NFL Draft Stock Watch: Evaluating SEC QBs and predicting what round they'll be selected
For years the only punchline SEC haters could really muster with any veracity was poking fun at the conference’s inability to regularly develop top shelf QBs, namely first-round picks.
In fact, since Richard Todd of Alabama was picked No. 6 overall by the New York Jets in the 1976 NFL Draft, only 12 SEC QBs have been picked in the first round, and never have there been 2 SEC QBs selected in the same first round. Granted, the shortage of first-round QBs hasn’t affected the league (16 national titles by 6 schools since 1976), but it has been the one blemish on their sterling draft resume, in which the conference regularly outpaces all others in draft picks and first-rounders.
The 2018 season was going to flip the script. It was billed as the Year of the QB, headlined by Drew Lock and Jarrett Stidham, potential first-rounders.
Halfway through the season, let’s reexamine the top 2019 NFL Draft prospects under center in the SEC.
Drew Lock, Mizzou
Projected round: 1st round.
Skinny: Lock entered the season being hyped as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick, and his play through the Tigers first 3 games (all wins) fueled the hype further. In those three games, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,062 yards with 11 TDs and 1 INT, averaging 9.39 yards per attempt. However, in the past three games (all losses), Lock’s play dropped considerably. He completed 48% of his passes for 567 yards with 1 TD and 5 INTs while averaging 5.15 yards per attempt.
Now, I’m sure Mizzou fans will offer a plethora of excuses, ranging from Emanuel Hall’s injury to play calling, protection, drops, the weather, etc. Some of that is valid, but objectively you can’t say he played well the past three weeks, even if he did face two juggernauts like Georgia and Alabama. Don’t despair Tigers fans: I still believe that he’ll be a first-round pick, despite some of the inconsistencies that he’s continued to show the past 4 years.
Lock is an extremely impressive physical specimen in terms of size (6-4, 225), athleticism (numerous D-1 basketball offers out of HS) and an unbelievably strong arm, with the ability to drive the ball with velocity to all three level and across all routes. He’ll test well and perform well in workouts. He has the ability and natural skill set to be a franchise QB, but his ball placement hasn’t remedied concerns about his accuracy (55% career completion) and his decision-making has been spotty. His play on the field won’t justify his first-round grade, but his potential will land him there.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Projected round: 2nd round.
Skinny: Stidham has experienced his share of struggles, leading a moribund, predictable Auburn offense that ranks 11th in the SEC in total yards per game (376.1).
Auburn is predictable on Offense based on personel.
vs Tenn when a TE/FB (predominantly Chandler Cox) is on the field vs off the field:
On — 35/47 Rush or Screen: 74%
Off — 30/33 Pass: 91%
Teams play coverage vs 4 wide, load the box vs heavy sets. Can’t win like this.
— Jordan Rodgers (@JRodgers11) October 15, 2018
Stidham has completed 60.6% of his passes for 1,499 yards with 7 TDs and 4 INTs, averaging 7 yards per attempt. Not horrible, but not first-round material, either.
Granted, Stidham hasn’t had much help from HC Gus Malzahn in terms of developing a quasi-decent game plan (still insisting on a run first offense despite no feature back) and the offensive line has been absolutely awful in pass protection, which is making Stidham antsy in the pocket, disrupting his mechanics and leading him into mistakes and poor decisions. With that said, Stidham has undoubtedly had a poor season and he’d likely be the first to admit that.
He’s 6-3, 215 pounds with above average mobility and a plus arm to make accurate throws with velocity on all of his throws. He doesn’t quite have the natural arm strength of Lock, but he’s more accurate. He’s shown better timing, touch and precision, too. Similarly to Lock, I still think Stidham winds up going relatively early despite the poor game tape, strictly because of the raw tool set he possesses at an invaluable position on the field and the NFL’s propensity to reach for QBs.
Jordan Ta’amu, Ole Miss
Projected round: 4th or 5th round.
Skinny: His overall numbers this year suggest that he’s one of the best QBs in the country. He’s completing 65.8% of his passes for 2,298 yards (4th nationally) with 15 TDs and 5 INTs while averaging 10.4 yards per attempt (3rd nationally). He’s even chipped in another 253 yards and 4 TDs on the ground, too. However, his play in the 2 losses is troublesome to say the least, where he completed just 43% of his passes for 311 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs, averaging 5.18 yards per attempt.
He’s a riser among draft boards despite inconsistent play against defenses like Alabama and LSU. Phil Longo’s simplistic scheme against talented and complex defenses is a recipe for disaster, especially when defenses mask safety help over the top. There’s a lot to like about Ta’amu though. At 6-2, 210, he’s a good athlete with poise in the pocket, showing above average arm strength and good ball placement on short and intermediate routes. He’s also improved his pre-snap reads and progressions.
Kyle Shurmur, Vandy
Projected round: 6th or 7th round.
Skinny: At the season midpoint, Shurmur (1,629 yards, 58.7%, 11/5, 7.31 Y/A) is on nearly an identical pace to what he produced last year (2,823 yards, 57.9%, 26/10, 7.43 Y/A), which is actually impressive considering his supporting cast.
He has prototypical size (6-4, 225) but is limited athletically. He has shown above average mechanics and footwork, which you’d expect considering his father, Pat, is a longtime former NFL OC and now the HC of the New York Giants. He’s shown decent velocity when he sets his feet but has struggled with ball placement, particularly when throwing deep. Ultimately, I don’t think he has enough arm talent to be a long-term starter, but considering his acumen and mechanics, he likely will have a spot as a backup.
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Projected round: 7th round, Undrafted Free Agent.
Skinny: Perhaps no QB prospect in the 2019 draft class has seen their stock tumble as much as Fitzgerald. Before the season there was optimism that Joe Moorhead would be able to clean up his mechanics and develop some consistency with his accuracy to pair with his impressive arm strength.
That most certainly has not happened, and if anything, Fitzgerald has regressed as a passer for the second consecutive year.
He is having by far his worst season yet (709 yards, 49.6%, 4/3, 5.8 Y/A). He has provided more than enough evidence that he just doesn’t have the accuracy needed to play the position in the NFL.
However, with his size (6-5, 240) and athleticism (SEC record for QB 2,999 rushing yards and 40 TDs) he’ll have a role somewhere if he wants to switch positions, likely at TE.
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Projected round: Return for senior season.
This has been a brutally disappointing season for Bentley, as I thought he was in store for a big junior season, but he has been pedestrian at best, completing 60.5% of his passes for 1,151 yards with 10 TDs and 7 INTs, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. More troublesome has been his continued struggles in big games.
Against Top 25 teams in his career, Bentley has completed 56% of his passes for 1,201 yards with 9 TDs and 11 INTs, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt as his team has gone 1-6. Against the Gamecocks’ biggest rivals (Georgia, Florida, Clemson), he has completed 58% of his passes for 1,125 yards with just 3 TDs against 11 INTs, averaging 5.9 yards per attempt as his team has gone 1-5 with him under center.
I really like Bentley’s mechanics, arm talent, leadership and acumen, but his decision-making and accuracy have held his development back. Perhaps he turns things around in the second half of the season, but at this point I think he’d be best served by sticking around for another year of development as a senior in 2019.