Aidan O'Connell, Tanner McKee, and the Day 3 QBs

Purdue Boilermakers QB Aidan O'Connell
Purdue Boilermakers QB Aidan O'Connell
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Purdue's Aidan O'Connell has a zippy arm but oak-tree mobility. Stanford's Tanner McKee is a sniper when he's operating in structure but a sack waiting to happen when pressured. UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a scrappy scrambler who may be too feisty for his own good. Utah State's Logan Bonner is coming off some Pro Day buzz but a lost 2022 season.

Georgia's Stetson Bennett? He gets his own article in a day or two, if only for clickability's sake.

Think of this feature on the "other" quarterbacks in the 2023 draft as The Purdy Project: an attempt to scour the bottom of the draft board in search of quarterbacks who, like Brock Purdy with the 2022 San Francisco 49ers, could go from late-round pick to playoff-bound starter, or perhaps even his NFL team's surprise quarterback-of-the-future.

Aidan O'Connell, Purdue

What mileage are you getting on pocket-bound passers these days? Not guys who can run pretty well when they need to escape danger, like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, but lead-footed Bernie Kosar types? If you are only interested in them if they are almost Philip Rivers-level passers/decision-makers/leaders—and you probably should be—then Aidan O'Connell is not for you.

O'Connell is just 6-foot-3 but looks bigger. He's solidly built, but he moves like the Broncos version of Peyton Manning. He endured a reasonable (especially for the Big Ten) 22 sacks and a respectable 4.1% sack rate despite his immobility, in part because of a screen-heavy offense and in part because he gets rid of the ball quickly.

O'Connell's game film is loaded with three types of passes: a) tunnel screens; b) short slants and flats to tight end Payne Durham; and c) skinny posts and sideline tosses to favorite target Charlie Jones. (Replace Jones with David Bell in 2021.)

  • Sports Info Solutions (the source for all the splits in this feature) lists O'Connell with 56 screens in 2022, many of them tunnel screens where the offensive line races out to block for a slot receiver. Screens account for 11% of his total pass attempts. Of course, screens are nearly useless for scouting purposes and skew O'Connell's raw statistics.
  • O'Connell led the Big Ten with 44 passes listed as "slants." His timing, velocity, and placement on these passes was excellent, allowing Purham, Jones, and others to catch the ball in stride, even in traffic, and pick up some YAC.
  • O'Connell's deeper throws to Jones and others are inconsistent. He's often on target when he snaps his wrist and flings a sideline rope in the 25-yard range. His timing and accuracy appear to wane when he puts more air under the throw. O'Connell often throws deep to blanketed receivers, which is inevitable—Jones is good but he ain't Marvin Harrison Jr., Purdue had little depth at receiver, and half the cornerbacks in the Big Ten are about to get drafted—but it results in lots of contested, dangerous throws.

Speaking of dangerous throws … egads:

That Wentz moment was out of character for O'Connell, but he does produce some turnover-worthy plays in tight situations. O'Connell threw a stunning 367 passes when the score was close (+/- seven points) in 2022, with seven interceptions and 14 sacks in those situations. He did not throw an interception in the narrow season-opening loss to Penn State, but he threw lots of passes up for grabs late in that back-and-forth game.

But O'Connell's real issue is his complete lack of mobility. O'Connell could make some old-school coordinator fall in love with him in 7-on-7 drills. He could hang around for years like Mike Glennon as the guy who makes you groan when he gets a Week 16 start. But he's so heavy-footed that he will even limit his team's rollout game.

Tanner McKee, Stanford

McKee replaced Davis Mills at Stanford, and he superficially resembles Mills: a statuesque pocket passer who can look like a sharpshooter when standing in a clean pocket and firing over the middle.

Stanford ran a play-action and RPO-heavy offense when they weren't getting blown out, which was not all that often. McKee did a fine job reading, pulling the ball, and pulling the trigger with velocity on short passes between the numbers. He was effective when he got into a rhythm and could thread some needles. He often placed sideline touch passes on his receivers' hands in the 10- to 20-yard range, though those passes were often contested.

Problems arose when McKee wasn't operating within structure and releasing the ball quickly. Sideline passes sail on McKee when he doesn't reset his feet properly. His motion gets herky-jerky when he steps forward in the pocket, resulting in misfires. Passes over the middle were batted down too often (a predictable tempo is a two-way street). McKee took a whopping 41 sacks and grew too quick to tuck the ball and try to cosplay Josh Allen despite poor to adequate mobility.

