A look at potential 2019 NFL QB draft class as Senior Bowl nears

With Yahoo Sports announcing the Senior Bowl rosters in a livestream reveal on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, it’s worth re-examining the pecking order of the 2019 NFL draft’s quarterback class. Here’s a look at the key questions looming over this group, which is not expected to have the depth of the 2018 haul that included five first-round picks – Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.

But could we end up with as many as four first-rounders? Here are the biggest questions looming over this quarterback class as draft season comes at us in earnest.

It’s unclear if QB Justin Herbert will return to Oregon for the 2019 season. (Getty Images)
It’s unclear if QB Justin Herbert will return to Oregon for the 2019 season. (Getty Images)

Will Oregon star quarterback Justin Herbert declare for NFL draft?

All indications out of Oregon, for the entire season, have hinted at Herbert preferring to stick around for another year. He’s above a 4.0 biology student, grew up a post pattern from Autzen Stadium and his brother is set to play tight end for the Ducks next year. The biggest question will be whether guaranteed money that comes with being a near-lock, top-five pick wins out over sentimentality. The cynical perspective here says the money is too much to refuse, and injury risk too great. (A lot of folks predicted Sam Darnold would go back to USC last year, until the draft position made that irrational.) Many NFL executives feel like Herbert is a rare enough prospect that he’d end up No. 1. Whoever ends up with that pick could end up commanding a ransom for him.

If Herbert stays, who is the next prospect?

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, a redshirt junior, is expected to come out for the draft. It’d be a smart move, as he could end up the clear-cut top of the QB class if Herbert goes back to Oregon. Ohio State redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins could also be in the conversation behind Herbert if he declares. His record-breaking season and work under former NFL QBs coach Ryan Day has scouts intrigued. Haskins, who is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, will likely decide after the Rose Bowl if he’s coming out.

Yahoo Sports gathered some NFL opinions on him earlier this year as his stock began to soar and some scouts back then saw him as a first-round pick. That was before Haskins torched Michigan and Northwestern for 895 yards and 11 touchdowns the season’s final two weeks. (Michigan entered the game with the country’s No. 1 pass defense.)

Jones lacks the buzz from Duke’s modest 7-5 season. But he’s a 6-5, 220-pound classically built NFL-style quarterback. His modest numbers – 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 59 percent passing – are going to be overlooked. He was injured for two games this season and his affiliation with David Cutcliffe – the Manning family quarterback tutor – goes a long way in NFL circles. It would be a surprise in NFL circles if he doesn’t end up in the first round.

Duke’s Daniel Jones has the physical traits NFL scouts like in quarterbacks. (Getty Images)
Duke’s Daniel Jones has the physical traits NFL scouts like in quarterbacks. (Getty Images)

Who else could emerge as first-round pick?

Because of the QB position’s importance, there’s always a tendency for franchises to reach for a player based on need. Two players who could help themselves the most in Posturing Season are West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and Missouri quarterback Drew Lock.

An NFL scout said that Lock would benefit from playing in a postseason game. Lock is a 6-4, 225-pound prospect who is a good enough athlete that he had basketball scholarship offers in the Big 12 and at Wichita State. He finished the year with 25 touchdowns, eight interceptions and played scintillating in four straight wins to close the season. Could scouts fall back in love with Lock?

“He’s going to spin it, it’s going to look pretty,” one said.

Grier was another touted prospect entering the season who delivered sporadically. He finished with a 67 percent completion percentage, 37 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he had a handful of pedestrian games against teams like Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, throwing five combined interceptions in those games.

Could he or Lock secure himself a spot in the first round via a postseason game or the so-called Underwear Olympics?

“This is what’s going to happen with these two,” said a veteran scout. “We watch them in August, we get excited. Then they go through a midseason funk, and you’re down on them. Then we watch them again, and they get a push.”

Another scout predicted that both could end up in the first round, despite few scouts actually giving them first-round grades.

Who can help themselves most in Senior Bowl?

Both N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson don’t yet project as sure-fire NFL starters. They are slotted somewhere around the third round, but the Senior Bowl will be an integral showcase for them. The Senior Bowl has a history of quarterbacks with big weeks rocketing up draft boards. Could they end up shedding their fringe starter/career backup labels? Teams are always thirsty for a hot quarterback.

Thorson has a higher ceiling because of his physical gifts, as he’s 6-4, 226 pounds and gives off the classic NFL look at the position.

“I think he’s a third-round guy and a really good NFL backup,” a scout said. “It’s tough for him at Northwestern, as he doesn’t have a lot [of elite skill players] around him. He has to hold the ball a lot, but he’s shown he can throw with anticipation. The Senior Bowl will be interesting for him to see him throw the ball to fast receivers downfield.”

As for Finley, he’s not quite the physical specimen. He’s listed at 6-4 and 212 pounds, but his skinny frame and limited arm talent have scouts concerned. It’s hard to argue with the production, as he has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Senior Bowl will be interesting, as scouts knock his athleticism. He also struggled against N.C. State’s best competition this year, throwing two interceptions and completing passes 21-of-34 passes for 156 yards against Clemson.

Who needs a great Senior Bowl to solidify position in NFL?

Both Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley are fighting age-old NFL draft narratives. (Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham will as well if he declares as expected.)

We’ll start with Minshew, who rocketed onto the scene this year at Washington State by throwing for 4,477 yards for Mike Leach after transferring from East Carolina. Playing for Leach is a blessing for college statistics and a curse in the eyes of some evaluators. Leach’s quarterbacks lack a consistent history of producing in the NFL, which makes evaluators skeptical.

Minshew is listed at 6-2, 220 pounds and doesn’t have overwhelming arm talent. One scout summed up the skepticism Minshew is facing by pointing out that Luke Falk, the Pac-12’s all-time passing yards leader, got cut after being drafted in Round 6 by Tennessee.

“The Senior Bowl is going to be big,” the scout said. “Will he measure over 6-foot-1? The guy was about to be a graduate assistant at Alabama [before transferring to Washington State]. To me, traits don’t change on players. He’s not super talented. He’s just a guy. Get in a great offense, though, and you’re up for the Heisman.”

The other intriguing unconventional quarterback is Penn State’s McSorley, who is the classic intriguing undersized spread quarterback who needs to show some more well-rounded traits. Throwing from the pocket will be the biggest thing for him to prove coming from a zone read system. That’s going to be what scouts want to see most in Mobile.

McSorley has a reputation as a high-end winner, which can’t be underestimated. His throwing statistics took a precipitous dip this year without Joe Moorhead calling plays and defenses no longer having to key on Saquon Barkley. His completion percentage dipped from 66.5 to 53.4, and his touchdown passes dropped from 28 to 16.

McSorley is smaller – 6-0, 201 pounds – which could lead to some Mayfield comparisons. Could a team gamble on McSorley late in the draft?

“He doesn’t have the same type of arm talent as Baker,” a scout said. “He’s a smaller frame guy, and Baker had a big lower body. But Baker’s success at a similar height certainly doesn’t hurt, so it’ll probably help him.”

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