The peculiarities of the 2020 college football season, if there is any semblance of one, are still sorting themselves out.
But the effect it will have on the NFL draft already has dawned on the scouting community: There will be less information available on the whole, no matter which conferences attempt to play this fall (or spring), and more time to stew over the prospects who will be available.
One byproduct is that the Senior Bowl, already the premier pre-draft scouting event, and the NFL scouting combine will carry that much more weight.
In some cases, there could be players who step onto the Senior Bowl practice fields having not taken live reps in more than a year. That’s a pretty notable development for a game that saw 93 of its attendees last year get drafted, with 40 of them landing in Rounds 1 through 3.
The Senior Bowl has issued its initial Top 250 prospects for the 2021 game, and it might end up being the most important Senior Bowl ever. The game’s executive director, Jim Nagy, also has openly talked about the possibility of expanding the game to multiple weeks as a way to help prospects who missed their fall season better showcase their talents.
Our bosses forbade us from breaking down all 250. So how about the 16 quarterbacks instead? Compromise in an election year ... and you thought you’d never see it!
There’s no Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields on this list, and there might not be a first-round prospect among them. (Note: Georgia’s Jamie Newman was perhaps the biggest omission we saw here. Not sure why he wasn’t on the initial list.)
Here are the Senior Bowl 250 quarterbacks as we see them ranked heading into the 2020 season — whether we have football or not.
1. Sam Ehlinger, Texas
The “righthanded Tim Tebow” is what Ehlinger has occasionally been called, and when you see the big-frame runner bore through would-be tacklers, the comparison feels apt. But Ehlinger’s development as a passer is a bit more promising at this point than Tebow’s ever was in college.
At roughly 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds with solid wheels but hardly great foot speed, Ehlinger must continue that path of taking steps forward as a passer — fine-tuning his ability to read defenses and honing his sometimes wayward accuracy. If he does that, he could find a team enamored with his unique skill set, much in the way the Philadelphia Eagles were when they took Jalen Hurts with the 52nd overall pick this spring.
Ehlinger’s arm strength will never be his calling card, and the NFL team that drafts him must craft its scheme around his pluses and his limitations. But with another year of growth, he could land in the third- or fourth-round range in 2021.
2. Kyle Trask, Florida
Trask actually backed up D’Eriq King for two years in high school and had to wait his turn at Florida to get a chance, replacing Feleipe Franks as a junior last season. But when Trask got under center, he exceeded all expectations and showed some real intrigue as a leader and thrower.
Is he this year’s Joe Burrow? That feels like a stretch right now. But Trask is a big-framed, tough-minded QB with some nice athletic traits and requisite arm talent. What he needs most now is experience.
His mental skill seems uncannily sharp for someone who has played so (relatively) little football since early in his high school career, so we have to assume that his growth potential is fairly sizable. Trask is a player who appears on the verge of a big season, as he flirted with greatness at times last year but couldn’t quite reach the mountaintop.
We’re fans of his upside. Keep a close eye on this late bloomer, please, because he easily could pass Ehlinger and the rest of the senior crop if he gets the chance to start a full season.
3. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Mond is like that ex you just can’t seem to get out of your head, even years later. He’s a former 5-star Rivals recruit who was rated the No. 1 dual threat QB in the 2017 class, ahead of even Tua Tagovailoa and Ehlinger.
But after three seasons with the Aggies, Mond’s highest highs have been more of a tease than anything. He simply hasn’t made the kind of tangible leaps you might expect by this stage of his development, especially throwing to A&M’s deep stable of pass catchers.
The 6-3, 216-pound Mond can take off as a runner and sting a defense. And two or three times a game, he seems to uncork a hair-raising pass, especially when throwing on the move and even in the tightest spots. Mond’s high-end plays are as good as almost any QB in the country. What will make him a far more appreciable NFL prospect is developing some semblance of consistency and accuracy.
Jimbo Fisher has sent a slew of his former QBs to the NFL out of his pro-style scheme, which could help Mond’s cause a bit, but all three of Fisher’s first-round picks — Jameis Winston, EJ Manuel and Christian Ponder — also disappointed in the league.
4. K.J. Costello, Mississippi State
Costello has to be praying that the SEC finds a way to keep the season afloat. The Stanford transfer has always been well-regarded in NFL circles for his smarts, stature, leadership and throwing ability. But his 2019 season was almost a total wash, suffering multiple injuries and suddenly developing a penchant for errant throws.
The 6-4, 220-pound Costello could go from night to day if the season takes place, shifting from David Shaw’s pro-style system to Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. It would be a big adjustment, but playing well in Leach’s pass-happy system could expand Costello’s NFL appeal after a down year.
