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Just missed the cut…
Michael Penix Jr. | Indiana | 6’3/218
Jayden Daniels | Arizona State | 6’3/185
Brock Purdy | Iowa State | 6’1/212
D’Eriq King | Miami | 5’11/185
Dillon Gabriel | UCF | 6’0/186
Grayson McCall | Coastal Carolina | 6’3/200
Emory Jones | Florida | 6’2/210
Do not see as priority NFL prospects...
Tanner Morgan | Minnesota | 6’2/215
Sean Clifford | Penn State | 6’2/220
Bo Nix | Auburn | 6’3/214
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10. Phil Jurkovec | Boston College | 6’5/226
Jurkovec rarely saw the field in two years at Notre Dame as Ian Book’s backup after signing as the No. 4 dual-threat QB in the 2018 class. Upon seeing Jurkovec’s name in the transfer portal, newly-hired Boston College HC Jeff Hafley and OC Frank Cignetti Jr. -- reunited after working together at Pittsburgh under Dave Wannstedt -- made it an offseason priority to sign him. They met with Jurkovec in-person to get it done.
In a totally revamped offense under Cignetti last season, Jurkovec threw for 2,558 yards and a 17/5 TD/INT ratio over 10 starts. He showed toughness, playing through a dislocated shoulder against Syracuse. In November, an opposing assistant coach told Yahoo! Sports: “If Jurkovec was still the quarterback at Notre Dame, they’d be a legit [championship] contender.” High praise for Jurkovec and a high-comedy dismissal of Book, a fourth-round pick of the Saints in April.
Cignetti proved to be the perfect veteran mentor for the raw youngster -- the Micky to Jurkovec's Rocky. Since 2000, Cignetti has been the QB coach for five different NFL franchises, coordinated his own NFL offense for one season, and been the offensive coordinator for six FBS programs, five of them in the P5. Been around the block. Cignetti's system is a soup of pro and college concepts.
Multiple personnel groupings, multiple formations, pro-style zone blocking along the line. Jurkovec was under center for more snaps last year than others on this list will have in their career. Pro-style passing concepts. Jurkovec given the ability to survey multiple options post-snap before making a decision (as opposed to throwing screen passes or one-on-one balls deep based on pre-snap decisions).
Cignetti is a proponent of both the RPO game and designed quarterback runs. Last year, Jurkovec ran for 339 yards and three TD on 6.4 YPC with sacks omitted. Jurkovec is a solid athlete for his size -- remember, recruiting services saw him as a dual-threat quarterback -- and is an effective ball-carrier. But he isn't looking to bail the pocket to scramble.
Jurkovec quickly picked up a simplified version of Cignetti's pro-style-with-a-college-twist offense. One area you could see it in the numbers: Jurkovec had 18 tight window throws last year, according to PFF. Sam Howell and Carson Strong (two guys playing in offenses described in the parenthetical aside two paragraphs above) combined for 17. Only two other quarterbacks ranked in my preseason top-10 2022 quarterbacks had more than 12 tight window passes last year, as charted by PFF.
Jurkovec also tied for No. 3 among my top-10 with 24 big-time throws, a charting number less tied to scheme. The season was all the more impressive when you consider that Jurkovec didn't learn that the NCAA would grant his immediate eligibility waiver until August. Then fall camp was affected and shortened by COVID.
The NFL is going to like that Jurkovec has plenty of experience reading coverages under duress. Evaluators are also going to dig the tight window throws in the intermediate area. Jurkovec is one of the nation's best attacking this area. Last year, Jurkovec posted a 91.3 PFF grade in intermediate passing, easily his best grade at any level of the field. He didn’t crack a 70.0 passing grade either short or long.
Accuracy is the problematic area. It craters downfield, but isn't pinpoint even before that. Jurkovec ranked No. 57 in the nation last year in adjusted accuracy (out of 64 qualifying QBs). For a big guy with some recruiting and draft pub behind him, I expected to see more arm strength. Jurkovec has an unorthodox motion, with his throwing elbow cocked high, and that doesn’t help.
Jurkovec had a brutal 35.1% adjusted accuracy percentage deep last season, per PFF. Only seven other FBS quarterbacks with over 300 attempts fared worse. You passed three of their names on lists at the top of the column: Brock Purdy, D'Eriq King and Bo Nix. Sam Ehlinger finished worse than all of them and the Colts took him in R6, so there's hope for everyone.
There is more effort and labor in balls Jurkovec pushes 50+ yards downfield than, say, Spencer Rattler, Malik Willis or Carson Strong. These max-tilt throws seem to put more stress on Jurkovec's already less-than-ideal upper-body mechanics. Doesn’t help that he has a weird habit of throwing off his back foot. Instead of rainbows and bucket shots, you see more line drives.
I'm not sure Jurkovec understands the bounds of his limitations yet. He takes more chances than his arm talent justifies. Jurkovec ranked bottom-15 among qualifying quarterbacks in turnover-worthy play percentage last year. But because his interception total stayed artificially low, folks have stayed off his case about decision-making in a way they haven't with Matt Corral.
