Senior Bowl Quarterbacks

Thor Nystrom
Rotoworld

The Senior Bowl serves as the unofficial start of the draft season. This week, I'll be bringing you previews of the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers looking to get off to a hot start in the evaluating process. First up, quarterbacks. And away we go!

 

Shea Patterson (Michigan) | 6’1/205

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You should write Shea’s scouting report. I’ll get you started!

When I first read Shea Patterson’s five-star recruiting report, I was (adjective). Then, when I saw him throwing to Evan Engram, AJ Brown, Van Jefferson, DaMarkus Lodge and DK Metcalf as a freshman and sophomore at Ole Miss, I believed he was going to become the next (unconventionally successful starting QB drafted into the NFL in the past decade). 

After he transferred to Michigan, I thought Jim Harbaugh would make him into more of a (more conventionally successful starting QB drafted in the past decade)-type player. Now, after four years, I believe Patterson is (adjective). The best parts of his game are (traits) and the worst parts are (longer list of traits). But mostly I’m just confused by the Benjamin Button progression of his career.

Sorry, I couldn’t let you amend that last sentence. That goes in all of our reports.

Patterson did manage to up his passing yards and passing TD all four years on campus. The rest of it? He lost over eight percentage points on his completion percentage last year. His passer rating dropped each of the last three years. His passing yards per attempt peaked at 8.7 as a sophomore and dropped to 8.0 each of the past two years at Michigan. 

Outside of a couple enormous games against Michigan State and Indiana in November (750 passing yards, 9/1 TD/INT rate), he wasn’t good in 2019 (14/7 TD/INT ratio, sub 55-percent completions) considering the discrepancy between his supporting cast and the opponents Michigan was playing. That was his fourth year on campus.

When Patterson went to Michigan, there were two schools of thought. One went like this: Shea’s a former five-star with arm talent, mobility and creativity who is going to the perfect situation to fix what mechanically ails him. The other: Shea is no better than Jordan Ta’amu, maybe worse, and anybody wasting ink on him for NFL Draft purposes is... wasting ink.

I was in the former camp. Which means I was probably wrong. What I’ll give to Patterson is that he did shorten his base a little and get a little crisper mechanically in Michigan’s offense. I’ll also offer in his defense that his mid-career move and the lack of development of Michigan’s supporting cast probably didn’t help his cause.

But man, if you’re going to throw a dart on a late-round quarterback, do you want to flick it on the possibility you can halt the regression course of Shea’s unrealized potential, or do you want to take a quarterback who had one good full college season like Anthony Gordon? (One more than Shea).

Patterson has tools, and I understand why some folks will talk themselves into him. But the fact that his game regressed instead of progressed, that his accuracy remains slipshod, that his ever-work-in-progress lower half remains a work-in-progress, that he needs to get wide and windmill to fling balls downfield... I’m calling uncle.

He still flashes “Johnny Football without the off-field issues” upside when he’s right, a quarterback who can seriously hurt you on extended plays, but those glimpses were so fleeting, and his supporting casts and coaching staffs were so solid, that I’ve run out of patience that he’s more than five well-lit, ideally-angled Tinder photos that lead to a highly disappointing first date.

 

Verdict: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice... can’t get fooled again. Due to the position and talent alone, I can’t argue with a late flier; I’d probably let someone else take it.

Thor’s early grade: Round 7

Steven Montez (Colorado) | 6’5/230

Over the summer, I wrote the following about Montez:

“I’m not there with Steven Montez. He’s played well when Phillip Lindsay was vacuuming up over 300 touches and Laviska Shenault was in the lineup to force the ball to, but he’s never struck me as more than a product of the superior talent around him. He's big, has a decent arm, and can move around a little. But he’s not a threat outside of the pocket, and he hasn't showed the ability to play up his supporting cast. Unless that latter bit changes next fall, he’s not draftable.”

I don’t have much to add.

While Patterson’s shine faded by the year, Montez is today extremely similar to the quarterback who took over for Sefo Liufau in 2016. He’s big, competitive kid whose dad played professionally. 

But whether a function of the offense or his game, Montez never seemed overly invested in attacking. He has a lethargic setup, and by the time it’s done, he’s looking to unload the ball short. When Shenault was on the field, it went that way plenty.

It’s pretty damning that Montez started for three-plus years and played with guys like Lindsay, Shenault and 2018 sixth-rounder Juwann Winfree and never cracked 3,000 yards, 20 TD, or, for playing such a putt-putt game with guys like that, 65-percent completions. 

This past year, he finished with his lowest career passer rating and failed to crack 7.0 YPA for the first time. That’s with Laviska Shenault! Jordan Love would have traded his collection of signed Darwin Thompson Utah State jerseys to play a season with Viska.

