Greg Gabriel: 2017 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks could be special

Deep crop of signal-callers to look forward to in next year's NFL Draft

Published: Updated:
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer passes during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Duke, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) — Charles Rex Arbogast

In the last two NFL Drafts, the depth of the quarterback class has been weak. Last year after the top three of Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch it was a crapshoot. The Dallas Cowboys look like they got lucky with the drafting of Dak Prescott based on his early play, but it still is a little too soon to know for sure. We know one thing: 32 teams passed on him for the better part of four rounds, as he wasn’t selected until the bottom of the fourth round with a supplemental draft choice.

In 2015, it was a two-man show with Jameis Winston going first overall to Tampa Bay and Marcus Mariota going second overall to Tennessee.

Though it’s early and way too soon to start ranking players, the 2017 NFL Draft could have some special quarterbacks in it. I say could, because most of the top players are underclassmen and still have to declare for the draft come January.

The top two quarterbacks in most evaluators' opinions are Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Watson is a junior and Kizer is a redshirt sophomore, so Kizer still has two years of college football left if he feels he isn’t ready for the NFL.

At about 6-4, 230 pounds, Kizer is big and very athletic to go along with excellent arm strength. In a throw last week against Michigan State, the ball was in the air over 65 yards. Not many can throw that far.

Kizer became a starter in the third game last year and went on to have a strong season with 2,884 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. To date this year, he has completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,096 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also run for 186 yards.

What makes Kizer interesting to the NFL is the offense he plays in, his ability to audible and that he plays in a full-field offense and has to go through a full progression. While Notre Dame has lost three games, it was becasue of the defense, not what the offense has done. He has the ability to become special by year's end.

Watson set the world on fire last year in leading Clemson to the National Championship game. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns. Going into the season, he was the odds-on favorite to be the first pick in the draft, but to date he hasn’t played quite as well as a year ago. His completion percentage is down eight percent and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is also not quite as good as a year ago.

Still, he has some outstanding qualities, plays in a good offense and has a very good arm to go along with outstanding overall athleticism. His best game of the year was last Thursday when he went 32-of-48 passing for 304 yards and two touchdowns.

The only senior of the top group is Mississippi’s Chad Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, so the genes are there. At 6-2, 220 pounds, Kelly doesn’t have the height of the others, but he may be just as athletic and also has superb arm strength.

While Kelly has all the physical traits scouts look for, he can be a bit erratic. He can look great one series then come back and look totally different in another. He needs to become more consistent through the course of a game. He is a great competitor and can make all the throws. He is very capable of getting the win when his team is trailing.

Miami’s Brad Kaaya may not have the natural physical traits that the first three have, but he is a very good game manager, accurate, and has a good enough arm. He hasn’t missed a beat playing in a new offense this year and is putting up very good numbers. In three games, Kaaya has completed 50-of-76 passes for 694 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. While he isn’t as athletic as the first three quarterbacks, Kaaya is athletic enough to keep a play alive and throw on the run. Right now he is a late first- early second-round type with a chance to improve and get drafted higher.

Two others you need to watch closely are both seniors. Central Michigan’s Cooper Rush is highly thought of by NFL evaluators. He measures about 6-3, 228 pounds with quick feet and good movement skills. He also has a very strong arm. He is a four=year starter who has put up some great numbers. Last year he threw for over 3,500 yards and to date in 2016 he has already thrown for 1,359 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Another interesting senior is Iowa’s C.J. Beathard, the grandson of former NFL GM Bobby Beathard. This is only Beathard's second year as a starter and by the nature of Iowa’s offense, he doesn’t put up the numbers the other do, but he is very talented in his own right. Beathard plays in a NFL-style offense, shows the ability to read defenses and makes big plays. While he only threw 17 touchdown passes a year ago, he already has seven in three games this year. Like Rush, Beathard is a player the NFL evaluators like.