The SEC won’t have any elite quarterbacks drafted next week. Sure, there are players such as Arkansas’ Austin Allen or LSU’s Danny Etling who could end up providing late-round value, but as a whole, it isn’t a strong group.
During a conference call on Monday, NFL analysts Louis Riddick and Greg Cosell talked a lot about the top quarterbacks in the 2018 class. They touched on what makes each of them unique and identified what NFL teams could be looking for in potential franchise signal callers.
We already know one top-flight NFL coach isn’t a fan of the quarterbacks available in the class, however.
Sean Payton: Sam Darnold could be the only QB from the 2018 draft still playing in 5 years https://t.co/jKRgZALuw2
— For The Win (@ForTheWin) April 16, 2018
If New Orleans coach Sean Payton is being sincere about that opinion, that could mean that he — and others — are turning their attention toward those eligible for the 2019 class. He’s still looking for a quarterback to groom behind Drew Brees, after all.
As a result, we decided to take some of Riddick’s thoughts and apply it to some of the conference’s top passers for the 2019 class — or at least those who will be eligible to be a part of that class.
First, let’s recap what Riddick said about the 2018 class as a whole.
“Every team is going to be looking for something a little bit different,” Riddick said. “There’s no one size fits every scheme here. None of these guys are transcendent players. None of these guys will be able to succeed in spite of their surroundings. They’re going to succeed because of their surroundings.”
This is an excellent point. It actually could be applied to the 2019 class of quarterbacks as well — especially those who will be eligible from the SEC.
Riddick was asked which quarterback he thought the Browns should consider at No. 1 overall. His first response is rather revealing as far as what GMs such as Cleveland’s John Dorsey look for in franchise passers.
“If we know anything about John Dorsey — how they kind of liked things done in Kansas City — they like measurables,” he responded. “They like ideals. They like people who look the part. So, who does that lead you to automatically? It leads you to start thinking about Josh Allen, obviously.”
If you aren’t familiar with Allen, he’s a 6-foot-5, 233-pound quarterback from Wyoming with a cannon for an arm. He’s got every measurable you could want in a passer, but he also has issues with accuracy.
So, who fits that description in the 2019 crop of SEC quarterbacks? Missouri’s Drew Lock, that’s who.
You’re talking about a guy with NFL size (6-foot4, 225 pounds) and arm strength. He’s someone who looks the part, but isn’t quite there as far as accuracy. The production was certainly there (3,964 passing yards and 44 TDs in 2017), but he also finished No. 9 in the SEC in completion percentage (57.8 percent).
Now, it should be noted that Lock doesn’t struggle with accuracy to the same degree as Allen. First off, Allen only finished with a career completion percentage of 56.2. Secondly, Lock’s numbers are somewhat skewed because Missouri fielded an offense that required the quarterback to push the ball downfield a lot — which would negatively affect accuracy.
There was also another quote from Riddick that reminded us of Lock. This one referred to USC’s Sam Darnold, whom a lot of draft analysts have as the top player at the position.
“The guy who is the gamer. The guy who plays a little Brett Favre-like. He doesn’t always make it look pretty. But the guy who people think of in the clutch, he’s the guy you would want on the football field.”
That’s exactly what you get with Lock. He can make all the throws with ease, and he’s certainly got that gunslinger mentality. Lock played a huge role in the Tigers going on a six-game win streak to close the regular season. During that stretch, the team averaged 51.3 points and Lock broke the SEC single-season passing record for touchdowns with 44.
Riddick had an interesting take on Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield as well. You may be surprised at which player came to mind, but all of these are based strictly off the quotes used by Riddick, not because the players are actually comparable prospects.
“Baker Mayfield is my favorite guy because he’s an 11-on-11 gamer,” he said. “Third downs, he’s very good at scanning the entire field. You know he can buy time. He has a heck of an arm and he’s accurate as heck.”
Any guesses? Come on, this quote screams Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
The Auburn star had two of his best performances last season against top-ranked teams — Georgia and Alabama. He came up clutch multiple times in those games while averaging 226 yards through the air. Stidham also completed 72.5 percent of his passes and accounted for 5 touchdowns — 2 of which came on the ground.
The Tigers offense improved significantly on third down with Stidham at quarterback. According to AUFamily.com, Auburn’s third-down passing offense went from No. 103 in pass-efficiency in 2016 to No. 6 in 2017. In addition, the Tigers improved from being No. 113 in the country in third-down conversions to No. 29.
Those improvements are not a coincidence.
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson wasn’t a player Riddick got to touch on extensively. He did say that he would be covering the Louisville product a lot on draft night, however. Check out what little information the ESPN analyst did reveal about the former Heisman Trophy winner during the conference call:
“I think he can succeed, and will succeed if he gets to the right place.”
Riddick says that because of Jackson’s athleticism. There had been rumors that some NFL teams wanted to see him work out as a wide receiver at the combine back in March. He’s not interested in switching positions.
So, who else needs to be in the right system to succeed? Who possesses elite athleticism for a quarterback but still needs development as a passer?
The answer: Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.
He led all SEC quarterbacks in rushing yards for two straight seasons. In 2016, Fitzgerald checked in at No. 2 in rushing yards (1,375) — regardless of position — behind LSU running back Derrius Guice (1,387). The 6-foot-5, 230-pound QB also led the conference in rushing touchdowns that season with 16.
Fitzgerald needs more work than any of the SEC’s top quarterbacks when it comes to accuracy, however. Unlike Lock, his 55.6 percent completion rate from last season — which ranked No. 11 in the SEC — is an accurate reflection of his struggles as a passer.
The Mississippi State quarterback still can be successful in the NFL, but like with Jackson, he’ll need to find the right system.