MOBILE, Ala. — From the moment that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson turned down an invitation to the Senior Bowl, the buzz at the event took a nosedive — and no more than at any position than quarterback.
The six who are playing in the event all have their virtues, but they also come with a lot of questions. There isn’t a Day 1 starter in the group, and there might not be a Year 1 starter (outside of the team drafting them facing unusual circumstances) either.
Those searching for the next Dak Prescott here will be sadly disappointed. And really, that would be a case of revisionist history as Prescott — though we liked him a lot as our No. 37 overall prospect in 2016 — had an OK but hardly special week a year ago in Mobile. The star here was Carson Wentz.
Although there is one day left of practice on Thursday for this year’s Senior Bowl, plus Saturday’s game, there’s a pretty good feel for the quarterbacks from this group and how they are stacking up.
Here is how we would rank the six to this point:
Nate Peterman, Pitt — A nice week from Peterman thus far. After a few early wobblers in Wednesday’s practice, he ripped a few balls that cut through the wind better and showed that he has a little hot sauce when he needs it. There might not be anything amazing in his game, and he’s right above that height cutoff (6-foot-2 ½) where some old-school coaches and evaluators might grumble a bit.
But overall, he throws well on the move, gets rid of it smoothly and doesn’t have mechanics that a QB coach is going to have to strip down and rebuild. A team could do a lot worse, and the Chicago Bears’ staff appears to be taking a liking to him. He has been getting most of the first-team reps and doing well with them.
The best throw we’ve seen to date was Peterman hitting Florida International TE Jonnu Smith on a gorgeous sideline pass where only Smith, covered closely by a linebacker, could catch it. In a middling-at-best group, it’s throws like that one that will stick in evaluators’ minds leaving Mobile.
Peterman entered this week as the best of the lot of QBs, and that has not changed. We’ve also not been blown away, but he certainly hasn’t been bad at all.
Best-guess draft range: Peterman had a chance to work his way into being a top-75 pick. At worst, he likely won’t fall too far into Round 4.
Davis Webb, Cal — Coming into the week, Peterman and Webb had the best chances to boost their stocks. Peterman has held steady. Webb has been uneven. Not awful by any means, as he got a little more comfortable during the week, but the improvement has been subtle.
Webb throws a pretty ball, has the ideal size a team wants (6-foot-4 5/8, 229 pounds) and has a good makeup. He’s a coach’s son, worked in two different systems in college at Texas Tech and Cal (both “Air Raid” offenses but ones he said were vastly different from each other), and has not looked uncomfortable dropping from center, which he never did in college. Credit his former QB coach, Jim Zorn, for helping on that aspect.
But Webb also has scattershot accuracy, still is learning how to call plays in the huddle (also very new) and will have to overcome the small-hand stigma that the man he replaced at Cal, Jared Goff, faced a year ago. Remember what Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson said about hand size at the NFL scouting combine last year? We do, and Jackson’s staff is coaching Webb this week.
Best-guess draft range: With improvement, he can be an early Day 3 pick. Day 2 might be a tad early for him to go off the board, even with the ballooned value of quarterbacks.
Josh Dobbs, Tennessee — He is an interesting study. I’ve bumped him up a little this week for two reasons: One, he had a nice opening practice on Tuesday, and two, he’s just so darned tough-minded and intelligent, traits that indicate someone will give him a chance to play QB in the NFL.
Dobbs has not progressed markedly as a passer — in terms of consistently making NFL-type throws, anyway — over his four years in college, but he was also in a system where things were simplified and geared toward the run primarily. (Frankly, you can’t say that the Tennessee staff earned the highest marks for using its talent most effectively or for its player development in a lot of cases, either.)
When the chips were down, Dobbs most often delivered. This was also a school where a lot of stuff seemed to be happening every few weeks. And amid the haze, there was a beacon of light. Dobbs represented the Volunteers with grace under pressure — on and off the field. He spoke Tuesday night about how he tried to lead his teammates through it.
“Leadership is influence,” he said. “You have to gain the trust of each and every person. They have to realize that it’s genuine, that it’s not coming from a fake place. Then their level of play rises with your level of play. You’re able to motivate, push guys because you know them and you spent that quality time with them off the field.”
That’s worth something. So even with a thinner build (6-foot-3 ¼, 216 pounds), a less-than-special arm and accuracy issues, especially downfield, there’s something to develop here. His rare athletic traits and leadership skills must be worth investing in for an NFL team.
Best-guess draft range: He feels like a sixth-round pick. And that’s more than worth the risk at that point.
C.J. Beathard, Iowa — In general, I am not a fan. The grandson of former San Diego Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard certainly has football in his blood, and there’s no question that injuries derailed his play down the stretch. But there’s too much to overcome here for Beathard to be much more than a well-prepared NFL backup.
He threw two ugly passes on Wednesday, and to Beathard’s credit he followed each of them with two of his better throws of the session. He’s a savvy, tough competitor who will battle consistency issues and never become an NFL starter.
If there has been a positive, Beathard has not looked panicked during the live sessions and has shown well throwing under duress. But he also has struggled with ball placement, not throwing his receivers open enough.
Best-guess draft range: Rounds 6 or 7.
Sefo Liufau, Colorado — Perhaps this is not the best environment for Liufau to shine. This is a player who made marked improvement over his career with the Buffaloes, and he has athletic ability and toughness — playing through a serious right ankle injury down the stretch — that must be respected.
But so far through two days, Liufau has struggled to throw with accuracy or arm strength, and has appeared uncomfortable out there. At 6-foot-3 3/8 and 240 pounds, he has a nice frame, but as one NFL scout observed during Tuesday morning’s weigh-in, he appeared to be underdeveloped and smooth-muscled. More time shaping his body could help.
With good footwork and nice intangibles, there’s something here to work with. But Liufau has below-average NFL arm talent. We’ve heard he’s more of a game player than a practice player, and two days here so far back that up. Part of his game is scrambling, and it’s something that’s not emphasized during the team sessions. He could use a strong Thursday session to get people excited again after a few duds for passes the first two days.
Best-guess draft range: Round 7.
Antonio Pipkin, Tiffin — Coming here was a terrific decision because Pipkin had little to lose. He was barely on maps before accepting a Senior Bowl bid, and though a massive transition must happen before he’s close to being NFL-ready, there are evident traits that a patient team could work with. He has a live arm and a nice athletic skills.
Coming from an “Air Raid” style of offense at a Division II school, Pipkin is already facing two negatives in NFL folks’ minds, and his thick build (6-0 7/8, 225 pounds) looked like more of that of a running back. During the 7-on-7 drills and full-team work, it was clear that Pipkin’s diagnostic skills needed work.
Yes, there was a noticeable bump from Day 1 to Day 2 in his comfort level in the practices, and he delivered one of the pass plays of the day Wednesday on a seam route to Ole Miss TE Evan Engram. But Engram had to adjust to the low pass, and it was a snapshot of Pipkin’s lack of precise accuracy that we’ve seen.
Browns head coach Hue Jackson said Pipkin is “going to play in the NFL,” which is a nice endorsement, and we agree that this week has raised his profile in front of many watchful and perhaps intrigued eyes. If he keeps progressing from under center and learns how to read complex defenses, Pipkin has a chance. Not every team will stamp an NFL-caliber grade on him, two or three might be willing to invest in him.
Best-guess draft range: Undrafted. Of course, far lower-ceiling prospects than Pipkin get drafted. The problem is, he needs time to develop.
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