MOBILE, Ala. — The 2016 Senior Bowl featured the No. 2 overall selection Carson Wentz, and eventual rookie sensation Dak Prescott among the quarterbacks. It would be a surprise if the passers on the 2017 roster produced nearly as much fanfare.
While the six quarterbacks who will perform for NFL talent evaluators at the 2017 Senior Bowl have plenty of experience under center, it’s an unheralded group that doesn’t feature several of the most highly-touted passers of the draft class — including Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer.
“Last year, we invited eight quarterbacks and ultimately 15 were chosen in the draft,” Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage said on Monday. “It was a very deep class. This year there’s probably more debate about who really is the best quarterback and how they really shake out.”
While Watson was one of the few juniors invited to the 2017 Senior Bowl, the Clemson quarterback declined even after Savage asked the Cleveland Browns coaching staff to reach out to him about the merits of playing in the game.
Cleveland’s South Team roster will instead have Davis Webb of California, Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee, and Antonio Pipkin of Division II’s Tiffin University. The North Team — coached by the Chicago Bears — will have Nate Peterman of Pittsburgh, Sefo Liufau of Colorado, and C.J. Beathard of Iowa.
But without the big name quarterbacks, Savage singled out Peterman and Webb as players who could shine during the week. But he also said the quarterback position is the most difficult to scout in football and has a tendency to be unpredictable.
“For some of these quarterbacks it’s a quantum leap to go from what they’ve been doing in high school and college,” Savage said. “They’re in the shotgun, their eyes are never off the defense, there’s very little play action pass, they almost have pre-snap, predetermined reads with where to go with the ball. All of a sudden they’re in a pro system, they’re having to actually call plays in the huddle, go under center, turn their back to the line, play action fake — now the coverage moves and, on top of that, the guys on the other side are pretty good, too.”
The stark contrast between the skill set necessary to run many college offenses and the one needed in the NFL can cause many quarterbacks to wilt. But it also can give the chance for overlooked quarterbacks to shine on a stage like the Senior Bowl.
“One of the reasons why quarterbacks that have come here over the last few years — guys like Sean Mannion, who ends up going in the third round; Cody Kessler, he ends up going in the third round — those were seen as probably day three picks,” Savage said. “But they came here and they showed a capacity to communicate in the huddle, show what they can do in the huddle in terms of taking the snap from under center, and then makes the throws into tight coverage.”
While the hunt for the next Prescott will be a common theme during the week in Mobile, Ala., the more likely scenario is that there will be a hunt for the next Kessler or Mannion: Underwhelming prospects who excelled under NFL coaching and clawed their way into becoming an early draft selection.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Peterman said Monday. “To get around the coaches and get on the field with them and play real football. It’s the only opportunity like it in this process.”
While SB Nation’s Dan Kadar projected three quarterbacks to be selected in the top 10 of his latest mock draft, none of the six playing in the Senior Bowl are projected to go in the first round. That means a big opportunity is on the table for six prospects with a chance to steal the show in Mobile.