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NFL has tough-love for spread quarterbacks

One of San Francisco rookie general manager John Lynch’s first tasks is to find the next Joe Montana for the 49ers.

The job, which is hard enough under any circumstances, has been made more difficult by the proliferation of spread offenses throughout the college and even high school ranks.

“I think that’s one of the challenges we’re dealing with and this whole league’s dealing with,” Lynch said. “To be quite honest, it’s tough at times.”

In the spread offense, quarterbacks are rarely under center, they don’t have to read the entire defense and on some plays, they throw to pre-determined receivers. Think: Anti-NFL.

“They run a couple things,” Lynch said. “And that’s one of the challenges that this whole league’s facing right now, is that the football being played from the high school level to the college level is a different brand of football than they’re going to be asked to play. So I think the word ‘projection’ is an apt one because that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

When Tampa Bay had the first overall pick in 2015, they were elated that Jameis Winston played in a pro-style offense at Florida State. They picked him over Marcus Mariotta, who ran a spread attack at Oregon. He went in the second pick to Tennessee.

“(Winston) had the arm,” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht said. “He had the pro-style offense. He was comfortable in the pocket. And those are all things that are hard to find right now in a quarterback coming up with all the spread systems.”

Many of top quarterbacks in the 2017 draft, led by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, played in spread offenses.

At his Pro Day workout, Watson opened up taking snaps from center and then throwing, determined to to show scouts that he could drop back to pass. He believes he can make the necessary adjustments in the NFL.

“They know that I’m not just some other quarterback that’s running a spread offense, that (I’m a) guy that can operate, make good decisions and recognize what the defense is doing and be successful doing it,” Watson said.

Some draft analysts consider Mitchell Trubisky to be the top quarterback prospect based off a small sample of 13 starts at North Carolina.

“Trubisky was highly efficient in the Tar Heels’ up-tempo, zone-read scheme, taking snaps primarily from the pistol and shotgun formations — heavy volume of throws within 10-yards of the line of scrimmage that helped boost his completion percentage,” wrote Dane Brugler in his 2017 NFL Draft Guide. “He has outstanding mobility for his size and doesn’t receive enough credit for his ability to move the pocket and buy extra half-seconds.”

Brugler has Trubisky rated as the top passer. Others, like former NFL scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, have Watson rated first.

“I have Watson 28, Trubisky 32, (Notre Dame’s DeShone) Kizer 33, just in terms of where they are on my top 50 list, how I sequenced them in,” Jeremiah said.

But overall, the group is not highly rated. Some teams, like Cleveland with the No. 1 pick or the New York Jets with the sixth pick, appear set to draft the quarterbacks early, perhaps even too high.

“I’m all for taking a quarterback if you think he’s the 12th best player and you end up taking him at six. I can get on board with that,” Jeremiah said. “But, man, taking a guy who is kind of a borderline late-one, early-two, vaulting him all the way up into the top 10 in this year’s draft, I don’t think it’s smart business.”

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been a steady climber through the pre-draft process. He’s been scheduled for a league-high 18 official visits and private workouts, according to the Houston Chronicle.

He could be selected by the Saints as an heir-apparent to Drew Brees. He has had a private workout for the Saints and the Cardinals.

“You could do a cut-up of 15 to 20 throws, you’ll see (Mahomes) almost identical to a Matt Stafford-type flow throw, off platform, off balance, ridiculous arm strength, put the ball right where he wants to put it,” Jeremiah said. “Along with that excitement to his play, you have the irresponsibility of his play, throwing the ball up in the air.”

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