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Sport Texas A&M's Kellen Mond Is Rising Up Draft Boards By Doing Things His Way

15:45  08 april  2021
15:45  08 april  2021 Source:   si.com

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Everyone is talking about the five top QB prospects, but an experienced SEC signal-caller is rising up draft boards after choreographing his own pro day.

Leading up to the most consequential performance of his life, Kellen Mond wanted to write the script alone.

Amid his draft preparation, he decided against hiring a professional quarterback guru to arrange the receivers, tailor Texas A&M’s pro day workout to his strengths and act as his unofficial media hype man. He knew what the scouts coming to see him wanted from a quarterback. He knew what kind of questions they had about him as a person and a player. He knew what kind of throws created explosive plays at the next level.

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Gone were throws out of the shotgun, since people would wonder if he could operate under center. Gone was all the stylistic fluff, the easy completions that would pad a résumé. After warming himself up, he started ripping medium- to long-distance passes, the kind of things that would be considered graduate-level throws in a professional offense. Deep posts. Go routes. Digs that came back between 18 and 20 yards. Over routes.

Gone were any of the pretenses that normally come with these often-sterile workouts. Questions about his ability to hit all corners of the route tree? Questions about his charisma and leadership ability? He laid out everything NFL personnel needed to know, stripped of all the bells and whistles, plain as day.

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“With all the NFL I’ve watched, I felt like I could come up with my own routes to run,” Mond said. “I didn’t need a quarterback guru to tell my receivers where to be when I feel like that’s my job, to be the leader and to be in command of the entire pro day.”

On the types of pro days designed by quarterback coaches, he added: “You want to show you can be accurate with underneath throws and quick screens, but I think a lot of guys do it so they can show they have more completions. I wanted to show 14-yard option routes. Go routes. Pushing the ball down the field.”

Jimbo Fisher, his collegiate coach, didn’t flinch. Though he’d worked alongside Mond for years, helping develop the quarterback into one of three SEC players ever to throw for more than 9,000 yards and rush for more than 1,500 (Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott were the others), he had no clue Mond would show up that day and put on a spartan workout straight out of his own imagination.

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“I didn’t know he was going to do it,” Fisher said by phone on Tuesday. “But it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

The result was more than a few raised eyebrows. One evaluator noted that Mond was initially discussed as a late third-round or early fourth-round prospect, but he could have pushed himself into the top 50 of this month’s draft. He won the Senior Bowl MVP award in late January, which helped ignite a conversation about his draft status that had felt a little stagnant beforehand.

Before that moment, little seemed to help him pierce the hype machine surrounding the draft’s consensus top-five quarterback prospects: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. But Mond didn’t mind. After logging his first career minutes as an NCAA quarterback during his freshman year spelling an injured starter, he received death threats for his performance (a historic comeback win by Josh Rosen and UCLA). He now owns all of the Aggies’ most significant offensive records (passing yards, touchdowns and total yards).

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Letting a few more people know what they’re missing about him shouldn’t be that hard. Just ask him.

“I think, one, having 40-plus starts in your career. That’s ridiculous,” Mond said. “Certain guys have less than 20. Plus-40 is incredible. Being able to play four years in the SEC. In my first three years of college, I played against 20 first-round picks. I’m playing against some of the best D-linemen and players in the league. And I got better each year.”

Mond’s direct-to-consumer approach with his predraft process raises some interesting questions. Heading into draft season, one of the common knocks on him was a perceived lack of charisma, that nebulous leadership it-factor that scouts can sometimes irresponsibly interpret and miscast.

Bypassing a quarterback coach, one who might instruct a prospect not only on how to doctor his pro day, but how to appear in front of NFL people, flipped the question on its head. What’s leadership? Creating your own path or paying someone to do it for you? What’s real and true authenticity? Doing what you think is right or contorting yourself into a prefabricated box? What is an actual gunslinger mentality? Staging a calculated performance with more choreography than Hamilton or trusting you could let it rip?

Fisher said that has always been Mond’s preferred method of operation. He is relentless. He digests the why in everything and he leads with a quiet calm. He’s had quarterbacks in the past who preferred a different approach. Neither was an indicator of success.

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“I’ve learned over time, when you start to force a personality, you ruin a guy,” Fisher said. “Sometimes a guy can do it quietly; sometimes a guy can do it loudly.”

That authenticity helped Mond improve statistically every year at College Station. In three of his four games against Alabama (the closest thing to a professional defense any quarterback entering the 2021 draft has seen), he posted a quarterback rating of 120 or better. He threw for 430 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, for a QB rating of 172.6 against Clemson and its demonic coordinator, Brent Venables. He beat LSU twice.

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Now Mond stands as one of the most fascinating quarterback prospects in a class where passers are guaranteed to go with each of the first three picks and could likely extend the streak beyond that.

“I think where he sits in the draft right now, outside of the big five that everyone is talking about, teams feel that if they hit, they can hit on a starter,” said Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl. “To me, the floor is a backup. We know he can be a backup. But if you hit, you’re hitting on a starter, and that’s what has teams so intrigued.”

Mond has little doubt he’ll hit. But if you were a scout at his pro day and digested the message, you already knew that.

“I bet a lot of people, if you would have told them that Kellen would be one of the top quarterbacks coming out after my sophomore or junior year, they would have told me no,” he said. “I’ve been able to overcome. Not listening to people. Proving some people right and proving some people wrong.”

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