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2017 Draft Prospect Preview: Zach Terrell

On January 2, the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos will take on the Wisconsin Badgers (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl: a classic battle between a small school and a traditional power. The featured talent in this game is Corey Davis, who I’ve already discussed this winter. However, it is the guy throwing him the football, Zach Terrell, that I think is flying under the radar right now.

Terrell is ranked as the 12th best quarterback by CBS Sports, and he is projected to go in the seventh round or undrafted. However, I think Terrell has earned the right to be drafted, and probably higher than round seven. Here’s why.

The Production

Here is what Terrell did in his WMU career, courtesy of Sports Reference.

zach-terrell stats

A starter for almost four full seasons for the Broncos, Terrell posted some incredibly impressive numbers, including a career adjusted yards per attempt of 9.2. In his final season, he really tore up the stat-sheet, with an 11.1 AYA, and completion percent of 71.

Still, there are obviously some questions regarding his viability as an NFL prospect:

  1. Can he be successful as a QB coming out of the MAC?
  2. Does playing with Davis hurt his prospects?

I’ll address these one at a time.

What Does It Take as a Small School QB?

Since 2001, there have been 43 QBs drafted that have come from a division one school outside of the Power Five. Here they are with their listed weight, draft position, and final year completion percent and AYA.1

Zach TerrellWMU204-0.7111.1
David CarrFresno St22310.6510.09
Blake BortlesUCF23230.689.59
Byron LeftwichMarshall24170.679.04
Ben RoethlisbergerMiami OH241110.699.63
JP LosmanTulane224220.597.34
Paxton LynchMEM244260.679.42
Patrick RamseyTulane219320.576.21
Colin KaepernickNevada233360.658.55
Kevin KolbHOU218360.689.73
Derek CarrFresno St215360.698.68
John BeckBYE215400.699.95
Charlie FryeAkron225670.637.59
Garrett GraysonCSU213750.6410.39
Kevin O'ConnellSDSU225940.586.77
Luke McCownLa Tech2081060.576.9
David GarrardE CAR2351080.567.28
Seneca WallaceIA ST1961100.556.18
Jeff RoweNevada2261510.647
Nathan EndereleIdaho2401600.576.38
Brandon DomanBYE2101630.649.41
Omar JacobsBGSU2321640.618.68
Nate DavisBall St2261710.649.35
Tom BrandstaterFresno St2201740.66.75
Rusty SmithFLA ATL2241760.577.81
Dan LeFevourCMU2301810.78.07
David FalesSan Jose St2121830.648.76
Ryan LindleySDSU2291850.537.31
Colt BrennanUH2071860.78.54
Josh HarrisBGSU2381870.667.65
Keith WenningBall St2181940.649.15
Brue GradkowskiToledo2171940.627.52
Joe WebbUAB2231990.68.68
Jordan PalmerUTEP2312050.668.09
Jeff DriskelLa Tech2342070.629.41
Levi BrownTroy2292090.648.55
Garrett GilbertSMU2212140.667.21
Casey BramletWYO2252180.577.15
Brandon DoughtyWKU2132230.7210.42
James KilianTulsa2182290.545.36
Jeff KellySO MISS2062320.596.7
Bradlee Van PeltCSU2232500.618.94
Chandler HarnishNO ILL2192530.629.19

I included Terrell’s numbers at the bottom. As you can see, he has the highest AYA of the entire cohort, and the second best completion percentage. Of course, that only means anything if these statistics matter. Shawn Siegele showed us a couple of years ago that a final year AYA of 9.0 was an important threshold for QB prospects. Final year AYA was also an important variable in RotoDoc’s QB prospect model last year.

Completion percentage was not a part of the model, and isn’t as important of a statistic as AYA,2 but I think that we can all agree that completing passes is good, and failing to complete passes is bad (I’m looking at you Hackenberg).

With all this in mind, I separated the QBs into three groups: first round picks, other top 100 picks, and picks outside the top 100. Here is what the average and median for each statistic was in each group.

1 to 3272322320.650.678.769.42
33 to 10072212180.650.658.818.68

The first thing that should stand out to you is that not a lot of these smaller school QBs get taken with valuable draft capitol. There have been twice as many picks outside the top 100 as there has been inside the top 100. Here are some other notes on the data.

