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Draft positional series: Quarterbacks

by | NFLDraftScout.com
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While NFL Draft followers are focused forward on quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, aka RG3, as the predetermined 1-2 knockout punch in this year's event, it is interesting to look backward.

Quarterbacks are at once the most scrutinized and misdiagnosed players in football. NFL history is littered with spectacular mistakes in overrating and overlooking players at the most crucial position in the game.

Some of the most lightly regarded college prospects became stunning sensations in the NFL -- Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner. The highest-drafted player in that group was Montana, a third-rounder in 1979.

Meanwhile, many players selected in the top three overall became verifiable busts in the NFL -- JaMarcus Russell (1st, 2007), Tim Couch (1st, 1999), Akili Smith (3rd, 1999) and Ryan Leaf (2nd, 1998).

The biggest quarterback bust of all fizzled so quickly that his name is rarely remembered. Stanford All-American Bobby Garrett was the first player selected in the 1954 draft by the Cleveland Browns, who were seeking a replacement for the legendary Otto Graham.

But Garrett never played a game for the Browns. He was unable to call plays because he stuttered. He was quickly traded and played only nine NFL games.

Even against that embarrassing background, the buildup to the 2012 draft bravely boasts that this event will feature a sure-fire quarterback in Stanford's Luck. Like Garrett, Luck is expected to replace a living legend, former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who changed horses this year and renews his career with the Denver Broncos.

With Luck as a first pick, Stanford's record would include four QBs as No. 1 overall selections: John Elway, Jim Plunkett and, of course, Garrett.

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Scouts, teams and the media have been so sure about Luck that he was tagged for almost three years as the best pro quarterback prospect in college.

Curiously, praise was muted in terms of adjectives as analysts cite the sum of his football smarts, genealogy, practical experience, size and athleticism. Seldom, if ever, is the word spectacular attached to Luck. More often he is called solid, safe or cerebral.

As the annual momentum to uncover QBs gained steam, RG3 overtook Luck for the Heisman Trophy and ignited debates over whether he is a better NFL prospect. Also, befitting his Superman socks, RG3 is often described with words such as spectacular.

Still, while this year's quarterback prospects are interesting, that is mostly because scouts are more curious than confident of the skills and potential they display. Yet, in an NFL that has picked quarterbacks No. 1 overall in 10 of the past 11 drafts, teams are scouring the lists looking for signs of stardom.

The result includes prospects that played more at wide receiver (Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M) and baseball (28-year old Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State), are freakishly tall (6-foot-7 Brock Osweiler, Arizona State) or historically too small (5-11 Russell Wilson, Wisconsin).

Here is a closer look at the top quarterback prospects in this draft (overall rating, player, school, height, weight, projected round; * indicates underclassman):

1. *Andrew Luck, Stanford, 6-4, 234, 1
It seemed appropriate for a long time that Luck was hailed as the second coming of Peyton Manning, even if that isn't technically accurate. After all, Indianapolis has the first pick in the draft and that second-coming stuff goes hand-in-hand with Luck being considered the logical heir to the cerebral offense Manning ran so well for the Colts. But Luck isn't exactly Manning. And the Colts aren't the same Colts. So that begs the question -- are Luck and the Colts still a logical match? Owner Robert Irsay tweets all the right things about Luck, especially after the quarterback's team visit. And as the draft draws closer the inevitable sequence of events should be 1) Reports that Luck is indeed the Colts' pick (check); 2) Verification in an Irsay tweet that this is true; 3) Perhaps announcement of a signed contract. And, finally, Luck should be No. 1 after finishing second in two Heisman Trophy votes where he was expected to win at least once. Last year he yielded to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is listed behind Luck on almost every draft list, including that of NFLDraftScout.com. But since the end of the season, more scouts questioned whether Luck really is a better pro prospect than the athletic RG3. Most still concede Luck is the safer pick. To be clear, Luck is a truly exceptional athlete himself, with workout results similar to those of Cam Newton. He is the son of Oliver Luck, the former Detroit Lions and Houston Oilers quarterback and current athletic director at West Virginia, and masterfully manipulated a pro-style offense coached until last year by former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Luck can make every throw, but, like almost everyone else, doesn't play with the urgency of Manning. His athleticism, genetics and coaching resulted in amazing college statistics. He completed 713 of 1,064 passes (67 percent) for 9,430 yards, 82 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a passer rating of 162.8. And, while those are spectacular stats, Luck is expected finally to be the No. 1 because he is the safe pick.

