The top three quarterbacks selected in the 2017 NFL Draft are in the news for very different reasons these days.
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 in 2017 out of Texas Tech) is seen as the model for all others, a young riser who could rewrite the NFL record books. Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky (No. 2 out of North Carolina) is at a crossroads, with his team furiously trying to find a passer this offseason and his future with the Bears in doubt. Houston’s Deshaun Watson (No. 12, from Clemson) is seen as one of the most gifted young quarterbacks in the game, but his days with the Texans may be numbered.
This week in the Best Player Available Podcast, I had the chance to talk to former Bills GM Doug Whaley, who held the No. 27 pick in that draft that year. He knew there was very little chance any of the three would slide to Buffalo, but he and his staff had done extensive work on all three. I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t ask how the Bills saw each of them. Here’s Doug’s comments on each of them.
On Patrick Mahomes: “Now let’s think about it. Name one other quarterback that comes out of that Air Raid system that has had success. When you look at him, did he put his team on his back and carry them to a highly successful season? I think he won eight games the last year. We won’t even talk about the coach that had Kyler Murray, Mahomes and Baker Mayfield and never won over eight games. So, you had the system, the lack of really good success, the lack of the ability to put the team on his back and carry them to a successful season . . . and then, he had some gunslinger in him, and could that translate to the NFL? So there were some dings on him. Now, everybody says . . . I talked to Jim Monos (years later), who was our Director of Player Personnel at the time, ‘we passed on Michael Jordan.’ Absolutely. But that does not give credit enough to the plan Kansas City had for him. Do I think Mahomes could be as good as he is today (in another system)? Yes. Do I think it could have happened as quickly in another situation? That’s the million dollar question. If he goes somewhere else, does he develop as quickly as he did in Kansas City? I think a lot of people are not crediting Kansas City’s plan for him and giving more credit to Mahomes as a player. And I’m not knocking his talent and his skill at all. Let me make that clear. He was a talented, skilled player. But he went to an unbelievable situation to accelerate his maturation as a quarterback. . . If you look at it, look at Andy Reid’s offense, and how it has changed since Mahomes took over. Not the same offense he had with Donovan McNabb. Not the same offense he had with Alex Smith. So there’s that part of it — ‘sit behind Alex and learn how to be a pro first.’ And there’s not other quarterback that . . . you can debate (Smith’s) skill level, but his preparation and his attacking the profession as a quarterback . . . Alex Smith, (there could be) no better mentor. He got that piece. Then you have a head coach and an offensive staff that say, ‘let’s stop making this quarterback fit to what we want to do? Why don’t we fit our scheme to what he can do best? All of that plays into it, so you have to tip your cap to Andy Reid and the plan they had.”
On Mitch Trubisky: “Where we really struggled was that, if he was gonna be that high of a pick, and he only started one year, it wasn’t like he was sitting behind a first-round pick, so why wasn’t he able to elevate his game to take over that starting position earlier in his career? So that was a red flag. And then, when you sat down with him . . . he (didn’t) have that boisterous ‘it factor’ that when you’re around those QBs that are ultimate leaders, guys that raise everybody else around them to another level, where they look him and like, I have to be on point because I know he’s on point. That didn’t come through. Those were the two major things. All the stuff on the field, we said, ‘OK, he’s got something to work with. He does have an upside.’ But you have to look at the total resume, and there were some very big question marks that in our thought processes didn’t warrant (being picked) as high as he got picked. We had him probably in the second round. That’s what we thought. As a second-round pick, we would have loved him. . . But I can’t trash the Bears. Ryan Pace is still employed and I’m not (laughs).”
On Deshaun Watson: “The biggest struggle we had with Deshaun Watson, and if you look at his stats, he had 17 picks his last year, but what was more alarming than the number of picks, was the number of picks in the red zone. That’s where we struggled with him a lot, and you can throw picks, but throwing picks in red zone are momentum -changers, game-changers. Those are . . . possibly 14-point swings that can happen. If you throw a pick and they score, that’s a possible seven that you had, plus the seven that they made, so those 14-point swings . . . those are sometimes tough to overcome. That’s why we struggled with him. And we had him at the bottom of the first/top of the second. But that was the biggest knock that we had on him. (His championship-level experience) is why we had him at the bottom of the first/early second. We obviously had him over Trubisky, but (the red zone interceptions) was that red flag. . . Can he overcome those? Those are those things that, in our opinion, you start trying too hard to make that play, and that’s that double-edged sword. . . How do you curb it where it stops the bad plays but you keep it for the good plays? That was tricky. So that was one of those things that we were concerned about.”
Doug is exceptionally well-spoken and has interesting things to say about the profession of scouting as well as what he thought about several players in the draft that year, including Leonard Fournette, Marshon Lattimore, Myles Garrett and several others. If you’ve already tuned in to former Titans executive Blake Beddingfield (Episode 1) and former 49ers scout Bob Morris (Episode 2), you know these are incredible opportunities to look behind the curtain. I hope you’ll tune in.