NFL DRAFT 2021: GROUP OF FIVE QUARTERBACKS TO WATCH
By Rebecca Rennie
Summer scouting is underway! There’s some big name quarterbacks at the top of the draft, but who might emerge from the Group of Five conferences? Here, we present some names among Senior QBs to know going into the 2020 college football season.
While there’s potential among an intriguing collection of GO5 quarterbacks, Buechele was the clear standout among the group. While he showed promise during his time at Texas, the transfer QB has begun to flourish since joining SMU. A strong Senior year could lock in a mid-round grade. The Mustangs passer looks to have surpassed Sam Ehlinger, who took over as the Longhorns starter, as an NFL draft prospect.
Buechele has a smaller frame but shows excellent mobility and plus footwork in and out of the pocket. Coordinated between his upper and lower body, he steps into his throws effectively for consistently well-placed passes. His mechanics feature a fast, easy release with good zip on his throws. He has more than enough arm to make longer sideline throws and deeper down the field.
The SMU quarterback impresses with his touch, timing and overall accuracy. He executes short and quick game passes well, while also hitting receivers in stride over the middle and deep. Able to run bootlegs, escape the pocket, and extend plays, Buechele maintains his technique and good ball placement when throwing on the run.
While there’s a lot to like about his mobility, mechanics and accuracy, there’s areas to work on in 2020. Buechele’s play suggests some improvements required in his reads, decision making and progression work. There is a tendency to stare down receivers and stick with first reads too long. Risky throws into unfavorable coverage are present a little too frequently. The former 4-star recruit is easily one of the more exciting QB prospects outside the early top tier names.
For those who recall his time as a highly touted recruit out of high school, it must feel like White has been in college for an age. Given his age, highly productive 2019 season, the departure of his head coach and having completed his Masters degree, entering the 2020 draft might have been expected. He chose to return for a 6th season however, where he will again lead a talented offensive cast for the Tigers.
White initially joined Arizona State in 2014, recruited by his future Memphis head coach in Mike Norvell. His time with the Sun Devils was derailed by a right foot injury that sidelined him for the majority of two seasons. While the foot injury history might be medically flagged, at least mobility and a running threat were not a part of his standout traits to begin with. He has proved very productive in the AAC from the pocket, however. His 2019 season included passing for 4,014 yards and 33 touchdowns (11 inteceptions) and completing 64.0% of his passes.
There is a lot to like about the mental aspects of White’s game. He shows solid football IQ along with composure and confidence in his command of the offense he runs. There’s no fear or hesitation in releasing the ball, trusting his reads and taking chances downfield. He could do more to disguise his intentions, at times locking onto receivers and minimal eye manipulation. His footwork in the pocket is promising.
Despite something of a gunslinger style in utilizing his talented receiving group, White doesn’t have a great arm. Combined with minimal mobility, the Tigers QB has some limitations to his physical traits. His mechanics features a lengthy throwing motion, some passes can float on him and precise ball placement isn’t consistently there. He could earn a Day 3 pick with another big year. However, going undrafted is also possible.
A true wildcard for the 2021 class, Russo’s draft stock has the potential to be highly volatile. There’s valuable physical traits but an incomplete and inconsistent game overall. A compilation of his best plays will look impressive back-to-back. However, the full picture snap-to-snap reveals some questionable feel and instincts that might not synchronize fully with the arm talent. How he progresses as a senior in 2020 will go a long way to providing some answers. It should be fascinating to see how it unfolds for the talented Temple QB.
While statistics can be misleading and need context, the basic completion rates of 57.4% in 2018 and 58.7% in 2019 are somewhat reflective of the spotty ball placement and touch. Some risky throws and questionable reads have also contributed to too many interceptions, with 26 totalled over the past two seasons. He can look uncomfortable and unpoised in the pocket at times. He’s prone to some poor field vision and anticipation, and late throws.
The appealing upside is readily apparent though. Russo features a big stout frame along with one of the stronger arms in this next draft class. He’s capable of many throws that others have no chance at completing. While the touch and timing is inconsistent, he flashes excellent downfield touch to hit receivers in stride that highlights to potential. There’s developmental intrigue with Russo, but may require a more consistent showing as a Senior to earn a draft selection.
Already a favorite deep sleeper QB prospect of many at this early stage, it’s easy to see why Plitt is drawing fans. Having seen some starter action the previous two seasons, he had a breakout 2019 as the true QB1 following Riley Neal’s transfer to Vanderbilt. His year statistically included completing 64.3% of passes at 7.9 yards per attempt. He threw for 2,918 yards, 24 TDs with 7 interceptions, adding 5 rushing scores.
Plitt shows smarts and good mental process, executing well on the short to intermediate levels in particular. Comfortable in his drops and accurate underneath, he excels running quick game offense, RPOs and play action. His sound footwork and competence on roll outs are part of good overall mobility. The Cardinals QB shows repeatable mechanics, including when throwing on the run. Plitt can make plays as a runner but also keeps his eyes downfield when escaping the pocket.
Where his game is less impressive is when asked to execute deeper down the field. The arm strength is ok, but struggles for accuracy on deep targets. While he plays with good vision and IQ, he tends to telegraph a lot of his throws that leads to some tipped passes and jumping of routes. Locking on to his first target often, he could be quicker at times working to his next read or checkdown option. He’s unlikely to have a high ceiling but could be a backup or practice squad candidate in the right situation.
Reflecting their steady rise as a program in recent years, the Mountaineers have had an increased presence over draft weekend. Running back Darrynton Evans and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither were mid-round selections in 2020 with promising projections. They may not have anyone go as early as round three (Evans) in 2021 but have some interesting late round or priority free agent candidates.
Quarterback Zac Thomas may be a longshot prospect but has next level potential with a good final year. Either way, he’s certainly exceeded his 2-star recruiting grades, or unranked with the likes of ESPN. He’ll be an experienced three-year starter after this season and impresses with his mental and physical toughness and intangibles. While not overly dynamic an athlete, he’s proven an effective runner with the opportunities. He’s regularly able to extend plays and evade pressure with good navigation around the pocket.
Thomas shows inconsistent footwork that factors into some equally inconsistent ball placement. He also puts the ball in danger more often than throwing only 6 interceptions might suggest. His passes can often make his receivers have to work to bring in the ball from over or underthrows. Add in his modest physical attributes and he has some limitations as a QB prospect. That said, he flashes some outstanding touch and playmaking ability that is encouraging. He’s an absolute gamer to go with the flashes of quality.
Feature Image Credit: SMU Athletics