As usual, the quarterback discussion is driving this year’s NFL Draft. That’s because it’s the one position in the most demand. If you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance. How the dominoes fall in the draft always depends on what happens with the quarterback.
And that’s why the biggest question in the 2019 NFL is whether or not the Arizona Cardinals select Kyler Murray No. 1 overall.
For the sixth year in a row, I’ve spent months evaluating the quarterbacks in this year’s draft and have compiled my rankings. Before we get to the rankings, I’ll share my usual disclaimer: I put a lot of time into watching the film and talking to sources I trust. I purposely wait until just before the draft to release the rankings, soaking in as much info as possible. Instead of projecting where I think these players will be drafted, I note where I think they should be drafted. Quarterbacks are almost always over-drafted, so it’s very normal for them to be drafted higher than where I would personally draft them. Still, there are at least a couple quarterbacks I am very high on this year. Let’s get to the rankings:
1. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State (6-3, 231)
Despite all the Kyler Murray hype, Haskins has been my No. 1 quarterback throughout the draft process and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind. Haskins has great size and an outstanding arm, but it’s the touch — especially on deep balls — that solidified his standing as my top quarterback. He’s not just a thrower. While the mobility and escapability might be limited, it’s not like he can’t move. And he has the strength to slip tacklers and provide much needed durability at the position — with the frame to get even stronger. While the delivery isn’t perfect, Haskins reads defenses and shows good instincts in the pocket. The Big Ten Championship Game in December — a game I viewed from the sidelines — featured two NFL quarterbacks in Haskins and Clayton Thorson. Both played well, but Haskins was on a different level. He’s the best quarterback in this draft.
Where I would draft him: Top 10. Coming into the NFL as a one-year college starter, Haskins will likely have some growing pains similar to Mitchell Trubisky, but he’ll also excite fans with his raw potential. If I’m the Giants at No. 6, I run to the podium to draft Haskins. And if he somehow falls to the Broncos at No. 10, Denver would finally have a real solution for their quarterback problem. Heck, even the Buccaneers should take a hard look at Haskins at No. 5. He would be an upgrade over Jameis Winston, especially from a character standpoint. I’d love to see Haskins paired with Bruce Arians.
2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (5-10, 207)
In 2012, I spent months trying to convince people that Russell Wilson was a first round talent even though he was only 5-11. Murray is even smaller, but it would be hypocritical for me to bash him for his size. I don’t know Murray like I did Wilson (I covered Wilson’s one season at Wisconsin), but if his intangibles are anywhere near as good as Wilson’s then Murray is going to be an exciting NFL quarterback. He’s accurate with good mechanics and uses his feet to create windows to overcome his lack of height, a trait shared by Wilson and Drew Brees. Like all quarterbacks, fit will determine a lot of Murray’s success, but if he ends up in the right situation, he should be special.
Where I would draft him: Top 15. Murray needs to be in the right situation with a coach who will embrace his 5-10 stature. Kliff Kingsbury’s system makes sense, but no one really knows if he can coach at the NFL level yet. If I’m the Dolphins at No. 13, I don’t pass on Murray, but I expect a team to trade up before that if the Cardinals don’t take him No. 1 overall.
3. Daniel Jones, Duke (6-5, 221)
Jones is an interesting prospect for me because I saw him in person each of the last three seasons and while I’ve always thought he was good, he never screamed “future NFL star” to me. That said, seeing three of 36 starts in person is still a small sample size and when you watch the bigger picture, you see why he has a chance to be a decent starter at the next level. Jones is a facilitator. He’s smart, he reads defenses and he’ll usually get the ball to the right guy. Spending four years with David Cutcliffe is a plus. The arm is good enough and you know you are getting a leader in your quarterback room.
Where I would draft him: Second round. I doubt you are getting a Hall-of-Famer here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jones became an early starter and lasts in the league for a long time. Perhaps an Andy Dalton-like career here.
4. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern (6-4, 222)
In the six years of compiling these annual rankings, there isn’t a quarterback I’m more qualified to evaluate than Clayton Thorson. As Northwestern’s sideline reporter, I’ve seen every one of his Big Ten record 53 college starts. Thorson checks every box except for the decision-making, which is always a big box to have unchecked. He has great size and can make every throw. He’s more mobile than you think and can make plays with his feet. He’s an outstanding teammate/leader and is competitive as hell. He tore his ACL in the 2017 Music City Bowl and somehow made it back eight months later for the 2018 season opener, starting all 14 games of his senior season. His Pro Day was nearly perfect, completing 48-of-50 passes with one drop. But then there’s the decision-making. For whatever reason, Thorson has a history of bad mistakes and his accuracy can be frustrating, especially on shorter throws. For some, this will be an instinctual problem that can’t be coached out of him. However, I’ve talked to multiple NFL evaluators who want to see him play behind a better offensive line with NFL receivers. They believe the decision-making will improve with better talent around him.
