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Senior Bowl quarterbacks: "A really good class"

South quarterback Gardner Minshew II of Washington State (16) drops back to pass during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
South quarterback Gardner Minshew II of Washington State (16) drops back to pass during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

MOBILE, Ala. – One Senior Bowl quarterback basically spoke for all Senior Bowl quarterbacks.

"This week's a great week to prove yourself," Gardner Minshew II said.

Minshew, who played collegiately first at East Carolina then at Washington State, isn't the highest-profile quarterback at this week's 2019 Reese's Senior Bowl, but his quote put the week in perspective.

This year's Senior Bowl is about quarterbacks.

Perhaps more so than in a long time.

"This is exactly where you want to be if you're in the draft; you want to be down here showing you're the best," said Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson, one of six Senior Bowl quarterbacks generally projected in the top four rounds of the April 25-27 2019 NFL Draft.

Where do this year's Senior Bowl quarterbacks project as a whole?

It's too early to say for sure, and opinions vary. Still, the game features two projected first-round quarterbacks – Drew Lock of Missouri and Daniel Jones of Duke – and another who very much expects to be projected there come late April.

That's West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, currently projected as a second-rounder though confident that projection will prove low.

"I don't understand some of the things that have been put out there," Grier said. "I'm the best quarterback in this draft. My arm talent is there, and my play will speak for itself."

Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy was asked this week about the game' strongest units. He started with quarterback, citing depth.

Lock and Jones are playing for the North, as are North Carolina State quarterback Ryan Finley and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. Finley is projected as a second-round selection with McSorley projected as a late-round selection.

Grier, who began his career at Florida before transferring to West Virginia, is playing for the South along with Jackson, Minshew and Auburn quarterback Jarred Stidham. Jackson is projected in the fourth round, with Stidham projected as high as the second round and Minshew projected as a late-round selection.

The consensus among analysts is that Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State is the draft's top quarterback, and a Top 5 possibility. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma recently declared for the draft, and talk around the Senior Bowl is that Murray could go somewhere in the first round.

Neither Murray nor Haskins is attending the Senior Bowl, but they're pretty much the only quarterbacks in the early-draft discussion not in Mobile this week.

"It got a lot sexier the moment Kyler Murray decided he was going to declare for the NFL Draft," CBS Sports draft analyst Ryan Wilson said if the '19 quarterback class. "Last year, we had five guys go in the first round. There was a lot of buzz about those five guys and where they would go. This year, it's Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray entering the first-round conversation when he decided to declare.

"Then the conversation is, 'Is Daniel Jones a first-rounder. Is Drew Lock a first-rounder? And can someone else sneak into the first round?' That's a big part of what's happening at the Senior Bowl. These guys can prove that to coaches and scouts."

Each Senior Bowl quarterback enters the pre-draft process with questions. Lock and Jackson each were asked about accuracy issues this week, and each spoke of throwing more deep passes than is typical.

"We threw a pass more than 50 yards more than anyone else in the country, so I guess for someone to look me in my eyes and tell me, 'You should have had a better completion percentage than someone who threw less than you did farther down the field …' Lock said.

Grier bristled at the mention of questions about his arm strength.

"I'm confident in my abilities," Grier said. "I don't think arm strength has ever been … ask my receivers. Ask the guys at Florida. Ask the guys I've played against if my arm strength was a problem. It doesn't necessarily make me mad. I think my play kind of speaks for itself."

Jones, projected by some as the draft's quarterback behind Haskins, was asked often this week about his connection with Peyton and Eli Manning via Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton as offensive coordinator at Tennessee and Eli as Head Coach at Ole Miss. Jones focused more on toughness when asked what separated him from the draft's other quarterbacks.

"I don't know how I compare to other quarterbacks," he said. "Personally, I'm not sure I look at it that way. I think physically I can make all the throws and I'm athletic to extend plays. I think that's a strength. Having an opportunity to work with Coach Cutcliffe, I think I'm prepared to process information. I understand it will be a significant step up to the next level, but I feel like I'm at least well-prepared."

And as for the idea that this year's quarterback class doesn't quite match last year's – or even that it might be a weak class – Lock isn't a believer.

"In the beginning, everybody was like, 'Last year's crop was really, really good and this year is down,''' Lock said. "When you start diving into our film and really start watching this class, I think it's a really, really good class. You've got a lot of different guys who do a lot of different things at a high level.

"It's going to end up, 'What's the best fit? What program we were best in? What team fell in love with us?'''

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