3.) Deshaun Watson, Clemson (6’3, 215)
At times Watson looks like he should be the number one pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but at others looks like a borderline day two pick. He came into the 2016 season as almost a lock to be a top-five overall pick coming off an impressive performance against an Alabama defense with multiple starters about to be drafted (400+ passing yards, 4 TDs), but hasn’t improved as much as expected in 2016 and may have even regressed a bit.
Watson has plenty of tools that teams look for in a franchise QB, he’s tall enough (6’3), has a cannon arm with easy velocity, good footwork in the pocket, explosive running ability when he pulls the ball down, and flashes elite touch and accuracy on the full NFL route tree… but there are a few red flags that have become more prominent this season.
Few spread offense QBs have come out of college and adapted quickly to a pro-style offense. Watson hasn’t shown much ability to cycle through progressions from the pocket, his mid-to-deep ball accuracy has regressed this year, and his slight frame (205 pounds) and ability to stay healthy will be a concern to some teams.
Watson would have been a no-doubt top five pick had he come out after the 2015 season and has flashed similar traits this season, just not as consistently. He is a proven winner though who has stepped up in big games and has multiple comeback wins under his belt.
By all accounts, he’s a hard worker and film junkie. Watson’s leadership, natural ability, impressive arm strength, and occasional touch will likely convince a team to take a chance on him in the first round, but if he struggles the last few weeks of the season he could drop to the second or even third round.
Projection: Late 1st round
4.) Luke Falk, Washington St (6’4, 205)
Off to a great start this season with 73% accuracy, 24 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. Falk plays in a QB-friendly spread offense, but his lightning quick release, good size, ideal footwork in the pocket, willingness to step up in the pocket, and multiple fourth-quarter comebacks already have rocketed him up draft boards this season.
The offense Falk plays in is an extreme spread scheme which leads to even more questions than usual about his ability to adjust to a pro-style offense, but if Falk keeps his completion percentage above 70% he’s going to silence all but the staunchest doubters. There are a few other question marks in Falk’s profile, including less than ideal arm strength and questionable decision making. He attempts a few too may difficult throws, but his 70%+ completion percentage shows that he hits way more of those tough throws than he misses.
Falk’s work ethic and smarts also get high marks from his coaching staff. He turned down a scholarship offer from Ivy League Cornell, which reflects well on his mental capacity. He’s also a former walk-on, who is a good half season away from hearing his name called in the first two days of the draft.
Falk has an impressive resume so far and his best days may be ahead of him still. His toughness, courage to make throws in traffic, and gunslinger mentality could win over Bear fans quickly if he can adjust to a pro-scheme and keep his turnovers to a minimum.
Projection: Early 2nd round
5.) Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma St (6’5, 240)
Prototype pocket QB who in the midst of an impressive season with 22 pasing TDs and just four interceptions. Rudolp has a clean, over-the top throwing motion that adds to his height and generates elite velocity on his throws. His touch and timing to lead receivers has been impressive as well. He’s shown zip, accuracy, and touch on throws to all three levels.
Rudolph benefits from OK St’s spread offense, but his size, arm, and underrated athleticism (4.85 40-time) will play in any scheme at the next level. Like most spread QBs though, he isn’t asked to go past his first couple progressions and his footwork and mechanics get wonky at times. Rudolph hasn’t shown much pocket awareness either and so far hasn’t often shown the ability to side-step in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield.
Right now Rudolph is a QB prospect with ideal size, arm strength, and touch on the deep ball, but he’s far from a finished product. It will take some time for Rudolph to move from a QB-friendly spread scheme to an infintiely more demanding NFL offense. He’ll have to learn to not only go through progressions, but use his eyes to fool defensive backs and his mechanics will need to improve. Despite some possible flaws, the upsdie is there for Rudolph to be a top-tier NFL QB eventually.
Projection: 2nd round