Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
6-foot-4, 228 pounds
2013 stats: 238-of-389 passing (61.2 percent completions) for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 76 rushes, minus-208 yards, three touchdowns
40-yard dash: 4.97 seconds
The good: Who is Tom Savage and why is he perhaps the hottest mystery quarterback heading into the 2014 NFL draft? Savage stepped up with a strong final college season — his only one on the field at Pitt — and lived up to the hype he received when he was a highly rated passer in high school. Things didn't go according to plan, as he committed to Rutgers, started for parts of two years there and then transfered to Arizona but left before playing a game for the Wildcats. Savage attempted to re-enroll at Rutgers, but his hardship waiver to play immediately was denied, so he landed at Pitt and sat out the 2012 season.
Savage's stock grew again as the 2013 season wore on, and he took care of the football well (three INTs in his final nine games) after a shaky start. His arm strength rivals that of two of the draft class' best flamethrowers — Fresno State's Derek Carr and LSU's Zach Mettenberger. As one AFC offensive coordinator told Shutdown Corner about Savage, "He can really shoot it."
Savage also has an NFL-caliber frame, played in a pro-style offense under Paul Chryst (who tutored several future NFL quarterbacks, including Russell Wilson at Wisconsin) and had his stats skewed by some dropped passes. It also says something that his teammates named Savage a captain despite him transferring in.
The bad: There are concerns about Savage's lack of athleticism, as the same offensive coordinator pointed out, and ability to throw on the run. For having such a strong arm, Savage was asked to throw horizontally and short quite a bit, which was odd, and his accuracy wavered at times. Also, pressure appeared to bother him; although Savage doesn't back down from the rush, standing tough against some big hits, he can deliver some wild passes in those situations.
He turned in some real clunkers this season — there's no shame in Florida State getting the best of him, but Savage also struggled noticeably through stretches against marginal opponents such as Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion and Georgia Tech. Savage turns 24 two weeks before the draft.
The verdict: Savage bears a striking resemblance as a prospect to the Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles, Savage's former teammate for a year in Tucson. It's all there, from Foles' size to his circuitous college route (Foles committied to Arizona State, then signed with Michigan State before transferring to Arizona) to him also toughing it out and taking a beating behind a bad offensive line. That's Savage, too, although he's not quite as big as Foles, and Foles' incredible statistical success last season under Chip Kelly might skew this comparison somewhat unfairly.
Savage has enough tools to be attractive to NFL teams seeking a pocket passer with a big arm, and he appears to care greatly about football and getting better. He can make every NFL throw there is; turn on the Duke or North Carolina games this past season for proof of that.
But Savage also has enough sub-par tape to question his pro potential, especially given that he's a year or two older than most of the other prospects in this class. Savage has one full season of football to his name since 2009, and he could benefit from learning in a scheme that favors his arm strength where he doesn't have to play immediately — the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys are a few teams that come to mind here.
But there's a good chance that Savage could, like Foles did in 2012, come off the board higher than many expect, perhaps even in the draft's first 64 picks.
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