Jurkovec walks a fine line. One thing I noticed on some of his errant short or intermediate throws: Out-of-rhythm footwork that could lead to unnecessary back foot throws in clean pockets. His inexperience reading coverage peaks through from time to time, mixing up coverages, missing a defender sitting in zone.
I want to see Jurkovec's pocket feel improve in his second year as starter. In 2020, he tied for No. 14 in the nation with 24 sacks taken. Again, he's willing to work through his progression, ranking No. 14 in average time to throw in 2020. But since he isn't the most agile in the pocket, and doesn't have the best footwork, he could stand to improve his ability to manipulate it.
Jurkovec looks poised to take another developmental step forward in 2020. He’s entering his second season in Cignetti’s offense. Cignetti has talked this offseason about how he's been able to install a lot more of his playbook now that everyone has a season under their belt.
The Eagles return their entire starting offensive line, and they boast one of the nation’s most dangerous downfield receivers in Zay Flowers. While the Eagles lose TE Hunter Long, they imported FCS star TE Trae Barry from Jacksonville State to take his place. Barry is stylistically similar to Long, a long pass-catching target, and is also an NFL talent.
Jurkovec is interesting because of his intermediate prowess and functional mobility. In 2021, keep an eye on his accuracy/placement and how he fares in the deep game with Zay Flowers. Improvements in those areas would lead to a stock surge.
9. Desmond Ridder | Cincinnati | 6’4/215
No pandemic hangover season here. Ridder was a breakout star in 2020, winning American Offensive Player of the Year honors, named a semifinalist for the Maxwell. He threw for 2,296 yards and 19 TD on 8.6 YPA and 66.2% completions and ran for 703 rushing yards and 12 TD on 8.8 YPC with sacks omitted.
Ridder explored declaring early for the draft. He decided to return to Cincinnati for another year, telling the media he got a Rounds 4-6 projection from the NFL. Ridder wasn’t getting ahead of the five first-round QBs or the Trask/Mills/Mond run. Ian Book was the next quarterback to go, at 4.133. The NFL gave Ridder good advice. Rounds 4-6 is exactly where he would have gone.
An NFL scout told Yahoo! Sports that he believes Ridder could catapult into Round 1 or 2 with a big 2021 season -- but made it clear that Ridder isn't in that range at the moment. “He made a smart decision [to return to school], as he’s got a lot of ability but he’s not a finished product,” he said. “He’s very athletic with a lot of tools, but he needs to improve his accuracy, his anticipation and develop his body to be NFL ready. He doesn’t have an NFL body right now.”
Ridder is one of 16 starters returning to a loaded Bearcats team that was a Georgia 53-yard FG with three seconds left in the Peach Bowl away from potentially going undefeated. "He's a really good athlete," said Georgia HC Kirby Smart in the lead-up. "I think it's deceiving how fast he is. He has really long legs. When he takes off running, you see him outrunning people all over the place. When you start outrunning linebackers and DBs in college football, says a lot about your speed. There's times where plays have broken down, he's turned them into big-time gains and plays.”
Ridder’s legs were a driving force behind his 2020 breakthrough. Cincy runs a lot of RPO concepts. Ridder is a good runner, with speed and a little bit of agility. He rushed for 703 yards and 12 TD on 8.8 YPC with sacks omitted.
I spoke with an NFL source in November who was concerned about Ridder’s NFL transition, calling Cincinnati's offense simplistic. Ridder had a torrid stretch to conclude the season. So I recently texted that person to ask: Has your opinion on Ridder changed? “He’s got good tools," came the response. "But he’s super inaccurate. He is deceptively not as athletic as he seems. Not first-round worthy. I’d take a shot [in the] mid-rounds.”
Ridder has Jordan Love’s frame. They also bear a resemblance throwing. But Love took more chances on the field than Ridder ever would. For better or worse. Ridder is a mover in the pocket until he gets something he likes. He’ll shuffle left, slide right, slide left, move up, jog out right -- whatever.
Ridder is very elusive in the pocket. Makes people miss. I like that he keeps his eyes up on his targets as he does. But he doesn’t have an intuitive feel for defenders honing in on him. In the bowl game against Georgia, Ridder took eight sacks (Georgia’s pass-rush is vicious and Cincy’s OL cratered after James Hudson got ejected, to be fair).
Doesn’t always mind his lower half when throwing, and that hurts his accuracy. Little things like not swiveling his hips and squaring his shoulder to the target, overcompensating with his arm. Ridder has an unfortunate habit of putting too much mustard on short balls and sailing deep shots. Touch is not his forte.
When he has his feet set, plenty of arm strength to drive it into any intermediate window. Earlier in his career when other areas of his passing game were lagging behind, Ridder had the deep ball to keep defenses honest. But his accuracy, again, comes and goes.
Nice recognition of defensive concepts. This area of his game has improved. But it’s almost like Ridder is starting to get a better handle on his lack of accuracy as opposed to making legitimate strides to actually improving it. Despite having a stronger arm than many on my preseason top-10 QB list, Ridder led the group in percentage of passes thrown within nine yards of the line of scrimmage (61.4%).
