MINNEAPOLIS -- We're (finally) less than 36 hours from the start of the NFL draft, which means we're bringing our look at the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback draft options in for a landing. We'll wrap things up with a final post tomorrow on a couple other options, but we'll give our final solo spotlight today to a quarterback who has been attracting plenty of attention in the past few weeks.
Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage didn't show up as a top name in many early mock drafts, after putting up forgettable numbers behind the Panthers' shoddy offensive line, but his size and arm strength have earned him mention as a sleeper quarterback. The Vikings brought him in for their top-30 prospects event last month, and Savage has said he's met with 24 of the 32 teams in the league. Longtime NFL scout Gil Brandt, who drafted Troy Aikman with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, compared Savage to him last fall, and according to NFL draft wonk Tony Pauline, the New England Patriots are referring to Savage as "Tom #2," for the comparisons he evokes to Tom Brady.
So what gives? Is Savage really worth the late-developing buzz he's attracting before the draft? Once again, we'll consult our in-house experts: ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson, who used to be a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns, and ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (the former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles).
2013 stats: 61.2 completion percentage, 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns, nine interceptions.
NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, 31 5/8-inch arm length, 9 5/8-inch hand span.
Pros: Savage has plenty of arm strength to make the tough throws required of a NFL quarterback, and of the quarterbacks who might be available on the second day of the draft, Riddick sees Savage as being a possible match for the Vikings. The Brady comparisons come from Savage's release, which looks similar to the Patriots quarterback's setup and allows Savage to make quick, clean throws with velocity. "The top of the second round is very reasonable," Riddick said. "If you're somewhere between (picks) 32 and 38, I would take him and keep on trucking."
Cons: Williamson wasn't as high on Savage, saying he didn't think the quarterback was worth a second-round pick and would need more seasoning after starting just one year at Pitt. "The old (Bill) Parcells rule is where you want a three- or four-year starter with X number of reps under your belt," Williamson said. "He also had some really good receivers. That kid (Tyler) Boyd here at Pitt, nobody knows about him, but he's going to be a first-round pick someday. His line in front of him was very bad. He made a statement there; he's very tough. But he'll miss some open guys, too." According to ESPN Stats & Information, Savage was off-target with 24.7 percent of his passes, which was the worst among the 10 quarterbacks ESPN NFL Nation reporter Kevin Seifert analyzed here.
Bottom line: There's quite a bit of projection required with Savage, and he'd have to go to a team that could afford him time to sit and learn. That might explain some of the Patriots' interest in him, but the Vikings could have a favorable setup, where Savage can bide his time behind Matt Cassel, learn from Norv Turner and step into an offense with plenty of talent around him once he's ready. "It's important he continues to get the level of coaching in order for him to reach what really is tremendous potential," Riddick said. "Development programs across the NFL are not uniform. The thing about Minnesota is, Norv's one of the best. It's almost like a perfect match if he holds the prospect in the same regard." If the Vikings are still looking for a quarterback on the second day of the draft, and they're willing to let Savage grow before putting him on the field, the Pitt quarterback's name could be one to remember.