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Rookie Quarterbacks
Richard Cirminiello
June 30, 2004

Eli Manning, New York Giants

Eli’s a Manning, which means the pedigree and polish have already been prepackaged into his game. Not unlike brother Peyton, he’s a prototypical dropback passer with terrific size, the ability to make all throws and as much football acumen as some offensive coordinators. Plus, he’s battle-tested after having spent the past three years as a starter in the SEC. Manning’s close to the complete package, but if he’s to fulfill the expectations of being the No. 1 pick overall, he better be prepared for pressure—the kind the Giants’ offensive line failed to subdue in 2003 and the kind that’ll emanate from the impatient New York media and fans. His margin for error narrowed after he orchestrated his way out of San Diego on draft day.

Fantasy Outlook: The Giants’ trade for Manning led to Kerry Collins’ release, so it’s no secret he’s being groomed to take the reins immediately. There’ll be competition from at least one veteran, but the job is clearly his to lose. The future is bright for Manning, but, like all rookie quarterbacks, he’ll stumble plenty in year one as he adapts to the speed and complexity of the pro game. He’s worth a selection in keeper leagues.

Philip Rivers, San Diego

Rivers picks up little in the way of style points, yet excels where it counts—production, leadership and winning. He’s got a quirky sidearm delivery and a plodding gait, neither of which prevented him from ascending to No. 2 on the NCAA’s all-time passing list during a brilliant career as a four-year starter at North Carolina State. The comparisons to Bernie Kosar, while tired and overused, are eerily accurate. What Rivers lacks in fluid athleticism, he more than compensates for with pinpoint accuracy and a level of intelligence and poise that belies his age. As it pertains to the intangibles, he’s the antithesis of Ryan Leaf, the last Charger quarterback selected in the first round.

Fantasy Outlook: Doug Flutie is a little long in the tooth. Drew Brees is a little short on talent. Philip Rivers will have every opportunity to win the starting job this fall and become the face of the Charger franchise for the next decade. He started an NCAA-record 51 games with the Wolfpack, so the learning curve should be flatter than it is for most first-year quarterbacks.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

His selection by the Steelers makes it three times in the last five years that a MAC quarterback has been chosen in the first round. And the first time since Pittsburgh took Terry Bradshaw in 1970 that the organization went this high for a quarterback. Roethlisberger has the size of a linebacker, yet is nimble enough to escape trouble when the pocket breaks down. If he reaches his lofty upside, the Steelers could have a player in the mold of former Bill Jim Kelly in a couple of years. The only concern about Roethlisberger involves the competition he faced at Miami (OH). While he obliterated MAC defenses in 2003, against Iowa last September, he was picked off four times and failed to get the RedHawks in the end zone.

Fantasy Outlook: The blueprint calls for Roethlisberger to spend 2004 learning behind Tommy Maddox, much the way the Bengals are bringing along Carson Palmer. By the start of the 2005 season, Pittsburgh hopes he’ll be hurling darts to Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El.

J.P. Losman, Buffalo

Losman’s a feast or famine type player, who shouldn’t be graded for another two or three years. He’s got the measurables and free spirit to eventually take the city of Buffalo by storm. In fact, of the four quarterbacks taken in the first round, he’s easily the most athletic all-around playmaker. He’s also a little rough around the edges, however, which is why Drew Bledsoe’s decision to restructure his seven-year deal and stay with the Bills was such a boon to the rookie and the organization. Losman has just enough fire, swagger and raw physical skill to conjure up thoughts of a young Brett Favre.

Fantasy Outlook: Losman’s going to be fun to watch, but for at least the upcoming campaign, you’ll only get glimpses of him in August, when the games don’t count. He’s content to spend 2004 absorbing as much as he can as Bledsoe’s backup and heir-apparent. When the wraps do come off in a year or three, Losman could emerge as one of the NFL’s most dynamic young players.

Matt Schaub, Atlanta

Falcons broke a string of 67 picks without a quarterback when they tabbed Schaub in the third round. After enduring more than half of 2003 with Doug Johnson at the helm, Atlanta considered depth behind Michael Vick a priority. Schaub is an efficient, no-frills quarterback, and in many ways the anti-Vick. He’s rather big, rather slow and does not have a particularly strong arm. One of the few things the two have in common is that they both played their college ball in the state of Virginia.

Fantasy Outlook: Schaub has the look of a career backup, and with Vick and Ty Detmer on the roster, he’ll be holding a clipboard for the foreseeable future.

Luke McCown, Cleveland

McCown follows in the footsteps of brother Josh, who currently tops the depth chart for the Arizona Cardinals. After failing to lure Luke to Miami when he was coaching the ‘Canes, Butch Davis finally lands a kid he really admires. McCown is brimming with practical experience, having spent four years as the triggerman of Louisiana Tech’s pass-happy offense. He’s a project, but has the arm, athletic ability and confidence to be one of the pleasant surprises of this quarterback class.

Fantasy Outlook: McCown enters a favorable situation in Cleveland. The coach already likes him and the first-year starter is 34 years old. If he develops as expected as an understudy to Jeff Garcia and Kelly Holcomb, he might be vying for the starting job by 2006.

Craig Krenzel, Chicago

Krenzel’s biggest strengths are the kind of attributes that cannot be taught. He’s extremely intelligent, a terrific leader and poised even in the most dire circumstances. He showed his mettle and toughness numerous times in 2002, when Ohio State won the national championship and he was named Fiesta Bowl MVP. Krenzel won’t wow you with his physical tools, but he’s the kind proven winner that’s nice to have on the roster.

Fantasy Outlook: The Bears like Krenzel’s makeup and feel he could blossom now that he’s no longer saddled with the vanilla Buckeye offense. He’ll compete for the No. 3 spot this year and is the kind of player that could float around the league for a decade if the medical community doesn’t get him first.

