Penn State’s Trace McSorley could face long wait at NFL Draft
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories heading into the NFL Draft on April 25-27. Today’s installment focuses on quarterbacks.
It was setting up so perfectly for Trace McSorley.
By returning for his senior season at Penn State, McSorley would avoid being lumped into the quarterback-heavy draft class in 2018 when four passers went in the top 10 and five went in the first round for the first time in two decades.
Playing that senior year would give McSorley one more season to develop and improve his draft position.
Instead, the opposite happened. McSorley regressed in his final year at Happy Valley, and he will enter the NFL Draft as a Day 3 hopeful — at best.
“McSorley, to me, is just kind of somebody who’s probably going to find his way in the middle-to-late rounds in this draft,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said heading into the NFL Combine.
Chalk it up to a senior season that didn’t follow suit from McSorley’s first two years as a starter.
As a sophomore, McSorley passed for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns.
As a junior, he nearly mirrored those numbers with 3,570 yards passing and 28 scores. He punctuated that season by throwing for 342 yards against Washington, which earned him offensive MVP honors in the Fiesta Bowl.
McSorley never considered leaving school early, declining to join a draft class that included future first-rounders Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.
Before the season, one scouting website had McSorley listed as the No. 95 overall prospect in the 2019 class. But he didn’t exactly take advantage of his final collegiate campaign.
His passing numbers dropped to 2,530 yards and 18 touchdowns as he completed a career-low 53 percent of his attempts. One bright spot was he rushed for 798 yards and 12 scores.
Losses to Ohio State and Michigan State midseason crushed the Nittany Lions’ championship hopes, and McSorley’s decline was just as unsettling.
“It wasn’t going like we wanted it early on,” McSorley said at combine. “Then, I started to tense up and press and try to make perfect throws. Going back over the film, I saw that I was skipping guys in the progression and looking for the guy that was the most open rather than, all right, get the ball to this guy and let him be a playmaker.
“Those are things I could have done better during the course of the year.”
A knock on McSorley is his build. He is 6-foot and 201 pounds. Mayfield, who is 6-1, showed last year that smaller quarterbacks can become top picks. And possible 2019 first overall pick Kyler Murray stands just 5-10.
McSorley, though, had 11 passes batted down last year, and an inability to get the ball past the line of scrimmage could scare away potential NFL suitors.
“He obviously doesn’t have that prototypical size, but he’s somebody that’s ultra conservative,” Jeremiah said. “When it’s the money down, when it’s the money time of the game, throughout his career he’s found a way to get it done.”
McSorley points to 5-11 Russell Wilson and 6-foot Drew Brees as other examples of successful quarterbacks who have overcome the perception they were too short to play in the NFL.
“You look at all of them, they’ve got a chip on their shoulder,” McSorley said. “They’ve all been told at some point that they couldn’t do it because of their height, and they just defied that. They haven’t let someone else’s opinion affect who they are.”
As a third-day prospect, McSorley will have to work his way onto a team’s 53-man roster. He won’t be afforded the luxuries of, say, Murray or Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, another first-round talent.
All McSorley wants is a chance.
“I have a refusal-to-quit attitude, and that’s how I’m going to be at the next level,” he said. “They’re going to have to drag me off the field to not have me be in there.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .