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Tanner Lee’s leaving early for the NFL, which actually might make more sense than staying in college

If his size and arm can get him into an NFL camp, that’s better than playing backup or transferring again, right?

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee surprised parts of the college football world by declaring he’ll forgo his final year of college eligibility and head to the NFL draft:

This might be surprising because Lee wasn’t a great college quarterback.

How much of this was Lee’s fault is up for debate, but the stats don’t lie. At Nebraska and Tulane, Lee never completed 60 percent of his passes in a season, topping out at 57.5 percent this season. More importantly, Lee threw 16 interceptions, more than any quarterback in the Power 5 and only behind Central Michigan’s Shane Morris nationally, who threw 17. And that’s hardly a single season aberration either, since Lee tossed 14 picks for Tulane in 2014 and 37 over his three-year college career. That’s a lot of turnovers!

Lee’s teams didn’t win very much either. Nebraska finished an embarrassing 4-8 this year, with a loss to Northern Illinois and complete blowouts at the hands of Minnesota and Iowa. Tulane also struggled, going 5-14 over two seasons when Lee started.

But on the other hand, scouts also really liked Tanner Lee!

Lee has NFL size (he’s 6’4, 220) and has a strong arm. And despite his performance last season, there are NFL-type people who really like him. Or at least, they did:

And here’s what Patrick Woo, a scout for the Senior Bowl, said after watching Lee at the Manning Passing Academy:

“[Louisville QB] Lamar Jackson, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold are great, but Tanner Lee was my favorite guy ... He had a really impressive spring this spring. He’s a big body, and has a strong arm. A really, really strong arm.”

If you squint, maybe you can talk yourself into Lee’s intangibles and arm strength and decide his turnover problems were something your coaches can fix.

Nebraska has a completely new coaching staff this year too, which changes things.

Sure, maybe another year of college without quite as many turnovers would help Lee, but Nebraska just replaced head coach Mike Riley with UCF headman Scott Frost, who will be bringing in an entirely new offensive system — one that is going to put a premium on QB mobility and likely less of one on a downfield passing attack. That doesn’t play into Lee’s strengths, and if he went back to Nebraska and lost his starting job or struggled again, his professional prospects could look even worse:

So yeah, getting a jump on a professional career seems defensible!

Sure, Lee could try to transfer to a MAC or Sun Belt program and try to win the starting job, hoping that big passing numbers at a smaller program could repair his image. Or he could devote himself to football full time and try to make some actual money. Maybe his potential shines through in workouts, he finds the right NFL staff, and he sticks around the league for a while. Or maybe he goes to the CFL and at least makes a paycheck.

Look, Trevor Siemian is an NFL quarterback. In the right situation, maybe you don’t need to have been a productive and efficient college QB. Anything is possible!