2. *Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 6-2, 223, 1
Since he won the Heisman, RG3's ascent into the consciousness of NFL scouts, teams and fans has been one of the most remarkable in draft history. At one point it was blasphemous to think another quarterback might challenge Luck to be the first pick. Then RG3 beat Luck for the Heisman and the debate became everyday conversation. Even Redskins general manager Bruce Allen, who engineered a historic trade into the second spot, admits there is no guarantee whether he is in position to take Luck or RG3. "But I'm not complaining," he said. "You gotta love both of them." A fan of super heroes, Griffin became one himself last season as the unstoppable RG3, leading Baylor to unprecedented heights with a strong arm, quick feet and made-for-Hollywood charisma. Griffin's humble disguise as a prelaw student with a political science degree (2010) was transparent even before he revealed those Superman socks the night he accepted the Heisman Trophy. A dynamic, graceful athlete, Griffin leapt over intermediate hurdles in world-class time as a prep. He verified that at the combine, where they announced his 40-yard time as 4.41 seconds, but Griffin himself was told he was actually timed as fast as 4.33. Griffin may have the best combination of quick release and velocity of any QB in the draft. He throws with accuracy and his deep passes are especially impressive, destroying defenses like long-range missiles. In only three seasons, Griffin set or tied 54 school records and several NCAA marks. He is only one of three players in college history to throw for 10,000 yards (10,071) and rush for more than 2,000 (2,199). Born in Japan as the son of Army Sergeants, Griffin is a natural leader with a team-first attitude. He has flaws, including a severe knee injury in 2009 and a concussion in 2011. He ran a spread offense in college; is not totally comfortable under center; can be skittish in the pocket and doesn't move through his progressions as well as Luck. But even Superman had his Kryptonite.

3. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M, 6-4, 222, 1
As is the case almost every year, the No. 3-rated quarterback in the draft has seen his stock rise quickly in the past month. This year that is Tannehill, who is the target for teams needing a quarterback but who are not in position to take Luck or Griffin. Tannehill is also this year's Rubik's cube, a complex combination of intriguing variables that are difficult to evaluate. He is reminiscent, in a way, of Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, problematic first-round picks from the past two drafts. They all have obvious athletic ability and an unorthodox passing motion. Tannehill's delivery is slightly sidearm, somewhere between David Carr (Houston Texans, N.Y. Giants) and Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers), possibly because for such a big quarterback he has surprisingly small hands (9 inches). But of more concern is his minimal experience at QB. Tannehill spent his first 30 college games at wide receiver, then, coached by West Coast offense devotee Mike Sherman (formerly of Green Bay, now with the Miami Dolphins), he moved to quarterback in 2010. Last season he threw for 3,744 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His complicated career totals include completing 484 of 774 passes for 5,450 yards, 42 touchdowns, 21 interceptions as well as 112 receptions for 1,596 yards. He also punted. Scouts agree only on one thing -- he is a gamble. Tannehill had foot surgery in early January then missed the Senior Bowl and the combine. But he finally healed and at his pro day ran like, well, a wide receiver (4.58 seconds in 40 yards). In early January, Tannehill was single, on crutches and rated by most as a second-round prospect. Since then he married a model, ran like a wide receiver and Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted his praises last week. "Tannehill is a hidden gem in this draft, a quiet secret who was always sneaking up to #3...you want him you better talk to Zigi The Biggie," referencing Zygi Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the franchise has the No. 3 spot in the draft, which is apparently available on the trade market.

4. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State, 6-4, 221, 2
Weeden proved he knows how to call his own plays when he rejected the NFL's offer to attend the draft in New York. Great call considering how humiliating it was in New York for some previous quarterbacks who squirmed on camera until their names were called later than some expected, such as Aaron Rodgers (24th) and Brady Quinn (22nd). Weeden is rated by most as a second-round prospect, but some scouts believe at least one team may try to steal him in the first. Regardless, he will watch from his parents' home. Weeden certainly has the physical ability to be a pro QB, but he is 28 years old and damaged goods after pitching five years (2002-2006) in the minors for the Yankees, Dodgers and Royals. Weeden pitched 374 innings with a 19-26 record and 5.02 ERA. More significantly, he left baseball because of a torn labrum and tendinitis in the rotator cuff of his throwing arm and did not have surgery. Instead, he redshirted at Oklahoma State in 2007, played little the next two years, then did so well the past two years pro scouts couldn't ignore him regardless of his age. His demeanor reflects advanced maturity, and that was obvious in his pro day. But he is not a vociferous team leader and often has too much confidence in his arm. He needs to improve pocket awareness and stepping up. Weeden sometimes negates his height with a three-quarters, sidearm delivery that might have concerned right-handed batters, but is ripe for an alert defender to bat down. He looks excellent when his timing is on, but sails wild pitches off his back foot when things break down. Weeden ruptured a tendon in his right thumb the first game of 2010 but played through the injury. Most of all, his production was too gaudy to overlook. In little more than two seasons he completed 766 of 1,102 passes (69.5 percent) for 9,260 yards, 75 touchdowns and 27 interceptions (157.7 passer rating).

5. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State, 6-3, 214, 2-3
Descriptions and statistics on Cousins might be hard to evaluate. He has good size, played four years in a pro system including two as captain, is a great citizen in the community, a strong team leader on the field and has already graduated with a 3.68 GPA in kinesiology. As far as statistics, Cousins is MSU's career record holder in passing touchdowns (66), passing yards (9,131), completions (723) and passing efficiency (146.1 rating). After that he was impressive in both Senior Bowl workouts and the game, and then did well at the scouting combine and looked even better at his pro day. Perhaps the only obvious wart on his list of achievements is that his career statistics include a total of minus-127 yards rushing, which may be revealing. Cousins is football smart and performs well within the system, but when things go awry he does not have the knack or arm as a passer, nor the athleticism as a runner, to make good things happen. In fact, closer analysis of his stats shows that an inordinate amount of completions and yards were either screens or very short passes. His arm strength and passing velocity are less than scouts want, but they are still intrigued by his advanced understanding of a pro-like passing system and excellent anticipation. Despite his statistical accuracy (64 percent completions), Cousins does not place the ball well to help yards after the catch and if he is unable to throw in rhythm his effectiveness declines noticeably. Cousins broke his ankle coming out of high school and after being ignored by most big schools was set to go to Toledo until Mark Dantonio was hired as MSU's head coach. After failing to get his preferred quarterbacks, Dantonio offered Cousins a chance and it paid off. In that regard, there is a chance history might repeat.

6. *Brock Osweiler, Arizona State, 6-7, 242, 2-3
After starting only 15 college games, Osweiler is far from refined as a pro prospect, but there are two things about him that are tantalizing to scouts: He is 6-7, and has a high ceiling -- and that's not a joke. It means his potential boggles the minds of some scouts. Osweiler has exceptional natural athletic ability, evidenced by his great high school career as a star basketball player and quarterback. After verbally committing as a sophomore to Gonzaga, a basketball powerhouse, Osweiler opted for Arizona State after being promised he could play both sports there. He chose not to pursue basketball, but on Nov. 14, 2009, became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Sun Devils since Jake Plummer in 1993. In 2010 former Georgia Tech and Michigan quarterback Steven Threet was the starter, but Osweiler played in six games, including a comeback win over UCLA and a victory over rival Arizona. Last year, his only full season as a starter, Osweiler completed 326 of 516 passes for 4,036 yards, 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. But after the coaching staff was replaced, he surprised everybody by entering the draft. Scouts know there is more to him than his unusual height (technically 6-6 3/8). He is tough, mobile, intuitive and has a strong, accurate arm and throws with authority that defenses must respect. Osweiler sometimes throws a three-quarters sidearm, but at his height it doesn't matter. He probably isn't ready for prime pro action, but there is so much promise that some team will surely spend a second- or third-round pick as an investment for the future.

7. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, 5-11, 204, 3-4
Wilson is a special person whose shocking leadership and athletic abilities ignited a Wisconsin offense that averaged 44.1 points a game last year. But it will be historic if he overcomes his height deficiency to star in the NFL. At the combine, Wilson measured exactly 5-10 5/8, which is rounded to 5-11. To give that historical perspective, since 1952 only two quarterbacks that short have been successful in the NFL -- Eddie LeBaron (Washington, Dallas, 1952-63), who was 5-7; and Doug Flutie (Chicago, New England, Buffalo, San Diego, 1986-2005) was 5-9¾. The NFL's shortest current starting quarterback is Drew Brees (6-0¼). Still, Wilson's athleticism is tempting and somebody will give him a chance to fulfill his family dream. His father, Harrison Wilson III, was a baseball/football star at Dartmouth, but missed the final cut as a pro wide receiver (Chargers) before becoming a successful lawyer. He was Russell's idol and biggest fan. But he died from complications of diabetes in June 2010, one day after learning his son was drafted by the Colorado Rockies. Last year, with N.C. State pressuring him to quit baseball, Wilson transferred to Wisconsin and didn't have to sit out a season because he already earned a degree. Wilson started all 14 games in 2011, setting an NCAA single-season record for passing efficiency (191.78 rating) and completing 225 of 309 passes (72.82 percent) for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He rushed for another 338 yards and six scores. In 50 college games, Wilson passed for 11,720 yards, 109 TDs and only 29 interceptions. He is cerebral, instinctive and agile and has a powerful, accurate arm with great touch. He now says he is committed to football. But he's short. However, he has the wingspan of somebody 6-3¼ and larger hands than any quarterback rated above him (10¼ inches). If he could just add a couple of those inches to his height.

8. Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, 6-4, 229, 4
Under the tutelage of QBs coach Brian Sipe, Lindley made noticeable progress in his mechanics and understanding since 2009. It should be noted that Sipe learned quarterbacking at SDSU under the legendary Don Coryell -- famed for Air Coryell, which was football's original West Coast offense. Coryell was a disciple of the same Sid Gilman aerial show that begat the vertical passing game Al Davis brought to Oakland. And, unlike latter day West Coast (II) devotees of Bill Walsh, all those icons preferred to pester defenses with longer completions rather than rack up easy stats with short, high-percentage plays. So it might be no coincidence that in his years with the Cleveland Browns (1974-83), Sipe completed only 56.5 percent of his passes and threw 149 interceptions to go with his 154 touchdowns. Sipe had a decent arm for a 6-1, 195-pound quarterback, but Lindley is bigger and his arm is stronger. So in his 49 starts Lindley was far more prolific than his mentor and set school and Mountain West Conference records for completions (961), attempts (1,732), yards passing (12,690) and his 90 touchdown passes is a San Diego State high. But concerns about Lindley also echo those that haunted Sipe's career. Lindley completed only 55.5 percent of his passes and had 47 interceptions to go with those 90 TDs. Lindley shows the ability to fire the ball into a small opening, but too often is unable to complete the easy pass or, worse, tries to force the ball in a way that only makes defenders happy. If he can learn to pick the right target and shoot straight with more consistency, then Lindley has the physical tools to play in the NFL. In fact, Lindley is a far better prospect than Sipe was as a 13th-round draft pick in 1972 (330th overall), before he overcame everything to become NFL MVP in 1980.

9. B.J. Coleman, Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-3, 233, 5
An imposing physical specimen, Coleman has natural leadership skills that are evident on the field and around the locker room. He is capable of doing everything necessary to be a pro QB, but needs to learn how to do it and when to do it. Think of him in terms a very raw Brett Favre, who was pretty raw himself when he came out of Southern Mississippi. Coleman was considered one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation when he selected Tennessee. But after seeing too little action, he transferred to Chattanooga, where his father Byron played (1977-80) with Russ Huesman, now the team's head coach. After playing in only three games for the Vols, Coleman started 32 at Chattanooga and took advantage of the small-school competition to generate great statistics, but not enough experience against top players to help him improve. He is mobile for his size and has an arm that is so powerful that he needs to learn how to control it. He wasn't able to throw at the combine because of a broken pinky finger, but he wowed the teams that watched him at his pro day. For his career, Coleman completed 583 of 1,016 passes for 6,892 yards, 52 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. He ran for seven more scores and even pooch punted a few times. But if some team wants to take advantage of his ample abilities, it will require time and patience to coach him up to an NFL-caliber quarterback. Perhaps it was with that in mind that he selected agent Bus Cook, who also represented Favre.

10. Nick Foles, Arizona, 6-5, 243, 5-6
Considering he broke the passing records of Drew Brees at Westlake High in Austin, Texas, Foles really wasn't that hotly pursued by college recruiters who obviously didn't think he was in the same league as Brees. Still, Foles managed to make his selection of colleges an adventure. He first committed to Arizona State, then de-committed. He then opted for Michigan State. After a year there he realized he was stuck behind Kirk Cousins (No. 5 on this list), among others. So he jumped ship for Arizona, where he had to sit out for a year before beginning his college career in earnest. The vagabond sophomore didn't begin the 2009 season as a starter, but after getting a chance in the third game he kept the job. Foles looked good from the start, standing tall and confident in the pocket, albeit often after taking a shotgun snap. Despite not being an elite athlete and never having much of a surrounding cast, Foles managed to improve over the past three years. During that time he set school passing records in completions (933) and attempts (1,396) while totaling 10,011 yards, 67 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. He did all that using basically great vision and a good arm in a simple offense. So scouts are curious how well his talent will convert in the more complicated NFL. One thing Foles won't need to figure out this time is what team he will go to. That will be decided for him in the draft, perhaps not until the fifth round. This will finally put him in the same league with Brees, but still behind Cousins.

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