Penn State Football

2019 NFL draft: What Penn State record-holder Trace McSorley offers the Baltimore Ravens

McSorley knows he’s athletic but is focused on quarterback

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks about his experience at the NFL combine and Pro Day after throwing for scouts on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at Penn State's Holuba Hall.
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Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks about his experience at the NFL combine and Pro Day after throwing for scouts on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at Penn State's Holuba Hall.

Trace McSorley went ignored in mock draft after mock draft and was asked to work out as a defensive back at the NFL Combine. It’s not the first time the undersized, under-recruited quarterback has been dismissed, and it likely won’t be the last. But McSorley will look to prove any remaining doubters wrong in Baltimore.

McSorley — Penn State’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense and wins — was selected by the Baltimore Ravens at No. 197 overall Saturday in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft in Nashville. The Fiesta Bowl and Big Ten title game MVP was the 11th quarterback off the board, behind everyone from No. 1 pick Kyler Murray to North Dakota State’s Easton Stick.

It should be noted that — for the first time since sitting behind Christian Hackenberg in 2015 — McSorley won’t be a starter. Barring injury, the Ravens’ offense will be led by Lamar Jackson. Robert Griffin is also on the depth chart. McSorley is going to have to fight for his place on Baltimore’s 53-man roster, but it looks promising.

“There are things to really like about him. His mental makeup, his pocket mobility,” Scouts Inc. expert Steve Muench told the CDT prior to the draft. “But he’s a smaller guy with below-average arm strength. That’s going to be tough to overcome.”

And yet, McSorley made it this far with those limitations.

Coming out of Briar Woods High School in northern Virginia, McSorley — an all-state defensive back — was recruited by Power 5 programs as a safety. But he stuck to his guns about being a quarterback, committed to James Franklin’s Vanderbilt and followed the head coach to Happy Valley in 2014. The No. 571 prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, per 247 Sports, McSorley’s eventual rise to stardom at Penn State was not expected.

But the 6-foot signal-caller spearheaded Penn State’s turnaround in 2016, guiding the Nittany Lions to the program’s first conference title since 1994. In 2017, McSorley capped another double-digit win season with arguably the best performance of his career in the Fiesta Bowl. The game MVP threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, completed 12 of 12 passes on third down and boasted a 290.1 efficiency rating on third down.

Last season, McSorley’s passing production dipped without Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton and, perhaps most importantly, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. But the gritty leader shouldered more of the offensive load, playing through the pain and rushing for a career-high 798 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. In his final game for the Nittany Lions, McSorley willed Penn State back into the Citrus Bowl in a losing effort against Kentucky.

“Trace is special,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said in Orlando. “You look out on the field and you focus on his arm and his legs. But it’s his heart and his mind that really makes him special.”

Scouts and experts like that, too. OurLads.com general manager Dan Shonka — a longtime NFL and USFL scout — called McSorley a “leader and winner” who simply “knows what to do.” Muench echoed that sentiment, saying McSorley will “come in, master your offense, master your weekly gameplan and understand where he wants to go with the ball.”

But at least one NFL team wasn’t sold on McSorley as a quarterback. He was reportedly asked at the NFL Combine to work out as a defensive back, and McSorley declined.

Saquon Barkley tweeted, calling that request “disrespectful.” Former teammates Amani Oruwariye and Shareef Miller said the same at Penn State’s Pro Day. Miller admitted he was biased, but labeled McSorley “the best quarterback in the draft” considering the captain’s winning drives and toughness.

McSorley didn’t take the DB request as a sign of disrespect. But the new Ravens quarterback won’t forget it as he forges an NFL career under center.

“In my heart and mind, I’m a quarterback,” McSorley said at Penn State’s Pro Day. “That’s where I’ve laid my groundwork. That’s what I did in high school. That’s where I’ve put all my hard work behind the scenes that no one was able to see me do. ... It put a chip on my shoulder for sure.”

As if there wasn’t one there already.

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