McKee was also a reluctant and ineffective downfield passer: just 12-of-38 for 402 yards on passes of 20-plus air yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He would dink-and-dunk to a fault in two-minute drills or when trying to bring the Cardinal back from far behind.

I prefer McKee to O'Connell because a tiny bit of mobility is better than none at all. His sack total is a glowing yellow flag, however, and Mills is his likely upside.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA

Thompson-Robinson is a skinny, streaky scrambler and five-year starter for the Bruins. He's a gutsy option runner in Chip Kelly's offense, willing to stiff-arm and hurdle defenders or block downfield after pitching to Zach Charbonnet. He distributes short passes well despite B-tier velocity on his fastball. He consistently got the ball to 6-foot-5 receiver Jake Bobo on curls, slants, and skinny posts, and he had a good sense of when to get rid of the ball, when to check down, and when to tuck and run.

Thompson-Robinson's game has two significant flaws, besides the fact that he's built like an offensive coordinator but tries to run like Derrick Henry. The first is a habit of chucking the ball off his back foot when pressured up the middle. The second (larger and related) issue is turnover sprees. Before halftime against USC, for example, DTR forgot that underneath defenders existed and began spraying the ball at the Trojans defense, resulting in two interceptions (he also threw a third late in the game) and one dropped pick. Even in DTR's better games, he'll see some of his underneath routes jumped by defenders.

Thompson-Robinson also threw three interceptions, drew a penalty for head-butting a defender after a touchdown, and got knocked out of the game with an injury in the Sun Bowl against Pitt. Remember, DTR is selling himself as an experienced fifth-year senior: it's not a great sign that he punctuated his career with such a noteworthy afternoon in a minor bowl. And yes, we'll cover another ostensibly mature quarterback's judgment lapses in a separate feature.

Thompson-Robinson is certainly worth a look as a Day 3 draft pick who could develop into a pepperpot off the bench: a better version of Trace McSorley, perhaps. But as a super-senior in Kelly's offense with some formidable weapons, he just needed to either be more dynamic, less mistake-prone, or both in 2022 to merit serious consideration as anything more than a lottery ticket.

Logan Bonner, Utah State

Logan Bonner reportedly had an excellent pro day. He met with the 49ers and Chiefs, among other teams, after his workout. The Bonner buzz from two weeks ago sounded suspiciously like the effort of a hard-working agent to get his client's name out there. Well, it worked.

Bonner played four full seasons at Arkansas State from 2017 through 2020, getting a medical redshirt after starting four games in 2019. He then followed coach Blake Anderson to Utah State. He threw for 3,628 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2021, suffering a late-season foot injury. Bonner returned for a sixth year of college football in 2022 (all players impacted by the 2020 COVID season earned an extra year of eligibility), but he was still suffering the lingering effects of the foot injury and played erratically before getting shelved again in late September.

Wow, that's a lot. Bonner turns 26 in September and is dealing with a lingering injury. Should we even go on? Why not? We're sifting through potential seventh-round picks, after all.

The tape shows that Bonner is a spot-on-the-field passer in a play-action-intensive offense. The numbers back this up. Bonner led the nation in play-action passing attempts in 2021 with 263. In 2022, 59 of Bonner's 110 pass attempts came off play-action. Bonner has a quick, smooth delivery after the play fake, puts a nice touch on the ball, and can put some deep throws on his receivers' hands. He moves well enough to be useful in the rollout/sprintout game.

So what do we make of a super-duper senior coming off an injury-marred season in a somewhat hinky mid-major offense?

There are shades of Zach Wilson in Bonner's 2021 tape, but let's never use Wilson as a comp for anyone, ever, because there are too many loaded associations at play. Tyler Thigpen, a longtime knockaround plucky backup who starred at Coastal Carolina in the early 2000s, is a better comp. Matt Corral, who starred in an RPO-fueled Ole Miss offense before being drafted by the Panthers (and promptly getting hurt) last year, is also a similar prospect, though Corral is more mobile.

It's rather easy to imagine Bonner stepping into a Purdy-like situation and winning some games by handing off and tossing some play-action floaters. But that's more a product of the offense he led than Bonner himself.


