News & Analysis

Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 quarterback prospects

STARKVILLE MS -OCTOBER 17: Quarterback Dak Prescott #15 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks to throw a pass during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

In preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, PFF's team of analysts has spent the past few months putting together our overall draft board and positional prospect rankings.

In doing so, PFF has identified players at each position who qualify as buyer-beware prospects, based on where these players are showing up on most evaluators' draft boards. Here are three such prospects among this year's quarterback class.

[Editor's note: At this point, enough has been written about Christian Hackenberg to exclude him from our list. See Senior Analyst Sam Monson's analysis on the Penn State QB here.]

1. Connor Cook, Michigan State

No quarterback in this class made as many highlight-reel throws as Connor Cook in 2015. Cook was this classes’ most accurate passer down the field, completing 59.4 percent of deep targets. Locating his receivers between zones, as well as dropping touch passes into the bucket, are two of Cook’s greatest strengths. Those outstanding passes, though, are offset by the glaring mental errors that are a feature of his game. Cook struggles to read coverages, and often seems to lose sight of underneath coverage defenders, resulting in a number of turnovers. Defenders took the football away on seven of Cook’s passes last season, and he had another seven potential interceptions dropped. It’s not clear if Michigan State's former quarterback can rectify the disastrous mistakes that plagued his 2015 season.

Decision-making off the field is also a reasonable criticism leveled at Cook. His reluctance to compete at the Senior Bowl is a major red flag. Either he was afraid of being exposed against top competition, or he lacks the self-awareness to recognize the need to prove he can overcome his flaws. Couple the gun-slinging attitude with inconsistent accuracy—and an indifferent performance under pressure—and Cook’s outlook begins to appear bleak. Among draft-eligible QBs, he posted the fourth-worst overall accuracy percentage in 2015, as well as the fourth-worst accuracy percentage when under pressure. Ultimately, the good traits simply don’t outweigh the concerns with Connor Cook’s projection.

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

The third-round talk surrounding Dak Prescott shows no signs of abating. Prescott’s skill-set, however, makes him a more realistic Day 3 target. He needs to improve his location, in particular, struggling to beat tight coverage at every level of the defense. Prescott can hit open receivers, but fails to show the kind of precision to complete tough throws into coverage. The game-manager label might suit Prescott, because he fails to stand out in any area. While he is a solid enough signal-caller, he doesn’t flash outstanding potential. Although the numbers appear promising, Prescott is far from the most effective quarterback under pressure. He recorded a -7.0 grade when disrupted in the pocket in 2015 (0.0 is considered average), despite throwing five touchdowns to just one pick.

It may have seemed as if Prescott improved at protecting the ball in his senior season—he had just five picks in his final year at Mississippi State—but he benefitted from 11 drops from defenders to maintain respectable numbers. Along with the other quarterbacks in this piece, Prescott’s decision-making isn’t always consistent. His tapes against Ole Miss and Alabama are ugly. When games started to drift away from Prescott, he was rarely capable of changing the momentum back in his teams’ favor. After an underwhelming Senior Bowl, Prescott should only be considered towards the end of the draft.

3. Cardale Jones, Ohio State

Leading the Buckeyes through the playoffs to a National Championship in 2015 should have been the perfect springboard for Jones’ career as the Buckeyes' starter. Instead, he was benched for J.T. Barrett after a string of underwhelming performances in which he graded as our 39th (out of 45) draft-eligible quarterback. Jones looks every part an NFL passer, but failed to perform anywhere close to his potential. The decision to declare after such a poor junior year seems ill-advised for such an inexperienced signal-caller; he’s only attempted 268 passes in his college career.

The team that drafts Jones will have to build him from the ground up. He has plenty of velocity, but that’s irrelevant if he can’t throw on target. Passes from Jones tend to miss their mark. He struggles throwing catchable passes on horizontal routes, in particular, and frequently fails to put enough air on his deep balls. Seeing the field clearly is another issue for Jones. Decision-making was one of the major reasons the Buckeyes went with Barrett. Jones was picked off five times, and had another couple of dreadful decisions dropped. Taking a quarterback with plenty of physical tools, but little genuine passing quality, is reasonable in the late rounds. The third-round chatter for Jones, however, simply doesn't make sense given what we've seen from his time at Ohio State.

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