Who to Watch at the 2019 NFL Combine – Quarterbacks
By Ha Kung Wong
The NFL Combine is just around the corner from February 26 to March 4. I’m sure most football fans are either bemoaning Super Bowl LIII (unless you’re from the northeast), watching the AAF (which isn’t half bad actually), or just plain moved on to watching some other sport.
But for us crazy football obsessed folk (and I know you’re one of us because you’re reading this article), the NFL Combine is big time, as we get a chance to finally scout out those prospects that may get drafted by our favorite team in April. But there are a whopping 338 prospects attending the Combine this year, and we don’t have unlimited time (unless you happen to have the magical time traveling hot tub from “Hot Tub Time Machine” — which actually was fairly entertaining, or at least the first one was since the sequel was total crap. But I digress…).
The point is, you probably want to plan out ahead who to watch, and being the helpful guy that I am, here’s my thoughts on who you should keep an eye on, starting with the Quarterbacks.
Kyler Murray – Oklahoma
— Oklahoma Football (@OU_Football) February 11, 2019
It’s been quite a story for Kyler Murray. From Oakland A’s first round draft pick (9th overall), to Heisman Trophy winner, to leading Oklahoma to the Playoffs, to taking everyone on a “will he or won’t he” roller coaster until he finally declared for the NFL Draft via Twitter. In doing so, Murray will forfeit the remaining $3.16 million on his Oakland A’s contract and owes them $1.29 million of the $1.5 million signing bonus he received last season. So clearly, he didn’t take this decision lightly. But analysts, NFL GMs and other NFL execs generally believe this was the right move and the Murray will garner a high first round pick.
From @NFLTotalAccess: In December, I talked to 5 GMs and none had #Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray as a 1st-round pick. Today, I polled 10 GMs or top decision-makers… nearly all said "first round" with some saying Top 10. 🤭 🤔 pic.twitter.com/m6lraRaoDA
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 12, 2019
Murray averaged 383 total yards and 3.9 total TDs across 14 games at Oklahoma, which was on par with what 2018 1st overall pick Baker Mayfield had in the same offense the year prior, and we all saw how Mayfield worked out for the Browns. Plus, although there are questions among pundits whether scrambling QBs like Lamar Jackson are viable in today’s NFL, Murray has drawn comps to both Russell Wilson and Michael Vick, both of which found success in the NFL, to varying degrees. And there’s no doubt that Murray has proved himself as one of the best college QBs of recent history, ranking in the top five in the NCAA in passing efficiency (199.2), passing yardage (4,361), passing TDs (42), and rushing yardage by a QB (123 carries for 1,001 yards and 12 TDs). He’s only the second QB in FBS history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. The last guy to do it? Deshaun Watson.
The question is how he’ll hold up in the NFL with his smaller-than-QB-average size and frame (5′ 10″ and 195 lbs.), as well as whether he’ll learn to avoid contact when scrambling, as it was such a huge part of his college game. He does complete progressions, and didn’t exhibit happy feet in the pocket in college, but there’s always concerns with durability when QBs take off. And he’s only had one full year as a starter in college, which may mean he still has a significant learning curve ahead of him. Regardless, the skills are definitely there, and it’ll be interesting to see how he measures and performs at the Combine as compared to other QB prospects, as he should excel with all the speed agility drills. If he ends up in the top 5 in most drills, it should significantly increase vying NFL teams’ risk tolerance.
Dwayne Haskins – Ohio State
— Dwayne Haskins, Jr🌹 (@dh_simba7) February 4, 2019
Until Murray announce he would forgo the MLB for the NFL, Haskins was arguably the top QB available in this year’s draft. Haskins had to bide his time redshirting in 2015 while J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones were leading the Buckeyes, but stepped in eight games the following year, completing 40 of 57 passes (70.2 percent) for 565 yards, 4 TDs and an INT. And although ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith may believe that he is “more of a runner” than a passer, Haskins passed his way into the records books in 2018 as a starter when he completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,831 yards while averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and posting a ridiculous 50:8 TD:INT ratio, ultimately ending up third in the Heisman voting. Clearly, there’s a lot to like there, perhaps the most of which is his accuracy and lack of INTs. And that’s not to mention his size, which at 6′ 3″ and 218 lbs., is close to ideal for a QB in the NFL.
Interestingly, contrary to Smith’s comments, Haskins isn’t much of a runner. He’s generally mobile in the pocket, but has questionable athleticism scrambling outside the pocket, only averaging 1.9 yards per carry over his career. It will be interesting to see how he grades out in the Combine on the 40-yard dash as well as the speed agility drills, including the 3 cone drill, and the 20 and 60 yard shuttle. Assuming he grades out in the middle of the pack or better, I suspect NFL execs will overlook the lack of standout athleticism in light of his incredible passing acumen. He does tend to lock on to his primary receiver a lot, but going through progressions can be learned, and his arm strength is unmatched in intermediate routes as well as downfield. Haskins comes in with tons of hype and has more to lose than to gain from the Combine, so it’ll interesting to keep a close eye on his activities and results.
Drew Lock – Missouri
Drew Lock has a lot going for him, but the clearest difference between him and fellow prospects in Murray and Haskins is his 3.5 years of experience as a starter in college, about 3 to 4 times that of his closest competition. And he was solid each every one of those years, topping out in his junior year by leading the FBS with 44 passing TDs and completing 57.8 percent of his throws for 3,964 yards and just 13 interceptions. He followed that up with a solid senior year earning second-team All-SEC honors with 3,498 passing yards and 28 TDs, while improving on consistency and reliability by increasing his completion percentage (62.9) and throwing fewer interceptions (8).
He was also one of the more impressive QBs at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, completing 9 of 15 passes for 59 yards, and could have had much more if Terry McLaurin didn’t drop a perfect ball in the end zone. And similar to Haskins, at 6’4″ and 233 lbs., he has close to ideal height and size for an NFL QB.
Lock has been top notch in going through progressions as well demonstrating his big arm strength, but there are still questions about his anticipation, ability to handle pressure and sudden random bouts of inaccuracy, particularly against top tier opponents such as Alabama and Georgia, and particularly when having to move out of the pocket. I’ll be more interested in Lock’s performance on passing drills than the speed agility drills, to see how he performs under pressure and whether he puts too much zip on short and intermediate touch passes as he was prone to do in college. Chances are he’ll go in the first round regardless, and many have pegged the Denver Broncos as the likely landing spot (though that’s anything but sure now that the Broncos traded a 4th rounder for Joe Flacco), but the Combine results may impact the perception of other QB needy teams higher up in the draft.