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FNQB: A Longitudinal Look at Quarterbacks in College and Pro Projections

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Andrew Luck  of the Stanford Cardinal scrambles for a first down against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona.The Cardinal won 17-13. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

There would be little argument that at any point in the next three years, we won’t see a quarterback prospect as strong as Stanford’s Andrew Luck when he comes out.  Luck has two more years of college eligibility at his fingertips, but his stated reasons for coming out, it seems safe to peg Luck as a member of the 2012 draft class, barring a change of heart.  And frankly, if Luck was going to do anything but stick to his plan for himself, he would have been in this year’s draft.

We’ll start deep in the future, and work our way back to the present to try and see if the future offers anything worth waiting for in terms of quarterbacks.

2013 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

The names: Matt Barkley (USC), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Brock Osweiler (Arizona State), EJ Manuel (Florida State), Stephen Morris* (Miami), Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois), Aaron Murray (Georgia), Tyler Bray (Tennessee).

A couple of players on this list would be leaving a year of eligibility on the table to enter the NFL draft, so do consider this to be merely a best guess at a ’13 class against something that any team with a quarterback need would be waiting for.  There are a number of flaws in this class: Osweiler is a highly touted prospect at Arizona State (mostly, for his 6′ 8″ frame), but he has yet to make a college start because Steven Threet, the Georgia Tech and Michigan transfer, is still in the picture.  Morris, Scheelhaase, Bray, and Murray all shined this year as first year passers, but will all be eligible collegiate passers through 2014.  Manuel split time with an injured Christian Ponder this year, and could achieve great things as Jimbo Fisher reaches year three at the helm of the Florida State offense.  His stock is the most volatile of this class.

But when we mention this class, we’re not yet impressed by it’s depth.  It’s headliners are two potential four year starters, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, and Matt Barkley of USC.  Both figure to be very highly rated players on draft day, even if that draft day comes a year sooner than predicted.  Make no mistake, this is serious one two punch, and none of the two classes prior to this figures to offer a year where two legitimate top five prospects enter the same class.

Although, that might be better news for the 2012 class.  Even though Andrew Luck is expected to be a consensus number one overall pick, the 2012 lacks depth, and it could be enticing for one or both of Jones or Barkley to make the leap with a year of eligibility left.  Just one of those guys leaving weakens the 2013 class much more than it strengthens the 2012 class.  We’ll see if these two passers understand that Andrew Luck’s presence atop more or less every draft board is sufficient enough to stick around and make the 2013 class one of the strongest QB classes in memory.

2012 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

The names: Andrew Luck (Stanford), Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State), Ryan Lindley (SDSU), Nick Foles (Arizona), Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M), Dominique Davis (ECU), Kirk Cousins (MSU), Stephen Garcia (South Carolina), Jacory Harris (Miami), Mike Paulus (William & Mary), Dan Persa (Northwestern).

This has all the makings of the strong class.  What it’s missing is a second big name QB prospect that scouts love that could get in line right behind Andrew Luck as a franchise type player worthy of top five consideration.  It could get that still from the ranks of the underclass (remember, even in 2012, Luck would be considered an underclassmen by draft standards — though he’ll be a Stanford graduate).  But even without another player worthy of top five consideration, this QB class offers plenty of depth.

San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley is probably getting a lot of undeserved scouting love right now, he’s being floated around as a potential first rounder who will drop into the mid rounders after some of his numbers come back to the mid-major pack.  But Foles, going into his third year at Arizona, could be the real deal as a first round prospect.  Both Davis and Cousins have a first round ceiling (though they currently project as mid rounders).  And while I don’t pretend to know what will happen with Jacory Harris as a senior, his ability to make all the pro throws is unquestioned (he will need to learn to not lead safeties to the ball, however).

Paulus, Tannehill, and Persa are all fascinating prospects who will rise or fall in their senior seasons, and it wouldn’t shock me if one of the three became an NFL starter.  From this class, I think we are looking at 3 or 4 NFL starters, and that’s not including any underclassmen who may commit in this draft.  This is a clearly above average class, even before you consider that Luck should be an NFL superstar before too long.  This could easily be the strongest class since, well, the 2010 or 2008 drafts.

2011 NFL Draft Quarterback Class

The names: Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Christian Ponder (FSU), Jake Locker (WAS), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas), Cam Newton (Auburn), Pat Devlin (Delaware), Andy Dalton (TCU), Scott Tolzien (Wisconsin), Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), Jerrod Johnson (Texas A&M), Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Greg McElroy (Alabama).

The 2011 Quarterback class is getting a reputation as a weak class, though I’m not sure if that will be accurate when we look back on it.  In the last seven drafts, the worst QB draft was 2007, the JaMarcus Russell/Brady Quinn/Kevin Kolb draft.

The biggest criticism of this class is that there’s no clear cut number one guy.  The consensus number one is Blaine Gabbert.  Gabbert has his issues with pocket presence, but he’s the only guy in the class who can get drafted in the top five, and not land in a situation where he will be in over his head.  That would probably be overdrafting Gabbert based on need, but so be it.  He’s accurate, tough, makes aggressive throws down the field, and is advanced in his ability to move coverage.  He will need strong structure to make a quick jump that improves his footwork in the pocket, so as far as first year contribution, it’s buyer beware, but he’s the most talented prospect from day one, and has considerable upside.

Once Gabbert goes, you’re picking through a lot of scraps in terms of pro-ready prospects.  The next guys who are most ready for the pros are Christian Ponder and Ricky Stanzi, but Stanzi to me is not a guy who has very good staying power.  Most of his value will come from his ability to contribute immediately (think Trent Edwards, or more optimistically, Kyle Orton).  Ponder will survive in a far more varied and strenuous environment, and should be drafted higher based on that.  But after Gabbert, the best skill set in the entire class belongs, unquestionably in my mind, to Delaware’s Pat Devlin.

