I started in the scouting business in 1981 working part time as a film grader for the Buffalo Bills. At that time there was no digital tape, everything was on Kodak 16mm film and it could be difficult to watch, especially if the tape had been broken previously and spliced.
In the early '80s, Buffalo was a member of the Quadra Combine, along with Seattle, San Francisco and Dallas. The man who was primarily the head of that Combine, Gil Brandt, had an idea to supplement the scouts' school reports with film grade reports from part-time guys such as myself. It wasn’t an easy job, as every play of a prospect had to be graded in various categories, including quickness, agility, balance, competitiveness, mental alertness, strength and technique. A report on a single player was four pages long (Thank you, Gil) but it did one thing: Taught me how to scout and view game tape.
What I learned was that I had to give an opinion on a player. That opinion was mine. I also learned that the only opinion that mattered was mine because I was going to be graded on what my reports said about a player.
Fast-forward to now. I grade about 240 players in each draft for Pro Football Weekly. I write an opinion, and regardless of where the player gets selected, the most important thing to me is whether I'm right or wrong on the player’s evaluation. I could say a player is a third-round talent and write a description of him, and if he gets picked in the first round, it doesn’t mean I was wrong. How he plays once he gets into the league will determine if I am right or wrong.
That being said, let’s go back and look at some of the final grades and reports I wrote on the quarterbacks in both the 2017 and '18 drafts and compare their evaluations to the top tier of the 2019 QB class.
1. Deshaun Watson – In my final rankings, Watson was the top QB. I gave him an A 7.0 grade, which means he should develop into a quality NFL starting quarterback. I felt that because of the scheme he played in at Clemson, it might be best for him to sit a year. My final line said: “If he gets with the right team, watch out.”
I think that has turned out to be a fairly accurate report, as Houston wanted to sit him for the year and couldn’t because the original starter (Tom Savage) was so bad. Watson has only been in the league two years and he already is a Pro Bowler.
2. Patrick Mahomes – I gave Mahomes an A 6.9 thinking he was just a little less talented coming out of college than Watson. I wrote that “he has some outstanding traits, but he is raw.” I also wrote “get the right coaching around this guy and he could be special.”
Well, needless to say I hit the mark as Mahomes sat his first year but at age 23 in Year 2 became the NFL's youngest MVP since Hall of Famer Dan Marino more than three decades earlier. Mahomes has the ability to join Marino as one of the all-time greats.
3. DeShone Kizer – Kizer was my No. 3 quarterback, and my feeling was that he'd be selected in the later part of the first round after a successful career at Notre Dame, where I thought he would be better prepared in a pro-style offense than others.
I missed. To date, Kizer has been a disappointment, but the final chapters haven’t been written. He failed miserably in Cleveland with his rookie play and was traded to Green Bay. Sitting and learning behind Aaron Rodgers isn’t a bad thing — and maybe Kizer will salvage his career. Don’t forget, it wasn’t until Year 4 that Rodgers actually became the starter after sitting behind Brett Favre.
Mitch Trubisky – I had Trubisky rated as my No. 4 QB, with a first-round grade of A 6.8. Of course, he ultimately was the first quarterback drafted, No. 2 overall by the Bears. My reservation on Mitch was mostly about his lack of starting experience. "He has ideal size and athleticism with a quick release” and ”can make all the required NFL throws,” I wrote, in addition to "has tremendous upside but his lack of experience makes him a risk/reward selection ... Interviews and workout will be important.”
Trubisky aced the interviews and workout, and the Bears moved up one spot to secure their guy. He has already led them to a playoff berth and has unlimited upside. Reality is, I was a little too low on him but not far off.
Baker Mayfield – I had Mayfield as my top QB with a grade of A 6.9. "Only thing he really lacks is height. ... Can be compared to Drew Brees but he is a little taller, much heavier and stronger. ... Has some Brett Favre in him."
It's only been one season, but it appears I was right on. Mayfield has some special to him in that the intangibles are rare. Because I’m no longer a team scout, I don’t make school calls. It’s at these school calls that scouts get much-needed character and background info not obtained by draft analysts. Mayfield has excellent football character and a strong will to become a great player ... and he will.
Sam Darnold – In both the PFW Draft Magazine and my final rankings, I had Darnold as my No. 2 quarterback, like Mayfield, with an A 6.9 grade. Darnold had two years of eligibility remaining, and I questioned if he was ready to play in the NFL. I wrote: ”Did not play as well in 2017 as he did in 2016. ... There is no question he has talent and can develop into a solid NFL QB, but is he ready for the rigors of the league now? ... Needs to be with the right team and be able to work with the right coaches.”
I felt Darnold was hot and cold as a rookie, much like Trubisky in 2017. There is no question he has upside and the Jets obviously felt that he didn’t have the right coaches around him as a rookie. How he develops under new HC Adam Gase will determine how good he becomes.
