If Geno Smith is the top quarterback in this year's draft -- and most people think he is -- then who's No. 2?
"Good question," said one NFC scout. "I wish I had an answer for you."
So do I.
Most people will tell you it's USC's Matt Barkley, and they might be right. But that's not so much because of what Barkley does as it is what others do not. The 2013 class of quarterbacks is underwhelming. And if you think I'm kidding, you weren't paying attention when Kansas City agreed to that trade for Alex Smith.
Essentially, the Chiefs told you they preferred Smith to any quarterback in the draft -- including Geno Smith.
A year ago, Barkley looked like a slam dunk to be the No. 1 pick next month. But then he and USC floundered, Barkley hurt his shoulder and his stock plummeted so far that one scout whom I trust insisted he dropped him out of the first round.
"He has all the tools," said former coach Brian Billick, now an analyst for NFL Network and Fox, "and may have the least holes in his game of any quarterback in this draft -- which makes him a lot like Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez. So now go draft Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez again. I know that's not fair to Matt Barkley, but, hey, what can I say?"
Billick tickets Barkley as an early second-round choice, saying he's a quarterback who could make a club "a good, solid backup." That's not supposed to happen with the second quarterback in any draft, but this one is so bereft of top-shelf talent that Billick said he spent weeks polling coaches and GMs on quarterbacks that they considered first-round prospects and came away with the same number everywhere.
Nevertheless, expect someone to reach for Smith there, and the reason is simple: Need. It's that second quarterback I want to identify, and the class is so muddled that one quarterbacks coach at the combine told me that he had neither Barkley nor Smith at the top of his list. Instead, he put Florida State's E.J. Manuel there.
"He's quick with the ball and has a nice feel for the game," said the coach. "Plus, he has a low interceptions-to-touchdowns ratio, and I like his demeanor."
Barkley had a low interceptions-to-touchdowns ratio, too, particularly in his junior year, when he threw for 39 TDs and only seven interceptions. But he had fewer touchdowns (36) and more than twice as many interceptions (15) last season as he and the Trojans wilted. That has scouts concerned, and so does a shoulder injury that kept him from throwing at last weekend's NFL Scouting Combine. Barkley insists he's "100 percent" and will demonstrate it at USC's Pro Day on March 27.
That's great, except prospective suitors remain concerned.
Yes, he's confident. Yes, he's a leader. Yes, he's instinctive and can throw with touch. But, no, he doesn't have the physical makeup that you'd like. Or, as one coach told me, "If you're 6-2, can't extend plays and don't have a big arm, how are you going to make it?"
Good question. That doesn't make Matt Barkley unusual. Not in this draft, it doesn't. Every quarterback competing for the silver has warts, and let the roll call begin:
-- N.C. State's Mike Glennon. Scouts love his arm. What they don't like are his feet. The guy looks like he was made by Rodin. "Many of today's quarterbacks must make throws without setting their feet," said an AFC offensive coordinator, "but he can't do it. This guy stands so tall [he's 6-7] that, if he has to move his feet, he can't throw with accuracy."
-- Tennessee's Tyler Bray. Scouts love his arm, too. What they don't like is his windup or his attitude. "He acts like he couldn't give a crap," said one quarterbacks coach. "Maturity is an issue." Bray had a raft of talented receivers, including first-round prospect Cordarrelle Patterson, yet he completed only 59 percent of his passes.
-- Arkansas's Tyler Wilson. "His footwork is all over the place," said one scout, "and he's slow with his drop." Plus, he said, Wilson looked stiff in workouts. Wilson's numbers tailed off from 2011, but that almost certainly was linked to the decline of the Arkansas program, a concussion that he suffered early and the loss of talented players around him.
-- Oklahoma's Landry Jones. Two years ago, I would've told you he was a can't-miss choice. Now, people are down on the guy because, as one coach said, "He's nothing more than OK." There's a feeling that he didn't show up in big games or make plays when it mattered. Plus, some guys question his mechanics. "The same thing that bothered me about Tyler Wilson bothers me about him," said Billick. "Inconsistency."
I think you get the idea. There are possibilities galore, but there are question marks galore, too. Someone will emerge, as Russell Wilson did last season, but I can't tell you whom that guy is. And neither can pro scouts.