Stanford has a grand total of 14 wins in its last four seasons, but the Cardinal are starting to look like a quarterback factory.
In 2021, little-known Davis Mills snuck into the early portion of the third round and became the Texans’ starting quarterback for parts of two seasons. Two years later, Tanner McKee is on track to surprise even some of the most dedicated college football fans on draft night.
No, McKee won’t crash the Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud party at the top of the draft. He almost certainly won’t touch the range of Will Levis or Anthony Richardson, who could both come off the board early in the first round. After that? Who knows.
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Here’s what you need to know about why McKee could sneak into the early rounds of the NFL Draft.
Tanner McKee draft projection
Projecting McKee’s draft range is tricky. The second tier of quarterback prospects is always tough to gauge, which we saw on full display in 2022.
After Kenny Pickett came off the board in the first round, no team took a chance on Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, or Matt Corral until the middle of the third round despite many projections placing them in the second round or higher.
Even Sam Howell, considered a likely day two pick, slipped into the fifth round. Teams often reach for quarterbacks in the first round, but there tends to be a fine line between those quarterbacks and the next tier in eyes of NFL front offices.
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As of now, McKee’s range appears to be in the late second or early third round. NFL Network’s Chad Reuter had the Lions drafting McKee 81st overall in his February mock draft, while a January mock draft by DraftWire had McKee coming off the board as early as the 40th pick.
SN’s Vinnie Iyer ranks McKee as his No. 6 QB, but there is a massive gap between the top four quarterbacks and the next tier of Hendon Hooker (No. 74 overall) and McKee (No. 80 overall).
Quarterbacks are at a premium, and all it takes is one team to fall in love with his potential for McKee to be drafted higher than expected. Here’s what might interest quarterback-needy teams.
Why Tanner McKee’s stock could rise
Iyer calls the Stanford quarterback a “classic, strong, big pocket passer with system-versatile sensibility.” That type of profile is what drew interest in Mills two years ago, and it’s partially what attracts scouts to Levis leading up to this draft. The appeal of McKee is what could be, not what he already has been.
McKee did not have the typical numbers or win totals of a top-tier quarterback prospect at Stanford, but many prospects who do have those accolades don’t pan out at the next level.
Josh Allen is the typical example of why college numbers shouldn’t necessarily scare teams away from a quarterback. Allen battled accuracy and turnover issues at Wyoming, and he didn’t do much winning despite playing in a non-power conference. Still, his ridiculous arm strength and play-making ability captivated teams.
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McKee is (likely) not Allen. He does have impressive arm strength and size, though. While he doesn’t have the play-making ability Allen does, McKee was mostly accurate at Stanford and rarely turned the ball over.
That’s the type of profile that could make McKee a high-floor prospect who can at least be a serviceable NFL quarterback if he doesn’t turn into a long-term starter.
Tanner McKee college stats
McKee was rumored as a potential first-round prospect after a decent first season at Stanford, when he wasn’t asked to throw the ball too often.
His 2022 season will almost certainly keep him out of that range. McKee saw a drop in yards per attempt and touchdowns even as he threw more often. Stanford struggled to a 3-9 record, resulting in the end of coach David Shaw’s tenure in Palo Alto. The issues at Stanford went well beyond the quarterback position, though.
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Mills didn’t have gaudy numbers before he was drafted 67th overall in 2021. He was limited to 13 games due partly to the COVID-shortened season, throwing 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions along with 3,468 yards.
McKee didn’t leave as much to the imagination with his 24 games, which may hurt him, but projections indicate teams still see something in his skillset that could make him worth a day two pick.