There are a select few NFL teams that believe they already have their franchise quarterback on their roster. Meanwhile the rest of the league is searching for one, which is one reason why 36 have been taken in the last three drafts alone.
This year’s draft class may not feature a quarterback prospect that clearly stands out from his peers, but it does have several talented, intriguing options. With so many quarterback-starved teams out there, it’s possible that as many as four quarterbacks could be taken in the first round in what is considered a down year for the position.
With the Scouting Combine set to take place Feb. 28-March 6, here is an early ranking of the quarterbacks who will hear their name called in the 2017 NFL Draft.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
A two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, as a sophomore and junior no less, Watson still has his doubters even though he led his Tigers team to the national championship in an epic performance against Alabama.
A lot of Watson’s skeptics will point to his 17 interceptions in 2016, after throwing for 13 in ’15. But his body of work (32-3 as a starter), along with his athleticism, leadership and big-game ability are unquestioned.
Watson showed an ability to make plays with both his arm (420 passing yards, 3 TDs vs. Alabama) and his legs (1,934 career rushing yards) in college. At the Combine, scouts and analysts will pay particular attention to some of his physical measurements, as there has been some concerns raised about his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame.
Watson also will need to show that he can make the transition to being a quarterback in the NFL, but otherwise possesses the qualities and a collegiate track record that make him the least risky prospect at the position.
2. Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
After biding his time behind Marquise Williams, Trubisky finally got the opportunity to start last season for the Tar Heels, and the redshirt junior took full advantage. In 13 games, Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also ran for 308 yards and five scores.
Considered one of the more accurate passers in this draft class, Trubisky will need to continue to improve his footwork. He has the size (6-3, 220) teams are looking for at quarterback, but most overcome concerns about his lack of playing experience.
3. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
An immensely productive quarterback for the Red Raiders, Mahomes must prove to scouts, coaches and team executives that he’s more than just a system guy and can succeed in leading a pro-style offense.
The numbers – 5,052 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions in 2016 – certainly speak for themselves. Mahomes also is one of the better athletes at the position, having rushed for 22 touchdowns in his last two seasons.
He has good size (6-3, 215), a strong arm and displayed good accuracy in college. His athleticism also allows him the chance to turn a busted play into a big gain, similar to an Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger.
Because of the type of offense he operated at Texas Tech, Mahomes will have his work cut out for him in breaking down plays and when teams have him analyze game film. He has to be willing to show teams that he can take what the defense gives him rather than trying to go for the big play that can result in a turnover instead.
The skill set and talent appear to be there with Mahomes. It’s just a matter of landing with the right team and the right coaching staff that can help him develop.
4. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
After sharing the snaps with Malik Zaire to start the 2016 season, Kizer wound up as the primary starter for the Fighting Irish, finishing with 2,925 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Even though Notre Dame struggled to a 4-8 record, Kizer elected to declare for the draft.
The first thing scouts and NFL teams notice about Kizer is his appealing size (6-4, 230). He has a cannon for an arm and the ability to make any throw. Like others in this class, he possesses dual-threat ability as he rushed for 472 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Kizer can show a little too much faith in his arm at times. In Notre Dame’s 17-10 loss to Stanford last season, he was benched after throwing two interceptions and completing a little more than half of his passes.
Kizer has all of the intangibles teams look for in a starting quarterback, but he’s far from a finished product. He will need to show teams he has what it takes to make the right reads and decisions in running an NFL offense, along with answering questions about what went wrong for the Irish last season. If he shows well at the Combine and throughout the pre-draft process, he could work his way into the first round.
5. Brad Kaaya, Miami
A three-year starter for the Hurricanes, Kaaya finished his collegiate career with 3,532 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 62 percent of his attempts in 2016.
Unlike many of his peers in this draft class, Kaaya is a traditional drop-back pocket-passer. He has plenty of experience under center in a pro-style offense, but he doesn’t possess a big arm.
Kaaya has a reputation for taking what defenses will give him and not making critical mistakes, but he always wasn’t the most accurate with his throws. Miami’s offensive line play was an issue throughout his tenure, so it will be interesting to see how scouts and teams address that with Kaaya in the interview process.
Kaaya has plenty of question marks surrounding him, but he’s not alone in that respect when it comes to his peers. A strong showing at the Combine could help him separate himself some from the pack.
Other quarterbacks to keep an eye on: Cooper Rush, Central Michigan; Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh, Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee, Davis Webb, California
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.