Clayton Thorson 2019 NFL Draft Profile

Clayton Thorson
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 01: Northwestern Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) drops back for a pass during the Big Ten Conference Championship college football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 1, 2018, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Overview
Position
: Quarterback
Height: 6’4″
Weight: 222 pounds
School: Northwestern Wildcats

Clayton Thorson 2019 NFL Draft Profile

A Rivals 150 recruit and the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback according to that outlet, Clayton Thorson showed flashes of what he was capable of when he was named the MVP of the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. It came after a successful high school career at North Wheaton in the Chicago suburbs where he earned first team all-state honors by the Chicago Tribune as a senior. Top programs were hot on his trail as he received offers from 11 Power Five schools. In the end, he stayed close to home and comprised Pat Fitzgerald‘s 2014 recruiting class.

Thorson sat out his first year in Evanston but immediately vaulted himself into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman. Though his production was underwhelming (1,522 yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions), he did become the first signal caller in Wildcat history to win 10 games in his debut season. His numbers skyrocketed a year later. He totaled 3,182 yards while throwing a single-season school record 22 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, receiving honorable mention all-Big Ten notice in the process.

10 games into his redshirt junior season, Thorson entered the stratosphere with respect to Northwestern quarterbacks. As a result of the Wildcats’ 23-13 victory over Purdue on November 11, 2017, Thorson won his 26th game and subsequently became the program’s all-time winningest signal-caller. He earned third-team all-Big Ten recognition at the end of the season but tore his ACL in the Music City Bowl. But he didn’t let the injury slow him down as he returned in 2018 and accounted for a career-high 3,183 yards and 17 touchdowns. He finished his career as the only quarterback in the history of the Big Ten to throw for 10,000 yards and run for 20 touchdowns.

Strengths

  • quintessential size for an NFL level quarterback;
  • throws with a quick release and solid mechanics;
  • capable of making plays with his feet;
  • can deliver accurate cross-field throws;
  • able to fit the ball into tight windows on the run if the pocket breaks down;
  • solid footwork on three, five, and seven-step drops;
  • impressive numbers despite not having the best supporting cast;
  • operated in a pro-friendly offense at Northwestern;
  • 53 starts are the most by a quarterback in Big Ten history;

Weaknesses

  • remains too static in the pocket and susceptible to succumbing to edge pressure;
  • needs to improve ability to hit receivers in stride;
  • too often keys on primary read instead of going through progressions;
  • below average yards per completion in college suggests deficiencies throwing the ball deep;
  • holds onto the ball too long instead of getting rid of it once he’s outside the pocket;
  • seems to let mistakes snowball in his head instead of playing with a short memory;
  • 45 career interceptions in college;
  • has a torn ACL in his medical history.

NFL Comparison: Tom Savage

Teams With Need at Position: Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins

note: some of the teams above are set from a starting standpoint but could use added depth at the position

Projection: Fifth to sixth round

Bottom Line

An immensely experienced prospect who locked down the starting job as a redshirt freshman and never let go of it, Thorson put up historic numbers at Northwestern. The fact he played in a pro-style offense means there are elements of his skill set that should translate well to the next level. When given a clean pocket, Thorson can make a wide variety of throws and is fairly accurate at the intermediate level. And he also brings a significant dual-threat component as he rushed for 27 touchdowns during his college career.

But Thorson won’t be able to allay concerns from scouts about his arm strength as his ability to test defenses vertically is subpar. He’s too much of a primary read thrower and doesn’t do enough to manipulate safeties with his eyes. His interception numbers are a genuine concern as well as it hints that his decision-making on the fly needs work. And unless he becomes more elusive in the pocket, he’ll never be able to consistently escape from upper-echelon edge speed.

The nature of the offense he ran means that Thorson shouldn’t have too pronounced a learning curve in adjusting to NFL-level complexity. But issues regarding his level of arm talent likely inhibits his ceiling and might make it difficult for him to develop into a consistent starter. But teams looking for depth at the position late in the draft will certainly have done their homework on Thorson and might pull the trigger.

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