We’re seven weeks into the college football season, and the list of passers has begun to sort itself out. With a slew of early picks, the Buffalo Bills are in prime position to choose a quarterback in next year’s draft. A short term contract for Tyrod Taylor, who has led a mediocre passing offense for the past two years, and rookie fifth round pick Nate Peterman, won’t factor if the Bills think they can get a higher potential player in April.
Here’s an update on the class, with their stats and a scouting report by the two college scouts for Buffalo Rumblings.
Josh Rosen (Dan’s rank: 1)
6’4” 218 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 179-of-279 (64.2 percent) for 2354 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs.
Rosen has had a successful return from last year’s shoulder surgery and has begun to make the case that he should be the first quarterback selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. UCLA has an absolutely putrid defense, which has forced Rosen to throw for 300+ yards every game, overcoming some large deficits in the process. This has been great for his yardage statistics but has also forced him to be too aggressive at times, leading to some very dumb interceptions. The second half of the season gets much tougher for UCLA, so Rosen will need to continue his strong play against USC, Washington and Utah.
Lamar Jackson (Dan’s rank: 2)
6’3” 211 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 157-of-261 (60.2 percent) for 2322 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs. Added 690 rushing yards and 10 rushing TDs.
Jackson has picked right up where he left off last season, with over 3000 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns in seven games this season - both easily rank first in FBS Division 1. Jackson is still an incredible combination of athleticism and raw passing talent, and he’s refined his touch from last season. He’s already running NFL plays, and can play like a poised pocket passer when the situation calls for it. His passing accuracy is still somewhat inconsistent, but no other quarterback in this group has the instincts and ability to threaten 500 yards of offense each week. Jackson’s already done that twice in 2017, and came close two other times.
Sam Darnold (Dan’s rank: 3)
6’4” 220 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 163-of-260 (62.7 percent) for 2063 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTs.
The issue with anointing franchise quarterbacks in the preseason is that they may tarnish that sterling reputation by year’s end. Redshirt sophomore Darnold hasn’t had a bad season - USC is 6-1, with the only loss being a 27-30 defeat to a Wazzu team that also has a 6-1 record. He can deliver results within the structure of a play, and makes magic when he needs to improvise. But his risk taking nature has created more than an ideal number of turnovers (even if a few of his interceptions are caused by receiver error), and he occasionally goes through stretches of moribund production behind an inconsistent offensive line.
Remember - Darnold still has two years of college eligibility remaining after 2017. He could declare for the draft next year and probably be a first round pick. But don’t be surprised if his coaches (and NFL coaches) encourage him to return for another round of seasoning.
Baker Mayfield (Dan’s rank: 4)
6’1” 220 lbs (listed)
2017 statistics: 117-of-161 (72.7 percent) for 1937 yards, 17 TDs, 1 INTs.
Mayfield has probably improved his draft stock more than any other player on this list. Last year, he was a great scrambler and ball distributor, but didn’t show enough ability to sit in the pocket and go through his reads. This year, he’s made a concerted effort to spend more time in the pocket and it’s paying off. He’s thrown 17 touchdowns to go with only 1 interception. Mayfield will always be held back by his lack of height and average arm strength, so he will need to continue to show improvement with his decision making as the season progresses.
Mason Rudolph (Dan’s rank: 5)
6’5” 230 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 136-of-204 (66.7 percent) for 2368 yards, 19 TDs, 4 INTs.
Rudolph has been riding down Easy Street in his senior year. Throwing bombs to All-American receiver James Washington and the 6’4” 220 pound senior Marcell Ateman, he leads the nation in yards per game and ranks second in yards per attempt. Working in Oklahoma State’s vertical offense, Rudolph puts on a show with his outstanding touch on 15+ yard passes. He effectively runs play action, and he’s comfortable shuffling around the pocket to buy time to work. His footwork, and how effectively he can break down complex NFL defenses, will determine whether he can succeed in the NFL or have a Bryce Petty career.
Ryan Finley (Dan’s rank: 6)
6’4” 205 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 172-of-248 (69.4) for 1968 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs.
Completely bursting onto the scene this year, NC State has upset both Louisville and Florida State on the way to a record of 6-1, thanks largely to the play of Finley. He’s been deadly in NC State’s spread system. The spread relies on quarterbacks who can read the defense pre-snap, make quick decisions and deliver the ball with accuracy. Finley can do all of those things, while offering a modicum of athleticism to run when needed. He will need to continue to be perfect, as the NFL has had trouble incorporating spread quarterbacks into the pro game.
Luke Falk (Dan’s rank: 7)
6’4” 223 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 216-of-305 (70.8 percent) for 2286 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs.
The senior Falk is a classic pocket passer, playing in the Mike Leach spread offense. Until last week’s game against Cal, Falk looked like one of the top passers in the nation, with 19 touchdowns against 2 interceptions. Then he threw five in a 37-3 beatdown loss. The game wasn’t as bad as it looked on paper. Falk had plays called back on penalty, and some interceptions came off his receivers’ hands.