Montez’s ability to push the ball down the field is theoretical. Perhaps in shorts. I can only buy that Colorado’s scheme forced him to play this way so far. He doesn’t deal with pressure well, and he doesn’t read coverages well. 

And he’s not terribly accurate to the other sectors nor mobile. He’s the kind of kid you call in the middle of the seventh-round asking about his post-draft UDFA signing bonus ask if you haven’t taken a quarterback but need a young arm for camp.

 

Verdict: Looks like the kind of girl you’d want to introduce to your parents, but after the first dinner party you’re probably going to be back on Hinge.

Thor’s early grade: UDFA

Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma) | 6’2/218

A few springs ago, my colleague at the time, Rotoworld Mount Rushmore member Evan Silva, had a few choice takes about Jalen Hurts after breaking down Alabama’s skill players for that year’s draft.

Hurts was a one-read thrower against defenses that were utterly horrified of Alabama’s running game and RPO concepts. His throws, ahem, weren’t always pretty. But after going 394-for-637 (61.8%) for 7.6 YPA over his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Hurts went 288-for-410 (70.2%) for 11.3 YPA over the past two seasons. 

Not all of that latter sample occurred in Norman. In limited action, he looked really good running the offense Alabama built for Tua (see: 2018 SEC title game against Georgia). 

Pro Football Focus comps Hurts to Tyrod Taylor. For me, I think of Hurts as something of a Ricky Rubio. If you put really good teammates around him and scheme him well, as we saw in 2019, Hurts is a big plus. A tremendous facilitator. But maybe not a difference-maker himself.

That’s because he’s smart, mobile, accurate in the short and intermediate sectors, and he flat refuses to give the ball away. That blend made him very dangerous at Alabama and Oklahoma, where the mobility played and his skill guys destroyed worlds.

Here’s an incomplete list of skill guys Hurts played with over the last four years: RBs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, WRs Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Robert Foster, Henry Ruggs, Devonta Smith and CeeDee Lamb and TEs OJ Howard and Irv Smith. Incomplete list, mind you. And he played for Nick Saban and Lincoln Riley.

I mean.

Both teams not only gave him an absurd collection of toys to play with, they also used a lot of play-action. Because of Hurts’ running ability, and because of the running backs he played with, merely going through the motions of a fake opened up passing lanes for the studs above.

In the NFL, a lot of those freebies are going to go away. Hurts’ throwing game becomes more important. He isn’t going to do a ton of damage down the field, and his release is always going to be slow. The arm is okay. Nothing more. 

I’ve always thought of Hurts like a near-sighted old guy. Around the line of scrimmage, his vision is great. He picks around bodies and powers through them, a Kevlar-enforced former powerlifter. You have to bake that into his eval, because that part of his game will play at the next level, the added running value he’ll bring.

He isn’t nearly as big as Cam Newton or Josh Allen, but he brings just as much lumber. He also senses bodies in his vicinity and evades them. In the short and intermediate areas, in rhythm, he’ll hit streaking receivers in stride. 

His issues more have to do with when he has to read the bottom few lines of the eye chart. Let’s just say that he wouldn’t have been a great fit in LSU’s offense, for instance. Hurts needs to see you open, think “okay, he’s open, throw it,” and then start that long windup, like a baseball pitcher waiting on the catcher’s sign.

There’s not much creativity there, is what I’m saying. He ain’t throwing you open. Every now and again this past season, he made a strong throw to his third read. But by and large, his collegiate game was predicated on shuttling the ball off to his first. 

But what this playing style does lend itself towards is avoiding turnovers. And that must be said. Hurts looks both ways before crossing the street. Even when sometimes there’s a $100 bill in the crosswalk he could have snatched before a wind gust blew it away. On the other hand, he’s the kind of guy you feel safe handing your wallet to. 

Will a strong runner who doesn’t give the ball away but doesn’t terrify safeties play in the NFL? It played at Oklahoma and Alabama. He won’t suit every offense, but coaches will love him, and offensive coordinators who like to stress the defense horizontally to set up a conservative spread passing game and don’t tolerate turnovers will appreciate him. 

 

Verdict: A turnover-allergic battering ram with a mediocre arm who figures to hang around due to leadership qualities, tutelage under two future CFB HoF coaches, and starting-level traits in the right offense if everything breaks right.

Thor's early grade: Round 5

Jordan Love (Utah State) | 6’4/225

Where you come down on Jordan Love probably says more about you than it does about Jordan Love.

The good: Prototypical size, easy-breezy arm talent, plus athleticism, born to work in the pocket.

The bad: Very raw, playground-type decision-making, reads field like he’s wearing a neck brace, on-again/off-again accuracy.

I could have put “statistical nosedive in 2019” in the bad category, but I feel that’s more of a contextual thing. The scheme change in 2019 didn’t help, nor did the defection of much of his supporting cast, which went from really good to not good quickly.

