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2017 NFL combine quarterback scouting notes

The drills can only provide so much intel, but the NFL combine can make or break a quarterback's draft stock. How did this year's class fare in Indy?

INDIANAPOLIS — This is what Houston coach Bill O’Brien had to say about the combine’s QB drills: “For me personally, the most important parts of the combine are the interviews at night and the medical reports.”

So... yea.

The quarterback workouts hardly count as a be-all, end-all for prospects at the game’s most important position. They do have their value, if kept in perspective, though.

How’d it go Saturday? A recap of how the top prospects fared, plus notes on a couple others who may have helped themselves a bit:

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Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson should not be a team’s No. 1 QB because of how he performed Saturday. If he was in that spot (or close to that spot), though, his sharp effort during the quarterback workout should lock him in there.

In large part due to his extensive experience, Watson will be viewed—and deserves to be viewed—as the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class. The combine atmosphere is an odd one: high stakes, but in a mostly empty stadium with no defense on the field and throwing to unfamiliar receivers. It can rattle prospects. No problems there for Watson.

His footwork was clean, which is really the main thing scouts and coaches track here, especially given how many of these quarterbacks are coming from shotgun-heavy/spread systems. Can they handle 3-, 5- and 7-step drops? Watson did, getting his passes out in rhythm. He also ran 40 times of 4.68 and 4.67, right with Patrick Mahomes and Joshua Dobbs—plenty fast enough to help Watson’s claim as an athletic QB.

The workout was almost all positives for Watson.

Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina
Yes, apparently we are going by Mitchell now instead of Mitch, per the QB’s request. He can call himself whatever he wants if he turns out to be a franchise-changing quarterback. And Saturday was a strong showing for him, too.

He was in the second group of the day, alongside Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Like Watson, his footwork was impressive... and that’s a big deal for Trubisky, because his footwork tended to be all over the map as a college QB.

Obviously, all of these prospects are working on their games between when their college seasons end and when they arrive in Indianapolis. If there is an area in which they need work, what NFL personnel want to see are those improvements occurring naturally. When a player is thinking too much about what he has to do, it shows. (This happened to Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans a bit Saturday.) Trubisky showed none of that choppiness.

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Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Even against air (i.e. no defense), Mahomes is a lot of fun to watch. He can sling the ball with what looks like minimal effort, the way you’d skip a pebble across a pond. When his receivers were running go routes, Mahomes was flicking the ball 50-plus yards with ease.

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It’s a little unorthodox, as is the majority of his game—the challenge will be in figuring out if his unique style is translatable to the next level or a complete Achilles’ heel. Mahomes’ baseball background (his dad, Pat, was an MLB pitcher) has given him an arm motion that doesn’t match the over-the-top style other prospects try to harness. Mahomes’ is more of a sidearm or 3/4 delivery. It works. Or, at least, has so far.

Mahomes also may have benefited slightly from the alphabetical order of this year’s QB crop. He followed Colorado’s Sefo Liufau in drills, and the arm strength gap between Liufau and Mahomes is striking, in Mahomes’ favor.

His 6’ 2” height measurement earlier this week and 4.8 40 time might be minor issues, but despite his athleticism he’s not a dual-threat QB. He uses his escapability to set up throws, rather than scrambles.

Brad Kaaya, Miami
The Saturday workout started like gangbusters for Kaaya, then progressively faded. Still, all in all, it was a strong morning for the Miami QB, who was part of the first group on the field.

What really works in Kaaya’s favor, and what showed up in workouts, is that he is mechanical in his drops and footwork. No matter the depth of drop, Kaaya is pinpoint in hitting his marks. His experience in a pro-style is an obvious advantage to him—look no further than the myriad coaches and GM who spoke this week of evaluating quarterbacks without that background.

Kaaya’s accuracy woes, combined with that lack of WR familiarity, caught up to him in later drills. He missed three straight out routes and was scattershot on curls. His arm’s also not up to the caliber of some others in this class, so his tendency to float passes stuck out a bit, too.

The clinical work from the pocket was a clear plus, though. It doesn’t mask the issues Kaaya had vs. pressure in college, but there is obviously a baseline from which to work.

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Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs started 35 games for Tennessee and participated in the Senior Bowl, so at some point the fact that he’s still such an enigma works against him. If he hasn’t taken those substantial, consistent strides by now, is he going to be able to do so in the NFL?

However, in a still-unsettled QB class, Dobbs could sneak up higher in the draft than most people expect, and it’s days like Saturday that show why.

Dobbs ran a 40 of 4.64, behind only Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight (4.54) among the QB group. And he was efficient with his motion at the top of his drops, hitting his spot and gunning it. On those drops, by the way: Dobbs’ huge strides took him back a good 1-2 yards deeper than the other QBs on the five-steps. That may not mean a whole lot, but a) such coverage could, in theory, leave him more pocket to step into, and b) he didn’t look clunky in those motions.

Dobbs is going to hear his name called at some point on draft weekend. Still hard to figure out exactly how early.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
This was a day that mostly worked to confirm everything already on the books on Kizer, for better or worse.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.84 seconds—that drill isn’t all that useful for QBs in general, but given that Kizer is a 6’ 3”, 233-pounder, that’s a good time. It was well right in line with last year’s group of Carson Wentz (4.77), Jared Goff (4.82) and Paxton Lynch (4.86). Kizer’s not a burner, but he moves well for his size. He had eight rushing TDs in 2016 and 10 in ’15.

So, no stunner from the 40. There also wasn’t anything unusual in his throwing drills, for better or worse. He can drive the ball deep and puts a lot zip on the ball; he’s inaccurate in intermediate windows and his footwork can be hit or miss. That all was there on the Lucas Oil Stadium field.