  • NFL teams seem to value weight, at least among the elite. Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger, and Paxton Lynch were all first round picks over 240 pounds. Every pick in the top 100 was at least 213 pounds.
  • Median AYA is where we see the widest separation between the groups, with a clear decrease from first round pick to top 100 pick, and again to outside the top 100.
  • Of the first round QBs, only J.P. Losman and Patrick Ramsey had a final year AYA under 9.0. Both were predictably terrible in the pros.
  • Just four QBs in the entire cohort have posted a QB1 season in the NFL. All of them were drafted inside the top 108 picks. Derek Carr stands in as the fifth right now, but will most likely finish outside of the QB1 range now that he is out for the season.
  • David Garrard is the only QB1 to be taken outside of the top 36, even if we include Carr. He is also the only QB in the cohort to have an AYA under 8.5.
  • The median completion percentage also trends down throughout the groupings. While it may not be an important factor for a model, the NFL seems to value it.

So how does Terrell fit in with the group? We know that he smashes the AYA and completion percentage tests. However, he weighs in at just 204 pounds. This would seem to be his biggest issue in terms of being drafted, though it should be noted that Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace were taken inside the top 110 and weighed 208 and 196 pounds respectively. Right now it would seem somewhat nonsensical to have Terrell as a late day three or potentially undrafted player.

But What About Davis?

A rather obvious objection that comes to mind for a player like Terrell is that he had the advantage of playing with an elite collegiate WR. And it does seem like a fair “chicken or the egg” type of question to ask. Is he a prolific collegiate passer because he has someone like Davis to throw to, or is he actually a quality QB that is able to get the best out of his stud WR?

I firmly believe that Davis is a top 15 NFL Draft pick, so I took a look at top 15 WRs from the last decade, their QBs, the relevant stats, and if they were drafted.

Corey Coleman201615BaylorSeth Russell0.612.10
Amari Cooper20154AlabamaBlake Sims0.659.2263
Kevin White20157WVUClint Trickett0.677.6263
DeVante Parker201514LouisvilleWill Gardner0.588263
Sammy Watkins20144ClemsonTajh Boyd0.699.82213
Mike Evans20147TAMUJohnny Manziel0.79.9222
Odell Beckham201412LSUZach Mettenberger0.6510.58178
Tavon Austin20138WVUGeno Smith0.719.1739
Justin Blackmon20125Ok StBrandon Weeden0.728.6122
Michael Floyd201213NDTommy Rees0.666.4263
AJ Green20114GeorgiaAaron Murray0.619.26163
Julio Jones20116AlabamaAJ McCarron0.629.16164
Darrius Heyward-Bey20097MarylandChris Turner0.576.16263
Michael Crabtree200910TTGraham Harrell0.718.96263
Calvin Johnson20072GTReggie Ball0.445.15263
Ted Ginn20079Ohio StTroy Smith0.659.16174

I used 263 as the draft position for any player who went undrafted, and a 0 for Seth Russell because he is still in school.3 Of the 15 other QBs, eight were drafted, and seven went undrafted, a fairly even split. Two were first round picks (Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel), and Geno Smith was also taken in the top 100. The other five QBs were all taken prior to the seventh round. Here is how the groups matched up overall.


Again we see that while the average AYA and completion percentage are strong throughout the overall cohort of players, there is a clear separation between those who were drafted, and those who were not. The drafted players had an AYA 1.11 better on average, and completed six percent more passes than the undrafted players. Again, Terrell seems to fall firmly into the former group.

The Takeaway

Based on all of the information we have right now, it would appear that Terrell’s viability as a draft prospect is being largely undervalued. When we consider his final year statistics matched up against a similar cohort of both small school QBs and QBs playing with elite WR talent, Terrell is off-the-charts level good. When we consider his weight, I would say that he looks more like a round four pick than a round seven pick, and he should absolutely be drafted.

However, there is still some more that needs to be found out about Terrell before we can label him a viable candidate for success in the NFL. Primarily, he needs to be invited to the NFL Combine so we can get some ball velocity data on him. Ball velocity was about as significant as final year AYA at predicting success in RotoDoc’s model. If he can throw a good ball, and be drafted high enough, we could be looking at a future fantasy performer. He should be a fun player to track throughout the draft process.

  1. All of the data is taken from our Box Score Scout App, which should be an essential tool for your draft research.  (back)
  2. Probably because completion percentage will already factor into AYA  (back)
  3. It should be noted that despite consecutive seasons with a major injury, he has been invited to the Senior Bowl.  (back)

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