2012 NFL Draft Rankings: the Quarterbacks
There’s five first round grades on quarterbacks this year from LiveballSports.com.
I should clarify what a first round grade means. There are three vitally important parts of the draft value equation. There is the player’s grade, the players marginal utility, and then there is the players market value. The grade is an abstract thing: how do you value this player against all other prospects as well as recent prospects, and how do you adjust for the value of the players football position? Is he better than or more valuable than other players who have been drafted at the end of the first round in recent drafts (not including proven outliers, such as someone like Tim Tebow)? A prospects’ marginal utility is a synthesis of team need and scheme fit. You can not factor in those components if you are not representing an NFL team. The Pittsburgh Steelers would have a different take on my board even limited to only the information I have.
But the market value of a player (or an entire position) is a unique factor that basically dictates this: if only four quarterbacks are slated to be taken in the first two rounds, and your board has five guys with first round grades, teams cannot maximize their draft ability by picking the player at the value dictated on their board. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that the difference between market value and player grade be split as a rule of thumb. This will be particularly relevant with two of the top guys on this list.
Finally, all NFL comparables as written in this article will be only players who had successful NFL careers. No prospect will be compared to a bust, even if it is the opinion of the author that the player lacks the physical or mental skillset to succeed at the pro level.
I’ve poured over these quarterback ratings since Halloween, and I think I’ve eventually arrived at a conclusion regarding this quarterback class: it’s good, and there are about five guys in it who project as starting quarterbacks. After all this time, and absorbing opinion after opinion, and throwing considerable amount of personal research into this, I’ve arrived at the same conclusion that pretty much everyone else has about the top four or five. I just don’t think the right to choose your quarterback in this draft is all that important. Ideally, you’d want to go for the best fit for your situation, but when teams take a quarterback early, they tend to work to tailor the situation to their quarterback pick, so perhaps that’s an irrelevant situation with regards to the top two guys, who are (shocker!) Andrew Luck of Stanford, and Robert Griffin III of Baylor.
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford, First overall grade [NFL comparable: Eli Manning]
2. Robert Griffin III, Baylor, Top 10 grade [NFL comparable: Aaron Rodgers]
There’s absolutely no reason to deviate from the standard evaluation from either of these guys. There’s a lot of hyperbole around Griffin right now that’s skewing his predraft value. Remember above where I said that a player’s marginal utility can skew a guy’s value to his team? With Griffin, the Washington Redskins saw a guy who was basically Andrew Luck’s equal in terms of having everything they could ask for. Griffin is by no means the riskiest QB pick Mike Shanahan has ever made; hardly would he be the riskiest QB decision Shanahan has even made in Washington. But for a lot of Redskin competitors, Griffin would be a much tougher projection.
A lot of the media perception of Robert Griffin III is based in hyperbole, and that’s actually probably caused Andrew Luck to be undervalued slightly as a prospect because he was originally the subject of great hyperbole and since has developed a reputation for being hand-picked as the QB messiah from this draft, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
What you actually get in Griffin is the best (non-Luck) QB prospect in at least a couple years, but he’s probably not (by himself, at least) going to change the way the game is played. Griffin might end up being the face of the modern NFL quarterback, but he will not be the reason that teams spread out defenses and run up-tempo offenses. That has more to do with recent coaching hires. And in Washington, we’re only bound to see a sliver of his potential right away.
3. Nick Foles, Arizona, mid-first round grade [NFL comparable: Sam Bradford]
Where I deviate from conventional grading is after the top two. I think there are many first rounders in this class, but I don’t know anyone who sees something particularly special in the game of Ryan Tannehill to warrant being a top ten pick. In fact, one of the necessary requirements of Tannehill being a top ten pick in this draft is that the team that takes him is concluding that they couldn’t have done better by letting him come off the board. To me, that’s not the case with Foles. I think Foles is a pretty good first round-type prospect. He wouldn’t have been my number one prospect if he came out last year, but if you flip last year’s class with this year’s class, then I think that he’s right up there with Ponder, Locker, and Gabbert (and possibly a better option that Andy Dalton) as the guy who could go second after Cam Newton.
And honestly that statement could be made about Ryan Tannehill as well: both Tannehill and Foles would have been better off as a part of last years’ draft class. Tannehill, based on recent history, is justifiably a top ten pick. But in this year’s class, he’s absolutely not the third best guy. He just doesn’t throw the football well enough. And for whatever reason, the media and internet draftniks haven’t called out Tannehill on his struggles throwing the football down the field and between the numbers with placement and accuracy, despite the fact that all three of the guys I have in the first round do this better than him.
Foles did not throw the ball as well as either Luck or Griffin on tape, but he threw it consistently well, and didn’t make too many poor decisions despite playing uphill most of his senior season. What stands out about Foles that I didn’t see in Tannehill is that you can speed up his reads against faster defensive teams and he doesn’t play outside his comfort level or make an unreasonable poor decisions. That wasn’t the case with Tannehill, and it’s a pretty important skill for a first round pick.
