Inside the NFL Draft: Rise of the B-List Quarterbacks

Teams like the Bears and Patriots will be taking a long look at B-list QBs like Kyle Trask, Ian Book and Kellen Mond. They may not like what they see.

The New England Patriots purchased an entirely new offense in free agency: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and all of the third-best weapons on half-decent offenses that money could buy. They also re-signed Cam Newton to a one-year contract.

But anyone who has watched Cam carefully and honestly over the last five years knows that the Patriots still really need a franchise quarterback.

The Washington Football Team upgraded their offense with the additions of wide receiver Curtis Samuel and running back Lamar Miller. They also signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year contract so Alex Smith could finally donate his body to medical science. But anyone familiar with Fitzpatrick’s shtick (brief hot streaks, frequent turnover sprees, charming-but-self-serving interviews) knows Washington still really needs a franchise quarterback.

The moment Drew Brees retired, Sean Payton rang Taysom Hill’s doorbell with chocolates, a bouquet and a novelty check for $140 million inside an “I luv you THIS MUCH” greeting card with a teddy bear on it. Payton then texted the individual labeled “J.W. Sidepiece” on his phone with “U R still in my plans, bro.” The Saints, in other words, still really need a quarterback.

The Chicago Bears signed Andy Dalton and … do we really need to finish this thought?

The Pittsburgh Steelers need an exit strategy from Ben Roethlisberger. The San Francisco 49ers need an alternative to Jimmy Garoppolo & Pals. Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and Teddy Bridgewater are clearly in the quarterback friendzone. The Atlanta Falcons cannot keep paying Matt Ryan forever, though you might not want to double dare them. The Philadelphia Eagles may not be completely satisfied with Jalen Hurts, or they may not be finished humiliating Carson Wentz, or both.

Add it all up, and there are far more teams seeking quarterbacks in the 2021 draft than there are decent quarterbacks in the 2021 draft. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and BYU’s Zach Wilson cannot be split nine ways. One of them might fall to the 49ers with the 12th-overall pick or the Patriots at 15, but none of them are falling to Washington at 19 or the Bears at 20. And not every quarterback-needy team will be able to trade up.

In other words, lots of teams will be talking themselves into second-tier quarterback prospects like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Wake Forest/Georgia’s Jamie Newman and others.

Will any of these second-tier prospects turn out to be Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson or (why not?) Tom Brady? Almost certainly not. But some teams will have no other choice but to give them a shot to be more than camp arms. And of course, if Prescott/Wilson/Brady looked like Prescott/Wilson/Brady at all entering the draft, they wouldn’t have been available in the fourth, third or sixth rounds of their drafts..

Let’s meet some of the fellas on this year’s quarterback B-list and gauge just how likely they are to develop into anything more than backups and stopgaps

Kyle Trask, Florida

Upside: Matt Hasselbeck
Downside: Nathan Peterman
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 10%

The problem with evaluating Kyle Trask is Kyle Pitts.

Pitts was Florida’s All America tight end last season. He looks like the next Shannon Sharpe. Trask threw 43 touchdowns in 2020, but Pitts made 12 of them look easy. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney, a possible first-round pick, added 11 more touchdowns for Trask and the Gators.

Alabama’s Mac Jones had the nation’s best weapons, but Trask was a close second, and there were some games (like the opener against Ole Miss) in which everything just looked a little too easy.

Trask has many appealing “soft skills:” eye discipline (he freezes defenders with his eyes rather than staring down his targets), the ability to reset his feet in the pocket, and a knack for checking down to the flats and giving his running backs space to move. He’s also a fine deep touch passer. He has about a C-plus arm and mobility. But there are many troubling flaws to his game, including fumbilitis and a habit of throwing into coverage.

It’s tempting to pencil Trask in as a heady NFL game manager. But he’s likely to endure too many strip sacks and throw too many interceptions once NFL defenders get the jump on his cut fastballs.

The best comparison for Trask may be Nick Foles: capable of looking like a folk hero under ideal conditions but fumbling and stumbling his way out of multiple jobs when everything isn’t clicking.

Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M

Upside: Dak Prescott
Downside: Christian Ponder
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 6%

Inside the Draft covered Mond during his 15 minutes of fame a few weeks ago. We tried to go back and watch more Mond film since then, but at this point we can’t focus on what Mond does well or poorly because we’re too focused on trying (and usually failing) to see what Mond’s true believers see in him.

The best pro-Mond argument is Prescott looked like just another guy in the SEC because his weapons were ordinary and the opposing defenses were brutal. Mond coped with similar circumstances, then impressed the NFL community at the Senior Bowl, as did Prescott. That’s a specious argument in the same category as “Tom Brady was a sixth round pick and look how he turned out,” or “they laughed at Galileo, and they also laugh at me, inventor of the Perpetual Motion Chakra Alignment Pillow, so we must both be geniuses.”

If the Patriots select Mond (let’s say they trade down), the press will fawn over Bill Belichick’s transcendent genius like French courtesans swooning in the presence of the Sun King. If the Bears do the same thing, the same analysts will point and laugh at general manager Ryan Pace for a month. The reaction to Pace is more likely to be the correct one.

Ian Book, Notre Dame

Upside: Ryan Tannehill
Downside: Jake Driskel
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 5%

Book lists at 6-feet tall and 203 pounds but looks taller and beefier. His arm surpasses the NFL minimum, he runs well, and has lots of big-game, major-program experience. His biggest weakness, except for a habit of trying to impersonate Randall Cunningham and scrambling his way into trouble at times, may be his lack of an imposing strength. He’s good enough at many things but not truly great at anything.

