In Will Grier, the Panthers probably got the draft’s 3rd-best QB

For most of the run-up to this NFL Draft, Kyler Murray, and Dwayne Haskins were the field’s consensus top two quarterbacks.

And why not? Oklahoma’s Murray possesses ungodly athleticism, and Ohio State’s Haskins has the big frame and big arm to make a career QB evaluator drool. Murray just had one of the best college seasons of all time, beating Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in a historically good Heisman race. Haskins was the third man invited to the Heisman ceremony, because he had the best passing season in Big Ten history.

Otherwise, the class felt like a big jumble. Different evaluators liked different players as their QB3, with Duke’s Daniel Jones and Missouri’s Drew Lock getting attention.

But outside of Murray and Haskins, I don’t think any has as good a chance to be a quality pro QB as the fifth QB picked, West Virginia’s Will Grier, whom the Panthers picked 100th overall, just before the end of the third round.

1. History says you should value college production by QB prospects. Aside from Murray and Haskins, Grier out-produced everyone.

Research from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly shows it’s been close to impossible for QBs to be more efficient in the NFL than they were in college. That makes sense, because beating NFL defenses (even with NFL teammates) is way harder than beating 19-year-olds. Connelly puts Grier in the top statistical tier of 2019 QBs, with Murray, Haskins, and nobody else.

Among FBS passers invited to the NFL Combine, Grier was third in career Marginal Efficiency and Success Rate — numbers from Connelly that assess how efficiently a QB’s throws move his offense. In both, Grier trailed only Murray and Haskins.

If you prefer traditional stats, Grier averaged 9.7 yards per throw in 2018 (fourth in FBS) and had a 37-to-8 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. He was behind Murray in yards per throw and passer rating, but ahead of everyone else in the draft.

2. Grier ran West Virginia’s air raid offense brilliantly. Especially now, the skills he flashed in Morgantown should translate to the NFL.

The air raid is known for juicing the stats of ordinary QBs, and for years — at least until around 2017, when Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes went 10th overall — air raid QBs were consistent flops in the NFL. Despite Mahomes’ epic success and the Rams making a Super Bowl with former Cal air raider Jared Goff, some evaluators still question if air raid systems can translate.

But the NFL is different than it was even three or four years ago. Every team runs some version of a spread offense. The last two Super Bowls have been chock full of college-style schemes. An NFL team put an air raid coach (who’d just gotten fired from Texas Tech) in charge because it wanted his schemes.

That coach, Kliff Kingsbury, comes from the same Xs-and-Os lineage as Grier’s WVU coach, Dana Holgorsen. Both are part of the Hal Mumme and Mike Leach tree. But Holgorsen is not as obsessed with the pass as most other air raid disciples.

Holgorsen’s version of the air raid puts a relatively heavy emphasis on the run. WVU passed on 51 percent of its plays in 2018, while NFL teams passed on 55 percent. The system Grier ran is more NFL-like than the one Leach has at Washington State, which passed on 71 percent of its plays in 2018.

When Grier became WVU’s QB in 2017, the Eers jumped from 69th to 24th in throws per game. Holgorsen decided Grier was worth building an offense around. WVU was 31st in Offensive S&P+ the year before Grier took the field. In 2018, the offense moved to No. 9 in S&P+.

The air raid probably improved how Grier looked in at least one area. Pro Football Focus graded him as college football’s best QB when blitzed in 2018. The air raid prioritizes quick throws behind offensive linemen who are spread apart to force blitzers to take long paths to the quarterback.

But Grier was a standout in ways all his own, too.

Sometimes, the air raid uses quick passes to insulate QBs who don’t throw hard. Yet PFF graded Grier the best QB in the country on go routes and noted his immense success on deep balls:

What Grier lacks in a cannon, he makes up for what accurate ball placement, as on this touchdown loft to David Sills V:

West Virginia played poorly when Grier wasn’t on the field, most notably during a Camping World Bowl loss to Syracuse. Connelly writes:

The whole “system QB” debate has become less useful with former “system QBs” like Patrick Mahomes II and Jared Goff thriving in the NFL, but Grier has seen that label quite a bit. He spent his last two seasons in Dana Holgorsen’s QB-friendly system, with two QB-friendly wide receivers (David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr.) lined up wide.

When Grier sat out, though, WVU’s production plummeted, suggesting this production was not merely about the system at hand. And he’s got experience and proven pocket presence that neither Haskins nor Murray can match.

He’s proven far more than [Duke QB] Daniel Jones, too. Just saying. But again, he clears the statistical bar. The rest of the scouting report is up to you.

Previously, Grier averaged 7.5 yards per throw as a redshirt freshman at Florida. That’s still one of the best figures by any Gators QB since Tim Tebow.

Oh, and Grier is fun. Sports should be fun.

Behold him running for a game-winning two-point conversion at Texas in 2018, then flashing a perfect Horns Down as he taunts the burnt-orange crowd:

Outstanding technique.

Outside of Murray and Haskins there’s no QB in the draft who produced more in college — or is easier to envision fitting in the NFL — than Grier.

He spent 2017 and ‘18 putting up excellent stats in a system the NFL has spent the last few years becoming increasingly open to emulating. That’s more than most QBs can say.

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