Northwestern QB Thorson Continues Strong NFL Case

Clayton Thorson had an impressive pro day showing Tuesday.

Chris Emma
March 12, 2019 - 9:41 pm
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson

Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports

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EVANSTON, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Clayton Thorson dropped back and fired a strike over the middle. He stepped into one and unleashed a deep ball down the right side. He scrambled across his body to the left and pinpointed a pass along the sidelines.

Thorson threw 50 passes and completed 48 of them. He finished taking a knee in the victory formation and receiving the praise from many of the representatives on hand from all 32 NFL teams.

"I was hoping for 50-for-50," Thorson said after his workout Tuesday.

A four-year starter at quarterback for Northwestern, the Wheaton product Thorson showed all his best abilities as a player. He hoped to display in himself the traits of a successful NFL quarterback -- mobility, timing, precision -- and he seemed to do just that.

But those who know Thorson best from Northwestern talk about the person first before the player. They know the individual who has elevated the program while handling his own adversity, doing it all with a positive spirit.

"There's no better leader," Northwestern receiver Flynn Nagel said of Thorson. "The character that he has, the kind of man that he is. I don't think I've ever met someone quite like Clayton."

At Northwestern, they have seen Thorson's throws many times before. He finished as the program's all-time leader in career completions with 991, passing yards with 10,731 and touchdowns with 61. He led the Wildcats to the Big Ten West title in 2018 and left as the Offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl.

What was just as impressive to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is how Thorson handled his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in the team's Music City Bowl game appearance in December 2017, fighting his way back to play the Wildcats' season-opening game at Purdue this past August -- only eight months removed from knee surgery. The injury was a freak occurrence, coming on a trick play in that bowl game with Thorson running a receiving route. It jeopardized his NFL stock but didn't dampen his own hopes.

Thorson had a limited workload in September as he was back so soon from the injury, but he wanted to be there with the Wildcats. He returned to form once healthy, and NFL scouts could sense the difference, Fitzgerald said.

"It was tough to watch him go through it, but I think that again shows you his ability to handle adversity," Fitzgerald said. "That's what you're going to go face in this game. Especially at the quarterback position. There's a ton of guys that think they can do it. There's only a handful that are championship level. His ability to get back off that injury and lead us to a (Big Ten West) championship shows that he's got that type of pedigree."

Thorson doesn't project among the top quarterbacks in this 2019 class. Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and Missouri's Drew Lock are among the quarterbacks viewed as first-round fits. But the upside of Thorson is something that's intriguing for the NFL. It brought out many members of the Panthers' front office to Evanston, including general manager Marty Hurney.

While the league debates the 5-foot-10 frame of Murray and the evolution of a modern-day quarterback, it's hard to argue against Thorson's 6-foot-4 frame with accuracy and mobility. Fitzgerald sees plenty more in him.

"High football IQ, confidence in his ability, understanding coverages, obviously understands the route progressions that he had to go through while he was here and also understands that there's more to learn," Fitzgerald said. "He has that attitude of wanting to learn -- where I think some guys get on the field thinking they're the finished product."

Thorson explained what he hopes to bring an NFL team.

"They're getting, first and foremost, a guy with a lot of experience," Thorson said. "I feel like the last two years, I wasn't surprised with anything a defense threw my way. So I think that helps.

"With our offense, my ability to throw with a lot of anticipation into tight windows. I know that's something at the next level that I need to do. And also my ability to get out of the pocket and extend a play."

It remains to be seen where Thorson falls in this draft. He could go somewhere in Day 2 or fall into Day 3 on Saturday. There's always an uncertainty for the quarterbacks not considered in that top crop.

But some team will give Thorson the opportunity -- maybe just the chance to establish himself on their depth chart. At Northwestern, they know that Thorson can handle whatever chance he gets.

"He's going to carry that into the NFL," Nagel said. "It's brought him this far, and I think it's going to keep carrying him to be a great player at the next level."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​