On the negative side, he’s a questionable athlete and didn’t look particularly the part in shorts and a T-shirt. So there’s that.
4. Kellen Moore, Boise State, late first round grade [NFL comparable: Carson Palmer (post-elbow injury)]
5. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State, late first round grade [NFL comparable: Matt Schaub]
The only time these two prospects were on a level playing field was at the 2012 Senior Bowl, and I thought Moore out-threw Cousins ever so slightly in the game (I don’t care about who handled the practice responsibilities better). Both I think are top quarterback prospects. Unlike Foles and Tannehill, I don’t believe either would have done significantly differently in last years draft against this years. Cousins is going to get drafted in that Andy Dalton range. Moore is not.
I can’t say Kellen Moore sliding down the draft board is particularly unjustified. The teams that throw a steady diet of in-cuts, TE stick routes, slants, curls, and verticals from the slots: they already have their quarterbacks locked up long term. The teams that are looking for the Tannehill-type of athletic talent who can also throw the ball. Moore is a good thrower and excellent huddle to line quarterback, but he’s always going to have to beat pressure by getting the ball out of his hand, and that’s a significant disadvantage for a quarterback in the modern NFL.
Because of that, Moore is destined to be taken as a no. 2 guy. There simply aren’t enough teams out there looking for a no. 1 who would consider him. And because he’s not going to start early in his career (by design) I wouldn’t take him earlier than the middle of the third round in that role. Cousins has a good shot to go to Buffalo or Cleveland or Miami in the second round and become their franchise quarterback. And if there’s enough interest in him, I could see a team trading up into the bottom half of round one to get him.
Is there a team that SHOULD take Kellen Moore early? Denver or Seattle, maybe? Arizona? I think Arizona would be the best fit in the first or second round. This is just a rough year for Moore to be draft-eligible. Still, he’s going to go earlier than many observers expect.
6. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M, second round grade [NFL comparable: Jason Campbell]
I’ve said plenty about Tannehill already. He’s got a fairly unique skill set and there is plenty you can do with him if your offensive coordinator likes to get creative. But if this was last year’s draft, he’s Colin Kaepernick. He’s not Christian Ponder (Kirk Cousins) or Kellen Moore (Andy Dalton) or even Jake Locker (Russell Wilson). He’s a solid second round prospect who, if managed correctly, can be a no. 2 guy right away, and then would receive competition for his backup job in year two.
The talk of a team trading up to no. 3 for Tannehill isn’t reality, and I think teams realize that the Browns aren’t going to select him at no. 4 overall either. After that, all bets are off.
Tannehill is an extreme rhythm and timing passer who lacks particularly great accuracy, but can throw the ball to the edge of the field with good timing and decent velocity. He’s pretty adept at identifying when his first read is open and getting the ball out quickly. He’s a very good athlete who moves well in the pocket. He can run all of the complicated QB movements expected of a quarterback in the west coast offense.
Tannehill’s upside is ultimately limited simply by how well he throws the football compared to others, which is ultimately why I can’t get him up into the first round in good conscience. He can throw about half the NFL route tree very well. The other half (the in-breaking and vertical stuff) is an adventure. Not all NFL quarterbacks can move well enough and throw well on the run to scheme that into their game. You can do that though with Ryan Tannehill. Because of that, Tannehill is a guy worth entrusting your starter’s job to in a pinch. But in my estimation, the top five guys on my board at the QB position can all be franchise leaders for the next decade given the opportunity. Tannehill is going to be more of a “tread water” type of quarterback.
7. Austin Davis, Southern Miss, third round grade [NFL comparable: Kyle Orton]
8. Case Keenum, Houston, third round grade [NFL comparable: Matt Moore]
9. Brock Osweiler, Arizona State, third round grade [NFL comparable: Joe Flacco]
These are three really different prospects who all carry the same grade from me. Austin Davis and Case Keenum have flown up my board. I had seen hardly any of Austin Davis during his four years as a starter at Southern Miss, but I’ve graded him a considerable amount since the season ended and have liked what I’ve seen. You could say that as a prospect, there’s nothing particularly special that stands about about him, but he has a lot of long term trends (his age and his experience, as well as impressive passing numbers and a significant improvement) that point to him being a successful player at the next level.
I saw a lot of Case Keenum at Houston and there was plenty to see because he started more college games at the Division 1 level than any pro prospect in history. Keenum took the field 57 times as the starter for the Houston Cougars. His direct predecessor at UH was Kevin Kolb, who signed his THIRD pro contract in 2011. What’s impressive about Keenum that I didn’t give him enough credit for throughout the pre-draft process is that he’s got the skill set that a lot of first and second round guys have. Keenum has a good arm and runs very well, not to mention his prototypical size. Keenum played his entire career in a spread offense, but he’s got the tools to succeed in a multitude of schemes.
His age (24) is advanced, as he is the second oldest QB prospect in this draft (Alex Tanney, Brandon Weeden). But he’s not older than either Kirk Cousins or Ryan Tannehill, and it’s hard to say he’s significantly less talented as a passer than either.
