello has one, and it’s the unique experiences he went through by playing in two totally different offenses in Stanford and Mississippi State.
One of the most intriguing mid-round passers in the 2021 NFL Draft, Costello recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his transfer from Stanford to Mississippi State, how he impressed NFL general managers and coaches throughout this process, and what kind of player he’ll be at the next level.
JM: You’ve had some time to sit and reflect on your decision to go from Stanford to Mississippi State for your final season of college football. COVID-19 made its impact on the season. How do you look back on your decision to transfer?
KJC: It was a valuable experience. I went from a west coast pro-style offense in the Pac-12 to an air raid in the SEC. I feel like most offensive systems in the NFL either fit in-between those two systems, or on the other end of the spectrum. By doing that, I added a couple of valuable traits to my arsenal.
My knowledge of the game benefited greatly. I learned a new offense. It was a totally new style for me. I learned from a new coaching staff. The locker room was different. These were all valuable experiences. Ultimately, it was great.
The Pac-12 is very different from the SEC. I tell people this all the time. The Pac-12 is a bit more technical. Guys tend to be a bit more savvy. The SEC is big, fast, and strong. They’re just different. They’re both great in their own ways. It was cool to experience two different styles. It was great. I’m glad I did it.
JM: That’s an excellent point. You trained throughout this process at Sanford Power with Eric Renaghan and former NFL quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard. What did you learn throughout this process?
KJC: They run a great program. I was working with Eric at Sanford Power, coach Sheppard and coach John Beck from 3DQB. Those three guys together have a program in place that built for me excellence. I can’t say enough good things about what all of those guys did for me. Sanford Power was all about building a foundation from the ground up. They’ve done it with so many different athletes. They understand how to specify it for rotational athletes. What they did with me, it doesn’t look the same as what they do with linebackers or offensive lineman. A lot of their stuff was tailored to what we were trying to do on the field. We did some speed stuff. We did some combine training type of stuff. We did some QB-specific stuff as well.
Coach Sheppard was amazing. That was an unbelievable experience. He coached for more than 15 years in the NFL. His knowledge and wisdom are incredible. He’s been around the game for a long time. He’s coached some of the greats. He really prepared me for interviews with teams. He prepared me for success at the next level. He helped define the path of success for me. He taught me what to do. The game has changed. I’m about to reach the ultimate level of pro football. I was thankful to have him mentor me.
JM: You’ve been blessed to work with some incredible people. You dismantled LSU’s defense for 623 passing yards in a 44-34 win this past season. You actually set the single-game SEC record for passing yards with that performance. What was it like being in the zone for that game?
KJC: I love that you said I was in the zone (laughs). I’m gonna try to bottle that game up and basically reopen that bottle every week. It was awesome. When I look back on it, it was a game of intuition more than anything else. I had only been at Mississippi State a little more than two months at that point.
I was in a totally different part of the United States of America. The offense was very new to me. The locker room was different. The staff was new. I was at a new school. Every variable that constitutes a stable program wasn’t there yet because everything was so new for me. New staff, new team, new city, new school, new everything. The learning curve was steep. I knew enough to go out there and not only succeed, but I broke a single-game record as you said.
We had our best practice that Tuesday leading up to the game. That was the best practice we had in the two months I was there. Things finally started to click. We didn’t have a lot of time to think about anything. There wasn’t time to overanalyze things.
Ultimately, there’s something to be said about that game. You captured it perfectly, Justin. I was in the zone. It was the perfect balance of when preparation meets intuition. I let those two things take over. On that Saturday, the entire offense was playing extremely fast and fearlessly. It resulted in a great day for everyone on that side of the ball.
JM: You had a terrific game. You’ve spent the last couple of months meeting with NFL teams virtually via Zoom. I’m sure you’ve met with a few teams multiple times. You’ve hopped on the whiteboard with a couple of coaches and talked X’s and O’s. What do you think you proved to NFL teams during your meetings?
KJC: I’ve been extremely fortunate throughout this process. Coach David Shaw said it from the beginning. When coach Shaw recruited me out of high school, he told me that his system would prepare me for the NFL. He was right. It sounds crazy. Some of the protection stuff that NFL teams run, some of it isn’t as complex as what we did at Stanford. That’s the honest truth.
When we go over a protection, say we’re going over a 3 jet protection, a lot of the installs will go through the play, the protection, the drop, the read, and the keys. To be honest with you, oftentimes, I’m running the exact same concept in the same protection that we ran at Stanford. That’s happened to me a ton throughout my meetings. I was able to regurgitate it back on my first try. That goes for everything including protection, snap count, the steps, pure progressions, where my hots are, all the way to my adjustments in protection.
We’re obviously going over and installing some base plays. This is over Zoom, of course. I don’t wanna sound like I know the entire NFL playbook. But those base plays, about 50% of them are exactly what we ran at Stanford. That goes from the start of the installation to the end.
In terms of what I’ve proven to teams throughout this process, I can serve as an asset immediately. Whatever my role may be, whether I’m a backup and I’m supporting the starter, or if I’m competing for the starting job, I’m going to elevate the quarterback room. That’s the first thing on my goals sheet. I just want to serve as an immediate asset and elevate the position room. I’m gonna compete my butt off. That’s the plan moving forward.
JM: I love that. It sounds like you’ve knocked your meetings out of the park. As a quarterback, how do you balance being aggressive with taking what the defense gives you?
KJC: I have to give some credit to coach Shaw once again. This actually goes all the way back to Bill Walsh. He once said something along the lines of, “Every successful quarterback boils down to two things, anticipation and discernment.”
What you just asked me about, when to be aggressive and when to pull it back, when to let it rip, and when to throw a check-down on 3rd-and-2 versus when to take a shot on 2nd-and-1, it all depends on the situation. What quarter is it? What’s the score? Which way is the momentum trending? There’s so much that goes into it. What do we need right now? Are we behind? Do we just need to get the “first” first down as coach Shaw always says?
What you just said, all of that falls under discernment. In a nutshell, it’s a filtration system. How you make decisions, you need to know when it’s time to take a shot. There’s a time and a place to check it down, too. You need to know when it’s time to move off your first read and go through your progressions. That’s another big decision. Maybe if the protection isn’t holding up, you need to move on a little quicker.
If you’re playing against Alabama or LSU, you can’t hang on that first read and wait for him to get open. If he doesn’t get a good release, you may have to move onto the next read immediately.
Those are the little things that involve when to be aggressive versus when to scale it back. It’s a game within the game. I think it’s an incredible skill that I learned at Stanford. We had a ton of success. In a different way, I learned how to use it and continue to develop it at Mississippi State.
JM: That’s a terrific answer. I’m going to end things on that note. We can’t wait to see where you end up this weekend. You have all the tools to go on and be successful. In closing, what kind of impact is K.J. Costello gonna make at the next level?
KJC: I’m gonna serve as an asset. That comes first and foremost. I’m gonna compete my butt off. The ultimate goal is to become a franchise quarterback. I plan on playing in this league for a long time. I’m gonna be mentally tough and disciplined while relentlessly pursuing my goals. That’s my plan.