In his Miami Hurricanes debut Thursday night, transfer QB D’Eriq King gave us flashes of his incredible 2018 season.
King completed 15-of-23 passes (65.2 percent) for 141 yards, one TD and no interceptions in Miami’s 31-14 win over UAB — modest passing numbers, to be sure. But King also ran 12 times for 83 yards (a 6.9-yard average), including a few thrilling scrambles.
It was King’s FBS-record 16th straight game with both a passing TD and a rushing score. Dating back to his days as a Houston Cougar — and especially in his 50-TD season in 2018, with 36 passing and 14 rushing scores — the 5-foot-8, 190-pound King has found ways to generate offense through the air and on the ground consistently.
But is he an NFL quarterback?
That’s a debate that likely will happen in each of 32 NFL draft rooms from now until next spring. Our best guess is that some teams will say yes and that others will see his pro potential as a different kind of offensive weapon.
Kyler Murray being selected first overall most certainly will be a flashpoint pick in draft history. Like King, Murray’s dimension’s are not considered universally ideal to play quarterback in the NFL. But Murray is about to embark on what could be a tremendous breakthrough season in Year 2.
If Murray can take a step forward and improve over his terrific rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL paradigm for what a quarterback must look like could change forever.
Then again, the flip side is this: Not every small, athletic quarterback is going to be as good as Murray appears to be.
This will be the bottom line for King’s evaluation during and after his final college football season in 2020.
How King can convince the NFL he’s a QB
This is a big season for Miami and for King. The Canes have had only one losing season since 2007 and have finished with 10 wins as recently as 2017. But overall, the program — which hasn’t finished a season ranked in the top 10 since 2003 — has remained capped in recent years.
The arrival of King appears to have given the team stability and playmaking at a position where they’ve had very little of both in recent years. It’s one game, but his impact has been felt in other ways, such as him being named a team captain and earning the respect of his teammates almost immediately.
Miami also hasn’t produced many NFL talents at the position in recent years. After having eight Hurricanes quarterbacks drafted between 1983 and 2003, only one — sixth-rounder Brad Kaaya in 2017 — has been picked since.
King has the talent to change that streak. But it’s going to take the right team and the right offensive system to draft him as a quarterback. And though he won’t be a coveted prospect on the level of Murray, we don’t think, King can show he’s worth drafting and developing there with a strong final season.
Among the knocks against him as a passer are that he lacks great precision and accuracy and that he’s often racked up production on predominantly predetermined reads in high-octane, spread offenses. There is some truth to both of those.
King also can learn better pocket sense, be more patient through his progressions and more effectively manipulate defenses with his eyes.
But in working with new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, King can develop those traits more readily this season, we feel. Lashlee came up under Gus Malzahn at Auburn with Cam Newton at quarterback and returned to the school to help develop former Tigers QB Nick Marshall from a gifted athlete into a better passer.
Lashlee also oversaw the career revival of SMU QB Shane Buechele last season, helping refine some of his technique while also knowing better than trying to harness Buechele’s playmaking ability and gunslinger nature.
The Canes are going to use tempo this season, and it will be imperative for King not only to play faster but also to process and think faster. That can only help his NFL development. And if King can show better downfield touch and improve his throw-to-throw accuracy, we have little doubt that some NFL teams will want to try him at quarterback and see what exactly they have.
He’s not as big as Philadelphia Eagles 2020 second-rounder Jalen Hurts, and King has yet to show the same season-to-season, tangible improvement as a passer as Hurts did over the past three seasons. But that model of drafting a player who can contribute in multiple ways while developing as a QB prospect behind an entrenched starter might be King’s ideal path in the league.
Athletic skills shouldn’t go to waste
King’s athletic ability is what makes him special. Without his scrambling skill, King would be a somewhat ordinary college quarterback.
And it’s that springy athleticism and open-field elusiveness that might compel some NFL teams to try him elsewhere — perhaps as a slot receiver, returner or even as a jack-of-all-trades running back. It would be a shame to see that skill level not at least be cultivated in some form.
All hail the D'Eriq 👑 pic.twitter.com/oLcMKRt37l— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) September 11, 2020
Oh, and D'Eriq King can do this too 🔥🔥🔥— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) September 11, 2020
Miami takes a 14-7 lead. pic.twitter.com/HgKTqMB97u
King’s career rushing numbers are eye-opening. In four years at Houston, plus his one game so far at Miami, he’s run for 1,504 yards on 265 carries (a 5.7-yard average) and 29 touchdowns. The numbers are more impressive when you consider that sack yardage (he’s been taken down 36 times in his career) is subtracted from rushing totals in college football.
He also spent parts of two seasons, in 2016 and 2017 with the Cougars, as a receiver — mostly operating out of the slot. King caught 58 passes for 492 yards and three scores before being switched to quarterback midway through the 2017 season, and he had experience as a kick returner (10 returns, 254 yards, one TD) and punt returner (six returns, 29 yards) as a freshman.
To King’s credit, he often will wait for a chance to throw the ball before he scrambles. But when he does, he’s a thrilling runner in the open field. King also showed some nice toughness Monday night in throwing a block on Cam’Ron Harris’ run that energized the Miami sideline. He can take a pop, as we’ve seen the past five years.
There likely will be some teams who are dubious about King as a quarterback. That’s just the way it likely will be. But if they’re not worried about his somewhat length injury history, King might have enough athletic juice to be tried on some NFL clubs as a non-QB for his athletic traits.
The man whom King replaced at quarterback at Houston, Greg Ward Jr., has carved out a pretty nice role for himself with the Eagles as a slot receiver and punt returner. He started three games down the stretch for them last season and caught 28 passes. The belief is that he’ll start in Week 1 this season for Philadelphia, too.
King might be shorter than Ward, but he has a thicker build — and appears to be a bit more of an elusive runner than his predecessor. What helped King on his professional journey, which included a stop in the AAF, was that he bought into the slot-receiver idea and has made steady, notable strides in his development there over the past four years.
King’s NFL evaluation will be a fascinating one — and he has the remainder of this season to try to prove he has enough to be tried first at QB. But if not, there appears to be enough intrigue in his skill set to provide him another potential path to the league.
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