Falk has good touch for pass trajectories, and when he sees an open receiver he’s quick to pull the trigger. He’s not always aware of postsnap adjustments from the defense, and he lacks the athleticism to do much more than slide a few steps in the pocket.
Josh Allen (Dan’s rank: 8)
6’5” 240 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 95-of-165 (57.6 percent) for 1085 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs.
Once more, with feeling: the issue with anointing franchise quarterbacks in the preseason is that they may tarnish that reputation. The preseason hype for Allen was unreal - videos produced calling him a better raw talent than Cam Newton, #1 overall rankings, et cetera. That’s a lot of pressure to put on the quarterback for the Wyoming Cowboys. This year, he hasn’t delivered. His rushing average is halved (he’s taking more sacks), his yards per attempt has taken a nosedive, and his rate of throwing touchdowns and interceptions has plummeted.
We can give Allen some benefit of the doubt - he lost his top three receivers to graduation, and Wyoming is already at a talent deficit when it plays against teams like Oregon or Iowa. But there were concerns about Allen’s touch and ability to respond to pressure before the season began, and he hasn’t grown past those concerns. At the moment, he’s on a Jevan Snead trajectory.
Will Grier (Dan’s rank: 9)
6’2” 214 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 151-of-230 (65.7 percent) for 2092 yards, 21 TDs, 5 INTs.
Grier’s revived his career after transferring to West Virginia. He looked like the answer to years of offensive ineptitude as a redshirt freshman playing for the Florida Gators, but he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, was suspended for a year in 2015, and chose to transfer and sit out the 2016 season. Now he leads the nation in passing touchdowns.
Grier has the ability to vary his throwing angle and velocity, with the touch to drop in some difficult passes to his receivers. He can work through progressions, albeit slowly, and displays calm reactions under pressure. His accuracy isn’t great, though, and he’ll enter the NFL with only 1.5 seasons on the field if he enters the draft this year (having missed 2.5 seasons to redshirting and suspension fallout).
Jarrett Stidham (Dan’s rank: 10)
6’3” 214 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 108-of-165 (65.5 percent) for 1,510 yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs.
This year, Auburn’s offense has been emphasizing the run while the passing game has been more complementary. Stidham has been ultra-efficient and flashed some pro ability, but he’s a bit rough around the edges when it comes to the deep ball and his ability to sense pressure. Better teams have been able to cover up his first read or force him off his spot which makes him panic, and his coaches won’t allow him to audible out of a bad situation. It’s important to remember that he’s only been in this offense for 7 games, so he has plenty of opportunity to improve.
Nick Fitzgerald (Dan’s rank: 11)
6’5” 230 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 89-of-162 (54.9 percent) for 1024 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs. Added 446 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs.
A dual-threat quarterback, Fitzgerald has done more of his damage this year on the ground. His enormous size has been particularly deadly when in the red-zone. When passing, he works well with the play-action passing game, and sports an above-average arm with decent accuracy. Just don’t look for him to dissect a defense and pass to his third read, though. If he decides to enter the draft, he possesses enough upside to be a middle-round pick.
Kyle Shurmur (Dan’s rank: 12)
6’4” 227 lbs. (listed)
2017 statistics: 101-of-184 (54.9 percent) for 1331 yards, 14 TDs, 2 INTs.
Kyle Shurmur has several things working for him: he’s the son of Pat Shurmur (the Vikings offensive coordinator) and works in a pro-style offense. Unfortunately, his offensive line isn’t very good and he’s faced some of the best defenses in the country in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which has depressed his numbers. On tape, he’s a smart decision maker and is accurate in the intermediate area. On the negative side, his arm strength leaves something to be desired. The Commodores schedule loosens up a bit in the second half of the season, so fans should hear more about Shurmur in the next couple weeks.
The junior continues to deliver at the helm of the Washington Huskies, with 14 touchdowns to three interceptions and a 68.5 completion percentage this season. At the moment, signs point to him returning to school for 2018.
Ohio State’s quarterback has alternatively been a star in the making or written off for dead at multiple occasions in his mercurial career. He has struggled to read defenses accurately, and may not have a strong enough arm for the NFL. But after a lousy performance against Oklahoma this season, he’s turned on the nitro - 19 passing touchdowns, no interceptions, and 9.9 yards per attempt. Can he parlay that performance into a mid-round selection in April?
Shurmur isn’t the only coach’s son with the potential to become an NFL passer this year. Linehan is the son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. He’s started for the Idaho Vandals since his freshman year, already piling up over 40 games played. The 6’3” 235 pounder doesn’t light up the stat sheet, but he plays in a pro style offense, completes 60 percent of his passes, and has a 2:1 TD:INT ratio over the past season and a half.