By Steve Silverman
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While teams can “officially” sign new players on Thursday with the start of free agency, the NFL Draft will soon command the offseason.
Whether it looks like it right now or not, the key commodity will once again be quarterbacks.
The top two players in the draft are a pair of defensive linemen in Myles Garrett of Texas A&M and Jonathan Allen of Alabama, but the talk will focus on signal-callers DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and DeShone Kizer as April 27 gets closer.
Watson, Trubisky and Kizer all have their good points. Watson is charismatic, athletic and a remarkable leader. Just ask the folks at Clemson, which just won its first national championship in forever. North Carolina’s Trubisky has excellent passing form and a razor-sharp 2016 season on his résumé, while Kizer showed off a remarkable arm and a powerful delivery while at Notre Dame.
However, they each have their drawbacks. Watson threw 30 interceptions over his final two seasons, Trubisky has no track record other than last season and Kizer has been dogged by inconsistency and a less-than-impressive season in 2016.
There are significant reasons to downgrade all three, but it’s not about finding faults. It’s about finding a quarterback who can perform consistently and win in the NFL, and Watson is that quarterback.
Trubisky and Kizer have key questions to answer, and if I was in charge of running a team’s draft, I would let them prove themselves on some other roster.
But there’s more to the quarterback position in this draft than those three potential first-rounders.
Finding a quarterback who can win in the later rounds is an incredible bonus, and nobody knows that better than the Dallas Cowboys. They drafted Dak Prescott in the fourth round, and while the Cowboys had no idea he would be their starting quarterback when they selected him, he stepped right and dominated as a rookie after veteran Tony Romo went down last summer.
Is there another Prescott out there this year? We’re not going to travel that far out on the branch, but there are at least three later-round quarterbacks who have the skills to earn a starting spot in the NFL.
That may not come in their respective rookie years, but Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech, Brad Kaaya of Miami and Davis Webb of California have the skills and tools to turn a general manager into a genius.
Mahomes is coming off an eye-catching performance at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but that’s not the reason he has come to our attention. The underwear Olympics is not the place to judge what a quarterback can be.
It is good for learning about whether a signal-caller has the intelligence to digest the information in the playbook and the ability to stay calm under pressure, and Mahomes did quite well in those areas.
But in reality Mahomes checks all the boxes at the position. He is tall enough at 6-foot-2 and sturdy enough at 225 pounds and he is coming off a season in which he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for the Red Raiders. Unlike Trubisky, he is not a one-year wonder. Mahomes fully understands the position and he excelled at it with 41 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions in 12 games.
One of the reasons Prescott was so successful last year was his ability to stay calm when games were on the line. There is every reason to believe that Mahomes can come close to doing the same type of thing.
Mahomes looks like a second-round selection, and he could turn out to be a game-changing talent.
Kaaya is another quarterback who has a chance to be special. The first thing that I noticed about him, other than his 6-4, 215-pound frame, is that he sees the field extremely well.
Kaaya has an easy throwing motion and can wing the ball all over the field, and he is fairly quick in his movements, especially when trying to escape the rush. He took a lot of hits with the Hurricanes, but he missed just one game. That’s a strong positive in the eyes of many NFL general managers, who are often fearful of using a high pick on a quarterback, only to see him get broken due to a major injury early in his career.
Kaaya has a third-round grade, but he could prove to be an answer for a team that does not need a rookie quarterback to start right away.
Webb is a big man at 6-5 and 229 pounds, and he has a substantial arm that allows him to throw a tight spiral and get it deep downfield or hard to the sidelines without overwhelming effort.
Webb looks somewhat skinny, so he is going to have to get stronger. However, he is a true student of the game who basically lives in the film room and has learned how to find an opponent’s weakness and take advantage of it.
Webb also has the leadership skills. Teammates see his natural talent combined with his work ethic, and they want to follow him.
That’s an important characteristic that has been undervalued at times, and while Webb looks like a fourth- or fifth-round choice, he has a chance to become a long-term winner.
Pick apart Watson if you want, but he is a high first-round quarterback who should be able to step in right away. However, those who are scared of him, Trubisky or Kizer would be wise to consider Mahomes, Kaaya or Webb later on.
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