Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert is not the first name that comes to mind when people discuss quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean he’s a prospect to ignore. This draft has several high-potential quarterbacks in round one, but not every team is looking to spend big on finding a franchise quarterback this year. The New York Giants, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, and Los Angeles Chargers all have excellent veteran quarterbacks who might look to hang up their cleats in the next couple of years, and the perfect prospect for them would be a player they could groom as an effective backup with future starting potential. Benkert has taken a long journey from redshirt reserve at ECU to the Senior Bowl, and he might have the traits those teams are looking for in a quarterback. Let’s break him down:
Career: 27 games played, 534/925 57.7%, 5817 yards, 46 TD, 21 INT
2017: 298/509 58.5%, 3207 yards, 25 TD, 9 INT, 6.3 YPA
Missed 2015 season with knee injury
Accolades and off-field notes
2013 redshirt, 2014 reserve, tabbed for starting in 2015 until knee injury
Graduate transfer from East Carolina University after 2015 season
Owns several single-season passing records for Virginia
Senior Bowl invitee
Height: 6 feet 2 5/8 inches
Weight: 214 pounds
Hand size: 9 5/8 inches
Arm length: 31 1/8 inches
Benkert runs hot and cold. Sometimes his play is incredibly frenetic, like the ball is on fire and needs to be thrown as fast as possible. Sometimes he plays with ice in his veins, zipping frozen daggers through a defense.
As an example, take Benkert’s game against the Miami Hurricanes this season. Benkert was 28/37 for 384 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception against one of the most potent units in college football last year. He STARTED the game with a 17/18, 262 yard, three touchdown passing line (the incomplete pass was dropped). In that game alone, he made four or five throws that made me pause the tape and shout in astonishment.
A month later, playing against Navy, Benkert’s accuracy was all over the map, as he struggled to a 16/36 145 yard performance with an interception in a 7-49 beatdown.
Speaking with me at the Senior Bowl, Benkert told me he played in a west coast offense with multiple reads, adjustments at the line, and the full NFL-style verbiage for playcalls. Unlike many college quarterbacks, Benkert is prepared to download an NFL playbook on day one.
One positive of Benkert’s that I see is that he uses pre-snap looks to anticipate players coming open on his first read. By using pre-snap motion or observing alignments, he could find a target and deliver the ball as his teammate was beginning to make a cut.
Benkert makes use of pump fakes and his eyes to manipulate defenders. I generally see him make good decisions, but occasionally he’s blind to post-snap shifts, and safeties that move into or out of the box can rob some potential plays.
Benkert doesn’t always set his feet when throwing, either in the pocket or while on the move. While he does follow through a bit with his shoulders, the ball flutters some because he’s not transferring all his weight. Benkert doesn’t have a consistent base for his feet. Sometimes it’s narrow, sometimes it’s wide, sometimes his feet are pointed at the target, sometimes they’re pointing completely to the sideline.
This mechanical inconsistency applies to his throwing motion and the way he carries the ball. He’ll hold it in one hand, away from his body while scrambling, easy pickings for fumbles. He generally throws from a three-quarters arm slot, but occasionally just drops all pretense of a standard motion. I have seen games with awful accuracy, and I’ve seen games with outstanding accuracy. It depends on which mechanics came to play that day. With a career completion percentage below 60, and having never eclipsed the mark in his throwing career, Benkert sits in a bucket with Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson of players who, statistically, are not commonly able to turn into effective NFL quarterbacks.
Benkert can step up in the pocket to avoid pressure. However, pressure in front will spook him. When he gets a glimpse of interior pressure, he’s keen to escape the pocket to the side, and this usually kills the structure of the play. He’s not comfortable as a runner, and can do some rolling out of the pocket, but that’s about it. Benkert will remember to reset when exiting the pocket and look downfield for another throwing opportunity, but doesn’t have the mechanical consistency yet to make hay from those chances.
Benkert has plenty of arm strength, can deliver bullets and long deep passes. When he dials in his accuracy, he can make some “wow” throws. The entire Miami game was a showcase of his potential. And I saw some of those in practice at the Senior Bowl. The question for his projection is if he can play with that improved accuracy all the time.
I like Benkert as a project player with upside. While he doesn’t boast a lengthy starting resume, I see some trait similarities between him and Derek Carr, along with former Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith. I have him graded at a 3.15 on our grading scale, which rates him as a fourth round prospect with the potential to join a roster and contribute in the future. Given his pro-style background, it wouldn’t shock me to see him picked on the second day of the draft, and I could even see him being selected ahead of more well-known signal callers from spread offenses like Luke Falk and Mike White, if the team fit is appropriate.
While he doesn’t wind up as one of my top-graded players, Benkert showed enough noteworthy traits in his tape that he deserves spotlight heading into the remainder of draft season and toward his NFL career.