2015 NFL Draft: Scouting Potential Buffalo Bills Target QB Chris Bonner

With the current rash of spread attacks in the collegiate ranks, finding a quarterback that’s well versed in a pro-style scheme is getting harder and harder. The quarterback remains the Holy Grail of the NFL and every possible avenue needs to be explored, no matter how obscure.

This approach takes me to a Division II school in Pueblo, Colorado and to a quarterback called Chris Bonner. His listed measurements are 6’ 7” and 225 pounds (courtesy of the Medal Of Honor Bowl website). For teams that value prototypical size, he’s a rather large tick in that particular box.

After 2 years at Grassmont Junior College, Bonner ended up as the 2-year starting QB of the CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves. Statistically, he might not blow people away. A 57.8% completion percentage isn’t going to wow those who like to scout the box score but the touchdown/interception ratio of 63 TD’s to 17 INT’s certainly shows that he can find the endzone and limit turnovers. Bonner’s collegiate career ended with a Division II National Championship and an invite to the Medal Of Honor All-Star game.

Pocket presence:
The first essential building block of a quarterback is the ability to manage the pocket. While Bonner isn’t the type of athlete that’s capable of vacating the pocket and making plays solely with his legs, he does have a feel for the bodies around him. He shows an ability to buy time for himself and is willing to step up in a muddy pocket with the intent of throwing downfield. Much like with Zach Mettenberger last year, he will need a clean pocket to be consistently effective but is capable of making something happen when the pocket breaks down.

A couple of examples from the West Georgia game (D-II Semi-final). First – Bonner feels the rush coming and steps into the pocket, dips to avoid the impending contact and fires a throw downfield with great velocity. His eyes stay downfield throughout the play.

Second – A very simple but effective half-step into the pocket to avoid the edge pressure and allows his right tackle the time to push the defender beyond the pocket.

The second essential is accuracy. While I believe Bonner to be a generally accurate passer with astute placement, there are typically a few throws in every game that get away from him. My belief is that this is tied into inconsistencies with his footwork and throwing base. The issue is entirely correctable with coaching but it does need addressing early in his development as a professional.

Arm strength
With the type of frame Bonner possesses, you’d expect two things. A cannon for an arm and a lack of functional mobility but only one of these is true. Bonner does have a big arm and looks very impressive when he gets the chance to showcase it. He has the requisite arm strength for the NFL and can test tight windows with confidence. He’s capable of throwing 50 yards with a mere flick of the wrist and I’ve had a few visions of him throwing Sammy Watkins open for a touchdown already.

Part of his development is gaining a better feel for when to fire the fastball and when to apply touch. He has shown flashes that he’s capable of throwing beautiful passes with touch but, like with anything else, consistency is the norm you hope to attain. Having overseen Colin Kaepernick’s development, Greg Roman is no stranger to this issue and hopefully Mr Bonner would find the consistency that Roman’s former QB has struggled with.

One of the best passes I’ve seen him make was a TD pass against Sam Houston State. The safety bites on the play action and makes the deep shot the easy choice. Bonner guides the ball over the coverage and into the awaiting arms of his receiver.

Functional mobility
As far as the functional mobility goes, Bonner is an extremely capable mover on designed roll outs for his size. He shows the ability to roll in either direction and looks comfortable doing so. He has the ability to throw accurately on the move and, combined with his other attributes, should be a very dangerous passer on play action and misdirection passes.

Against Chadron State, the fake toss right makes the end man on the LOS bite. Bonner moves well rolling to his left and hits his Tight End coming across the field in stride and allows him to gain extra yardage after the catch.

Having played in a Pro-style scheme in college, Bonner has an advantage over a lot of the possible QB options in the draft. Familiarity with the base concepts that the NFL will ask of him is a plus, as is the ability to read through a full progression and the Day 1 ability to take snaps from under center. The jump from a D-II school to the NFL is huge and there will be an adjustment period as the physical and mental processes speed up to the required level but I think the building blocks of a pure passer are there.

Chris Bonner is one of two quarterbacks in this class that I’m willing to advocate drafting and I hope that we are the team that takes the plunge on the obvious potential that he has. If EJ Manuel was a ‘piece of clay you can mould’, in relative terms, Bonner is the concept stage of a Matisse that needs a few well-placed brushstrokes to become a masterpiece.

Bonner isn’t a slam-dunk prospect by any means but I believe he offers the best Pro-style skill set and there is plenty of room for development. I’ve graded him as a 3rd rounder but projecting his stock isn’t easy given the relative obscurity of a school like CSU-Pueblo. If Chris Bonner is the QB-in-waiting for the Buffalo Bills by the end of May 2nd, I’ll have some real hope for the future of the position and the franchise.

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