Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 quarterback prospects

John Breitenbach identifies three high-profile QB prospects with plenty of question marks surrounding their play.

| 8 months ago
(Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)

Buyer-beware when drafting these 3 quarterback prospects


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.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • steff

    cook’s accuracy % is skewed by his high % of pass attempts beyond 20 yards vs other qb’s. my understanding is that this website is good at diving into the numbers but not the case here. also, no mention he was injured the last few games of the season that contributed to his performance and decision not to attend the senior bowl and rest his shoulder for the combine and pro days. the suggestion that he was afraid is childish–he beat 5 of the top 10 teams. very poorly researched article. read/watch gruden’s take of cook at his qb camp episode. i’ll take gruden’s evaluation over this blog writer anytime.

    • Steven

      Lol Cook sucks, not even a captian. End of story. And let’s not forget… There biggest win came without Cook under center hahahah, he ain’t shit.

      • steff

        yep, he terrible leading his team to a top 6 ranking 3 straight years and

        • 2015 JOHNNY UNITAS GOLDEN ARM AWARD WINNER

        • 2015 BIG TEN QUARTERBACK OF THE YEAR

        • 2015 FIRST-TEAM ALL-BIG TEN

        • THREE-YEAR STARTER HAD A 34-5 (.872) CAREER RECORD

        • Steven

          Hahaha really well then why doesn’t Kellen Moore start or Colt McCoy Hahah that is the most irrelevant shit I’ve heard. And again… Kellen Moore end of story but sure if you think he’ll be anything in the league than have at it. Idiot.

          • steff

            having a very difficult time deciding if you are a better wordsmith or analyst…

          • YouRspoiled

            You’re kind of a twat aren’t you Steven? Stick to tire repair and spare us your “analysis” and spelling errors. It’s “their” not “there”. Idiot.

      • Tim Edell

        Great analysis buddy

  • steff
  • John

    When did MVP of the Senior Bowl equal “underwhelming performance” for Dak Prescott. Who writes these articles? Could have found that little gem with a Siri search.

    • drewthorn

      I was also a little puzzled by that tidbit. I think with QB prospects, looking pretty trumps results. It’s probably why first round QBs are failing at an abysmal rate. A young Peyton Manning would be hard pressed to please the prevailing school of thought.

    • Tito Puente

      Not going to argue, and i’m not sure if this is what they meant.

      But i will say that by far the most important part of the Senior Bowl (and by far the most reps) are the practices.

      Prescott only threw 10 passes in the actual game, completing seven.

  • Chris

    PFF has suffered in quality since its expansion.

  • Tim Edell

    Cardale Jones= Logan Thomas

  • http://www.michaeltoebe.com Michael

    Not a Michigan State fan although I greatly respect their program. I find it very interesting that before the 2015 season, all draft previews I read by magazines, not scouts mind you, had Connor Cook as the 1/1 pick or very high.

    In one season, team excels and Cook is a bum?

    Only questioning why everyone loved him before and now he’s considered a train wreck?

    • steff

      michael, agree completely. all he did was lead his team to a big 10 championship (and according to gruden lead one of the greatest all time ncaa drives to win the game) and a berth into the championship playoffs. his numbers did drop a tad but if you watched any of the games, msu had no running game last year and his receivers were not able to get any separation so he had tight windows all season. as a result, he had to create plays and take some chances. i’m not saying he’s the best qb in the draft but you raise a good point. seems like all the talking heads pile on each other. we will see what the real analysts decide in a few weeks.

      • http://www.michaeltoebe.com Michael

        Good points Steff. Thank you for the MSU ’15 insight and the reminder that the draft will reveal how a team sees Cook.

        I think teams respect MSU coaching and the toughness of players.

        Not sure what Cook will become yet it seems analyis is highly mixed.

  • Kristen Jay

    I didn’t see Dak fail when being disrupted in the pocket during preseason. He threw a TD pass on a blitz and completed a pass in the direction of where the rush was coming from in another series.
    He also threw an on the money 65 yd TD pass and has looked poised and calm in the pocket.
    Either someone doesn’t know what they are talking about or maybe Dak Prescott has improved his play

  • bloozedaddy

    I’m sure they’d like to bury this article on Dak now. BWAH !!!! SUCKERS !!!! I love how they low-grade him under pressure and then say “even though he did throw 5 tds to 1 int”….uh…maybe you guys are forgetting what the point of football is ???? So many people completely whiffed on Dak…it sure is fun watch them look stupid doing it.

  • eusdart

    Considering how well Dak Prescott is doing coupled with how awful Jared Goff is (can’t even make it into games at MID-SEASON) JOHN BREITENBACH looks like you are absolutely clueless and should stop now before damaging the chances of other young athletes. Your “wild” speculations wrapped as something factual and credible does a disservice to the young men you smear. You should seek a different line of work or find another subject to write about (something you actually know about).

    • BeansNRice

      The entire nfl agreed….not just john breitenbach. What’s alarming is the group think…it’s protectionist at this point. Very similar to climate research. We “all agree” yet the data from models never pans out.

  • Pyrex

    Welp, can’t blame PFF for getting their entire projection wrong on Prescott. Everyone did. Turns out he was the best QB in the entire draft. Fascinating.

  • JJHLH

    It’s hard to believe this was written about the same player after watching Dak lead the Cowboys to 8-straight wins with his stellar play.

  • BeansNRice

    Amazing groupthink in nfl. Especially amazing considering how random qb outcomes are. The gap between elite college ball and the nfl is extremely small. That’s a main driver of the randomness…nobody will ever admit this.