Guest blogger Daniel gives us an insight into this year’s group of college quarterbacks…
Hey everyone, you may be familiar with me as the guy from North Carolina who made a brief appearance last year to tell you the team with the #1 pick would shy away from taking Cam Newton. Since that turned out so brilliantly I’m back to provide you with more excellent advice. In truth, I’m just a fan who like many of you watched his team put off any attempt at developing a prospect at the position in favor of hanging onto an ageing veteran who holds the franchise record for all time passing yards and had lead them to post season success – a Super Bowl appearance, even. A team leader and great guy by all accounts who, in spite of all the plaudits just mentioned, you aren’t entirely upset to see move on at this stage of his career.
Yes, I’m talking about Jake Delhomme, a slightly watered down east coast version of Matt Hasselbeck, but the end result is the same. With the current prospects looking like long shots thanks to the aforementioned short term strategy, I spent some extra time watching the best college QBs last year figuring one of them could be my team’s next franchise signal caller. Beyond that, hoping we would strike jackpot on the next elite QB – the one who could replace all the leadership ability of the guy who just left while also adding that extra quality and game to game consistency he may have lacked.
As a result, I can offer what I think of some QBs still in college that are touted as having NFL potential. I respect Rob’s opinions a great deal and in fact our thoughts on a number of players overlap by a significant amount. In terms of top prospects, I get the sense that Rob looks first at the physical tools a guy offers so he can judge their peak upside before making sure they can pass a base level evaluation of mental capacity/QB instincts and college production. Proper measurement of those latter factors weighed against the player’s upside and their surroundings (teammates and competition) can be very difficult – it’s the difference between getting Matt Ryan and Matt Leinart.
Personally, I approach this equation slightly differently although it ultimately reaches a similar end. I start by asking myself, “Can this guy make NFL plays?” which could be answered in a number of ways. Of course you want to know can if a guy can throw the deep out, if he can make throws under pressure and if he can make reads quickly. But Michael Vick scrambling for 20 yards is an NFL play. Same with Roethlisberger abandoning a play to run into defenders, shove them off, then complete a pass once coverage breaks down.
In short, a guy just has to pass the eye test and I look for things they bring to the table as much as things they take off . After that, I factor in physical tools and everything mentioned above to judge value. That’s where someone like Greg McElroy, who passes the eye test – if you squint – drops down. He’s small and takes away your ability to throw down field but I can see him completing passes in the NFL. Problem is he’s as near his upside as you can get for a college player and he was in a perfect situation at Alabama that made him look way more accurate than he was. At his absolute best, he should still never be more than #2 on your depth chart. And that’s why he fell to the 7thround – I’d have called him as a UDFA as long as I had an established starter. Contrast that with a player who had enormous physical upside but uneven production in college like Josh Freeman or two first rounders from the same draft as McElroy in Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. Withthe new rookie salary cap (Cam Newton’s contract is for $22 million over 4 years), Rob’s approach of taking a shot on a player with the tools to be a franchise QB, even if a team isn’t 100% sure on them – guys like Gabbert and Joe Flacco – could become the new trend.
Now that I’ve explained my “credentials” and thought process, we can move on to the players. At the least, I can offer a local perspective on some lesser known names you may not be familiar with on the other side of the country:
I’ll start with Landry Jones who, like Rob, I am not a big fan of. Physically, he’s got first round tools. The size and arm are good and the athleticism is adequate. He’s no Newton/Locker/Gabbert/Luck/etc in terms of mobility, but he isn’t a complete statue either. My issue is with everything else that I want to see in a big-time QB prospect. The quickest way to sum it up is by comparing him to his OU predecessor – he’s everything Sam Bradford wasn’t. The arm is stronger, he isn’t constantly injured in college (and his body looks more sturdy) but he’s less fluid and mobile. Also, Bradford had the accuracy and mental part of the game down as well as you could at his age.
Jones runs hot and cold. When he’s hot, I think “yeah, this guy could go in round 1″ but he’s cold way too much to actually be worth that grade. Even if he improves this year I would remain skeptical. I think, ironically, Jones will be given the benefit of the doubt in terms of the “spread offense” he plays in due to the success of Bradford and a few other QBsin the NFL. In truth, he looks much less developed playing in the same offense as his predecessor and I firmly believe that at another college he would be viewed as a guy with a big arm who is inconsistent and inaccurate. Another thing, and this may be venturing a bit too far into the realm of speculation, he just doesn’t pass my sniff test in terms of intelligence/self-awareness. It’s nowhere near the Ryan Mallett level of concern but he does set off some warning signals there and I would advise an NFL team to make sure he checks out during the interview process. Still, we live in a world where Christian Ponder went in the top 15. With that and the new rookie salary cap to consider, Landry Jones is assuredly a first round prospect. I just wouldn’t want to take that risk.
Another guy I agree with Rob on is Nick Foles. Total system guy who is very stiff in the pocket. He’s one that really falters on my “can I see him making NFL plays?” test. Other than his height and some pretty college stats there isn’t much he brings to the table. I don’t buy the Robert Griffin hype either. Like him as a player in college but have a hard time picturing him in the NFL. He still has time though, since he could theoretically pull a Case Keenum and stay in college for another 3 years. I need to see more of Kirk Cousins since I only caught a couple Michigan State games last year but my initial impression is that he might be a guy who gets rated highly for his “make up” rather than his actual ability. Is his upside higher than a mediocre starter? I need to see more. I haven’t seen enough of Austin Davis or Ryan Lindleyalthough I hear about both a lot. What I have seen of Lindley made me think late round tools prospect, although I know some people who like him a lot more.
