Call Josh Buchanan an outlier in the world of NFL Draft analysts, but he believes former North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick is undervalued by many in his line of work.
Buchanan, a South Carolinian who does work for www.draftscout.com, says of the QB who led the Bison to two national championships and was a major part of a third: "He's going to go higher than people think."
Buchanan put that rising stock in writing this week, bumping Stick to the ninth-best QB available in the upcoming NFL Draft, up from the 12th slot the website had him since the end of the college football season. Stick leap-frogged three players he'd been rated behind: Northwestern's Clayton Thorson, North Carolina State's Ryan Finley and Washington State's Gardner Minshew II.
The higher ranking has Stick projected as a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick instead of the seventh-round projection www.draftscout.com had earlier.
Take it for what it's worth: It's one website and, really, do any draft analysts actually know what's going to happen?
(Listen to Mike McFeely's interview with Josh Buchanan of www.draftscout.com on The McFeely Mess podcast.)
Example: ESPN's Todd McShay has Finley rated as the 39th overall prospect in this year's draft, which would put him in the second round. ESPN's Mel Kiper, the dean of draft gurus, doesn't have Stick ranked among his top 10 and has Finley as the sixth-best QB and Minshew as the eighth-best.
The Athletic's Dane Brugler released his latest quarterback rankings last week and has Stick rated as the 12th-best prospect. That's down from the 10th spot where Brugler had Stick earlier, which at the time made Brugler the outlier because it was higher than everybody else. Brugler grades Stick as a seventh-round pick, or perhaps even an undrafted free agent.
"Lacks top-shelf arm strength, struggling to rip it without a firm base ... shorter-than-ideal with a low release point," Brugler wrote in his breakdown of Stick. "Loses velocity on his fastball on the move ... unimpressive downfield passer, forcing receivers to work for it."
Buchanan acknowledges Stick's relative lack of arm strength, but says his team sources who have seen the quarterback in person — including some who were in Fargo for NDSU's pro day — say Stick's arm looks better in person than on tape. He said scouts have told him Stick could be a solid NFL backup.
"One of the teams that was there told me he's head and shoulders above their No. 2 quarterback now," Buchanan said. "When do you normally draft a No. 2 quarterback? You draft him in the third, fourth, fifth round."
That would align with what Stick's agent, Chase Callahan of Rep1 Sports, said in January shortly after the Bison beat Eastern Washington for their seventh Football Championship Subdivision national title in eight years.
"Our agency sees Easton as a developmental starter," Callahan said, "and generally those types of quarterbacks go in the third to the fifth round."
A developmental starter is a player who begins his career as a backup and eventually works his way into a starting position. That's clearly what separates Stick from a quarterback like his predecessor Carson Wentz, who was viewed as a franchise player with unlimited upside because of his phenomenal size and arm strength.
"He doesn't have the big arm by any means, but it's good enough to make the throws you need to make and when you're talking about a guy who can do all the stuff he can do — name a chink in his armor," Buchanan said. "If he had the same arm as Wentz, we're talking about a second-round pick right now, maybe higher."
Brugler isn't nearly as confident. While acknowledging Stick as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in FCS history, Brugler said "his average arm talent limits his NFL ceiling." Brugler compared Stick as a possible backup comparable to Connor Shaw.
Shaw was the all-time winningest quarterback at South Carolina. He played from 2011-13, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder who is the Gamecocks' career leader in completion percentage (65.5 percent), second in career passing touchdowns (56) and fourth in career passing yards (6,074). Shaw is also the 22nd all-time leading rusher in school history (1,683 yards).
Shaw went undrafted, but signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent in 2014. He started one game for the Browns but missed 2015 with a thumb injury. The Chicago Bears signed him in 2016, but missed part of that year with a broken leg and was waived by the Bears in the spring of 2017.
Buchanan said his sources are much higher on Stick.
"I think he might surprise people. If he's there at the end of the sixth round, I'd be floored. I really expect he comes off before the end of the fifth," Buchanan said.