Where I would draft him: Late second round/early third round. I’d feel good about drafting Thorson because I know I’m at least getting a backup quarterback who will stick in the league for a long time because of his leadership and work ethic. Still, I know I’m also getting a guy who will be determined to make it as a starter. Count me among those who are looking forward to seeing what he can do with NFL talent around him.
5. Drew Lock, Missouri (6-4, 228)
Lock has similarities to Thorson in that he has a ton of talent with a great arm, but the results are inconsistent. It’s encouraging that Lock improved his accuracy as a senior and posted 28 touchdowns to just eight interceptions, but the mechanics are concerning. When forced to move, Lock’s footwork gets him in trouble and his upper body mechanics break down leading to inconsistent throws. At least one NFL team will draft him too high because they think they can fix this. Another concern is that Lock’s worst games came against top SEC competition with NFL caliber talent.
Where I would draft him: Third round. Lock has the talent to become an NFL starter, but his mechanics need a lot of work and the team that drafts him is going to have to be patient.
6. Ryan Finley, North Carolina State (6-4, 213)
Finley has solid backup written all over him. His 67.4 percent completion percentage in 2018 is very impressive, but the arm is just good, not great. He has experience in a pro-style system and reads defenses well, usually making the right decision. He’s a good teammate who will be valuable in any quarterback room.
Where I would draft him: Fourth round. You’re getting a good backup quarterback who can win a game when you need him to. Upside is limited, but Finley could be a fringe starter.
7. Jordan Ta’amu, Mississippi (6-3, 221)
If you want a project, I have one for you. Ta’amu went from an unknown at New Mexico Military Institute to a sleeper NFL prospect at Ole Miss after showing good athleticism and a strong arm. The mechanics are fine, but the results can be erratic. Still, this is a kid who has received very little high-level coaching yet possesses NFL athleticism and an incredible deep ball.
Where I would draft him: Fifth round. This is a risk, but I’m willing to take a chance in the fifth round on a quarterback prospect with plus-starter upside. Ta’amu is still only 21.
8. Will Grier, West Virginia (6-2, 217)
Grier is a competitive kid who relishes his role as the most important player on the field. Unfortunately, that gets him in trouble when he tries to do too much. While the arm strength doesn’t blow you away, the quick release helps. He has a gunslinger mentality, but not a gunslinger arm. Grier will have to make an awkward transition from the West Virginia system to the NFL and he’s already 24 years old. He was also suspended at Florida for taking performance-enhancing drugs before transferring. Grier didn’t help himself at the Senior Bowl or at the NFL Combine, which is alarming considering he skipped his team’s bowl game to prepare for the draft.
Where I would draft him: Sixth round. For Grier to be successful at the next level, he’ll have to change his mentality and become more patient as a quarterback. That’s not an easy thing to ask a 24-year-old to do — or the team that has to wait for that transition to occur.
9. Easton Stick, North Dakota State (6-1, 224)
Stick took over for Carson Wentz at North Dakota State and kept the program going strong, winning three national championships in four years as the starter. He doesn’t possess Wentz’s talent, but Stick will enter the NFL with the same winning pedigree and reputation as a strong leader. He’s accurate and is a dual-threat with his feet.
Where I would draft him: Sixth round. There’s limited upside here, but I’ll be very surprised if Stick doesn’t become a solid backup who is a valuable commodity in an NFL quarterback room.
10. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo (6-7, 249)
Jackson is a big guy with an even bigger arm, but his throws lack touch. The accuracy is all over the place. A 55.8 completion percentage with 12 interceptions in 2018 in the MAC is hardly impressive. The tape shows a one-read quarterback who then relies on his athleticism if his first read isn’t there. Jackson has talent, but he needs a lot of coaching. His decision to declare for the draft was confusing considering he tried to transfer to a different school first.
Where I would draft him: Seventh round. The talent is worth taking a chance on late in the draft, but I don’t feel very confident in Jackson making it as an NFL starter.