PHOENIX -- Where are all the quarterbacks?

That’s a question being asked a lot these days in the NFL, as the franchise passers that star on Sundays get up in years, guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and the younger generation, including this year’s draft class, comes into the league with major questions.

So, again, where are the quarterbacks?

“Next year’s draft,” one NFL personnel director said. “Next year’s draft is loaded.”

With less than a month to go before the 2017 NFL Draft, evaluators desperate for quarterback help are already peeking ahead to next year’s class. It could be a top heavy, which this year’s class isn’t. By top heavy, I mean franchise-quarterback heavy.

The names being mentioned are Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen, who some scouts are already saying is the next John Elway. There are several others, like Washington’s Jake Browning, who could also play into the top quarterback argument.

But that group does nothing now for the quarterback-needy teams like the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans and New York Jets. That’s why they prepare for the draft with an eye on potentially making a veteran move -- maybe the Browns trading for Jimmy Garoppolo or the Texans getting Tony Romo -- while also spending a lot of time evaluating this year’s class.

Wyoming’s Josh Allen might be considered the next John Elway, but he’s not available until next year.   USATSI

As one AFC personnel man said, “It’s just not a great class.”

Yet coaches are expected to win now. That’s the tough challenge. The general managers can wait and be patient, maybe passing on a kid this year to take one next year. But what happens if the team goes 3-13 with a bad quarterback? Is that on the coach? Does he get fired?

Take the Browns. It’s unfair to think coach Hue Jackson can win consistently with what he has had at quarterback and what he has on the roster right now. If the season started today, the Browns would start either Cody Kessler or Brock Osweiler -- yes, he’s still on the roster.

Now you wonder why we ask the question: Where are the quarterbacks?

It’s the same in Houston, where the Texans might make a move for Romo, but if not they will likely start the season with Tom Savage, who has two career starts and isn’t exactly considered a franchise passer for the long haul -- at least as of right now.

“Everybody wants a quarterback, but you have to understand you have to have the right guy,” Jackson said here at the league meetings. “You can’t force it. You force it and you might create a different kind of problem.”

“We can’t rush just because we have a need at the position,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said.

Evaluating quarterbacks has always been a tricky exercise. It’s hard to get inside the man’s head, let alone try to translate the college skills to the NFL game. It’s even harder now because of the way the college game is played.

There are a lot of spread offenses where the quarterbacks look to the sideline to get the play, take a snap in the shotgun and go. There’s very little decision-making at the line of scrimmage, which is essential in the NFL game.

“Is it difficult to evaluate?” O’Brien said. “Yes, on film. But there is other stuff. You can’t base your decision totally on that. You have to sit down with the man and figure out his ability to learn, to take a snap from center. You can’t just base it on he’s playing in a system. Can he learn it? How did he learn in college? ”

That’s a big reason why the Browns like having their private days with the quarterbacks in the draft. Jackson said it entails an intense day that is different than most teams.

“We need to find out as much information as we can,” Jackson said. “Can he digest information and process information as fast as possible? Some guys process football and can’t play. Some guys can play and can’t process football.”

This year’s class features a group with a lot of questions. Among them:

  • Why did North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky start just 13 games?
  • Will Clemson’s Deshaun Watson’s lack of NFL throws in college impact his development?
  • Is Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes a reckless gunslinger?
  • Why did Cal’s Davis Webb transfer after losing his job to Mahomes at Texas Tech and can he translate his skills from a spread to the NFL?
  • Why was Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer so inconsistent?
Is Patrick Mahomes a top talent, a reckless gunslinger or a little bit of both?   USATSI

“There are three guys for sure next year who would go ahead of all these guys,” the AFC personnel director said.

That’s why a trade for Garoppolo from the Patriots is so intriguing for the quarterback needy. Jackson didn’t rule out a possible trade Tuesday, but if the Patriots won’t trade him, there’s nothing the Browns can do.

Even Garoppolo’s hype is a little inflated when you consider he has thrown a total of 94 passes in his career, yet now the Patriots are trying to get a ransom for him.

Another reason to ask the question: Where are the quarterbacks?

It looks like they are in the 2018 draft class.

“I think you have to stay in the moment,” Jackson said. “You have to get through 2017 before 2018. We have a template for our quarterback, how we want them play. Is there a guy in this class who can do that for us?  If not, we’re not going to force it.”

“I am in the coaching lane and Rick (Smith) is in the general manager lane,” O’Brien said. “They have a feel for the ‘17 class, but also what’s coming down the pike in ’18 and ’19. You can’t be in a rush as a coach. In the end, you have to take that thinking out of it. We have a strong defense. Let’s make sure we get the right guy at the position, but not really reach for someone we are not sure of. If there’s doubt in our mind, don’t do it. Whatever Rick gives us, we’ll do the best we can coaching them up.”

Are the Browns better off trading for Jimmy Garoppolo than trying to find a QB in this class?  USATSI

Last year, that meant signing Osweiler as a free agent from Denver. He was ultimately benched and then traded to the Browns to dump his salary. It cost the Texans a second-round pick to make that deal.

The lack of great quarterback depth isn’t a new thing. Go back and look 10 and 20 years ago. There were great ones at the top in all those years, and bad ones at the bottom, just like there is now.

Even so, it seems like it’s becoming tougher and tougher to find the sustainable franchise quarterback. By that, I mean the guy who can carry a team for a decade, no matter what’s around him.

Brady has done it for a long time, as have Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Others have done it to a lesser degree, but who is next? 

He might not be in this class, but keep an eye on 2018 when the quarterback class could be special.