Devlin will be no more ready to take over a pro offense on day one than Joe Flacco was three years ago, but Flacco proved that could turn out alright.  Devlin’s skill set is similar to that of Ryan Mallett’s, but Devlin is a little bit more mobile, and has the ability to throw accurately from awkward body positions under duress is going to help him jump a lot of guys on draft boards.  Devlin is giving up a considerable amount of arm strength and downfield ability to Mallett, however, and doesn’t have Flacco’s arm to rifle balls to the sidelines on the move.  Devlin was a very mediocre college player when flushed from the pocket: he can get positive yards, but is not a creator with either his arm or his legs on the run from defenders.  He needs a strong pocket, and then he can deliver the ball to all fields.  Ryan Mallett is very much of the same player, but doesn’t have the functional mobility of Devlin, therefore a lot more can go wrong in Mallett’s development.

Above, I have named four guys who I would feel comfortable with as franchise-type first rounders (Gabbert, Devlin, Mallett, Ponder), which ignores two other guys who a majority of scouts see first round ability in (Auburn’s Cam Newton, and Washington’s Jake Locker).  I have both as midrounders: Locker’s problem being his accuracy, and Newton’s problem being experience with pro offense concepts.  Personally, I’d rather take the flyer on Newton that I could make him into a pro passer because he has a great ability to play from the pocket (accuracy and ball protection), and that’s the first thing I need from a QB in order to make him successful.  Newton, however, comes with little else, so a third round projection seems about right.  Locker can’t even be that high in my mind because he struggles so much with so much of his college offense.  When Locker is on, his passes can really get to a receiver’s hands in stride, but when Locker doesn’t trust his eyes, he can be every bit as wild as some of the worst passers I’ve ever seen.  I don’t know if I’d spend a draft pick on such a wildly inconsistent player, but he’ll gather some bonus points merely for showing the Matt Stafford-type intangibles of a first round pick.  The fact that the teams picking in the top five may not seriously consider Locker is as much of a red flag of his ability as anything, because separated from passing ability, he’s got everything else you’d want in a first round quarterback.  That ability happens to be sort of a big deal.

This is also a very deep class not just because I have first round grades on two guys who few others have in their top three rounds, but because of a class of second round quality passers unmatched in recent years: Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, TCU’s Andy Dalton, and another guy I would absolutely throw up in this round, Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien.  Each of the three is a project-able starter based on skill sets, and each has a skill set very different from someone else.  Tolzien offers unmatched efficiency at the college level, and would likely bring similar efficiency to the pros after having to take some lumps as a rookie starter.  Kaepernick is another guy with great intangibles who could play right away and absolutely lead an offense, but struggles at times with some throws that should be gimmies in the pros.  Dalton could be the best of the three, but never played with the precision of Tolzien, and doesn’t offer the project-able skill set of Kaepernick.

I want to at least mention two guys in Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson, and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor: these guys both have pro skill sets.  They are long shots to make it as NFL starters, and I like Johnson as a long-term project more than Taylor, who has to overcome his short-ness to play professional QB (he can make ALL the throws with accuracy).  But long-shots as they are, they deserve a mention in the depth of such a QB class.  They’ll go between the 6th round and undrafted, but would make great projects.

Here, at last, is my first QBs list of the 2011 draft, and some general notes about the three draft classes to come:

  1. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (Top 15)
  2. Pat Devlin, Delaware (1st – 15-32)
  3. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (1st – 15-32)
  4. Christian Ponder, Florida State (1st 15-32)
  5. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada (2nd)
  6. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin (2nd)
  7. Andy Dalton, TCU (2nd-3rd)
  8. Cam Newton, Auburn (3rd)
  9. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (4th-5th)
  10. Jake Locker, Washington (5th)
  11. Blake Bolles, NW Missouri State (5th)
  12. Greg McElroy, Alabama (6th)
  13. TJ Yates, North Carolina (6th)
  14. Alex Tanney, Monmouth (IL) (6th)
  15. Mike Hartline, Kentucky (6th)
  16. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M (7th)
  17. Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech (undrafted)
  18. Ben Chappell, Indiana (undrafted)
  19. Troy Weatherhead, Hillsdale (undrafted)
  20. Nathan Enderle, Idaho (undrafted)

As always, this is very early in the process for everyone, including me, and these rankings WILL change before draft day.

There are 15 or 16 guys in this class I think have, at least, the potential to achieve NFL starters.  We know from prior research that only about 1/3 actually have that ability, so it’s going to be about 5 or 6 players from this class who reach that level.  What that means is that this class is deep enough to meet demand for NFL QBs, barely.  But since the draft doesn’t occur with perfect information, and draft busts will occur, a couple of teams who take QBs high in this draft will be right back here in 2 years, with that 2013 class, looking for a different quarterback.

The supply of first rounders seems to get a little bit stronger in future years, with at least two per year compared to really, just one this year, and a cast of flawed characters.  The 2012 class has a good chance to offer the same type of depth that the 2011 class will, and looks like the best of the next three years.  Then again, if no one besides Andrew Luck commits early, the 2013 class would be the strongest class at the top.

Right now, it looks like the year to wait for is 2012 in terms of available quarterbacks.  There’s no reason to play the draft ultra-aggressively in 2011.  But with the potential best class being two years away, it may be smart for teams to roll the dice now in the first or second round and try to solve the position, instead of waiting for 2012, when only Andrew Luck qualifies as a currently established prospect in a class with plenty of talent underneath him.

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  1. November 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

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