Moving on, here are a few names that are long shots this season but might be potential first rounders at some point. You may be familiar with Mike Glennon as a result of the Russell Wilson transfer to Wisconsin. I’m not sure how the story has been reported nationally but the reality of that situation is that the coach (Tom O’Brien – who nurtured Matt Ryan, the Hasselbecks and a few others at Boston College) chose two years of Glennon over one year of Wilson. That doesn’t necessarily mean it was the right choice, but it would certainly raise eyebrows if I was an NFL scout. Glennon is 6-6, has a rocket arm and was rated right around Landry Jones and Andrew Luck coming out of high school. He’s probably more of a 2013 prospect than 2012 but that’s my big scoop. He has yet to start a game and he has flaws like any other player but I’d offer him as someone you might want to take a look at in the coming season.
Some other names that could gain traction this year ~ not a fan of EJ Manuel as an NFL prospect, although I think he’ll be effective for FSU. Big (if inaccurate) arm and can fall forward for 6 yards a pop just about any time you need it. John Brantley isn’t good and I don’t care what fairy dust Charlie Weis sprinkles on him, he shouldn’t be more than camp fodder in the NFL. I’d like to see what JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger can do at LSU if he can get on the field this year. I’ve noticed Rob is big on Logan Thomas. Here in ACC country he has flown under the radar a bit but the tools are intriguing. Virginia Tech has a very soft schedule this year so it’s possible he could benefit from that greatly. I’d be wary of getting too excited about Tyler Wilson at Arkansas. Mid rounder in my opinion, and I’d take an extra long look when evaluating anyone from a Petrino offense (responsible for Brohm, Jamarcus, Mallett, Ponder and soon Manuel). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a diamond in there somewhere – Aaron Rodgers was a “Tedford QB” – but you have to make sure what they’re doing can project to the NFL.
I’ll finish up withthe Luck vs Barkley debate that I imagine will grow old quickly this season. I have to disagree with Rob on this one, as I am a big Luck backer. I know the hype machine has spiraled out of control and personally, I don’t think he’s the greatest prospect in the history of the NFL draft. For instance, his arm is adequate but it isn’t the typical cannon you see in a #1 overall QB. His deep ball needs a lot of work – one of his interceptions against Oregon in particular is very ugly and you could even see his receivers have to hold up for the long TDsin the second half of the Orange Bowl. You can gain arm strength in the NFL (ask Tom Brady) and you can even throw deep with great effectiveness without it (ask Philip Rivers) but right now it’s his biggest knock and something that would get exposed in the NFL.
That’s the only major flaw I can find in him. He brings everything else to the table and I think the aspect he brings to the table that makes him special, maybe something Rob has underrated a bit, is his pocket mobility. Stanford’s offensive live deserves a lot of credit for keep Luck clean and making him look good, but Luck himself is a big reason he only took single digit sacks last year . He is extremely clever at moving his feet and getting into the best positions to throw with space. This is before mentioning the couple of long runs he took off on – overall, I think his mobility will be a big asset in the NFL and it makes his game compare favorably to Rich Gannon, the MVP version.
In comparison (and perhaps also considering players such as Cam Newton and Jake Locker are becoming more common) Barkley seems a lot more rigid and immobile (although he is by no means slow – probably runs a 4.8 and can pick up first downs in the NFL if a lane is open). His arm talent is special and he brings every NFL throw to the table – he can gun it sideline to sideline and there is not a single throw he cannot make. Still, there is something that bothers me about him. At times, he almost seems too mechanical and I like to see fluidity. I think Luck’s former coach and new Seahawks enemy Jim Harbaughtermed it “athletic instincts” in an interview about what he looks for in a QB – even someone like Matt Ryan who isn’t known as a scrambler seemed very fluid on the move at Boston College – Barkley has to set himself to throw, or at least load up so he can fire a ball with pace on the run. You also have to remember that he’s around 6-2. Now, that’s adequate height to play in the NFL and he stands tall enough in the pocket that it shouldn’t be a major concern but if we’re moving towards 6’4+ athletic freaks who can run and throw showing up every year, you have to be damn special to go #1 overall.
Is he? Well, I actually agree that Barkley’s game against Stanford was more impressive than Luck’s against USC. He fired the ball downfield the entire night and carried a team that didn’t have a run game working against a great defense. Matching scores the entire game down to the TD that put USC up with only a minute to go. The thing is, that game was the most impressive I have ever seen Barkley (granted, I missed his 5 TD game against Cal the next week) and it was just another day at the office for Luck. Luck’s game that night reminded me of Drew Brees last season - he just took what was given to him (often short passes underneath) and killed you with ruthless efficiency. Now, I don’t think his accuracy is Brees level – he’s very good there, not great. But anytime I say something like that, I feel like I’m scrutinizing him like I would redshirt senior’sfinal season because his game is so advanced. He’s just 21. And Barkley is even younger at 20. They can both still improve so much over the next year. Clearly the #1 and 2 guys on the board in my opinion and I can’t see either falling out of the top-10.