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After big three, Weeden, Cousins in demand -- even with caveats

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Brandon Weeden can play, but do teams want to invest in a 28-year-old rookie? (US Presswire)  
Brandon Weeden can play, but do teams want to invest in a 28-year-old rookie? (US Presswire)  

The first three quarterbacks in this year's draft are slam dunks, with two of them -- Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III -- the top two players on the board. The third -- Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill -- isn't close, but he is a wild card who could go as high as eighth to Miami.

But you knew that. My question is: Who's number four?

The popular choice is Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, but I know at least two teams that don't share that conviction. One has Michigan State's Kirk Cousins ranked ahead of him; the other has Weeden in a flat-footed tie with a couple of others, including Cousins. A third team has them rated 4 and 4-A, with Weeden slightly ahead.

"We just think Weeden's a little bit better," that team's offensive coordinator said.

He's also a little bit older ... than Aaron Rodgers. Weeden, who pursued a pro baseball career, will turn 29 in October; Rodgers will turn 29 in December. It took Rodgers four seasons to crack the starting lineup. If it were to take Weeden that long, he would be 33, and we would be talking as much about the end of his career as the beginning.

But then the chances of him starting -- or winding up a starter -- aren't all that great, anyway. According to NFL Network's Mike Mayock, in the past eight drafts, there have been 23 quarterbacks chosen in the first round -- 15 of whom are starters, including the Packers' Rodgers. In rounds 2-7, there have been 82 taken. Seven are starters.

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I don't think I need to draw you a picture. I understand Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick and Joe Montana a third, but they're the exceptions; the rule is that you're probably looking at a backup after the first round, and that's where Cousins will push Weeden.

"I think Cousins is more skilled with the ball," said one coach who has him ranked ahead of Weeden. "Weeden is more ready to play, and you're probably looking at 2-3 years before Cousins can step in there.

"But I like what I see. He can move better than Weeden, and he's really quick with the ball, with a short, compact delivery that's as good as anyone in this draft. If there's a problem, it's that he sometimes makes bad decisions; he sometimes tries to make too much happen."

What's attractive about both is that they were successful in major college football programs. Weeden last season led Oklahoma State to a 12-1 record that included a No. 3 ranking and a bowl defeat of Stanford and Andrew Luck. Cousins was 27-12 as a starter at Michigan State, including 22-5 the past two seasons, and was only the second three-time team captain in the school's history.

So who's first in line?

"It's not even close," said one GM I trust. "Weeden is a much better quarterback because his skill level is higher. When you're looking at Cousins you're looking at a backup quarterback. He's a great kid and a great teammate who will do everything he can to help his starting quarterback. But he's got a very average arm.

"That's not to say I don't have concerns about Weeden. I do, and they have to do with injuries. He was hurt as a baseball player and he's played with injuries in football. I don't know that it's something I'd worry about, but it seems like there are durability concerns ... or should be."

Then again, I don't know that there's all that much to worry about, period. Not now, at least. The fourth quarterback in this draft isn't in the same neighborhood as the other three and won't suffer similar expectations. Luck and Griffin are expected to start immediately and win eventually. Tannehill isn't a certainty, but more people than not will tell you he can play at the next level.

Then there's the guy in line, and take your pick. I don't care who it is, there are plenty of unanswered questions. Nevertheless, that won't stop someone for reaching for him. In fact, Mayock said he wouldn't be surprised if a club jumped into the bottom of the first round to take a flyer on Weeden -- a guy Mayock has ticketed near the top of the second.

"What's happening in this quarterback-driven league," he said, "is that we're getting a frenzy toward these top guys, and it's pushing value up. Most persons think Weeden or Cousins are third-round talents, but most people think they'll be drafted in the second round -- with Weeden the first to go. The reason: While the quarterback class is top heavy this year, it thins out quickly ... which means you better get one while you can."

A year ago, four quarterbacks were chosen in the draft's first 12 picks, and all wound up starting. This year, three could be. But it's that fourth guy who's the mystery. We think we know who it is, but we're not sure where he goes or what he'll be able to do.

And nobody else is, either.


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