With a league that spends untold millions of dollars scouting college prospects for up to five years before they become professionals, you might be surprised to learn of a single stone unturned. Yet it’s happening on a consistent basis across the NFL, with no end in sight: Some of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in major college football who have questions about the next level are not getting opportunities to play positions they could be better suited for in the pros.
Consider Chad Kelly, nephew of NFL legend Jim Kelly. Chad didn’t inherit the passing chops of his famous uncle, but in his final two seasons at Ole Miss he ran for 841 yards and 15 touchdowns on 187 carries. Surely the fleet-footed, 6'2", 225-pound bruiser could have made a career as an H-back in the constantly-evolving NFL. Yet Kelly was never asked to switch positions, or to work out at a different position during the NFL scouting combine in 2017.
Instead, he was relegated to his longtime position and drafted by the Broncos with the final pick of the seventh round last year. He spent the 2017 season sidelined as he recovered from wrist surgery.
Cases like Kelly’s raise the question: Is the NFL missing out on a veritable gold mine of untapped talent? Just imagine if Jeff Driskel, the fastest quarterback at the 2016 combine, had been asked to try something new. His 4.56 40-yard dash and 122-inch broad jump would have made him the fastest tight end at the combine and the second-longest leaper.
Somehow the 6'4", 235-pound dual-threat quarterback, who transferred to Louisiana Tech after struggling with turnovers and failing to hold down the starting quarterback job at Florida, was not asked to perform with the tight ends at his combine. If he had, he might have done better than being drafted in the sixth round and not seeing the field in two seasons.
It’s difficult to find an NFL draft class that doesn’t include at least one outstanding athlete who was overlooked for a switch from quarterback to a position that might have offered better opportunities at the next level. Before Kelly and Driskel, there was Connor Shaw, the mobile passer out of South Carolina who ran a 4.66 at the 2014 combine and had a 34-inch vertical jump, numbers on par with fellow 2014 prospects Jarvis Landry and Willie Snead, wide receivers and future pros. But Shaw never caught passes at the combine and went undrafted, signing with the Browns after the draft.
Despite passing for fewer yards in 2013 than 59 other FBS quarterbacks, Shaw was an intriguing quarterback prospect on intangibles alone. He was described as a “workaholic, gym rat” in Nolan Nawrocki’s NFL.com prospect profile that year. Additionally, Nawrocki wrote, Shaw was “extremely determined. Vocal presence. Smart and instinctive Plays through pain... carries a calm, confident, poised field presence. Mentally and physically tough.”
He would soon earn an opportunity to start in Cleveland, after injuries to Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer, passing for 177 yards and an interception in the 2014 season finale. Shaw didn’t take another NFL snap, but he did earn more than $1.5 million in four seasons with the Browns and Bears before retiring to join the coaching staff at Furman University in South Carolina.
Lately, it seems the NFL is beginning to see the error of its ways; at the 2018 combine, former Louisville quarterback Jackson was asked by multiple teams if he’d be interested in working out at wide receiver after passing for more than 9,000 yards in three college seasons and earning the Heisman Trophy as a QB after the 2016 season.
Hopefully, in the future, opportunities to play new positions are extended to more and more quarterbacks with the requisite athleticism.
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