Love’s skill level hasn’t changed. His ceiling is still high. My fear is that, for a super-raw prospect, last season’s year in developmental purgatory ingrained bad habits that’ll decrease his odds of getting there.

Love was sacked 23 times last year after he took 15 combined the two years before that. Five of his passes were batted last year, three were the two years before that. He was hit as he was thrown eight times last year after that happened four times the two years before that. Is it any wonder that he took off for 27 undesigned scrambles after he only tucked it on 14 such runs the two years combined prior to that?

Pro Football Focus, which I have come to love like a family member and which provided the stats above, has another called “highest % of attempts resulting in a QB fault incompletion.” Love easily led all 2020 NFL Draft prospects last year with 17.3%. 

Think about that! Almost one out of every five times he threw the ball, Utah State’s goose was cooked the moment the ball left his hand. And despite Love’s arm strength, he didn’t do a ton of damage deep in college. In fact, he threw a ton of screens in college. It’s a tough eval to parse. I’m telling you.

Especially because of that, we need to keep in mind some context. Love’s teammates were really good in 2018, and he was playing in an offense that fit his skillset. In 2019... not so much. Love was pressured as much as any QB in this class, per PFF. 

And while his passing drops off a cliff in the face of it, Love doesn’t take sacks because of his mobility and release. Keep working on the processing with the bullets flying, and his game is going to make a leap.

PFF’s Wins Above Average stat says Love was no better than an average QB last year. To be fair, he graded around where Wyoming’s Josh Allen did in his last season. And – this won’t be the first time I remind you this in this column – Allen has turned out okay.

Love both has superior athleticism to most quarterbacks in this class, but he also makes throws that few others in the class can make. Very pretty rainbow bucket throws when he has a clean pocket. The ball comes out lightning quick no matter where it’s going.

He’s like a pitching machine when he gets cooking, long-levered over-the-top delivery. Sound-effects-off-the-ball velocity. And he can and does deliver the ball from all kinds of angles, depending on the situation. He’s a creative kid with a lot of confidence and one heck of a right arm.

Love probably should have returned to school. A grad transfer to a place like Oklahoma would have been inspired – Love would have entered 2020 as one of the nation’s top-five Heisman candidates. The decision isn’t as bad as Tyree Jackson’s last year. But that doesn’t make it a good one. 

Some of his foibles were correctable – heck, all of them are. Theoretically. Decision-making. Field-reading. Throwing with his entire body. That type of thing. The small things that really could have leveled him up.

What always concerns me about quarterbacks like this is what happens if they don’t find the right coaching staff, the right scheme, what if they don’t figure it out by the end of their rookie contract?

 

Verdict: May well go Round 1 on potential, but I’d let some other team roll the dice – way too much variance in the profile at this time.

Thor’s early grade: Round 2

Justin Herbert (Oregon) | 6’6/237

In this quarterback class, you have Joe Burrow, Tua... and then a gulf. Then, to some extent or another, you’re either betting on the kid, betting on yourself, or outright guessing.

But every year, a certain number of franchises are desperate for a young quarterback. And not every one of them picks in the top-5. After Joe and Tua, Herbert is next in line for the guesser’s consideration.

You’re going to read a lot of pessimistic reports on Herbert. And I’ll tell you where that comes from. When you write about football for a living, you watch these kids’ careers. Justin Herbert looked like a potential future first-rounder as a freshman, and a potential 1.1 frontrunner as a sophomore, a season that was cut in half by injury.

Ever since then, the flashes have been sporadic. And I won’t bury the lede as to why.

Justin Herbert isn’t accurate enough. Hasn’t been, anyway. He’s huge, functionally mobile, and boy oh boy does he have a cannon. 

But sometimes he’s like the tank buster that only sees tanks. His right arm can do things that Burrows can’t, that Tua’s (left) can’t.  

But what’s crazy about Herbert is how often his accuracy and placement go astray on easy and/or freebie throws. On balls thrown 20+ yards downfield, he was one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. On stuff 10 yards downfield and shorter, he was mediocre. 

Remember that stat on Jordan Love, where he led 2020 draft-eligible QBs in highest percentage of attempts resulting in a QB fault incompletion? Herbert finished right behind at No. 2.

The good news is that some of that stuff appears fixable. Hebert gets such easy velocity, and he’s such a laid-back nonchalant dude in general, that he sometimes gets lazy with his mechanics, loses his lower half and throws wide, not compact. Balls sail on him. Sometimes, they’d dive into the turf prematurely like a missile on a suicide mission. 

Herbert struggles with pressure and when blitzed. This issue seems coupled with his longstanding issue of locking onto his first-read. When it’s not open, and when a defender is bearing down, he thinks, “damnit, I’m Justin Herbert, why is this happening?” and fires a fastball that nosedives five yards in front of his third read, spitting tidal waves of synthetic turf and black pellets into the stands and blowing a crater into Autzen Field that can seen from the moon. 

