Last season was viewed as one of the worst in recent memory for teams that needed a quarterback. Yet, when the 2016 NFL draft drew to a close, teams had selected 15 quarterbacks and after the 2016 season at least one of them was pretty good. So why the disconnect, and why were so many quarterbacks selected that nobody ever believed were starter material? I tried to answer that question prior to the draft by changing my evaluation style for quarterbacks and it led to a mid-draft prediction that I actually got right about the team targeting Jake Rudock. It’s been nearly a year and the 2017 NFL draft is fast approaching, so what QBs, if any, should the Lions be looking at to challenge Jake Rudock for the No. 2 QB spot?
Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
Projected Round: 6th
One of the first criteria I examine when looking at backup quarterbacks is character, and Josh Dobbs was identified early on as a player I felt teams would fall in love with immediately. It’s difficult to dislike the guy and every interview comes across as someone you’d like to get to know. He is dedicated to volunteer work and community involvement, showing support to public servants like fire and police, and maintaining a high profile as someone who cares about those around him. Dobbs is a charismatic leader beloved by fans and looked to as a role model in the state of Tennessee. You’ll notice none of this is football related, but teams tend to rate players with character like Dobbs much higher than they do players who seem self centered or overly cocky. Just take a look at the draft slide of Connor Cook to see what happens on the flip side. Dobbs is an elite athlete in his own right, measuring in above average for speed, shuttle, and vertical while posting an elite broad and cone time for a quarterback. He has a fairly average arm, but studied to be an aerospace engineer before deciding to go pro and has the smarts and creativity that coaches crave in a backup QB. The Lions met with Dobbs at the combine and I’m fairly certain that a Jim Caldwell/Josh Dobbs meeting would see him in a Lions uniform come training camp.
Alek Torgersen, Penn
Projected Round: 7th/PFA
A focused desire to improve at every level is sometimes an abstract concept to use as a criteria for a player and involves both statistical analysis and some pretty dedicated google chops. Alek Torgersen burst onto the Ivy League scene in the zone read offense at Penn back in 2014. His passing numbers aren’t very spectacular given the style of offense he ran, while his rushing numbers were pretty poor considering the same. Torgersen put himself to work to reduce his turnovers and refine his passing, two goals that he accomplished, cutting his interceptions to only three and four the following two seasons, upping his completion percentage and touchdowns and dropping the number of sacks he took. Since becoming draft eligible, Torgersen has worked with different QB coaches to prepare for his pro day and interviews. Torgersen was also a winner at Penn, bringing in two Ivy League Championships. Torgersen has typical QB size and is a decent athlete for the position, but has a much better arm throwing intermediate and short passes than most of the QBs in this class. His deep throwing accuracy is spotty at best. Torgersen transitioned from a pro style offense in high school to zone read in college where he took over starting duties after a tense camp battle. By the time he threw at his pro day, which Lions QB coach Brian Callahan attended, he was showcasing his skills in front of at least 20 NFL teams. Torgersen will no doubt be in an NFL uniform this fall and his football intelligence and dedication to improvement are as big of reasons as his strong arm and NFL size.
Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Projected Round: UDFA
A National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete in 2016, Cooper Rush stood out for more than just his on field play at Central Michigan. The Detroit Lions probably know more about Rush than they do any other prospect in this class, as he was coached by former Detroit Lions special teams coach John Bonamego. A leader of film room sessions, this Actuarial Science graduate has always been known more for his smarts than his athleticism. Known to design his own plays based on film study, Rush’s reputation as a cerebral player and unfortunately limited athleticism have drawn positive comparisons to former Detroit Lions third-string QB Kellen Moore. Sometimes people throw an arm strength comp to Moore as well, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Rush’s arm is below average certainly, but he’s able to make some middle-of-the-field throws when he needs to. Rush is a player you’d never want to see on the field for long stretches. Much like another former Lions QB, Shaun Hill, his lack of arm strength limits the plays you can call on the field since he can’t throw on any platform to any level. As a backup to a more gifted athlete and thrower, however, Rush could be an invaluable part of game day preparation and in game adjustments.
As you’ve probably guessed, on field ability takes a bit of a back seat in evaluating NFL backup QBs. If a player has a big arm, that’s a bonus, as is plus athleticism. More important to many NFL teams is if the player is going to accept the responsibility of playing second fiddle to the team leader, to have their back both to the media and in the community, and to represent the team well. Teams like backups who have learned multiple offenses or have studied in a field that requires quick thinking and creativity. A quarterback that spends more time in the film room than living the college life is prized even if they have athletic limitations. Coaches take into account football pedigree, whether a player has family that coached or played, and they look at certain attitude cues like whether the player identified issues and strengths from previous seasons.
After watching one game, you can tell if most quarterbacks have what it takes to play in the NFL. You may not be able to spot greatness (you’d need more than one game) but you can tell pretty quick if they aren’t starter types. Research then shifts from tape review to background. I’m not sure the Detroit Lions will draft another quarterback in 2017, but I would certainly understand that decision and in at least these few cases applaud it.