Comparisons between professional and college football are plentiful, even if they often get ridiculous – like the notion that the best college team could compete with and even defeat the worst professional squad. That could never happen.
However, there are other comparisons that can be made, especially individual ones.
For example, every season a large number of players fresh off the college gridiron get drafted into the NFL, show up, step in and take jobs away from veteran professionals. That means that on an individual basis, there are plenty of times when a college player is actually better than a handful of pros at his same position. You will see it happen this season – perhaps with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson taking over under center for the Houston Texans… because he’s a better football player than either Tom Savage or Brandon Weedon.
This being the case, let’s turn things around, and just for fun throw out a hypothetical.
In Denver, there’s a quarterback controversy raging. The battle is between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Neither has been impressive in training camp but one of them will have to take the first snap of the season. Odds are good that it’ll be Siemian.
Siemian’s a former 7th round draft pick from Northwestern. For the great majority of his collegiate career, he was a back-up. He’s small (over-listed at 6’ 3” and 220 lbs…he’s not that big) and a below average, slow-footed runner. He throws a nice spiral – between five to 10 yards. He actually led the NFL in completions under five yards – and also in dropped interceptions – last season.
Simply put, Siemian lacks the size, strength and speed to succeed in the NFL. Provided he doesn’t get injured again (and he likely will. Smaller players run a greater risk and he’s already coming off shoulder surgery) he’ll soon become a career back-up. A placeholder who will get a nice paycheck.
He was supposed to be holding a place for Lynch, who at 6’ 7” and 244 lbs, has the size and arm strength to do everything Siemian is incapable of doing (including being a capable runner.) Unfortunately, Lynch has not put anything together just yet in limited playing time and remains a complete mystery. He will have to up his game considerably in the pre-season games to win the gig. (Siemian may actually be holding a place for this year’s 7th round pick, Chad Kelly…but Kelly is rehabbing a significant knee injury and won’t be a factor this season.)
The fact of the matter is there are two dozen or more college quarterbacks who are better right this moment than Siemian. So here’s our hypothetical: How many of the Top 25 college teams going into 2017 would the guy who will likely take the first snap of the season for the Denver Broncos actually start for? The answer? About one-third…maybe.
That may sound brash, but think about it. Right off the top, you can eliminate all the college teams that run a “spread” offense because Siemian lacks foot speed and running skills. Northwestern actually ran a version of the spread when he was there, which is why Kain Colter took the great majority of the snaps for those Wildcats. (Ironically, Lynch ran the spread in college and was outstanding at it. It’s adapting to the pro style offense that’s given him trouble.) Currently, 10 of the ESPN Coaches Poll pre-season Top 25 teams run a version of the spread with a running quarterback…and a few of those, like #2 Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, #8 Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and #11 Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph have way better natural tools and are likely to become far better pros than Siemian.
That leaves 15 of the Top 25 college teams that the 25-year-old, two-year NFL vet Trevor Siemian would be a legit candidate to start at QB for. Best guess is that he’d get the nod at perhaps eight of those schools. The best teams among that bunch being #10 Wisconsin (Alex Hornibrook isn’t much) and #9 Michigan (Wilton Speight?) There’s uncertainty behind center (as per usual) at #12 LSU, #14 Stanford, #18 Miami and #23 Tennessee. He’d have a great shot at those places. Is Siemian more talented that Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, now in position to start at #16 Florida? Not physically…but we’ll give the two-year pro the slight nod in Gainesville anyway. And #19 K State loves injury prone Jeese Ertz, but honestly, he’s meh.
Is Siemian better that #4 USC’s Sam Darnold or #7 Washington’s Jake Browning? No chance. How about #6 Penn State’s Trace McSorely? Nope. #15 Georgia’s Jacob Eason is projected to be a future pro stand out, too. #3 Florida State’s sophomore Deondre Francois is a big, strong, fast “dual threat” star in the making. Sophomore Shane Buchelle at #23 Texas is already a star. And while top-ranked Alabama has historically rolled out a Siemian-style game manager at QB, now they have sensational sophomore Jalen Hurts. Siemian isn’t beating him out. No way.
Take things a step further. Siemian lacks the raw talent possessed by Wyoming’s Josh Allen – projected to possibly be the first QB drafted next spring – as well as UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Boise State’s Brett Rypien and Arkansas’s Austin Allen, among others. One scout told me he doesn’t believe there’s a single upperclassman slated to start at quarterback at any Power Five conference school that Siemian would beat out for the job today.
This is not a welcome reality for Broncos fans, legions of whom have fooled themselves into believing that Siemian is somehow better than he actually is. They point at late round draft pick Tom Brady (who starred at Michigan as a senior after sharing time with fellow pro draft pick Drew Henson) while clinging to the faint hope that some sort of magical history will repeat itself.
What’s more likely to repeat – if Siemian is the Denver QB this year and Lynch judged to be a bust – is that the Broncos draft yet another signal caller in the first round of next spring’s draft…and Bronco fans get to go through this stuff all over again next year.