One of my favorite exercises each year is revisiting the “Way Too Early” mock drafts that were released around this time of the calendar. For example, last August I put out my first mock draft, and in reviewing that article for a piece I’m working on a few things stood out to me:
I nailed the first overall selection (Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars) but honestly that seems like a layup.
The only other team/player pairing that I got right was Kyle Trask to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, although I predicted it would happen at the end of the first round, and it came about at the end of the second.
It is also a worthwhile endeavor to review those to see what players fell out of favor, as well as what players dramatically increased their draft stock. For example, two names not in that “Way Too Early” mock draft of mine? Zach Wilson and Mac Jones.
This is becoming something of a routine each year. The year before Joe Burrow’s name was not common in the early mocks, nor was Kyler Murray the year before that (although his baseball dreams were likely a big reason why). Not many people saw the rise of Mitchell Trubisky coming, in fact I’m not even sure he made a watch list I put together the summer prior to his final season.
But if history has taught us anything, we might see some QBs rise up boards this fall. So while you probably have heard of some of the names floated about in early mock drafts right now (Kedon Slovis, Spencer Rattler, Tyler Shough, Matt Corral, Sam Howell and D’Eriq King, among others) who are some of the contenders to rocket up boards next fall? Here are some quarterback to carve out time to study this summer.
Dustin Crum, Kent State
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Could the next quarterback riser come from Kent State? Dustin Crum took over as the Flashes' starting quarterback as a junior in 2019, where he led the team to their first ever bowl victory with a win in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl. Last year he threw for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns in just four games, and thanks to the NCAA installing a blanket waiver for players to return for another season, Crum will have one more year on campus to improve on his numbers. He is an athletic quarterback who can extend plays with his legs or be used in the run game, and the offense he runs relies heavily on RPO concepts that give him some well-defined reads and throws. Heading into 2021 I will be watching for him to attack more in the middle of the field.
Layne Hatcher, Arkansas State
Last year Arkansas State quarterback Layne Hatcher was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in all of college football. In 11 games he completed 116 of 194 passes for 2,058 yards, 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions, good for an NCAA Passing Efficiency mark of 179.16. That put him ahead of some quarterbacks already considered first-round selections, such as Sam Howell, Matt Corral, Spencer Rattler and Tyler Shough. He'll face questions about the level of competition he faced, as well as his upper-tier arm strength, but Hatcher is certainly worth studying before the fall begins.
Carson Strong, Nevada
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Carson Strong took over as the starting quarterback for the Nevada Wolfpack for the 2019 season and his tenure got off to an impressive start, as he led the Wolfpack to a victory over Purdue in his debut. In that game Strong completed 30 of 51 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. In Nevada's nine games last year he was equally impressive, completing 249 of 355 passes for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. He also led the Wolfpack to a bowl win, throwing for five touchdowns in a victory over Tulane. During his time as a starter Strong has displayed impressive arm talent and the ability to quickly work through reads, and some might consider him a favorite in the "potential riser" category, and with good reason.
Malik Willis, Liberty
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It might be stretching the definition of "riser" to include Malik Willis in this piece, as there are many "way too early mock drafts" that include the Liberty quarterback in the first round. Still, if you have not studied Willis, you need to change that immediately. After starting his career at Auburn he transferred to Liberty for the 2020 season and took over as the Flames' starting quarterback. In ten games he completed 64.2% of his passes for 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and he led Liberty to a win over Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl. In that game he threw a pair of interceptions, but he also ran for 137 yards and four touchdowns. He is athletic with a big arm and is unafraid to challenge any window, making him perhaps the ideal quarterback for the modern NFL.
Jake Haener, Fresno State
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Jake Haener began his college career at Washington, the school the three-star recruit selected over other options such as Eastern Washington and Hawaii. He appeared in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2018, but ultimately transferred to Fresno State and was forced to sit out the 2019 season due to transfer rules. He took over as the team's starting quarterback for 2020, and was named a team captain prior to the season-opening game. In just six contests Haener threw for 2,021 yards and 14 touchdowns, against five interceptions, and completed 64.7% of his passes. He shows good touch and feel in the vertical passing game, and can also make plays with his legs.
Jayden Daniels, Arizona State
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Jayden Daniels has been on radars since his freshman season, so he too might be considered less of a "riser" and more a quarterback people have been waiting for. ESPN rated him as a four-star recruit coming out of Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California, and he chose Arizona State over a number of schools including UCLA, California, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He started immediately for the Sun Devils, becoming the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start the first game of the season. In 2019 Daniels completed 60.7% of his passes for 2,943 yards and 17 touchdowns, against just a pair of interceptions. In limited action last year due to COVID-19 he still threw for five touchdowns against a single interception. He is an explosive athlete with equally-impressive arm strength, and another solid season could propel him to the top of the class.
Gunnar Watson, Troy
After redshirting in 2018 and serving as the Troy Trojans' backup quarterback in 2019, Gunnar Watson emerged as the team's starting quarterback for the 2020 campaign. In nine games Watson completed 211 of 301 passes for 2,141 yards and 16 touchdowns, against seven interceptions, posting an NCAA Passing Efficiency mark of 142.74. Watson is accurate and tough in the pocket, and if his arm strength dials up a notch this season he could put up big numbers. He is definitely someone to keep on your radar.
Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State
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The Big-12 was shut out of the first round in the 2021 NFL draft, but there is a good change that changes next year. Obviously there is a ton of buzz around Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, but could an in-state rival also crash the first-round party? Spencer Sanders redshirted his true freshman season but took over as the Cowboys' starting quarterback in the 2019 campaign and completed 62.8% of his passes for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns, against 11 interceptions. He was named the conference's Offensive Freshman of the Year as voted on by the coaches. Last season Sanders was an Honorable Mention All-Big-12 selection, and was named the MVP of the Cheez-It Bowl after throwing for 305 yards and four touchdowns against Miami. He also ran for 45 yards on 13 carries. He has a bit of a draw and loop to his throwing motion that I will be watching, but Sanders could make some noise this season with another big year.
Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
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Phil Jurkovec began his college career at Notre Dame, the school he selected after the four-star recruit entertained offers from schools like Alabama, Clemson and Michigan State. But after redshirting in his first season and seeing limited action in the second, Jurkovec transferred to Boston College. He was named the team's starting quarterback for the season, and completed 61.0% of his passes for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns, against five interceptions. He battled a pair of injuries last season, including a knee injury and a separate injury suffered in a loss to Clemson (although he finished the game) but if he stays healthy and puts up big numbers, he might rocket up boards.
Dillon Gabriel, UCF
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Dillon Gabriel was the Gatorade High School Football Player of the Year in Hawaii as a senior in 2018, when he threw for 38 touchdowns for Mililani High School. He enrolled at UCF and was the backup behind Brandon Wimbush to start the 2019 campaign, but took over in the team's first game and did not look back. He completed 236 of 398 passes for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns as a true freshman, against just seven interceptions. Last year he started ten games for the Knights, completing 60.0% of his passes for 3,570 yards and 32 touchdowns, against just four interceptions. He is already rocketing up record books at UCF, and currently he ranks third all-time in program history with a career 156.6 passing efficiency rating. He also has thrown just 11 interceptions over 811 career attempts, making his interception ratio of a miniscule 0.014 the best ever at UCF. There will be questions about his size, but with one more productive season he will generate a ton of buzz.