On the heels of the success of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last year, more will be expected of rookie quarterbacks—and sooner, too. That’s a tough row to hoe for any rookie class, but this one in particular seems ill-equipped for the challenge. After all, until the underclassmen declared there was a distinct possibility ther wouldn’t be a quarterback taken on the first day of the draft, let alone in Round One.
Thing about it: both Ryan and Flacco were seniors—red-shirt seniors, in fact—with plenty of collegiate experience to draw from. Also, you’ll note that the teams behind the rookies finished 1-2 in the league in rushing attempts and 2-4 in the league in rushing yards.
Day One Candidates
Nonetheless, the bar has been raised with regards to rookie signal callers, and expectations will be high as well. And the two quarterbacks most likely to be squarely in the crosshairs are a pair of early entries. Most mocks and scouting services have Georgia’s Matthew Stafford not only atop the quarterback rankings but in many cases going first overall to the Lions; in a few instances, USC’s Mark Sanchez claims that honor.
Stafford has the stronger arm and three years of starting experience against SEC competition; Sanchez was productive in just over a season of directing Southern Cal’s pro style offense, and while scouts love his intangibles his lack of game experience leaves some unfulfilled. With Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, and Tim Tebow all opting to stay in school, however, teams looking for immediate help at quarterback are left to decide: Stafford or Sanchez? Both should go off the board in the first half of Round One—as early as first and third, potentially as late as 10 and 19.
If another quarterback cracks the first round in 2009, it will likely be Josh Freeman of Kansas State. Another early entry, Freeman was overshadowed in his own conference not only by McCoy and Bradford but also by the likes of Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Missouri’s Chase Daniels, and Todd Reesing of Kansas. However, Freeman has size (6-6, 248), mobility, and a strong arm and could be considered a project with a very high upside. Potential starters aren’t usually first-rounders, but Freeman may be deemed a worthy project a team trades back into the top frame to acquire.
It’s also conceivable that Freeman falls to the second round and is the last quarterback taken on Day One, though it’s possible two other quarterbacks sneak into the second round. Ball State’s Nate Davis, yet another early entry, turned some heads with a 70-yard toss in the Long Ball competition at the College All-Star Football Challenge during Super Bowl week. Davis also demonstrated accuracy and mobility during his tenure at Ball State and should be among the first five quarterbacks drafted—possibly as early as Round Two.
Closing out the top five quarterbacks off the board will likely be West Virginia’s Pat White. Some scouts have already moved White to wide receiver a la Antwaan Randle El or Brad Smith, but his MVP performance at the Senior Bowl—as well as the proliferation of teams incorporating “Wildcat” formation plays into their offense—have at least earned him a chance to play quarterback in the NFL. His “slash” skills might enhance his value and sneak him off the board in Round Two or early on the second day, because even if he busts as a pro quarterback his toughness and skills with the ball will earn him a shot at another position.
Be Very Afraid
Red Raider fans were understandably in an uproar when Graham Harrell didn’t receive an invitation to the Heisman party in December; after all, 5,111 passing yards and 45 passing touchdowns for a one-loss team in a BCS conference would usually punch that ticket. Unfortunately for Harrell he’s being tagged as a system quarterback, a label that his struggles under center at the Senior Bowl did little to peel away. Harrell has traits to build upon—intelligence, decision-making, short-range accuracy—but he’ll need to find a team willing to re-educate him on taking snaps under center, dropping back, etc. before he can even begin to think about working his way into a starting lineup.
Take A Chance On…
Quarterbacks are used to the spotlight, but few have been under such an intense glare for as long as Alabama’s John Parker Wilson. After directing Hoover (of MTV “Two-A-Days” fame) to a pair of state titles, Wilson was a three-year starter for the Tide—including this season’s rise to a Number One ranking before stumbling late in the season. A strong Senior Bowl showing earned him Offensive MVP honors and should ensure he hears his name called on Day Two of the draft. Wilson won’t wow anyone with his size or his arm, but his solid mechanics, ability to read a defense, and success against top-flight competition should land him clipboard duty somewhere and a chance to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to present itself.
Who Needs One?
The case studies of Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn have demonstrated that teams picking early don’t always opt for shelling out big bucks just to find out if they’re getting Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf in their rookie quarterback. That’s why it’s entirely conceivable that, while neither the Lions or Chiefs appear settled at the position, both could pass on Stafford and Sanchez in round one; then again, the two junior quarterbacks might both be off the board three picks into the proceedings.
Should Detroit and Kansas City opt to fill other needs first, the 49ers at 10 and the Jets at 17 could both be interested in a new signal caller. The Bears at 18 have indicated they’d like to bring in a quarterback to compete with Kyle Orton, while the departures of Jeff Garcia and quarterback-collector Jon Gruden in Tampa may spur the Buccaneers to seek help at the position as well. The Lions would get another shot at someone to throw the ball to Calvin Johnson at 20, while the Vikings at 22 can’t possibly expect to enter the 2009 season with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte as their only options without repercussions from their fan base. Barring an unusual development this offseason, any other team looking at a quarterback would be doing so primarily for developmental or backup purposes.