With good arm talent and the ability to throw with touch, Costello has the chance to rebound and put himself squarely on the Senior Bowl radar come January.
5. Shane Buechele, SMU
It feels like Buechele — the son of former MLB player Steve — has been on the college football scene since the mid-2000s. But after transferring from Texas and revitalizing his career with the Mustangs, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Buechele only now is reaching his final year of eligibility.
Last season, Buechele had a tremendous season for 10-3 SMU, throwing for 3,929 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, completing 62.7 percent of his passes. He also ran for two scores and proved he could be a pretty decent emergency punter if needed.
The ball just shoots out of Buechele’s hand — one of the prettier throwers in this entire class. He’s a great downfield passer, and his gunslinging style makes him easy to appreciate on the surface. Of course, Buechele has accuracy issues, stares down his receivers at times and could use more mechanical refinement.
But he’s fascinating as heck. And with the AAC still reportedly trying to forge on with a fall season, we might get to see more of Buechele’s development prior to the Senior Bowl.
6. Feleipe Franks, Arkansas
The Florida transfer had a frustrating career in Gainesville and now is tasked with trying to give the Hogs — and his own career — a quick boost. The 6-foot-6, 238-pound Franks is a physical marvel, and he possesses the arm talent to make some eye-opening throws as well as the legs to pick up first downs scrambling.
But the holes in Franks’ game are sometimes glaring. He will stare down his targets, throw high and wide and try to squeeze passes into tight windows that shouldn’t be attempted.
Still, he was off to a fairly strong start last season through three games before his season-ending leg injury and was playing with confidence despite sometimes being rotated at QB with Kyle Trask and Emory Jones. Some NFL coach will believe he can tap into Franks’s ability and coax out a quality player, but we remain a tad skeptical.
7. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
The 6-1, 218-pound Pickett is an interesting study. He replaced Cowboys 2020 seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci (who transferred to James Madison shortly thereafter) in Pitt’s 2017 season finale and has been the starter since.
Turn on the Penn State game last year, and you’ll see Pickett as a mostly fearless playmaker who can buy time with his legs, make gutsy throws and battle for his team until the bitter end. Then watch his tape the next week against UCF, and it’s fairly underwhelming.
Pitt ran a pretty conservative system with a slew of crossing routes and underneath stuff, and the receivers let Pickett down with a ton of dropped passes (36, the second-most for any QB in the country last season, per PFF).
Pickett also had some issues handling snaps at times (small hands maybe?) and threw some dangerous passes he got away with. Still, he’s an undersized gamer who appears to have a late draftable grade right now.
8. Charlie Brewer, Baylor
Brewer should end up as the third-leading passer in school history behind Bryce Petty and Robert Griffin III, having started games since his freshman season and led a program turnaround from a 1-11 record as a freshman to 11-3 and vying for the Big 12 title last season.
That said, there are major questions about his NFL upside. Brewer is very precise on short and medium throws and generally makes the soundest decisions. However, he’s not a full-field reader or thrower, lacks great size (6-1, 215) and has been considerably banged up, including multiple concussions in his career.
Brewer received summer grades in the sixth-to-seventh-round range this summer and must answer questions about his health for the long term. But if he’s able to go, he should end up on an NFL roster with a shot to make it as a backup.
9. Ian Book, Notre Dame
The redshirt senior has had a curious career to this point, but he has talent. On the one hand, Book seems to relish pressure and can make big throws (or scramble effectively) when the heat is on. On the other, his big-game performances and overall consistency are lacking from our vantage point.
He’s also on the smaller size at 6-foot and 200 or so pounds, and isn’t enough of a scrambling threat to offset some of his shortcomings. Arm talent-wise, Book isn’t special, seemingly unable to drive the ball effectively or with accuracy on an NFL level.
Still, there’s enough playmaking in his blood to warrant a look if some of the bigger names don’t make the trip to Mobile.
10. D’Eriq King, Miami
A year ago we were fascinated by King’s potential, and a transfer from Houston to Miami could help revive his forecast after a down 2019 campaign. Don’t forget that this man accounted for a whopping 50 TDs in 2018, throwing for 36 scores (with only six INTs) and rushing for 14 more.
The converted receiver caught 58 passes for 492 yards and three scores his first two seasons with the Cougars and could be a candidate — a la Greg Ward Jr, King’s freshman-year QB — to move to wideout in the NFL. But the 5-foot-8, 188-pound King will get one more chance to display his passing skills with the Hurricanes for scouts to determine his best fit in the league.
