Which quarterback will be the first taken in the NFL draft?
With just over a week remaining until the NFL draft, the quarterback class faces an almost unprecedented level of uncertainty.
Seldom has a pecking order at the position been so difficult to establish this deep into the process. A seeming lack of consensus about the top overall passer further clouds the outlook for not only the players involved, but also the rest of the first round.
Here's how we handicapped the top candidates to be the first quarterback off the board.
The front-runner: Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina
Despite just one year of experience as a starter, Trubisky has a consistency and polish that stand in stark contrast to many of his peers in this draft class. A well-rounded passer who has shown the ability to read the entire field, he stands as the most ready to be a Day 1 starter of any quarterback available. His deep passing leaves much to be desired, however, as he may be more caretaker than gunslinger.
For teams at the top of the draft in need of a stabilizing presence at quarterback, Trubisky fits the bill perhaps better than anyone else. An ESPN report indicated that the Cleveland Browns are still considering him with the No. 1 overall pick, and he likely would be an appealing option if still available when the team is up again with the 12th overall selection. But he could garner consideration from other QB-hungry teams — including perhaps the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills — before then.
The contender: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
If Watson is behind Trubisky in this race, it might not be by much. As the hero of Clemson's College Football Playoff championship run, Watson has a collegiate resume that can't be topped. He then bolstered his case at the NFL scouting combine with a workout that Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid called "unbelievable." Still, Watson's discomfort with sitting in the pocket and his erratic ball placement are significant areas of concern.
Whichever team drafts Watson will need to find a way to cater to his current skill set while teaching him to read the entire field and go through his progressions. Though Watson could still be taken ahead of Trubisky by a team like the Jets, those limitations could relegate him to being selected later.
The wild card: Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Once viewed as a distant fourth in this competition, Mahomes is in almost unfathomable spot now as a challenger for this honor. A live wire of a play maker, he has thrived with improvisational tendencies when things break down around him. Yet his devil-may-care playing style and maddening mechanics highlight the inherent risk of trusting him to operate within an NFL offense.
Mahomes may be most appealing to a team with an established veteran at starter, though he could also be an option for a more needy franchise like the Houston Texans. If no quarterback has been drafted when the Arizona Cardinals are put on the clock at No. 13, that could serve as his opening to take this title.
The long shot: DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Purely based on build and athleticism, Kizer would have a strong case to be the pre-eminent quarterback in this draft. At 6-4, 233 pounds with impressive arm strength and good mobility, he has shown the traits of a top pick when he's at his best. But his performances last year featured too many lapses in judgment and mechanics (58.7% completion rate), and now he's at risk of falling back in the pecking order (and could even be leapfrogged by Cal's Davis Webb).
In all likelihood, Kizer would need a draft-day stunner to be the first quarterback selected. He should garner more attention from teams looking for a potential successor to a veteran rather than ones looking for an immediate answer.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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