It was love at first grease board.
When the Bengals brought in North Carolina State quarterback Ryan Finley for a pre-draft visit, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt tested his football acumen.
“We put him through a process where we taught him one of our protections that had about a half dozen adjustments – maybe more,” said Van Pelt Saturday after the Bengals traded up in the fourth round to get him. “We took a little break and then came back in and (offense coordinator) Brian (Callahan) got him on the board and (Finley) spit it out pretty much verbatim. We were impressed with his ability to learn and comprehend quickly.”
Finley, who earned three college degrees at Boise State and N.C. State including a Master’s degree, enjoyed being grilled by the Bengals’ staff.
“I’m not sure if it was without error, but I did my best to recall everything and obviously protections are a big part of the next level so that’s something that I am definitely committed to learning,” Finley said. “It was fun to be in that room with Coach Van Pelt and start talking ball. It was a really good introduction for hopefully how the next years will be.”
Finley was selected to compete with Jeff Driskel to be the Bengals number two quarterback.
“Andy Dalton is our starting quarterback,” said Callahan. “That has not changed and will not change. We think very highly of Andy and what he’s going to do in our offense.”
But the Bengals thought highly enough of Finley to jump up six spots in the fourth round to select him, packaging two of their sixth-round picks to exchange spots with the 49ers. It was only the fifth time in club history they traded up in a draft and the first time for a quarterback.
“We had him targeted all along as a quarterback that would fit for us at the right place,” said Callahan. “I don’t know if the plan was to move up in the draft last night when we left. But we felt like he was there for the taking and instead of trying to wait and see if he fell to us, we decided to just go get him.”
After transferring from Boise State, the 24-year-old Finley was a three-year starter at N.C. State and a team captain as a senior. The Arizona native ranks second in school history (behind Philip Rivers) with 10,505 passing yards and went 25-14 as the Wolfpack’s starting QB. Last season he led the ACC in completion percentage (.673) and finished with 25 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Pro Football Focus called him “one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the class.”
“He’s a guy that stood out to me from the beginning,” said Van Pelt. “His mechanics, his fundamentals, his accuracy with his 67% completion percentage, his ability to move within the pocket and make plays, and his rhythm and footwork. He was a guy that I kind of circled early on watching tape with Brian and said, ‘This is a guy in the right spot that had nice upside.’”
View images of quarterback Ryan Finley from NC State, the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.
Finley and Central Connecticut State’s Jacob Dolegala were the only quarterbacks that the Bengals brought in for pre-draft visits. As a result, Finley was hopeful to be one of Cincinnati’s early-round selections.
“Anything can happen in the NFL Draft, but I did think that the visit went well and I remember thinking to myself how fortunate I would be if I got to play for the Bengals with all the quarterbacks they have in the building,” he said. “With Coach Taylor being a quarterback, and Coach Callahan being a quarterback, and Coach Van Pelt having coached quarterbacks for a long time, I remember thinking how fortunate I would be if I could just be around so many quarterback minds.
“It’s hard not to hope that you go earlier, but for the most part I just wanted a really good fit. I think this is a really good fit for me so I was really excited to get that call from Coach Taylor. I had been in the building and kind of been around everyone and just kind of known that it was a place that I would feel really good about going.”
Soon he’ll be back in front of the grease board at Paul Brown Stadium.
“I’m ready to compete and learn,” said Finley. “I’m excited for the learning curve of the NFL. I’ve obviously been in college for a long time now so I’m excited for that next step and that next challenge. Whatever I can do to help the team as early as I can I’m going to do that.”
“I think ultimately what you see in Ryan is a kid that makes really good decisions, he’s very accurate, he throws on time, and those are kind of things that we value in the quarterback position,” said Callahan. “He displayed all three at a high level at N.C. State.”
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