Here’s the red flag on Keenum: Case Keenum did not produce his usual numbers against top college defenses. Unlike Nick Foles and Kellen Moore (guys I have a first round grade on), you can not speed up Keenum without expecting a drop in the level of play. That suggests that in the NFL, Keenum might end up being a sub-60% completion percentage guy, after spending the majority of his college career in the upper sixties. So while I wouldn’t recommend he be selected higher than the middle of round three, I do think there’s something here.
I’ve studied a lot of Brock Osweiler over the last couple of months (dating back into the 2011 season), and I like a lot about him. However, when compared with other high round picks from recent years, he doesn’t compare all that well. Once you get to the mid-rounds, I think Osweiler becomes a pretty good value, and the kind of player who you’d feel really good about getting to play if your starter should miss time. Stylistically, Osweiler is much closer to a prototypical modern quarterback than someone like Keenum or Brandon Weeden, and could be a fantastic steal if he makes the third round (I doubt he will). But he’s got a ways to go before he’s playable at this level.
10. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, fifth-round grade [NFL comparable: David Garrard]
11. Jacory Harris, Miami, fifth-round grade [NFL comparable: Jon Kitna]
It’s hard to define a fourth round prospect, but I don’t see any in this draft. I think Osweiler, Keenum, and Austin Davis are all steals by the fourth round.
Russell Wilson is a tough sell as a starter in this league. It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to be an every down player, but he’s not all that effective from the pocket. Unlike Kellen Moore, you can see how the lack of height really affects Russell Wilson as a passer and how smart Wisconsin was to let him be a one read and then create a play passer. Wilson is incredibly efficient from outside of the pocket — rarely making a poor decision on the move — and he’s up there with Jake Locker as the best outside the pocket thrower to come out in the last couple of years. The issue with Wilson is that because such a small percentage of the NFL game is outside the pocket, he gets frozen as a no. 2 option without real no. 1 upside. In some drafts, you could see him as a 3rd or 4th round pick, in others’ he’d go undrafted. To be safe, I’m splitting the difference. He has a shot to be David Garrard some day.
Jacory Harris has gotten hardly any buzz whatsoever for a guy who made a bunch of NFL type throws at Miami, and I think the lack of analysis done on Harris has really hurt him. I don’t think a player who never dominated the college level can truly turn into much of a pro player, but he deserves a sniff at the NFL that he may not get because people are so down on him. Jacory Harris made all sorts of questionable decisions with the football at Miami, but he had a really strong senior year and I’m a little bit surprised he’s such a non-factor in this draft. He’s got NFL ability, but you wouldn’t know that by following the draft process.
12. Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois, sixth-round grade [NFL comparable: Josh Johnson]
13. Dominique Davis, East Carolina, sixth-round grade [NFL comparable: David Carr]
14. Alex Tanney, Monmouth (IL), sixth-round grade [NFL comparable: John Skelton]
I treat the sixth round as the back end of the middle rounds from an analysis stand point, and all middle round quarterback prospects by definition must have best-case starter upside. So here you have three talented players who may have trouble with complex coverages at the next level when they have to deal with speed and complexity. But they can all throw the football and complete passes as well as some of the names higher on this list.
I wouldn’t expect any of these guys to win a starting job, but I don’t think any of them would look significantly out of place on an NFL roster come the preseason.
15. B.J. Coleman, Tennessee-Chattanooga, seventh-round grade [NFL comparable: Alex Smith]
As I define a seventh round QB prospect, it means that we’ve left the mid rounds where I think you can find starting projects and have entered organizational backup territory. Coleman was known at the University of Tennessee and later at Chattanooga for his work ethic and desire to get better, and of all the guys listed as UDFA and priority UDFA, Coleman is the one I would bet on winning a third string quarterback job as a rookie, and giving at least a little bit of return on a seventh round draft choice.
Beyond him, teams are just looking for guys who can come in and compete, even on the scout team, and a guy like Aaron Corp might someday prove able to return something in a trade and win a starting quarterback position.
16. Aaron Corp, Richmond, Priority UDFA [NFL comparable: Matt Hasselbeck]
17. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State, Priority UDFA [NFL comparable: Mark Sanchez]
18. G.J. Kinne, Tulsa, UDFA [NFL comparable: Colt McCoy]
19. Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, UDFA [NFL comparable: Chad Henne]
20. Dan Persa, Northwestern, UDFA [NFL comparable: Chase Daniel]
21. Darron Thomas, Oregon, UDFA [NFL comparable: Joe Webb]
22. John Brantley, Florida, UDFA [NFL comparable: Ricky Stanzi]
23. Jordan Jefferson, LSU, UDFA [NFL comparable: Jerrod Johnson]
24. Patrick Witt, Yale, UDFA [NFL comparable: Tyler Palko]
25. Jarrett Lee, LSU, UDFA [NFL comparable: Tyler Thigpen]