MOBILE, Ala. – They come with their team-issued windbreakers, notebooks holstered in their back pockets and the air of anonymity inherent to one of the most thankless jobs in the NFL. The league’s scouting rank-and-file arrived in Mobile on Sunday and Monday, armed with one of the most compelling tasks in sports.
After a season of traversing the country, grinding through thousands of hours of film and watching countless practice periods, the Senior Bowl practices and game here this week offer the last live-game competition. From here, the “Underwear Olympics” – i.e. the NFL scouting combine and pro days – portion of the draft process begins.
There’s a pinch less buzz to this Senior Bowl than most seasons, as the game lacks the hype that Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen brought last year. But in a season when nine quarterbacks will be showcased here, there’s no lack of intrigue. The two buzziest quarterbacks in the draft – Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray – aren’t here. (Neither were seniors). Duke’s Daniel Jones is in the class with those two, and after that there’s intrigue over who can move up into the first round.
Here are five quarterbacks with a lot to gain – or lose – amid an interesting but muddled crop at the Senior Bowl this week.
DANIEL JONES, Duke
With Kentucky defender Josh Allen pulling out at the last minute, Jones is the prospect here with the chance to go highest in the draft. Jones is sculpted from the archetype of the league’s quarterbacking past, as he’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and has the sturdy composition that NFL body typing has long coveted. Jones is a lock to go in the first round, but what scouts want to see from him this week is how he throws to high-end talent, as his skill position players at Duke were viewed as pedestrian.
It’s telling that Jones and Missouri quarterback Drew Lock ended up on the North roster, which is coached by the quarterback-curious Raiders coaching staff. While Oakland has Derek Carr under contract until 2022, his deal isn’t particularly difficult to unwind from. That gives the oft-impulsive Jon Gruden a chance to fall in love with one of them. Jones can start by improving the accuracy he showed at Duke, where he completed 60 percent of his passes this season.
It will be interesting to see if Duke coach David Cutcliffe, long considered an elite quarterback whisperer, will have the juice to help Jones.
DREW LOCK, Missouri
As first impressions go, Lock made a great one. He charmed the media at the opening news conference on Monday night and showed comfort in the spotlight, a key facet for a quarterback who could become a face of the franchise. (He also didn’t make the mistake that Wyoming’s Josh Allen made here last year, when he mistook Dan Marino for John Elway when meeting with the Dolphins).
Lock didn’t mince words when he declared on Monday night, “As far as from a competitor’s standpoint, I’m going to tell you I feel like I’m the best quarterback in this class.”
His best case scenario this week: He outplays Jones and West Virginia’s Will Grier – he’s a much better athlete than both – and leaps to the top-half of the first round. Scouts know Lock can spin the ball and he has been productive. His ability to command the offense in the huddle will be analyzed closely this week.
GARDNER MINSHEW, Washington State
Can the fairy tale of the 2018 college football season continue with another star-kissed chapter? Minshew had essentially given up on his playing career and was headed to be a graduate transfer at Alabama to back up Tua Tagovailoa – as insurance in case Jalen Hurts left. Gardner had a handshake agreement to become a graduate assistant for Nick Saban after his career ended.
Instead, he changed his mind, went to Washington State and became one of the most dynamic players in college football, throwing for 38 touchdowns. Scouts want to see his arm strength here, as one said that his thick lower body should generate more power than he does.
In a phone interview, former UCLA coach Jim Mora compared Minshew to Nick Foles, as he said he liked his touch and accuracy but is eager to see what he does under pressure.
Minshew is starting from scratch here, as he immediately asked Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy for the cell numbers of the centers in the game so he could master the nuances of snapping the ball from under center. At the initial breakfast of the Senior Bowl, Minshew said: “Where can I get some footballs? I want to work on snaps.”
CLAYTON THORSON, Northwestern
Nagy went out of his way to compliment Thorson this week, pointing out that before he tore his ACL at the end of the 2017 season that most teams pegged him no lower than a third-round pick.
Thorson had the same curse as Jones while at Northwestern, as he played with a limited set of skill players. Scouts are curious about his ability to drop the deep ball to top athletes and throwing players open. Thorson was limited by that ACL injury in the early part of the 2018 season, which handicapped his ability to improve his stock. A big week here would allow him to recapture the buzz that surrounded him at the end of 2017.
If he’s one of best quarterback here this week, it could position him as the type of player a team with an aging quarterback can draft in the late first or second round and develop.
He has physical tools at 6-4 and 220 pounds that bely his modest statistics, which included 15 interceptions last year.
TYREE JACKSON, Buffalo
There’s a boom or bust feel to Jackson among scouts. He’s intriguing at 6-7 and 245 pounds, as quarterback prospects are rarely that size. He has a cannon for an arm, as a few of his throws early in the season in upsets of Temple and Rutgers were NFL-caliber lasers that had scouts buzzing.
But Jackson finished his season with a thud, playing poorly in the MAC title game and against Troy in the Dollar General Bowl, both Buffalo losses. He finished the season completing just 55 percent of his passes, as accuracy and consistency will be the main thing he needs to showcase to scouts. Also, he has an elongated release that many scouts thought he could have cleaned up in an extra year of college.
There was a strong feeling among scouts that Jackson should have tried a graduate transfer over the league. And while Nagy pegged him as a third-rounder, we’ll see this week if he booms or busts from that spot.
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