Here's what some NFL teams saw out of top 4 QBs at scouting combine

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·NFL columnist
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INDIANAPOLIS – Deshaun Watson isn’t relinquishing the quarterback race without a fight. That doesn’t necessarily mean the QB pecking order has gotten any clearer for the 2017 NFL draft. If anything, it appears to be skewing along the lines of preference and fit. But at a time when North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer had a chance to solidify themselves atop the position, it was Clemson’s Watson who walked away from the NFL scouting combine with the most commanding passing performance in Indianapolis.

Yahoo Sports spoke with three NFL talent evaluators who watched the quarterbacks throw on Saturday and at least one opinion was universal: Watson showed up ready to make his case that he deserves to be considered near the top of every quarterback-needy draft board.

Deshaun Watson scored good marks for accuracy in his workout at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday. (AP)
Deshaun Watson scored good marks for accuracy in his workout at the NFL scouting combine on Saturday. (AP)

“[Watson] had some good throws – a limited program for all of them, but you could see he came out to compete,” one evaluator said. “That’s what I want to see with [the quarterbacks]. I want you going toe-to-toe and trying to raise that bar for everyone in the group. He did. He stuck out.”

Overall, it was a workmanlike day for the big four who appear to be in varying first-round consideration: Watson, Trubisky, Kizer and Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes. The quartet all had some moments, but for the most part, it was clear how they stacked up.

Here’s a look at the four from the standpoint of evaluators:

Deshaun Watson: He came away with the most consistently positive assessments. His 40-yard dash time (4.67) was right in the area where Clemson sources told NFL scouts it would be. As for his passing work, evaluators said he looked relatively sharp and very relaxed with his throws and did well mixing and matching with different wideouts. His touch and ball placement were good to acceptable and his arm strength looked more than adequate. There was no real opportunity to answer anything concerning reads or the occasional decision-making questions in this workout. The Jared Goff-esque questions about the offensive simplicity at Clemson aren’t really addressed by combine throwing, either.

Ultimately, the takeaway seemed to be that Watson’s simulated drops from center looked routine. He’ll have some footwork and mechanics cleanup (as most rookie QBs do) but he didn’t look out of sorts dropping into a pocket. Overall, evaluators deemed it a positive performance – albeit still a small piece of the puzzle.

Also, reviews from evaluators weren’t as hyperbolic as some media and draft analysts (nobody tagged it as a Marcus Mariota type of performance, for example). That said, it sounds as if Watson is on track to be a top-10 pick and has retained the momentum to improve his draft standing.

Mitchell Trubisky: Trubisky’s outing seemed to be regarded as the second-best performance of the day, although some placed it close to being on par with Watson. His 40-yard dash time (4.67) – while a surprise to some in the media – apparently was not a shock to some evaluators familiar with his speed. Like Watson, he made the majority of his throws look relaxed and had solid ball placement. The quickness of his release was notable and he also showed a solid enough arm for the next level. Like Watson, the questions evaluators had about his reads and some of his decisions on the move couldn’t be answered throwing against air. He might need a little more work on his mechanics than Watson, but that’s going to skew with different staffs. Overall, it was billed as a positive performance that didn’t change anything about the assessments that Trubisky was at or near the top of the quarterbacks group.

Patrick Mahomes: His arm didn’t disappoint. Evaluators said he showed zip and strength, and generally gave a snapshot of why some say he has the most long-term upside as a passer out of the group. Two sources were less than pleased with his footwork on a few drops – suggesting Mahomes looked a little sloppy and out of alignment at times. One noted that guys with a natural arm can get away with being loose with their lower body discipline and Mahomes is no stranger to that.

Interestingly, one evaluator said Mahomes showed more cocky body language and interaction than the other top quarterbacks. The evaluator said he appeared to carry himself with some notable confidence and seemed revved up to be in the same quarterback group with Watson and Trubisky. Ultimately it was perceived as a performance that showcased the truest physical scouting report on Mahomes’ potential: That he has an elite arm but needs to tune up his footwork/mechanics and discipline when delivering the ball.

DeShone Kizer might need a flawless pro day to assume the top spot among QBs in this draft class. (AP)
DeShone Kizer might need a flawless pro day to assume the top spot among QBs in this draft class. (AP)

DeShone Kizer: He didn’t have a straight negative assessment from Saturday, but some evaluators walked away hoping for a sharper workout. The arm strength was evident, but his accuracy was off at times with imperfect ball placement. A few times his receivers had to work to adjust for catches. One evaluator said Kizer looked rushed at times, like he was pressing in drops and setups in order to hurry and deliver the ball. He didn’t always look as relaxed and natural as Watson or Trubisky. That said, his footwork wasn’t as loose as Mahomes’, either.

One evaluator said it wouldn’t be correct to label it a “bad” performance – but probably more emblematic of Kizer in 2016 than 2015. The meaning being that Kizer was still showing some of the timing and ball placement wildness that marred certain points of this season versus a cleaner and more consistent 2015. Bottom line: While Kizer’s day might not have been as awful as some suggested (just like Watson’s wasn’t as perfect), he didn’t seize the opportunity, either. The first-round arm is there, but Kizer’s accuracy continues to be a question that might keep him from being the first quarterback chosen.

So what’s next? All four players will try to make a more bold statement at their pro days, with far more expansive individual workouts. Then they’ll break away through April in an attempt to solidify their draft position in 1-on-1 workouts with teams. In a group that still seems to lack some permanent definition in the final order, Saturday was the first leg of a long final lap.