Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
A few weeks ago, a coach, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, was sitting in his office, talking with NFL scouts when the subject turned to Ball State quarterback Nate Davis.
The day before, the coach's team had become yet another victim of Davis' arm strength, elusiveness and accuracy, and suffered a blowout loss to the Cardinals. Five NFL scouts chatted about Davis that day and they all came to the same conclusion:
Nate Davis is a first-round pick.
The junior has not made a decision about whether he'll stay for his senior season or make the jump to the NFL, but with a weak senior class, Davis is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and several scouts claim he might be the best overall depending on who else declares.
"I have him in the first or second round," said Todd McShay, director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. "And part of it will have to do with what other quarterbacks come out, and this is all under the assumption that he does leave early... There's not a whole lot to dislike about Nate Davis, that's the thing. I think that his footwork could be a little better, which he can improve. He doesn't grip the laces. He uses gloves on both hands, which can be a little bit concerning to NFL teams.
"But the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. He's a very good athlete. He's an accurate passer, and he can actually become a more accurate passer as he continues to improve his footwork. He throws well on the run. He has a very strong arm, he can make all the NFL throws and he's a gamer, too. He's performed well in the clutch, obviously a very good leader, and NFL teams are intrigued by his competitive nature."
So far this season, Davis is completing 67 percent of his passes for 2,822 yards, 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He's also rushed for 177 yards and three scores. He's helped Ball State to an 11-0 record, best in school history, heading into tonight's game against Western Michigan. The Cardinals are one game away from an undefeated regular season.
Davis is on pace, if the Cardinals make the MAC Championship Game, and after the team's bowl game, to equal or surpass last year's total of more than 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Ball State coach Brady Hoke said scouts have been around the Ball State facility almost every week since the beginning of the season, but that he hasn't asked them who they're looking at since Davis is still a junior. But he understands the piqued interest in his star quarterback and thinks he's matured this season.
"When you look at Nate and the competitiveness that he has, he understands that he doesn't have to go out there and win every game for us," Hoke said. "I just think he hasn't forced any throws in the last eight or nine weeks. When you know him and the competitiveness that he has, that's a real path of growing up as a quarterback."
Should Davis decide to leave early, he probably won't have to worry about the senior class of quarterbacks impeding his draft status, but there are a couple juniors that could jump ahead of him. Included in that list is Matthew Stafford from Georgia, Mark Sanchez from USC, Josh Freeman from Kansas State and Sam Bradford from Oklahoma.
"Stafford and Bradford, in my opinion, would rate higher than Davis," McShay said. "Then I think Davis, Sanchez and Freeman would all be in that same ballpark. And it depends, at that point, what you're looking for. I think Davis is a little bit more developmental whereas Josh Freeman has all the tools."
The success of Ball State this season could be a good reason for Davis to leave, especially if the Cardinals clinch the MAC West tonight and win the MAC title game next week. He has a family to think about as well. Last January, Davis convinced his ex-girlfriend to move herself and their now 2-year-old daughter, Mia, to Muncie, Ind. Davis admitted that last season, he spent a lot of time worrying about Mia and not focusing on football. Now that he's able to see Mia every day, it's sharpened his focus, made him mature, and made him understand just what football could do for his family and his future.
"Of course I have to take care of my football things, but she's my No. 1," Davis told ESPN.com this past summer. "I always have to take care of her. That's the first thing that comes to my mind. Just trying to make it through with her. I've just got to keep on playing hard and maybe I can make it to the next level and make it easy for her."
Davis doesn't have to declare for the draft right away. Within the next couple months he can ask the NFL's College Advisory Committee to evaluate him and give him an approximation of his draft status. If he's a top draft pick, as many expect, he'll have a decision to make. Ball State does lose most of its starting offensive line and Davis would lose his starting tight end and a receiver.
"Right now, there isn't a senior quarterback worth drafting certainly in the first two rounds and maybe in the first three rounds," McShay said. "So, it's hard to tell someone not to leave early if they have the potential to be a first- or second-round pick because there's not a whole lot of competition at that position."