The 2012 Draft was the year of the quarterback and has effectively made life miserable for every QB class to follow. The Washington Redskins paid the highest price in NFL Draft history for the right to draft Robert Griffin III, who was not even the #1 quarterback available. The Indianapolis Colts held the first overall pick and would not even entertain offers for Stanford QB Andrew Luck despite a bevy of suitors and a roster full of holes. The Dolphins appear to have their future QB in place after selecting Ryan Tannehill 8th overall and the Seattle Seahawks struck gold in the 3rd round with Russell Wilson. Luck, Griffin, and Wilson all led their teams to the playoffs, an NFL first, and in doing so set an unreasonably high bar for the incoming rookie quarterbacks of 2013 and beyond. The 2013 NFL Draft does not feature a QB with the slam dunk star power of Andrew Luck or RG3, but the class is remarkably deep with 10 quarterbacks with varying skillsets and the talent to eventually start for NFL franchises.
I am not sure when, but at some point in the past few years expectations for rookie QB’s took a quantum leap forward. This is no different than the world of prospect evaluation, which has been chewing up and spitting out this year’s crop of signal callers since late December. It appears that the media, draftnik community, and of course beloved and well informed fans feel that the Andrew Luck’s and RG3’s of the world are your typical top 10 QB prospects and anything less is simply unworthy. Not true, not fair, and completely unrealistic. Look no further than 2012 3rd rounder Russell Wilson and his journey to become the Seattle Seahawks starting QB. Flashback a year ago, before Wilson’s unbelievable ascension from Matt Flynn’s back up in August to nearly knocking off the #1 seed Atlanta Falcons on the road in the NFC Divisional round. Russell Wilson was too short, had an average at best arm, and simply was not starting QB material. He was considered a mid-round pick and a likely career back-up while 32 NFL teams passed on him multiple times, including the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson is a prime example of what the NFL is all about: being in the right place, at the right time.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith is generally considered the draft’s top QB prospect. There is a lot to like about him on and off the field. On the field, he had crazy production, a strong arm that can make every throw, and is an excellent athlete capable of making plays with his feet. Off the field, he is known to be a “film junky”. It has been said that Smith would often go immediately into the film room following a game and begin breaking down the next week’s opponent. The Mountaineers offense was a fast paced system which relied heavily on Smith making calls on formations, routes, and protection schemes at the line of scrimmage once he read the defense and their alignment. Smith is a very natural and cerebral QB with a terrific understanding of offensive and defensive concepts. He is the type of player that will develop into a coach on the field and be heavily involved in the development of each weekly game plan. His problems are nothing new to a young QB. He will struggle mechanically at times and too often makes throws off of his back foot. He has struggled at times with his accuracy because of his inconsistent mechanics. He will take the occasional bad sack and doesn’t thrive while under pressure. Those are the flaws of nearly all young QB’s, some of the same “negatives” were attached to the scouting reports of Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick. No, Geno Smith is not a finished product, but that should be expected and certainly not used as a negative.
Matt Barkley from USC entered the 2012 season as the favorite to go 1st overall in the 2013 Draft. Coming off an amazing junior season, Barkley was considered a top 10 candidate and the #3 overall QB behind Andrew Luck and RG3. He chose to return to USC for a run at the BCS title game but had a disappointing year statistically and in the win/loss column. USC struggled to protect Barkley without All-American LT Matt Kalil, who was opening holes for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. Defensive breakdowns would put the USC offense in a weekly shoot out and place even greater pressure on Barkley to carry the offense. Then, to top it all off, Barkley ended the season early with a shoulder injury which knocked him out of USC’s bowl game and any post-season All-Star games, namely the Senior Bowl. Considering intangibles, skillset, and resume, Matt Barkley is a very similar prospect to Philip Rivers. Like Rivers, Barkley was a 4 year starter at QB, had strong leadership qualities, strong football acumen, but did not possess elite arm strength or athleticism. Matt Barkley will never blow you away during a combine or a pro day workout. He is the type of quarterback you do not fully appreciate until you watch him first hand conduct himself in film sessions, the weight room, the practice field, and inside the huddle. He will drop pinpoint NFL throws over Robert Woods outside shoulder on a fade route, or hit Marquise Lee perfectly in stride as he streaks across the middle of the field. He throws one of the most consistent deep balls in the draft class and does it with timing and anticipation. If I had to choose one QB to start from day 1 from this draft class, it would be Matt Barkley. He is a top 10 player in my opinion and is going to be a steal if he falls to the mid first round.
Different teams are going to have different quarterbacks atop their draft boards due to schematic preferences. There is a cluster of 3 QB’s who have the talent to sneak into the first round besides the previously mentioned Geno Smith and Matt Barkley. With the pistol formation and read option making such a strong impact on last season, Florida State QB E.J. Manuel has become one of the drafts fastest rising players. Manuel is 6’4 240 lbs with fantastic athleticism, a rifle for an arm, and strong leadership skills. It would not be hard to understand why a front office or coaching staff would fall in love with a prospect like Manuel. Ryan Nassib of Syracuse’s draft stock seems to range from as high as #8 to Buffalo to as low as #41 to Buffalo. New Bills head coach Doug Marrone coached Nassib at Syracuse and could look to install his new offensive system with a familiar face. Nassib is one of the cleaner QB prospects available, displaying all the necessary intangibles while also possessing impressive arm talent with sneaky athleticism. Nassib is also schematically versatile and has some read-option potential. North Carolina State QB Mike Glennon is one of the more under the radar prospects available. Built very similar to Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, Mike Glennon is 6’7, 230 lbs. and has one of the strongest arms of any prospect. On film, Mike Glennon is a pure passer who is reminiscent of Matt Ryan from when Ryan was a Boston College. Capable of making every throw, with touch or with zip, Glennon was victimized by dropped passes and poor protection. Glennon gets picked on for the 17 interceptions he threw this past season, which is something he’ll have to clean up but people often forget that Matt Ryan threw 19 interceptions as a senior at BC while also suffering from a weaker supporting cast. After those 5 fringe first round prospects, you have names like Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Tennessee QB Tyler Bray, Arizona dual threat Matt Scott, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, and one of the more intriguing QB’s available Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysart. Wilson, Bray, and Jones were all touted as first round picks at some point during their college career and all 5 of those players have starting caliber tape and physical ability. What they lack is consistency.
Much of a quarterback’s success comes down to their environment. How good is the team around them? Is their coaching staff putting them in the best position possible to succeed? Is the front office committed to developing them? Are they forced to play too soon? Are they given enough time to develop? Each of those questions can make or break a QB’s career and each NFL team has a different situation to offer. The 2013 NFL Draft offers a talented and diverse set of quarterbacks ready to enter the league. Some will fail, some will succeed, it is the nature of the business. What it comes down to is whether or not these guys find themselves in the right place, at the right time. One thing is certain, there is plenty of talent available at QB in this year’s draft, it is just a matter of how it is utilized.
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