The NFL draft is now less than a week away, and still no one really has any idea when the top quarterbacks will be taken.
Will there be a surprising run in the first round on Day 1? Even early on Day 1?
Or, as draftniks implore, will teams wait until Days 2 and 3 to select most, or even all, of this year’s group of sizzle-deficient quarterbacks?
As this position by far is the most vital on any NFL team, here are my analytical takes on the Top 10 quarterbacks available this year. My analyses and draft grades are based largely on my own observations at both the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, and on my interviews with (1) some of the most respected draft experts, (2) two scouts and (3) most of the QBs themselves.
1. Matt Barkley
FROM: Newport Beach, Calif.
COLLEGE: Southern Cal
EXPERIENCE: Started all 4 years, plus all 4 in high school
SIZE: 6-foot-2 1/2, 227 pounds
PROS: Deep experience at high levels in pro-style passing schemes. Accurate on short and medium passes. Accurate on rollouts. Strong intangibles.
CONS: Mediocre arm strength. Poor footwork in pocket. Coming off separated throwing shoulder. Efficiency dropped as senior behind more porous pass protection.
IDEAL SCENARIO: Team with a West Coast offence takes him, to accentuate his pros and diminish his cons. Could flourish.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I would disagree,” he told me proudly at a scouting combine news conference when I mentioned those who say he lacks arm strength. “Look at the tape … I’ve made throws in tight windows. I can make every NFL throw that you need.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 1st round.
2. E.J. Manuel
FROM: Virginia Beach, Va.
COLLEGE: Florida State
EXPERIENCE: Had six starts over first two seasons, before starting full-time in 2011 and 2012.
SIZE: 6-foot-4 5/8, 237 pounds
PROS: Tall. Good arm. Quick delivery. Fleet. Natural leader. Only 3rd NCAA QB to win 4 bowl games.
CONS: Inconsistent. His sometimes stunted delivery too often leads to inaccuracy, even on simple or short throws.
IDEAL SCENARIO: Becomes a backup, learns subtleties of read-option, hones his delivery, then blossoms as a potential dual-threat star in Year 2 or 3, a la Kaepernick.
WHAT HE SAYS: “My physical skills kind of speak for themselves,” he told me at the Senior Bowl. “I have the size, and I can throw, I can run. But I think mainly it’s the pedigree in my mind … I finished 26-6 as a starter at Florida State, so I think I can do the same thing in the NFL.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 1st round or high 2nd.
3. Ryan Nassib
FROM: West Chester, Pa.
EXPERIENCE: Three-year starter who broke myriad school passing records.
SIZE: 6-foot-2 1/8, 227 pounds
PROS: Strong arm. Most accurate of all these QBs on short and medium throws, even when scrambling. Hangs in pocket under duress. Ran hurry-up offence and excelled as fast decision-maker. Tough.
CONS: Tries to puncture brick walls with every throw. Result: he lacks touch on short ones and lacks accuracy — and sometimes even length — on deep ones. Must adjust at pro level. Can he? Struggled mightily to do so at three Senior Bowl practices I watched.
IDEAL SCENARIO: Too obvious. He goes to Buffalo, where his college head coach and offensive coordinator, Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett, now run the Bills. They’d know better than any team how to best utilize Nassib’s talents, and minimize his weaknesses.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I think I do a good job of getting the ball out quick, going through my progressions, and not really forcing the ball,” he said at the Senior Bowl. “(I want to prove) that I’m an NFL-ready quarterback, that I can play at the next level, mentally and physically.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 2nd round.
4. Geno Smith
FROM: Miami, Fla.
COLLEGE: West Virginia
EXPERIENCE: Three-year starter. Broke a slew of school passing records.
SIZE: 6-foot-2 3/8, 218 pounds
PROS: Fantastic arm — which is what has so many scouts drooling. Blazing fast, too. Smart. Good instincts. Has huge ceiling.
CONS: Footwork is bad, but correctable. Even draftniks that rank him as the top QB agree he didn’t attempt many NFL-calibre throws in college, despite all those insane stats. Worst of all, lacks anticipation on his throws. That means he hesitates to throw until his receiver breaks open, rather than just before. No one can succeed like that in the NFL. Puzzling why so many drafniks rate him No. 1 regardless.
IDEAL SCENARIO: A team with a good QB coach and a creative offensive coordinator drafts him, lets him watch from the sidelines for a year or two, coaches him up, then unleashes him on the league.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I’m totally confident in my abilities,” he said at his combine news conference. “I’m not cocky or trying to say I’m this all-world player right now, because I have many areas I need to grow … I played in three different systems in college (including) the read-option system. I think I have the skill set that fits any offence.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 2nd or 3rd round.
5. Tyler Wilson
FROM: Fort Smith, Ark.
EXPERIENCE: Was a backup until taking over as starter in 2011 and 2012.
SIZE: 6-foot-2 1/8, 215 pounds
PROS: Productive against SEC defences. Hangs in pocket and keeps eyes downfield as well as any QB in this class, even when he gets the hell knocked out of him. Was arguably the most consistent QB at Senior Bowl. First-rate leader.
CONS: Average arm. Maddeningly inconsistent at times. Play dropped off as a senior after the team got Petrino-ed. Poor mobility.
