Yet again, a Delaware quarterback brings intrigue to the NFL draft
His story is a familiar one. A former backup quarterback at a Division I school in Pennsylvania, he loses a preseason competition for the team's starting job and winds up later transferring to Division I-AA power Delaware, where he leads the Blue Hens to a national championship game appearance as a senior.
But Pat Devlin isn't Joe Flacco, even if the story sounds eerily similar. And he won't be selected in the second half of the first round in the NFL Draft, as Flacco was by Baltimore three years ago this month. Devlin's journey from Penn State to Delaware to NFL prospect certainly mirrors Flacco's path from Pittsburgh to Delaware and the NFL, but the comparison breaks down a bit after that.
The instant NFL stardom that Flacco found with the Ravens in 2008 isn't likely to be Devlin's rookie experience. He won't be holding up a jersey at any point during draft weekend in New York City, and he isn't likely to enter anyone's training camp amid questions of whether he can interject himself into his team's starting quarterback situation. Considered a fourth- or fifth-round prospect whose potential may take some time to develop, Devlin probably won't be heard from much in 2011, but it still might be wise to remember his name.
NFL teams draft 12 to 13 quarterbacks per year these days, and the attrition rate is high for those prospects taken in the mid to late rounds. For every Marc Bulger (sixth round 2000), David Garrard (fourth round 2002) or Kyle Orton (fourth round 2005) who have managed to carve out nice NFL careers, there are plenty of Adrian McPhersons, Colt Brennans or Andre Woodsons who never cut it after hearing their name called on draft weekend.
We don't yet know where Devlin will wind up in the NFL, but there are a number of teams that seem intrigued with his potential. At least five have worked him out privately in recent weeks, a list that I'm told includes New England and Kansas City, and the Jets and Giants also seem to be paying him particularly close attention.
Eleven NFL clubs reportedly attended Delaware's pro day workout last month, and another team for whom Devlin has made the radar screen is New Orleans, according to a source. None of the listed teams have obvious starting quarterback issues, but all might be on the lookout for a promising young backup to groom.
Since 2000, when the Patriots took a sixth-round flyer on a skinny, part-time starter from the University of Michigan, Tom Brady has been the gold standard when it comes to hitting on a mid- to late-round quarterback pick.
Devlin's game actually has drawn comparisons to Brady circa 2000 by some league sources, when scouts saw a prospect with slightly above average arm strength and decent accuracy, but missed on detecting how much Brady's intelligence, competitiveness, poise and leadership would add to the overall equation in his future Hall of Fame career. Those intangibles have some teams thinking Devlin is a prospect worth investigating.
"He's a really intelligent kid,'' NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Devlin in the days leading up to February's NFL scouting combine. "He understands pass protections. He knows where and when to throw the football. He's going to be really good in the interviews. He's going to look you in the eye. He's going to spit out the protections and numbers, and he gets the game of football.''
Though he shared a similar collegiate career path with Flacco, and has qualities that have been likened to Brady's, Devlin's pre-draft, on-field work hasn't been exceptional. Though he was extremely precise with his throwing at Delaware, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Devlin struggled at times with his accuracy in the East-West All-Star game, and had some of the same issues during his pro day workout.
But his collegiate statistics tell a different story. After losing a head-to-head competition at starting quarterback with Daryll Clark at Penn State in 2008, Devlin transferred to Delaware and wound up putting up two outstanding seasons. As a senior last fall, he led the nation in completion percentage (68.0), while throwing for 3,032 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions for a Delaware team that went 12-3 and lost 20-19 to Eastern Washington in the final seconds of the FCS national championship game.
All told, Devlin won 18 games at Delaware, throwing for 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Scouts like his NFL-ready size and build, his classic over-the-top delivery and quick release, and his ability to see the entire field and challenge the defense with throws to every part of it. Though he played in mostly a spread offense at Delaware, his experience under center is recent and scouts seem convinced he can handle running a pro-style offense.
"My biggest thing is my accuracy,'' Devlin said this week, by phone. "If your offense can hold onto the ball, the better your team will be. I think I proved that part of my game is there with my stats this year. I didn't throw many interceptions at all, and that was a big reason why our offense was able to be successful. Accuracy is a huge factor for quarterbacks in the NFL.''
Quarterbacks who excel at smaller schools naturally have to fight harder to make it onto an NFL team's draft board, but Devlin's background at Penn State (where he once helped the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State in relief of Clark) and Flacco's success coming out of Delaware gave scouts plenty of reason to give his game a long look. That's partly why Devlin left Happy Valley and never looked back in regret.
"The NFL reaches far and wide and they really do a great job assessing talent,'' Devlin said. "If you're good enough, they'll find you. That wasn't really a huge concern of mine going to Delaware. I feel like when I get my shot, I've been successful and I've been a winner. So I feel confident in my abilities heading to the next level.''
The Flacco comparisons aren't all Devlin has had to deal with. He's from the same county in eastern Pennsylvania (Chester) as Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan, the third-year veteran who was drafted in the first round the same year as Flacco. Ryan and Devlin are friends, and a league source noted to me that some of that same otherworldly confidence and poise that Ryan (i.e. "Matty Ice'') is known for has also been detected in Devlin's game.
"I feel like you can put me up against any other [quarterback] and I may not be the tallest guy, I may not be able to throw the ball 80 yards, or whatever [Ryan] Mallett claims he can throw it, but I'm confident in my abilities to lead a team down the field and score,'' Devlin said. "And that's basically what it comes down to when you're talking about successful quarterbacks. That's how you're measured.''
Who knows when or where Devlin's chance in the NFL will come? It could be in year two of his career due to an injured starter, like Brady's ascension in 2001 in New England, or maybe it'll entail a longer wait, like those required by Bulger, Garrard or even 2005 seventh-round pick Matt Cassel. All that matter is whether he'll be ready when it arrives.
"I just want to get to a team and start showing people what I can do, and where I fit in,'' Devlin said. "You've got to get a coach to fall in love with you and you've got to convince a team to take a chance on you. But I'm ready to do that. Coming from a smaller school, you know there are going to be questions about who you were playing against, and what all you can do. But I feel like I've proven I belong, both on the field and in the film room. When I get the opportunity, I show people what I'm about.''