Finally, some quick hits on a few other quarterbacks in this draft class:

Jaren Hall, BYU

Hall replaced Zach Wilson in 2021. He's basically Taylor Heinicke with better wheels. Hall moves well in the pocket, he has a smooth backpedal and delivery, and he throws well on the run. He has a C+ NFL arm. Hall is a feisty rusher on the designed draw play, with an extra Daniel Jones-like straightaway gear.

On the downside, Hall's passes often sail high, sometimes in traffic over the middle. He has good touch but below-average velocity in the 10- to 20-yard range, and defenders can jump his softer stuff.

There was lots of pro-Hall buzz entering the Senior Bowl, but he laid an egg during practice week. It was one of the worst weeks of practice I have seen by a quarterback in Mobile since Kellen Moore.

One week of practice with unfamiliar coaches/teammates/plays should not doom a prospect, and Hall has been busy on the "top 30 visit" circuit. Hall's worth a Day 3 look. Just set your expectations to Heinicke, not Teddy Bridgewater.

Max Duggan, TCU

Duggan is a standard-issue Big 12 playground two-hand touch quarterback. His fastball on medium-range passes over the middle has sizzle, he'll deliver passes in a collapsing pocket, and he's a determined runner with enough speed and agility to be useful.

Duggan launches so many deep passes that you can draw a bullseye around his many "hits" and declare him accurate, and he got a boost from first-round prospect Quentin Johnson, plus fifth-year senior receivers Taye Barber and Derius Davis in a screens- and bombs-heavy offense. A lot of Duggan's sailing moonballs will turn into NFL interceptions, however, and the National Championship Game against Georgia showed what might happen if Duggan faces a real defense.

Duggan has enough NFL attributes to merit a Day 3 draft pick and a long camp look, but he's a Landry Jones type whose game probably does not translate to the next level.

Tyson Bagent, Shepherd

Shepherd (the Rams) played in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, even though the school is in West Virginia, so you know we're deep in the hinterlands. Shepherd film looks like high school junior varsity film.

Bagent has a smooth delivery and an NFL-caliber arm. That's it. He overthrows receivers, misses targets, and tends to float sideline routes. He lacks the man-among-boys traits a DII quarterback needs to be taken seriously as anything other than a UDFA. He did have his moments during Senior Bowl week, however, so some McVay-/McDaniels-like quarterback guru may decide to stash him on the practice squad for a year or two.

Coming soon because the streets demanded it: a deep dive on Stetson Bennett.


13 comments, Last at 20 Apr 2023, 12:02pm

#1 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 18, 2023 - 11:25am

I suspect "we don't actually pay anyone" helps their profitability.

Points: 3

#2 by HitchikersPie // Apr 18, 2023 - 11:34am

Champion Gaming channelling their inner Bobby Petrino

Points: 1

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 18, 2023 - 11:38am

So they are about to crash their motorcycle and land on their mistress?

Points: 1

#6 by mehllageman56 // Apr 18, 2023 - 8:07pm

Was Tanier not getting paid?  Did something change?  He says without real hope....

Points: 0

#4 by Raiderfan // Apr 18, 2023 - 1:01pm

“he's built like an offensive coordinator”

Really?  He is listed as 6’1” and 205.  You have certainly met many more than me (zero), but I always picture them as being skinny or fat, not studs.

Points: 0

#5 by rpwong // Apr 18, 2023 - 2:00pm

He measured 6'2" and 203lbs at the combine, and like Bryce Young some of that was probably water weight.

But I think the joke was more about his frame than his BMI. If you look at Young and think, "he's small for a QB", you'd look at the taller Thompson-Robinson and think "he's slim for a QB".

Points: 1

#8 by drnrg // Apr 18, 2023 - 8:27pm

Solid professional content as always, Mike.  I hope Champions pays you for it. 

Points: 2

#11 by bravehoptoad // Apr 19, 2023 - 10:38pm

Yes, this was about the most perfect mid-April lunch-break reading I could have wanted.

Points: 0

#13 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Apr 20, 2023 - 12:02pm

Bryan Knowles and crew:   I cover the contracts of multi-millionaires and I get paid peanuts.  Sigh, the life of a writer.

Champion Gaming:  You can't have those peanuts.

Points: 3

#12 by ImNewAroundThe… // Apr 20, 2023 - 9:36am

2nd highest QB RAS this year, Clayton Tune erasure.

Well if GB doesn't get him, I'd want them to get one of these guys mentioned (even, gulp, Stetson) to hedge/backup Love instead of an unmoldable, older, more expensive vet.

Points: 0

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