2019 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Clayton Thorson

  • Clayton Thorson, 6-4/222

  • Quarterback

  • Northwestern

  • Clayton Thorson Scouting Report
    By Charlie Campbell

  • Good skill set
  • Strong arm
  • Can make some brilliant throws into tight windows
  • Occasionally very accurate passer
  • Can throw a hard fastball into tight windows
  • Able to loft in touch passes
  • Throws a catchable ball
  • Can throw receivers open
  • Good size/build
  • Stands tall in the pocket
  • Moves his eyes
  • Works through his progression
  • Good field vision
  • Doesn’t miss open receivers
  • Shows good timing
  • Anticipation
  • Very experienced; most starts in Big Ten history
  • Smart
  • Great intangibles
  • Good teammate who can talk to all parts of locker room
  • Toughness; played banged up
  • Adept on converting quarterback sneaks
  • Lifted his team to wins and program to new heights
  • Can put the team on his back and make comebacks
  • Quality athlete
  • Has more mobility than many realize
  • Good size for an NFL starting quarterback
  • Lots of upside

  • Weaknesses:
  • Can be mechanical in delivery
  • Can have some ugly missed throws
  • Revolving coaching door led to lack of some basic development
  • Torn ACL at the end of his junior year

  • Summary: Early in fall 2017, WalterFootball.com was the first in the NFL media to report that there was a buzz about Thorson in the scouting community. One director of college scouting told us that they anticipated giving Thorson a second-round grade for the 2018 NFL Draft, unless he fell off with his play. At the same time, they thought he could rise in the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft. The reason for that is he a good leader who gets along well with all of his teammates. While Thorson is a devout Christian, he knows how to be one of the guys and get along with the different groups in the locker room. They thought that evaluators could fall in love with Thorson during the interview process. Quarterbacks rise in the leadup to drafts, and Thorson appeared to have that potential.

    WalterFootball.com first reported that Thorson would return for his senior year. I had heard early in the fall of 2017 that Thorson would go back unless he graded out as a first-rounder by the NFL Draft Advisory. In 2017, Thorson completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,844 yards with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He had eight rushing touchdowns as well. Thorson suffered a torn ACL in Northwestern’s bowl game after making a catch on a halfback throwback. His numbers in 2017 were held back by a terrible offensive line, awful wide receivers and zero play-makers at his disposal. Thorson completed 59 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,182 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

    In 2018, Thorson completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,183 yards with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also collected nine rushing touchdowns. In the early going of the season, Thorson did not look 100 percent yet as a runner, but he showed some improved ball placement and mechanics. A high ankle sprain cost Thorson the Senior Bowl. Still, Thorson started 53 straight games, the most in Big Ten history. That is an excellent amount of experience and developmental time for the next level.

    Thorson has shown that he has pro potential in terms of his skill set. He can throw the deep out with a fastball that can be fit into tight windows. Thorson also has a quick delivery, but is a bit too mechanical. Scouts say that he has a strong arm, is smart, athletic, and a leader with excellent intangibles.

    As a passer, Thorson has a lot of natural talent and development that is impressive. What really stands out his ability to stand tall in the pocket, read the field, work through his progressions, and deliver the ball. Thorson really has advanced field vision for a quarterback. He is not the type to run if his first read is covered, and he is comfortable working off his primary read. Thorson has good size and pocket presence. He is calm in the pocket, doesn’t get happy feet, and stands tall to deliver the ball with his eyes downfield while the pass rush is bearing down on him. Thorson also has a quality arm and can drive the ball downfield. With his arm, Thorson can make every throw required in the NFL.

    Thorson can make throws showing some superb accuracy. There were times that he fit the ball into a window the size of a shoe box to complete a pass. Thorson is an accurate rhythm passer who can throw open his receivers. Occasionally, Thorson would have some throws get away from him. However, part of that came from he had zero margin for error. His wide receivers were awful, dropping passes, producing tipped interceptions, and failing to separate. Thus, Thorson constantly had to throw to covered receivers.

    Thorson also is a quality athlete to use his feet to extend plays. That could be seen more prior to his senior year when he was coming off an ACL tear from the bowl game that concluded his junior year. He can take off to run when all of his receivers are covered with enough speed and agility to pick up yards on the ground. In the red zone, Thorson is a rushing threat, and he uses his big body to be effective on quarterback sneaks. Thorson flashes the ability to throw well on the run, and he is adept at running bootlegs. His scrambling ability and athleticism are nice bonuses to his size, arm, and passing ability.

    One general manager told me they had Thorson graded as a late second-/early third-rounder. They thought he is a decent athlete, but is bit mechanical as a thrower and didn’t go downfield enough. Thorson wasn’t without some lowlights on tape. However, a lot of Thorson’s mistakes came from trying to do too much with his lackluster supporting cast. His offensive line was terrible and the wide receivers were even worse; if Thorson didn’t make a play for Northwestern, nobody else would. His performance in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin as a junior was extremely impressive, although one of those trying-too-hard mistakes led to the comeback effort falling short. He had great tapes with comebacks as a senior to lead Northwestern to wins over Michigan State and Nebraska. Thorson led the Wildcats to their first ever appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.

    Multiple team sources thought that Thorson would become a first-round pick early in his career. However the injury, not producing huge numbers, and some ugly throws here and there have him as a second-day pick. In this analyst’s opinion, he will be a massive steal. If he had played at Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, or another major program with talent around him, I think he would be a clear-cut first-round pick. I think Thorson will go on the second day of the 2019 NFL Daft, and no lower than the fourth round, but I believe Thorson could be a steal and become a good starting quarterback in the NFL.

    Player Comparison: Andy Dalton. Some team sources have compared Thorson to Andy Dalton, which makes sense. Thorson is bigger than Dalton, but both of them can be dangerous quarterbacks when things are clicking well for them. They also can have struggles when things aren’t going well around them. Dalton was a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and Thorson could go in Round 2 this year.

    NFL Matches: New England, New York Giants, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Denver, Cincinnati, Miami, Washington, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers

    A few team sources have said that Thorson has Patriot written all over him. It makes sense given his style of play and great intangibles. New England has a lot of extra picks on Day 2, so the organization could take Thorson with one of those to back up Tom Brady and be a potential quarterback of the future.

    The Giants have an aging and declining veteran starter in Eli Manning, but passed on a potential franchise quarterback last year. If they do that again in the first round, they could consider Thorson during the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft.

    Tampa Bay could take Thorson as a backup to Jameis Winston. If Winston isn’t re-signed, Thorson could be in an in-house replacement option for the Buccaneers. Staying in the division, Carolina needs a backup for Cam Newton and has two third-round picks.

    Denver needs a quarterback of the future due to Joe Flacco just being a stop-gap veteran at this point in his career. If the Broncos address a different need in Round 1, they could look at Thorson on Day 2.

    Cincinnati could decide to move on or bring in competition for Andy Dalton with its new head coach. Miami needs a starter of the future after trading Ryan Tannehill. Thus, Thorson could be in play for the Bengals or the Dolphins on Day 2 or in the mid-rounds.

    The Redskins could consider taking a quarterback in the first round because Alex Smith may miss the 2019 season due to his leg injury. Even if he comes back, he is aging and limited, so Washington could easily select a quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft. Thorson could be a fit for one of the Redskins’ three selections during the second day.

    The Chargers could consider a quarterback on Day 2 as Philip Rivers has a limited number of years left.


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