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NFL Draft quarterback class 'not top heavy,' but has mid-round value

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's easy to find flaws in the 2017 NFL Draft's quarterback class.

Deshaun Watson played in too simple an offensive system at Clemson, so he won't be able to handle the complexities of a pro scheme. Mitch Trubisky only started for one year at North Carolina and struggles with his reads.

DeShone Kizer didn't look nearly as good last season at Notre Dame as he did in 2015. Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes needs a lot of work on his mechanics and has a tendency to force throws because he relies too much on arm talent.

That's just a sampling of the negative commentary about the so-called "elite" members of the class, the ones with the best chance of becoming first-rounders. In each of the last two years, quarterbacks have been selected with the first two picks. That might very well not be the case on April 27 in Philadelphia.

Some scouts have gone as far as to say that, if this were any other year, not a single QB would be taken in Round One.

"It's obviously not top heavy, we all know that," said Mark Dominik, a former NFL general manager and current analyst for ESPN and SiriusXM NFL Radio. "But I do think there's some value in the mid rounds in some of these quarterbacks that you like."

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

And hardly something that should comfort Bills fans during yet another offseason when the quarterback question looms large -- perhaps larger than ever.

Here's the more encouraging news. Maybe there is no one QB with transformative talent, but productive players at the position will be found.

Who says so? History.

"Every year, it's hard not to find a quarterback that turned out to be good, whether it was (Seattle's) Russell Wilson in the third round, whether it was Dak (Prescott of Dallas) last year in the fourth round, or whether it was (Tampa Bay's) Jameis Winston and (Tennessee's) Marcus Mariota, first and second pick (in 2015)," Dominik said. "There's going to be a quarterback (that does well)."

The process of finding him began here in earnest at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Player-personnel staffers have been studying all of the prospects for months, but now the coaches, who don't give the draft any thought until well after the NFL season, are involved. They've spent the past several days at Lucas Oil Stadium watching drills and conducting interviews.

Scouts and coaches pretty much look for the same qualities, although quarterbacking gurus, such as Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, have some very specific traits for which they are searching.

"It's a lot of things you're looking for, but I think, most importantly, obviously guys have arm talent and can a guy process football at the rate that you need him to be able to do it?" Jackson said. "Is he a guy who can lead an organization? Because I think we all know the quarterback becomes the face of the organization. I think that's really important and a lot of pressure comes with that, so a guy's got to be able to handle that. Obviously, you've got to be around people to get a true feel of that, but (the Combine) is the first process that you get to really get a feel for if a guy can do that."

"I see, so far, five to six really good arms, guys with good stature," said Arians. "Now, my job is to go find out more about those two things, starting here. I don't put as much stock in them throwing at the Combine as I do with their (game) tape. They are throwing routes (here) they might have not thrown. They're throwing to receivers (they don't know), but if they throw really well? That's a blessing."

The Browns have the top overall pick of the draft and are in need (once again) of a quarterback. Some speculation has them using it on Trubisky. Other projections have the Browns either choosing the player considered the draft's best at any position, edge rusher Myles Garrett from Texas A&M, or trading the choice to another team that wants Garrett.

Either way, the quarterback buzz has been minimal when compared, for instance, to a year ago when California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz were the top two selections of the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, respectively.

Part of that is because of the shortcomings  found in each prospect. Part of that also is because of the proliferation of spread offenses -- with quarterbacks operating mainly (or exclusively) from shotgun formation and doing little reading of coverages -- that are far easier to operate than most NFL schemes.

"I think that’s one of the challenges we’re dealing with and this whole league’s dealing with," said new San Francisco 49ers General Manager John Lynch, whose team won't have a quarterback under contract when free agency begins. "To be quite honest, it’s tough at times. For instance, with receivers, there’s not much of a route tree. They run a couple things. And that’s one of the challenges that this whole league’s facing right now is that the football being played from the high school level to the college level is a different brand of football than they’re going to be asked to play.

"So I think the word 'projection' is an apt one because that’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re projecting. You aren’t seeing a lot of the things they’re going to have to do. So you have to come up with ways to try to do just that, project how would they fit doing this. And that’s a challenge for everyone."

Another major challenge in the evaluation of college quarterbacks is that all of the members of the so-called top four are juniors, and, therefore, NFL teams have had a limited body of work to study. As clubs get a better grasp of what the players are all about here and during upcoming encounters at Pro Days and visits to club facilities, there is reason to believe they could become more enthusiastic about some of them.

Dominik, for one, fully expects the draft stock of some of the quarterbacks to climb after the Combine, which ends on Monday, because that's what traditionally happens.

"These guys are almost all underclassmen, and so, yeah, you knew them from afar, but no one's actually had the time to actually spend with them," Dominik said. "And I think those 15 minutes you have (during each team interview with up to 60 prospects) are incredibly important to kind of frame like, 'Ooo, I kind of like this guy,' to, 'Ooo, I really liked his interview. And look at him throw the ball well.'

"That's why we always say, 'Well, the quarterbacks rise.' Well, that's because we got more information on them. We've seen them throw, we've seen a Pro Day, and we've certainly seen how they learn football. That's why quarterbacks ascend up the board."

Here's his rundown of the top four:

Watson: "Love him. He's my favorite. I like his presence, I like his throwing mechanics and I'm very curious to watch how he does in the next couple days, but there's just something about him. When I watch him, I'm drawn to wanting to see a little bit more about this guy."

Trubisky: "It's like, not love. The body of work is not strong in terms of how much he's ever played. Don't know where he is mentally in terms of reading defenses and reading coverages. But I think he's worthy of a first-round grade, certainly."

Kizer: "Really good athlete. Still on the 'I-don't-know him' list. That's one you want to interview and spend some time with, because I'm really curious who is this kid? Because there's a lot of traits there, but what happened this year? So there's trepidation there in terms of what is this guy going to be?"

Mahomes: "Has great arm talent, but he's another one you've got to dig into who he is as a leader on your football team. I think leadership is the big question you have about him. Is he a good leader? Do people like him? Do they follow him? Do they think he can do all the things that you have to be to be a great quarterback or is he just blessed with arm talent? You've got to figure that out."

Two quarterbacks Dominik considers his top "sleepers" are Cal's Davis Webb and Pittsburgh's Nathan Peterman.

"I like (Webb) a lot," Dominik said. "He's super smart. He did a good job at the Senior Bowl, got better each day and end up winning the MVP. Who did that last year? A guy named Dak Prescott. But no one's going to be Dak Prescott (from this draft). That kid's special.

"I want to see (Peterman) throw the ball (at the Combine and his Pro Day), because I really just like the kid -- his demeanor, his presence. I watched him at the Senior Bowl. Those two guys at the Senior Bowl stood to me as the two best quarterbacks. I think (the Bears' staff) enjoyed coaching him at the Senior Bowl. I'm very curious to see what that means."

Dominik is curious about something else. If the Bills decide to pick up the option on Tyrod Taylor's contract extension, and commit to paying him $30.75 million guaranteed, would they still be inclined to draft a quarterback?

"It makes total sense to me," Dominik said. "Even if Tyrod Taylor's on the football team, you can still draft a quarterback, even in the first round, because it's competition. And the reality of it right now is backup quarterbacks are making $6 to $8 million a year.

"If they keep (Taylor) and he becomes this great player, then you're still paying your backup $6 million even if he's the seventh pick in the draft. And if he's not, then you've already set your organization up to succeed in a different way."

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