When a quarterback is taken in the first round of the NFL draft, they’re likely in the plans to start soon. This season, however, could be different.
The 2017 NFL Draft saw three teams – Chicago, Kansas City and Houston – use their first-round pick on a quarterback. In fact, all three teams moved up to get their signal-caller, whether it was one spot (Bears) or 17 (Chiefs). These bold moves will be held under the under the microscope for the next few seasons as everyone waits to see how these young quarterbacks pan out.
Below is a breakdown of each quarterback that was taken in the first round with a look at their upside, downside and realistic expectations for the 2017 season as well as moving forward.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (2nd overall)
Upside: Trubisky really fits the attributes that are wanted in a quarterback. He’s quick enough on his feet to get out of the pocket if needed, but also has the mechanics to succeed in the NFL. Trubisky didn’t make many bad decisions in his first (and only season) as North Carolina’s starter, throwing 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions for the year. While he may sit for the entirety of year one, Trubisky will have the ability to learn from a good quarterback in Mike Glennon. This will prove to be a big benefit for him when he finally takes over.
Downside: Trubisky’s biggest downside is that he doesn’t have as much experience as other quarterbacks that go in the first round. While it didn’t hurt his draft stock very much, it will be interesting to see how fast he will be able to develop and read defenses in the NFL. Trubisky, like many college quarterbacks, also must take the transition from operating of the shotgun to lining up behind center the majority of the time.
Expectation: One would expect that after giving up so much to move up one spot to get Trubisky that the Bears would give him the starting job. However, I think the best move would be to let him watch Glennon from the sidelines and focus on developing him in practice and in meeting room. That doesn’t mean that Trubisky won’t see significant playing time, especially later in the season or should Glennon struggle, but there is no need to rush him either. Chicago is probably at least another season or two away from competing in the NFC North, so it makes sense to focus more on the future. However, Trubisky will need more pieces around him to put him in the best position to succeed or he could end up being the latest quarterback to be labeled a bust.
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs (10th overall)
Upside: Mahomes has a cannon for an arm, and he’s not afraid to use it. His arm strength and confidence are second to none, as he’s able to spread the ball across the field. In his final two seasons at Texas Tech, Mahomes threw for a combined 9,705 yards and 77 touchdowns. He’s proven that he’s quite accurate as well, completing nearly two thirds of his passes (388-for-591, 65.7 percent) in 2016.
Downside: Mahomes will have to be able to make plays as they are designed rather than relying on his improvisational abilities like he did often at Texas Tech. Mahomes would sometimes leave the pocket when he didn’t have to, in what's been likened to a more "backyard" style. It will be interesting to see how this style of play will fit into Andy Reid’s offense when he does get his chance.
Expectation: Mahomes may be the hardest to read of these quarterbacks, but he could end up being the best of the three. While he will have to change his style of play more than the others, he’s got a really good quarterback to learn from in Alex Smith. It’s hard to read how long Smith will be in Kansas City, but if he can’t advance them farther into the playoffs, Mahomes could be given a chance starting in year two. When Mahomes does take over the starting role, we will likely see a lot more deep passes than fans are accustomed to seeing with Smith under center.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (12th overall)
Upside: Watson is the only quarterback in this group with significant big-game experience, and his track record under those circumstances is impressive. While Clemson may have lost to Alabama in the 2016 national championship game, Watson had huge performances in both of his matchups with the Crimson Tide, posting a total of eight touchdowns and just one interception. Watson needs to continue to improve as a passer, but it’s his athleticism that the Texans will need to take advantage of. Watson should be able to make plays with his legs, as long as he picks the right times to do so and gets out of harm’s way when necessary.
Downside: The biggest complaint against Watson is that he’s been inconsistent. While it didn’t hurt his team much in the long run, there were times when he would make really bad throws. This is something he'll have to work on if he wants to be successful in the NFL. The offense that he ran at Clemson could make his transition harder due to the low amount of play-calling he’s done.
Expectation: Watson has the best opportunity to start in the 2017 season, but it’s not a given. Players and coaches alike seem content with the prospect of Tom Savage starting, but Watson needs to be a quick student and ready if called upon. If Watson does end up playing this season, he should be put in a good position to succeed, with a very good receiving corps. Houston appears to have the pieces in place to remain a threat in the AFC South for seasons to come, and that’s especially the case should Watson be able to translate his collegiate success to the pros.