King doesn’t quite possess the rare gifts of, say, Kyler Murray, and doesn’t come close to throwing the deep ball as effectively as Murray does. But there’s a lot intrigue in King’s game at this pivotal stage of his career.
11. Anthony Brown, Oregon
Brown is a true wildcard on this list, having transferred from Boston College as a redshirt senior. But with the Pac-12 suspending the season, Brown’s BC tape might be the last we see of him before the Senior Bowl. It’s too bad because his potential is exciting; there’s just plenty more work to be done.
The 6-2, 220-pound Brown’s production over three seasons in Chestnut Hill was uneven, marred by injuries and inconsistency. He completed less than 55 percent of his passes in that time, throwing for 4,738 yards, 40 TDs and 20 INTs and rushing for 421 yards and four touchdowns. (Brown also caught three TDs, one each season.)
He was on pace for his best season in 2019 before suffering a torn ACL in the team’s sixth game. Interestingly, Brown wasn’t guaranteed to with the Ducks’ starting job, so in a strange way, missing this season might not hurt him.
But with Brown’s athleticism, easy throwing motion, nice arm talent, solid poise and big hands, someone is sure to roll the dice on him.
12. Levi Lewis, Louisiana
If you like sleepers, Lewis might be your guy. The lefty is a skilled runner and scrambler, but his seismic leap as a passer last season was an eye-opener. He only stands 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds but unleashed some Michael Vick-like throws with easy flicks of his wrist in 2019.
Lewis also is careful with the football, throwing only four INTs last season and seven in his career (on 491 pass attempts). The Ragin’ Cajuns’ offense was built around the run game of Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell, developing play-action possibilities galore off of that.
Lewis must take another step in his development. Will he get the chance this season? The Sun Belt remains in limbo, but going forth could offer Lewis a chance to duel with Iowa State and Brock Purdy in the season opener.
Being lefty and undersized will limit Lewis’ mass appeal. But his intriguing skill set warrants a longer look.
13. Jake Bentley, Utah
Bentley got sort of a raw deal, suffering a season-ending injury in the opener last year after starting for South Carolina for parts of the previous three seasons. He transferred to Utah this offseason then watched the Pac-12 nuke the fall campaign.
And though Bentley’s stock is quite cool among many right now, there is some talent to mine. He was a 4-star Rivals recruit in high school who made big strides in his junior season, with good tape against Ole Miss and Clemson in particular. And before last season, Bentley won the prestigious Manning Camp Challenge in 2019, beating out the likes of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Bentley also has good size (6-4, 220) and has football in his DNA, with his father a coach and two brothers who played college ball. He’s a bit of a reclamation project but is a name to keep in the back of your mind.
14. Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
We haven’t done a deep dive yet on Thompson, but the 6-2, 210-pound dual-threat QB has some interesting qualities. He’s best operating outside the pocket and allowing his legs to make things happen. The Wildcats ran a lot of pro-style concepts last season but built in elements to take advantage of his scrambling skill and read-option prowess.
Am I convinced he’s an NFL passer right now? No, and he’s a player who could use another season of passing development, as the Big 12 mulls its fall plans. Thompson uncorks some nice deep balls but must show he can face pressure in the pocket and go through progressions better.
15. Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State
Cooper was once a top-250 prospect coming out of high school, signing with Clemson and backing up Kelly Bryant in 2017, completing 25-of-41 passes for 256 yards with two TDs (including some solid throws against Syracuse and The Citadel).
But with the QB deck stacked against him at Clemson, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Cooper dropped down to the FCS level and played well the past two seasons. In 2019, he completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 3,404 yards, 28 TDs and 12 interceptions. (He also ran for 320 yards and six TDs.)
Right now, JSU is still scheduled to play Florida State in a game that could help vault Cooper’s name back into the spotlight if it happens and he plays well. He has a standout target in TE Trae Berry and possesses enough intriguing run-pass skill to keep an eye on.
16. Brandon Peters, Illinois
Not everyone is a fan of Peters’ skill set, but the former top recruit and Michigan transfer has helped reboot his career and the Illini program with his toughness and effectiveness. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Peters has an ideal build for the position, and he will surprise opponents with his escapability amid pressure from within the pocket.
But with a real limit to his development to this point, not yet patiently working through his progressions or displaying a more advanced level of reading defenses and making decisions amid the fire, we need to see a bit more.
Sadly, with the Big Ten on ice this fall, Peters’ chance will have to come elsewhere — at the Senior Bowl or perhaps one of the other all-star games.
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