Josh Rosen – I was not a big Rosen fan a year ago, and it really didn’t have anything to do with his talent — rather his intangibles. I had him rated as QB3 with an A 6.8 grade. Some of my report: "There is no question that Rosen has the natural talent to become a very good NFL quarterback, but will he? ... Very good mechanics and throws a nice ball ... good not great arm strength ... flashes exceptional accuracy but can have games where he is way off ... lacks the intangibles to be a consistent winner in the NFL ... needs to mature and accept coaching if he wants to succeed”
With the events of the past few weeks, I may be right on, but I also could be wrong. Is Arizona doing the right thing if it gives up after one year and trades Rosen? How can he be blamed for the problems of last year? Reality is, the jury is still out and I don’t really know if I was right or wrong with my report.
Josh Allen – Early in in the process, I was not an Allen fan. In the draft magazine, he was QB7 but moved up to QB5 a few weeks before the draft. I was very hard on Allen, writing: "There isn’t a quarterback in recent memory who had such a low completion percentage in college and went on to have success in the NFL. ... Will get drafted high because of his physical traits but it’s a risky pick."
After the combine and pro days, I warmed some on Josh and his final grade was an A 6.8. My grade was right, but my analysis was wrong. Where I missed with Allen is the intangibles. Yes, Allen has accuracy problems, but he showed much improvement from the beginning of his rookie year until the end. Going back to what I said about Mayfield above, without making a school call, there are things we don’t get on players. Josh Allen is a rare competitor and has a rare desire to become a great player. He and Trubisky are similar in that aspect. Allen will do everything and anything to become a top NFL quarterback. He already has the leadership skills but still needs work on his mechanics. When he gets those down pat, he will become a winning NFL quarterback. He may never win a Super Bowl, but he will become good enough to get his team into the playoffs on a consistent basis.
Lamar Jackson – In my final rankings, Jackson was my QB6. In the draft, he was the fifth overall QB drafted. My grade was an A 6.6 and I felt he was a solid second-round player. I wrote: "He is a major wild card in this draft ... clubs will be all over the board with him ... there is no question he can be a difference maker but he needs to be in the right offense. ... He needs a lot of work on his mechanics ... The team that drafts him has to have a plan…”.
I feel my evaluation was correct, but I just graded him a bit too low. Like with Allen, there is still a lot of developing to do with Jackson and it may be another year before we see how good he can become. Yes, he is a threat as a runner, but as we saw in the playoffs he needs vast improvement as a passer.
Obviously, this year’s class hasn’t played a down of NFL football, so from a grading point of view it is all projection. I have seen that some analysts feel this class is better than a year ago. I’m not so sure I agree. I feel there are more question marks than sure-shot prospects.
Dwayne Haskins – Haskins was my QB1 before the combine and has remained there. In my opinion there is a lot to like about Haskins and very little not to like. Starting with the negative, he was a full-time starter for barely a season, so he isn’t that experienced. He also isn’t a top athlete. He ran over 5.0 seconds in the 40, and being able to make plays with his feet won’t be a strong suit. What he does have is anticipation, a quick release, a strong arm and very good accuracy. I feel he has unlimited upside and I like him more than I did Darnold a year ago. Because his workout was below average, I have lowered Haskins' grade from an A 7.2 to an A 6.9. As good as he is, he isn’t the athletic type that many teams now want at the position.
Kyler Murray – When I wrote up Murray for the magazine, I felt that he was very difficult to grade because of his size. There hasn’t been a quarterback taken in the first round as small as him since I got involved with scouting. There has only been one with his size in recent memory that has had success — and that is Russell Wilson. Since I wrote my first report for the draft guide, I have raised Murray's grade. I now have an A 6.8 on him. He will go in the first round, though I am not a believer that he is a lock at No. 1 overall. Regardless of my grade, he is a risk because of his size. Until he has success, there will be skepticism. Yes, I am old school, but I do know that playing quarterback in the NFL is much different than having success in the Big 12.
Daniel Jones – Jones is an average athlete lacking ideal traits. He won’t be able to extend plays with his feet and he has average arm talent. What he does have is very good leadership skills, intelligence and playmaking ability. Yes, he has limitations, but he can overcome those with his smarts. Just like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning before him, Jones' arm will get stronger when he gets into an NFL weight program. Jones will be a winning NFL quarterback because of the intangibles, not the physical traits. My grade on him remains an A 6.7, and I think he could go from the mid first to the top part of the second round.
Drew Lock – In my opinion, Lock is the opposite of Jones. He has very good physical traits, but I don’t see the intangibles. I feel he needs a lot of work to improve his mechanics, as his footwork can be poor and he will often throw off his back foot. His accuracy is very average for the offense he played in (only one year over 60 percent completions) and he gets sacked too much. Yes, he will get drafted higher than my grade, but I’m not about to change. Though he may become an eventual starter, I don’t see him having much success in the league. We’ll know who is right in another year or two.