Every year during draft week, I spend time with Phil Simms talking quarterbacks. Phil does his homework on quarterbacks, and for close to 10 years, we have dug deep into who's who in the upcoming draft. It started back in 2004 when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger dominated the first round, and it continues to the 2013 draft.
There's no chance of sitting down with Phil Simms if I haven't done my homework first and I'm not ready to talk signal callers, so to get the most out of his insight, I had to be ready to move deeper with each QB.
First, Geno Smith, because Phil said he's the best QB in the draft. Simms said the following things about the West Virginia product: He has a chance to be a star, he plays bigger than his height and weight, he can run away from opponents with ease, his arm could be great with a few tweaks, he can throw off balance, and he's really good under center, especially considering he played in a lot of shotgun.
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Simms did have concerns about him standing tall in the pocket and playing to his size consistently, as well as dealing with a system that is different from what he has done in West Virginia. When I asked Simms which QB could run Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia, he didn't hesitate to say Smith; he can really spin it and threaten the defense with his feet.
Next was Mike Glennon from North Carolina State. Simms said of all the quarterbacks, he watched him the most because his Senior Bowl week and game looked bad, but the offense at NC State was so good for pro development. Simms really likes tall quarterbacks; Glennon is 6-7, so Simms thinks that will help him succeed. As he pointed out, Joe Flacco had early success because he could see over the line of scrimmage, and so can Glennon.
He can find receivers and, most important, is a daring thrower. Simms said Geno Smith should complete all of his college passes in an offense with receivers wide open all over the field. Glennon had to stick balls in tight spots, and he wasn't afraid to pull the trigger on tough throws, which explains his lower completion percentage. Phil did wonder about his body language when it came to leadership, and he noted Glennon wasn't very fiery during the games he watched.
Speaking of fiery leaders, Phil noticed how good Ryan Nassib of Syracuse was with his team. Nassib might not have the arm strength of some of the other quarterbacks in the draft, but he succeeds with leadership. Simms did recognize that Senior Bowl week wasn't the best situation for him, but he's sure Nassib will get a chance to lead an offense.
I liked EJ Manuel at the Senior Bowl, and it provoked me to watch more Florida State film when I returned from Mobile. Phil called him a safe pick because he's big and mobile. It was clear Simms didn't like him as much as I did because it was hard to find great throws and he didn't play to his size and speed enough. Simms did recognize Manuel had a good deep ball and he could spin it.
As for Landry Jones, Phil Simms said watch out for the big, productive four-year starter with 123 touchdowns, but he wondered why he wasn't in much better shape. Phil acknowledged it is a pet peeve of his that the QB should always look like he's in shape, and Jones needed to work harder on his conditioning. I pointed out that my film study revealed that pressure on the pocket disrupted Jones and turned his good arm into a liability.
We discussed Matt Barkley, and it was clear Simms liked him, but he was quick to make it known comments about the Trojans QB being a top draft pick a year ago couldn't be backed up. As he said, not many teams did the real homework on Barkley when he decided to go back to school. Phil said the few teams that did do the extensive work thought Barkley was a late-first-rounder or early-second-rounder a year ago. It looks like nothing has really changed for Barkley.
Finally, I asked Simms if he had a dark horse in this draft no one was discussing. Every year, Phil has an intriguing prospect available late in the draft who has a chance to be a solid prospect. He did say he's having trouble getting film on Findlay College's Clay Belton but would try to see some if the tapes come in before the draft. Belton has bounced around the college scene with stops at Miami of Ohio and Maryland before finishing at Findlay. He's big with speed and arm strength, so I can't wait for Simms' evaluation.