The more I watched Ridder, the more he started to remind me of Brett Hundley. In his final season at UCLA, 64.4% of Hundley’s passes came within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. That should have been a huge red-flag. Extreme risk-aversion masking deeper-seeded accuracy/placement/presence issues.
Ridder could really help himself by doing more work trying to marry his top half to his bottom half when throwing, he’d see an uptick in accuracy from that alone. But he’s entering his fourth year as a starter -- surely he’s already tried working on that?
Ridder is an interesting ball of clay. But he's not an elite athlete (so his scrambling will play down at the next level), and his accuracy and placement issues are acute enough that lengths have been taken to hide them in the Cincy offense. Many are predicting Ridder will vault up draft boards. He's going to need to straighten up his side-shooter first.
8. JT Daniels | Georgia | 6’3/210
Daniels skipped his senior year of high school and reclassifed into the 2018 recruiting class. He was tabbed a five-star and ranked behind only Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields at his position. In 2018, in what would have been his senior year, Daniels threw for 2,672 yards with a 14/10 TD/INT ratio.
A big development step was expected of Daniels in 2019 working with a receiving corps boasting Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and Drake London. Instead, Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Fresno State. Kedon Slovis ran away with his job.
Daniels transferred to Georgia. He didn’t start until the final four games. Over that stretch, against three top-50 SP+ defenses, Daniels reignited his dormant hype train, throwing for 1,231 yards and 10 TD on 10.3 YPA. In the Peach Bowl win over No. 5 Cincy, Daniels went 26-for-38 for 393 yards.
Befitting a long-time top quarterback recruit, Daniels is extremely polished. He knows what he’s doing back there. His mechanics are sound. Crisp and convincing in play-action game. Looks safeties off with his eyes. Isn't careless with the ball. Keeps himself squared and cocked, ready to throw.
Daniels is a good deep passer without having a howitzer. Only seven quarterbacks who had more attempts 20+ yards downfield had a higher adjusted accuracy percentage on those throws than Daniels' 55.2%, per PFF. He has above-average arm strength and accuracy that stretches to all three levels.
Daniels’ best attribute as a thrower is his touch, and it really shines on deep throws. Precision placement, catchable balls, arches balls away from defender leverage to give his man a better shot. Daniels consistently gave George Pickens in particular a shot to win deep, and Pickens often came down with it.
Daniels isn’t much of an athlete and he’s not interested in scrambling -- he has -226 career rushing yards -- but he can get outside the tackles and throw on the run. Because of Daniels' touch, it would be interesting to see if he could be deployed similar to how Jared Goff has been in the NFL, bootlegged off play-action to get looks at intermediate layer throws.
But that isn't Daniels' game. Isn't yet, anyway. In Daniels' four games last year, he attempted only 24 intermediate passes (20.2% attempts). Daniels didn't throw over the middle, either (see below). Daniels likes to throw deep (24.4% of his attempts last year, highest percentage among my preseason top-10 QBs). Pickens' presence made him all the more willing to do so. We'll return to this topic.
Daniels sees the field well enough. He’s hyper-aware of the oncoming rush. Preoccupied, at times. The one reliable way to take Daniels off his game is to get heat in his face. This is when he glitches, panic-throwing early or taking lame-duck sacks.
Daniels doesn’t have the wheels to escape, and his thinking gets muddy under fire. He doesn’t like to put the ball in harm’s way. So instead, he will eat the sack if he hasn’t unloaded the ball. I’d be willing cut him some pocket-panic slack coming off the knee injury in a short sample-size, but this was also a hallmark of his game at USC.
In 2018 as a true freshman, Daniels posted a 71.6 PFF grade in clean pockets and a 28.7 PFF grade under pressure. In his four games for Georgia in 2020, Daniels posted a 92.4 PFF grade in clean pockets… and a 49.1 PFF grade under pressure, an almost identical discrepancy (42.9 in 2018/43.3 in 2020). Red-flag Achilles' heal for a pocket-passing NFL prospect. Daniels’ composure and decision-making under fire must improve.
The Bulldogs lost the aforementioned George Pickens in the spring to a torn ACL. He may well be out for the entire 2021 season. That’s the bad news -- he and Daniels were a devastating deep-ball duo. The good news is that Georgia signed LSU transfer TE Arik Gilbert, arguably the most talented pass-catching tight end in college football.
With TE Darnell Washington back, Georgia has a nice-looking 12 package with WRs Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson outside. It would be nice if Demetris Robertson, a former five-star who started at Cal, at long last had his breakout at Georgia. He’s the speedy slot that would help round this group out in Pickens’ absence, perhaps give Daniels an opportunity to air it out down the seams.
Will Daniels improve in the intermediate area with Gilbert and without Pickens? Will his long game diminish without Pickens? Daniels has experience in multiple offensive systems and has the touch and polish to win in an NFL pocket. But I'll see him as a Day 3 guy until he stops getting spooked by ghosts in the pocket.
Come back next week for Part 2 of the series!