INDIANAPOLIS – Former Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner is looking to impress NFL teams this week as a “throwing quarterback” — in a couple senses of the phrase.
As one of the last passers picked to attend this year’s scouting combine, the 23-year-old Lakeville native was asked by event organizers to be a “throwing quarterback,” which means he is doing double duty here in Indianapolis.
In addition to competing in quarterback drills Saturday with top prospects like Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson, Leidner was one of a few human Jugs machines for Friday’s on-field drills for running backs. And while the big guns will fly out of town after firing passes Saturday, he will stick around to throw to defenders Sunday and Monday.
Leidner feels fortunate to be here in that role, in part because the biggest question mark scouts and draft analysts seem to have about his game is, well, the throwing.
“They keep telling me to go out and sling it and have fun, show what you can do,” Leidner told reporters Thursday. “I have a great opportunity here.”
Leidner is viewed as a late-round prospect by many draft analysts after he garnered early first-round buzz from ESPN’s Todd McShay before his uneven senior season. Rob Rang of CBS Sports was also intrigued, writing in July that he could be “this year’s Carson Wentz.”
But after having his best statistical season as a junior, Leidner completed 56.4 percent of his passes as a senior with 12 interceptions and only eight touchdown passes. He followed that up by completing only three of 12 passes for 38 yards in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, giving scouts and analysts doubts about his accuracy and overall polish as a passer.
“He lacks timing, decision-making and confidence as a passer,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote. “Leidner doesn’t seem to have an advanced feel for his game plan post-snap and that tends to limit him to check-downs and too many contested throws.”
In addition to training at Inspired Athletx in Eden Prairie for the combine and the Gophers’ pro day, Leidner said former Vikings quarterback and one-time league MVP Rich Gannon, whom he calls “a pretty big stickler when it comes to accuracy,” is helping him with his mechanics. Leidner hopes the tweaks pay off in Indianapolis.
“I just want to show them I can throw the football well, be accurate with it, put touch on it when need be,” said Leidner, who has not been asked to try another position and who was officially measured at 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds with 10-inch hands.
Like the rest of the 330 prospects invited to the scouting combine, Leidner has gone through the full gantlet of medical exams, psychological tests and physical measurements. He is also meeting with teams both formally and informally. On Thursday, he estimated that he had already met with about half of the league’s 32 teams.
Leidner, who rushed for 33 touchdowns and won 24 starts in his four seasons at Minnesota, should test out well in Saturday’s drills. But what will matter most is how he fares on the field, when he goes throw for throw against his peers.
Other “throwing quarterbacks” at the combine in recent years include T.J. Yates, Austin Davis, Chandler Harnish and Joel Stave. Stave ended up signing with the Vikings last spring as an undrafted rookie free agent but was released during the regular season.
Back in 1993, Kurt Warner was considered for the role but was the odd man out. Iowa’s Paul Burmeister ended up getting picked to be the last “throwing quarterback” that year. Despite getting passed over for the final combine invite, things turned out OK for Warner, who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month.
Leidner probably hasn’t been thinking too much lately about bronze busts and gold jackets. But his extended audition at the combine has given him a chance to turn some heads as scouts check out players at other positions — and maybe change some minds.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing where this brings me.”