But do you see? I’m doing it, too. Getting pessimistic. #DraftTwitter did this with Josh Allen, and Herbert was the far superior college player. Allen turned out okay. Herbert isn’t the runner that Allen was, but he’s a better passer, and he can fling it just as far. 

I think sometimes, when we evaluate football players, we do it in a vacuum. Especially when we watch cut-ups, removed from context. Here’s the context on Herbert: His receivers weren’t very good in college. 

Remember Hurts’ supporting cast? The following players have finished top-three in receptions for Oregon over the past four years: Johnny Johnson, Jaylon Redd, Juwan Johnson, Dillon Mitchell, CJ Verdell, Charles Nelson, Darren Carrington, Pharaoh Brown. How many NFL All-Pros do we think we’re getting out of that group?

Let’s play my favorite draft game. Close your eyes. (But keep reading). And imagine that Justin Herbert played with Jalen Hurts’ supporting casts and in Alabama and Oklahoma’s offenses the past four years. Imagine Justin Herbert at LSU last year. Context swap. It helps contextualize in all matters.

Imagine Herbert flinging howitzers downfield to J’Marr Chase and getting his intermediate numbers boosted in a major way by Justin Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Thaddeus Moss at LSU. If Justin Herbert had just spent the past few years elsewhere, is it possible we’d view him a little more positively? 

Is it possible his receivers are to blame for some of this stuff? Just a little? Some may not give him the benefit of the doubt, but I saw too much of the work of Oregon’s receiving corps not to.

 

Verdict: No sure thing, but I’m pretty sure he’s the surest of the unsure things

Thor’s early grade: Round 1 – and in play to hear his name called the second Tua goes off the board... even if there’s a value gulf between the two

Anthony Gordon (Washington State) | 6’3/210

With some of the quarterbacks above, I had plenty of previous exposure. You did too. We’d seen them for multiple years. You’ve read their scouting reports for years. Not so with Gordon. I only saw him live once this season. So while I was watching his cut-ups, getting true exposure for the first time, I thought I’d give you more of a traditional scouting take of my impressions from the ground floor...

Commissioner Gordon has a nonchalant air in the pocket. Coolly confident, close to catatonic. Wide base that keeps while he’s scanning, like a selfie stand. Outside of that, Gordon looks like your overconfident uncle from the Midwest hailing taxis in New York when he starts using his left arm to direct traffic.

Gordon’s an arm thrower. He torques his upper body to get more mustard on the ball. But the habit seems ingrained and not always beneficial. You’ll see his front foot pivot outside on throws that aren’t going to the left and pressure isn’t in his face – where, in essence, he is stealing velocity and accuracy from himself because his eyes see something and his arm acts on it before the rest of his body thinks to take the half-second it would require to load up. 

He’s also a wrist thrower. He likes to flick the thing, sometimes when he doesn’t even have to. But every so often, you’ll get a side-arm doozy to a streaking receiver under duress. Don’t pay too much attention to his accuracy numbers, however, as Wazzu gave him plenty of one-read, one-step freebies out wide to keep the defense honest.

Gordon is very, very patient in the pocket. Trusts his eyes, knows what he’s doing. Where he gets into trouble is that it’s clearly been drilled into him not to take sacks – but he unfortunately leaves his brain behind when he scrambles sometimes. 

So sometimes he’ll just fling that ball into double coverage – not even accurately, just to get rid of it – and other times he’ll flick it into the chest of a defender. For a guy who is so naturally confident in the pocket, Gordon doesn’t always look natural when the ball is coming out. 

While the risk assessor in his mind and mechanics aren’t always there, a few times a game you’ll see Gordon fit the ball through a keyhole in traffic or shed a tear out of a helicopter into a shot glass on the ground. You’ll immediately grab the remote for a rewind – “holy hell!” throws. 

Some of the package, it’s going to take some work to make NFL-caliber. But there are a few throws he makes every game that are high-end stuff even for the pros. The things you like besides is that he’s so self-assured in the pocket. 

Gordon is a natural quarterback, if not a natural (full-body) thrower. If that makes sense. He won’t cheat you on running through his progressions when he has a clean pocket, he delivers a catchable ball, and he plays with creativity and functional mobility. 

On the other end of it, the arm strength is middling and his compensatory mechanisms to augment the sidearm sometimes cause it to discharge into his cleats. 

But I’ll say this: I liked him a lot more than I thought I would. He’s another guy who needs to find the right coach and offense. And he’s going to need some time. If he gets all that, I could see him starting down the line. I can’t say that with many guys in this class.

 

Verdict: One-year wonder with composure and arm chops who’s worth taking a flier on in middle rounds amid NFL’s continued move towards Air Raid concepts. Old-school offenses need not apply. 

Thor’s early grade: Round 4

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