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Packers draft preview: Thompson may consider developmental QB in later rounds

May 4, 2014
 
Green Bay Packers 2014 draft preview: Quarterbacks
Green Bay Packers 2014 draft preview: Quarterbacks: Pete Dougherty and Weston Hodkiewicz look at the quarterback prospects for the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL draft. (May 4, 2014)
With quarterback Matt Flynn, right, only signed to a one-year deal and Scott Tolzien, center, going through his first quarterback school with coach Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers may seek another raw prospect to develop into a backup role to Aaron Rodgers. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media

Rising stock: Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage has hardly played because of two transfers, but he has the makings of a big, prototypical pocket passer and could get drafted as high as the early second round.
Falling stock: Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater looked like a potential top-five pick for much of last season, but the closer scouts looked, the more physical limitations they found. He now is looking more like a second-rounder.
Sleeper: Garrett Gilbert was a five-star recruit who was a turnover machine in three years at Texas, then transferred to SMU, where under coach June Jones he got back on the NFL’s radar with a 94.7 NFL passer rating (21 touchdown passes, seven interceptions) last season.

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The Green Bay Packers are nowhere near beginning their search for 30-year-old Aaron Rodgers’ successor at quarterback.

But they have to plan for possibly replacing Matt Flynn as their No. 2 after he signed only a one-year contract this offseason. To that end, they have one possibility on their roster in Scott Tolzien, who is taking his first run through coach Mike McCarthy’s quarterbacks school this spring.

But McCarthy also has said on multiple occasions he’d like a developmental rookie in training camp as another option. That suggests Thompson at least will be considering using a later-round draft pick on a quarterback for only the third time since Rodgers became the starter in 2008 — the others were Flynn in the seventh round in ’08, and B.J. Coleman in the seventh round in ’12.

2014 draft: Top quarterbacks

Later-round and undrafted quarterbacks always come with a major deficiency, and often more than one. The trick is finding the compensatory skills that will allow them to develop into a viable NFL backup.

When asked what he looks for in late-round, backup-type prospects, one NFL scout with a quarterback background offered this: “Get something that an NFL starter would have. You’re not going to get it all, but get something that’s NFL caliber about him. Like Kansas City did with the guy from Tennessee last year (i.e., undrafted rookie Tyler Bray), that’s a top NFL arm. That’s the kind of guy you want to work with.”

This year’s draft probably has nine or 10 quarterbacks who will be selected in the first four rounds. Thompson has many more pressing needs, so chances are he’ll wait until at least the fifth round to draft a quarterback, if he takes one at all. He also might try the undrafted rookie pool.

In interviews with several NFL scouts, two names of interesting developmental-type backups likely to go in the final three rounds kept coming up: South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Ball State’s Keith Wenning. One scout, whose team isn’t in the market for a quarterback, felt strongly about a dark horse who probably won’t be drafted, Dustin Vaughan of West Texas A&M.

“The Ball State guy certainly has some redeeming quality,” the aforementioned scout said. “I like the guys that react naturally to the defense, that can see down field and feel around them without having to look right at the rush. Just natural guys that have good instincts to them, just slide, move, create time and space because they feel the rush.”

Wenning has OK size (6-feet-258, 215 pounds) for a quarterback prospect, and he’s played a lot of football. He became a starter early in his freshman season, had a 27-20 record and put up a 91.6 career NFL rating, including 107.7 last season.

His starter-like assets are intangibles such as competitiveness and intelligence. But his arm strength is average and his tested athleticism (5.01-second 40, 28-inch vertical jump) is slightly below average. According to Tony Villiotti of NationalFootballPost.com, from 1999 through 2013, the average 40 time for a quarterback at the NFL scouting combine is 4.83 seconds, and the average vertical is 31 inches.

“(Wenning) may have a chance to be a backup if he’s tough enough,” another scout said. “Not real quick with the ball, but he’s got good football smarts. It’s just such a low level (in the Mid-American Conference) you wonder how it transfers. It’s not like he was a high-end guy from the MAC. He was a pretty good player in the MAC, did some decent things, but it’s not like he was (Chad) Pennington, who dominated, or (Ben) Roethlisberger, from the MAC.”

Shaw played at the highest level of college football, the Southeastern Conference, and had a 27-5 record as a starter. He’s short (6-038), a good athlete (4.65-second 40, 34-inch vertical), is as tough as they come, and showed only average arm talent playing in a Steve Spurrier short-passing offensive system that hasn’t produced quality NFL quarterbacks.

One scout said he attended the South Carolina-Missouri game last season and was blown away when Shaw, who was a pregame scratch because of MCL and LCL sprains, talked his way into the game with South Carolina struggling and led a comeback win.

“Athletic, gritty, tough, throwback quarterback,” the scout said. “Not very tall. He can run. He can make all the passes. I think he had (24) touchdowns and one interception (last season). The guy’s a gutsy performer, competitive.”

Another scout said that Vaughan’s performance in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl postseason showcase for lower-rated draft prospects convinced him to take an especially close look at the Division II prospect. He said Vaughan played on par with Shaw all week.

Vaughan had a 31-8 career record as a starter and a 110.4 rating last season. He has great size (6-478, 235 pounds), wasn’t quite an average physical tester (4.97-second 40, 29-inch vertical) and has small hands (878 inches).

The hand size probably is the biggest issue. Teams generally want their quarterbacks’ hands to measure at least 9½ inches, mainly for ball security but also to generate more spin on the ball to cut through strong winds.

“His feet are as good as any of these quarterbacks in the top 10,” the scout said. “And he slings the ball as good as any of these guys. What’s going to ding him, his hand is 878. He spins a hell of a ball. If teams do their homework, that’s the guy. If you’re going to take a flier on a sixth, seventh round, free agent, he’s the guy.”

— Pdougher@pressgazette media.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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