Josh Harris, Baltimore

One of the best players in Bowling Green history becomes the first player in a decade to get drafted from the Ohio school. Harris is an outstanding athlete, who has an adequate arm, but is most dangerous when he breaks containment. In many ways—including physique—he’s a poor man’s Donovan McNabb. In 2003, he joined Antwan Randle-El as the only NCAA players to rush and pass for 40 touchdowns in a career. Harris is way too good of a playmaker to not be given a good look.

Fantasy Outlook: Harris’ first priority will be to beat out free agent Brian Gaither for the No. 3 job behind last year’s first-round pick Kyle Boller and veteran Anthony Wright. He’s raw, to be sure, but with Brian Billick and Matt Cavanaugh overseeing his development, Harris has a chance to be someone’s starter down the road.

Jeff Smoker, St. Louis

Smoker’s Michigan State career had as much business playing out in Hollywood as it did in East Lansing, Mich. Once a blue-chip recruit, he crashed and burned with substance abuse problems in 2002 before bouncing back with a solid senior season in which he was named team MVP. Smoker is fundamentally sound and possesses the kind of touch and timing necessary to run Mike Martz’s offense. Considering the recent success Martz has had with unheralded quarterbacks like Trent Green, Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, he has to feel pretty good about where he’s landed.

Fantasy Outlook: Smoker will begin his Ram career learning behind Bulger and injury-prone veteran Chris Chandler. For inspiration, he’ll need to look no further than Bulger, who was also a sixth-round draft choice four years ago.

John Navarre, Arizona

Navarre is a battle-hardened veteran of the Big Ten wars and the disapproval of Michigan fans, so don’t expect him to be unnerved by this next challenge. At 6-6, he can stand stall in the pocket and find passing lanes with no obstructions. He’s very tough and durable, but without the protection of a solid offensive line, could take a beating in the NFL. Navarre lacks mobility and is a pretty easy target to locate.

Fantasy Outlook: Navarre improved each year in Ann Arbor, and since every Michigan starting quarterback since 1989 has at least made an NFL roster, you have to like his chances of remaining employed for a while. With only Josh McCown and Shaun King in the foreground, the Cards’ likely No. 3 has fewer roadblocks to the top than most second-day quarterbacks.

Cody Pickett, San Francisco

For a time in Pickett’s Washington career, he looked destined for Heisman contention and a fat first-round signing bonus. That was before a less than stellar senior year and a disappointing combine raised doubts about his consistency. Considering that most of his shortcomings can be addressed with coaching and that he has a powerful right arm, Pickett may prove to be a seventh-round bargain in two or three years. Dennis Erickson knows Pickett well from his days at Oregon State and believes he’s nabbed an unpolished gem.

Fantasy Outlook: On a Niner team littered with late-round picks Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Brandon Doman, Pickett should feel right at home. Provided Rattay’s torn groin heals in time for training camp, it should come down to Pickett v. Doman for the last spot on the roster.

Matt Mauck, Denver

A modern day renaissance man, the 25-year old Academic All-American has already won a national championship, completed his degree in kinesiology and played three seasons in the Chicago Cubs organization. However, Mauck’s curious decision to leave LSU early reached head-scratcher status when he almost went undrafted in April. He’s a nice quarterback by college standards, but lacks arm strength and doesn’t do any one thing well enough to make you believe he’ll have a long NFL career.

Fantasy Outlook: As it stands now, only journeymen Danny Kanell and Mike Quinn and fellow rookie Bradlee Van Pelt stand between Mauck and starter Jake Plummer. If things don’t work out between the lines, he can always apply to be the Broncos’ dentist, a profession he plans to pursue once his football career ends.

B.J. Symons, Houston

Symons made the most of his one season as a starter in Texas Tech’s high octane attack, even if he had to play the final seven games on a bum knee. In a courageous effort, he passed for an NCAA-record 5,833 yards and 52 touchdowns, despite tearing his left ACL on Oct. 11. Still recovering from surgery, the local product must prove he can compete in an NFL system that’s far more disciplined than what he’d grown accustomed to in Lubbock.

Fantasy Outlook: After what he achieved last year, it’s hard not to be a little intrigued by Symons. He’s a bright, gritty quarterback, who’s driven to prove he’s far more than just a product of Mike Leach’s system. If his knee allows him to avoid the practice squad, Symons will battle Dave Ragone and Tony Banks for one of the spots behind David Carr.

Bradlee Van Pelt, Denver

If determination and competitiveness were combine measurables, Van Pelt would have been a first day selection. He bolted from Michigan State when the staff demanded he move to the defense and carved out a very nice legacy at Colorado State. He’s a work-in-progress as a passer, but has made marked strides since leaving the Spartans and has the passion, size and athleticism that few other signal callers can boast. Players like Van Pelt have an innate quality, a burning desire to succeed that suggests you shouldn’t bet against them

Fantasy Outlook: Van Pelt’s a throwback, who’ll do whatever’s necessary to win. And at some point, Bronco coaches may decide that that kind of a special player is more valuable on the field at a different position rather than wearing a headset as a third-string quarterback.

Casey Clausen, Kansas City

If there’s an undrafted free agent, who might have considerbale staying power, it’s Clausen, the four-year starter from Tennessee. His arm strength and mobility have raised red flags, but his mechanics are crisp and there’s no replacing the experience and veteran leadership he banked away while in Knoxville. A 14-1 road record as the Vol starter speaks volumes about his poise under center.

Fantasy Outlook: If Clausen can stick with the Chiefs in 2004, he’ll gain valuable experience as the No. 3 quarterback behind Trent Green and Todd Collins. Green was an eighth-round draft choice in 1993, further proof you don’t have to be a high pick to become a starter in the NFL.