This is the next in an ongoing series of in-depth features on potential quarterback options for the Bills.
They’re the “other guys.” They don’t hear their names constantly recited in the media the way Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield do. They don’t even fall into the category of Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph, the fifth and sixth wheels added to conversations about The Big Four of the upcoming NFL Draft.
These are the quarterbacks mentioned in discussions about who a team that doesn’t land one of the four, five or six preferred players at the position might select in the middle or late rounds.
For instance, if the Buffalo Bills keep the 12th overall choice and none of The Big Four falls to them and they decide not to take a quarterback there or with the 22nd pick, how do they address QB in the draft?
Say hello to the “other guys,” a sampling of which includes Mike White, Luke Falk, Kyle Lauletta, Riley Ferguson, Kurt Benkert and Tanner Lee. They’re projected to go anywhere from the third round on down, although some of them could go sooner to a good team drafting lower (such as the New England Patriots) that doesn’t think he’d be available later.
Yet, despite what prognosticators say, all feel worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the quarterbacks who are talked about so much more.
"I think what kind of helps separate me from this very heralded quarterback class is I've been in three offenses,” White, who spent the last two seasons at Western Kentucky after spending two years at South Florida, said at February’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. “I've been in a true pro-style system my first two years at USF. I've been in the spread offense, where you're slinging it around. And then my last year, I was kind of in a hybrid where we had some spread systems, but we were also under center.
“So I think just being able to adjust to coaching – I've had five different quarterback coaches, five different OCs – and that's kind of how the NFL is. Coaching changes happen all the time, so I think I can show that no matter what offense I'm in, I'm not a 'system guy.' I can produce in whatever offense you put me in and I can adapt to coaching changes.”
NFL scouts like that. They also like White’s size (6-foot-4 and 221 pounds), strong arm, and ability to consistently throw a nice, tight spiral. He also has good athleticism for his size.
White made a favorable impression on league talent-evaluators who saw the way he delivered passes before and during the Senior Bowl.
“When I went to the Senior Bowl, I kind of got on the ground running,” he said. “And I do belong here and I am one of the more talented passers in the class. Whether it’s deep passes or fitting it in a tight window or throwing with anticipation, I think as far as throwing the ball, I think I’m one of the best in this class, in my opinion.”
A starter since late in his freshman season, Falk had tremendous production at Washington State, throwing for 14.486 yards and 119 touchdowns with only 39 interceptions. His accuracy (he completed 68.3 percent of his passes) and quick release give him high marks with NFL scouts and coaches.
The fact he didn’t take snaps from under center while working in the Air Raid, spread-style scheme of Washington State coach Mike Leach is a source of concern in determining his readiness for the next level.
However, that doesn’t discourage Falk from comparing himself favorably to the rest of the quarterback class of 2018 … including The Big Four.
"I think that I'm a franchise quarterback,” he said at the Senior Bowl. “I believe that the proof's in the puddin'. When my senior class got to Washington State, previously they were like 6-40 before we got there, and we competed for two Pac-12 North championships.”
Falk acknowledges that he faces a transition going exclusively from an offense that put him in shotgun formation to the NFL, where he’ll spend his share of time working under center and making reads from the pocket rather than making mostly high-percentage throws to receivers running into open spaces on short and intermediate routes.
"It's different steps, it's different timing,” he said. “The center exchange and all that stuff, it's different. You're not starting from a 5-yard depth. You've got to get your own depth and you've got to really time and tempo your route or your drop. The more and more I do it, the more and more I feel comfortable with it. When I first got in the gun, I was uncomfortable at times, but the more you practice, the more you perfect it, then you get more confident with it.
“Football is football, whether it be the Air Raid or whether it be pro-style stuff. I know that's different schemes and terminology, but at the end of the day, you're putting the ball in play and you're trying to score points. I think people want to fault me for being in the Air Raid system. That was the system that I played in. You can't ask me to do anything else. When I get in a different system, I'm going to perfect that as well.”
Falk’s confidence comes from more than the strong belief he has in his own skills. Another source is how well two former Air Raid quarterbacks, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, have done in the NFL.
Goff had a spectacular college career at Cal and, after a rough rookie season, showed immense improvement last year to help the Los Angeles Rams make the playoffs. Mahomes was a star at Texas Tech, and after spending most of his rookie season in 2017 as a backup, he convinced the Kansas City Chiefs he was ready to replace Alex Smith (who was traded to the Washington Redskins).
“People are going to have questions about whether I can transition or whatever, but Jared Goff's doing a great job,” Falk said. “It looks like Pat Mahome's doing a great job, so I'm going to be just fine.”
As with White, Lauletta, a three-year starter at Richmond, is another quarterback from a smaller school believed to have helped his draft stock a great deal at the Senior Bowl.
He showed that he could throw quickly and accurately, verifying there was nothing fluky about the fact he completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 10,357 yards and 71 touchdowns with only 35 interceptions.
“It was huge,” Lauletta said of his Senior Bowl invitation during last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “Being an FCS guy, anytime you can get on a platform where you’re playing with the best players in the entire country, that’s what you play for. That’s what you live for. I went into the Senior Bowl just trying to make the most of my opportunity, and I think I did that.
“Accuracy is something you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t. I’ve always had a good feel for where the receiver’s going to be. Not just putting it on the money, but anticipating those windows and throwing it before he breaks. I think that’s something that translates to the next level and is definitely going to help me.”
He feels “the blessing in disguise” from playing for four offensive coordinators at Richmond was that it gave him the ability to adapt and quickly learn a playbook. Lauletta believes that’s something NFL teams will value.
“As far as (learning) new terminology, I’ve seen the same formations for four straight years be named four different things,” he said. “The same goes with the passing concepts. That’s very similar to what’s going to happen in my transition to the NFL. So having already been through that the past four years is great for me and already puts me at an advantage.”
White, Falk, Lauletta, Memphis’ Ferguson, Virginia’s Benkert and Nebraska’s Lee recognize they can’t do anything about the fact they receive far less attention than the draft’s anointed quarterback elite.
The “other guys” know opinions are shaped by, well, others. They also understand the draft is merely a beginning, that success at the next level depends on much more than where a player is selected.
“It’s (the media’s) job to interview who you want to,” White said. “My job, I just want to play in the NFL. I don’t care how that gets done. I just want to make sure it happens somehow, some way.”