IDEAL SCENARIO: Wears a ballcap for a couple years, awaiting his chance behind a veteran QB in a traditional offence.
WHAT HE SAYS: “(What makes me NFL-ready) is my ability to comprehend a pro-style offence, and what I’ve done at Arkansas,” he told me at the Senior Bowl. “There was a lot on my shoulders as far as protection responsibility, run-game checks and responsibility, and because of that I think I’ll be able to digest a lot early, and come in and play.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 2nd or 3rd round.
6. Matt Scott
FROM: Chino, Calif.
EXPERIENCE: Only one full year of starting, after backing up Nick Foles. Ran Rich Rodriguez’s spread read-option offence in his starting year.
SIZE: 6-foot-2 1/8, 213 pounds
PROS: Completed 60% of senior-year passes for 3,620 yards, 27 TDs. At combine, showed off a strong arm and fast release with surprising accuracy. Not only mobile but most adept of all these QBs in running read-option.
CONS: Threw 14 interceptions in ’12 in an offence that gets receivers wide open everywhere. Inconsistent. Bad footwork on throws. A bit too lean. Most of all, he’s raw — lacks experience attempting NFL-type throws.
IDEAL SCENARIO: A team will gamble earlier than expected on his upside potential, based mostly on his impressive arm and release.
WHAT HE SAYS: “After the season, I played in the East-West Shrine game,” he said at his combine news conference. “Since the season got out, I think I’ve put on about 11, 12 pounds. I think that’s going to help in how the coaches look at me.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 3rd round.
7. Zac Dysert
FROM: Ada, Ohio
COLLEGE: Miami (Ohio)
EXPERIENCE: Four-year starter with RedHawks, broke career passing records of Ben Roethlisberger.
SIZE: 6-foot-2 7/8, 231 pounds
PROS: Strong arm. Thrives in chaotic pocket. And he’s sneaky fast: threw for 500+ yards and rushed for 100+ vs. Akron as a senior. Three-time captain.
CONS: Disturbingly inconsistent on his throws, which was on display at Senior Bowl. Misses easy throws.
IDEAL SCENARIO: If Chiefs miss on the above QBs, pocket-thriving Dysert might make him ideal for Andy Reid, as understudy behind Alex Smith.
WHAT HE SAYS: “Coming from a smaller school like Miami, I think some people won’t give me the credit, or might think I can’t handle the bigger situations,” he told me at the Senior Bowl. “So that just made me have a chip on my shoulder.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 3rd or 4th round.
8. Landry Jones
FROM: Artesia, N.M.
EXPERIENCE: Started all four years. Critics say he peaked as a sophomore.
SIZE: 6-foot-4 1/8, 225 pounds
PROS: Usually came up big in big games. Strong arm. Not afraid to move around in pocket.
CONS: Makes bad decisions on throws. Too quick to check down. Lacks accuracy, especially on NFL-type throws.
IDEAL SCENARIO: Like so many college QBs, including these, operated mostly from the shotgun. Needs time to get used to NFL-style offences, and work on progression throws.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I think it’s always going to be a passing league,”he told me at the Senior Bowl. “If you can’t throw it, you can’t be a quarterback in the NFL. That’s always going to be the deal … I’m able to throw the ball on time. And I’m able to move around.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 5th or 6th round.
9. Mike Glennon
FROM: Centreville, Va.
COLLEGE: North Carolina State
EXPERIENCE: Succeeded some guy named Russell Wilson on the Wolfpack, and started the past two seasons.
SIZE: 6-foot-7 1/8, 225 pounds
PROS: Has no problem seeing over linemen. Great, strong arm. Can throw any pass. Usually accurate, too, so long as … (read on)
CONS: Remember Bills/Redskins QB Todd Collins? Glennon is a taller, skinnier version. Has mule-like escapability in the pocket, and unless the pocket’s clean he’s utterly ineffective most of the time. Also a string-bean — thus durability concern.
IDEAL SCENARIO: He shrinks three inches, adds 5 or 10 pounds, and injects athleticism into his feet. Failing that, a team with a stout offensive line and vertical passing game would suit him best.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I think that’s one of the biggest strengths I have is I can throw the ball pretty well. It comes off my hand well,” he told me at the Senior Bowl. “(Escapability) is something I do need to work on, but a lot of people under-estimate it in me, probably, because I’m so tall.”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 5th or 6th round.
10. Tyler Bray
FROM: Clovis, Calif.
EXPERIENCE: Took over as starter as a true freshman, missed half of his sophomore season with a hand injury, then started all last fall.
SIZE: 6-foot-6 1/8, 232 pounds
PROS: Possesses all the protypical NFL skills that scouts covet — height, thickness, great arm, good footwork, exceptional downfield accuracy. Had a 34-12 TD-INT ratio in third (and final) year.
CONS: Minimizes out in all the intangibles — otherwise he could be a 1st-round pick. Delivery needs work.
IDEAL SCENARIO: What he said, below.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I’m 21 years old — the youngest quarterback in the draft,” he told Scout.com. “So, coming in and starting is probably a bit unrealistic. Coming in to back up a guy, learning the system, just getting used to things and eventually become a starter (is my goal).”
MY DRAFT GRADE: 6th or 7th round.