Inside the Draft can envision Book emerging like Tannehill did for the Tennessee Titans, given a balanced offense and a long gestation period. A team that’s happy with its stopgap solution (Washington) or a coach who really scripts the heck out of things for his quarterbacks (Kyle Shanahan) may have the same vision.

Peyton Ramsey, QB, Northwestern

Upside: Blake Bortles
Downside: Kevin Hogan
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 2%

Ramsey is the kind of quarterback local fans fall in love with based on the fourth quarters of preseason games. Ramsey’s game is built around quick passes, rollout/bootleg concepts and designed runs. That backyard style works well when the future gym teachers are running around on Friday nights in August.

Ramsey is an Indiana transfer with barely-adequate NFL size and arm strength. The Wildcats ran a lot of “Wildcat” with their running backs against tougher opponents like Ohio State, which gives you a sense of Ramsey’s limits as a pocket passer. But Ramsey could scramble his way to a win or two if forced into some games. Some coaching staff could fall in love with him as a result.

In short, Ramsey may be the closest thing to Taysom Hill in this draft class, with a little touch of Drew Brees (pesky undersized B1G guy) sprinkled in. Sean Payton may need to take a cold shower to avoid drafting him.

Jamie Newman, Wake Forest/Georgia

Upside: Cam Newton circa 2018
Downside: EJ Manuel
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 2%

Newman transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia before the 2020 season, then chose to opt out  after a summer of COVID uncertainty. That decision went over as well as you might expect with a stereotypical segment of college football fans on the Internet. Newman was accused of everything from pouting because he failed to unseat Bulldogs starter Stetson Bennett to election fraud.

Newman looked vaguely like Cam Newton in a Demon Deacons offense full of designed quarterback runs. It was easy to think of Newton when Newman and his running backs glued themselves together for a full second on an option mesh, or when Newman stood nonchalantly in the pocket before springing into action on a keeper, or when he dropped pinpoint play-action bombs to Sage Surratt.

But let’s not carry any Newton comparisons too far. Newman looked overmatched against Clemson in 2019 and sprays far too many inaccurate downfield passes. He’s a tough, nimble runner, but he’s not nearly as dangerous as Newton was in his prime. His college career is also dotted with shoulder and foot injuries.

There’s a risk of overreacting to Newman’s transfer/opt-out saga when evaluating him. Some of us sympathize with a young man who got troll-swarmed for doing what was best for himself and his family. Other folks are sure to craft reasons to question his “desire” or “competitive fire” or some garbage. The bottom like is that Newman looks more like a scrambling backup in the Trace McSorley category than like Jalen Hurts, let alone Peak Cam.

Sam Ehlinger, QB, Arkansas

Upside: Colt McCoy
Downside: Landry Jones
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: 1%

Elinger has a Big-12 arm and Big-12 legs.

No, those are not compliments in an NFL scouting report. The Big-12 produces lots of sturdy, experienced quarterback prospects with shiny stats who look awesome in the conference’s weekly playground shootouts. Most max out as journeyman NFL backups.

Ehlinger’s game consists largely of short tosses over the middle, screen concepts and designed runs. Everything he throws more than about 15 yards downfield is an adventure. He forces receivers over the middle to reach back for the ball too often, mixes overthrows with underthrows on deeper routes and pitches too many low-and-away sliders along the sidelines. He’s a nifty runner but no Lamar Jackson. His footwork and mechanics are inconsistent, but he gets away with it in a quarterback-friendly offense and conference.

We’ve spent our Saturdays enjoying Ehlinger for three years, and the Alamo Bowl won’t be the same without him. Like McCoy (a fellow Longhorn), he could stick forever as a gutsy/pesky backup who won’t kill you if forced to start a few games. But as a 2021 prospect, he’s like a cross between Trask and Mond, but without the upside of either.

Davis Mills, QB, Stanford

Upside: Drew Stanton
Downside: Logan Thomas
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: < 1%

Mills is the quarterback you talk yourself into if you are obsessed with body types and the ability to function under center. In other words, new Broncos GM George Paton is duct-taping John Elway to his desk chair as we speak.

Mills was a top recruit and is a well-built athlete, but he is not an accurate and reliable passer and offers little as a runner. He also has a history of knee injuries. His scouting report is mostly projection: imagine what he could do in a less run-heavy offense, with better weapons, when fully healthy, after two years of NFL coaching, etc.

The Thomas projection above is based on Mills’ burly frame, leadership traits and tendency to misfire on routine passes. Thomas, of course, is now Washington’s tight end.

Feleipe Franks, QB, Arkansas

Upside: Derek Anderson
Downside: Brock Osweiler
Franchise Quarterback Likelihood: <1%

Franks transferred to Arkansas after he suffered a severe ankle injury; Kyle Trask won the Florida starting job when Franks was hurt and never looked back.

Franks is a tall, somewhat lean quarterback who delivers gorgeous deep sideline passes when given the chance to step up in a clean pocket. Otherwise, his portfolio is a mixed bag. He can run a little but takes too many sacks, his delivery is a little slow and methodical, he doesn’t appear to be an outstanding decision maker under duress, and so forth.

Franks resurfaced as an NFL prospect with some strong games for the Hogs in 2020 after an up-and-down Gators career. But he’s a developmental backup pocket passer at best. If your team drafts him as a potential future starter, your team is in big trouble, and is also probably the Bears.

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