Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had a closer look at a number of the proposed quarterback options for the 2012 draft. The conclusion I’ve come to is that the group is deep with names, but not necessarily deep with first round picks. Potentially there are two players who I rate extremely highly as potential franchise quarterbacks – Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Even then, it’s not a shoe-in that either will glide into the NFL as the sure things that many seem to believe they are. After all, they’re going to be drafted early by bad football teams.
After that you’re looking at a big group of prospects jostling for position, headed in the pre-season by Landry Jones. He has work to do to confirm a first round grade and there are some remaining issues with his consistency, accuracy and ability to break through what is a very favorable offensive scheme in terms of pure numbers. He needs to stand out more in 2011.
Behind Jones at the moment are Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis. Cousins reminds me a lot of Kevin Kolb and should he lead Michigan State to a successful Big Ten campaign, I suspect he’ll end up going in a similar region to Kolb. I’m a big fan of the under rated Davis at Southern Miss and while he won’t generate the same level of hype as others (see Nick Foles below), he has every opportunity to go in the first three rounds of next year’s draft if he performs as expected this year.
I’ve read several articles and listened to some arguments about the depth of this quarterback class, mainly in reference to finding stop gap options this year for QB-needy teams knowing they can spend big on the position next April. Of course, the Seahawks are one of those teams. Even so, I have to wonder if it’s the same kind of hyperbole we hear every year about respective quarterback classes the more I research these players.
Ryan Lindley often gets quoted as an early pick - a player who is far from a polished quarterback, has consistency and accuracy issues and doesn’t have the kind of physical tools some people have suggested. Brandon Weeden will be a 29-year-old rookie, yet he gets thrown into the mix fairly often. Weeden’s a pretty good quarterback, but at that age how much can you realistically spend? Ryan Tannehill’s another name and sure, he did very well in terms of wins at the end of last season. However, there’s nowhere near enough evidence yet to vault him higher than a mid-rounder at this stage. Case Keenum, Kellen Moore – I have them both with UDFA grades, although Keenum may generate some interest in the later rounds.
A guy like Stephen Garcia may be able to repair his stock sufficiently to make a camp, but he isn’t likely to warrant a draft pick given his off the field situation. Charlie Weis’ system in Florida may mask John Brantley’s issues enough to get some attention, but let’s not forget how the same scheme sold many on the ‘qualities’ of Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.
And that brings me on to Arizona’s Nick Foles.
I’ve read a lot of things about Foles, much of which I completely disagree with. I enjoyed a discussion with my Twitter buddy Scott Enyeart yesterday after he suggested Foles was a potential first round pick. He’s not the only one to voice that view, a website called ‘Mock Draft Mania’ touts Foles’ as being superior to both Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Another site called ‘The Bills Zone’ compares him to Ben Roethlisberger, leading to the question as to whether the author has ever seen a Pittsburgh Steelers’ game other than Super Bowl XL.
First of all, Foles is a big guy. He’s listed at 6-5 and 245lbs and although I suspect he weighs less (more like 230-235lbs), he’s basically got prototype size for the position. Unfortunately, he has anything but prototypical physical attributes to start in the NFL. He’s a statue in the pocket, a sitting duck unable to avoid any pressure or even command any kind of evasiveness. He won’t extend a play by moving away from his comfort zone, he’s taking the snap and he’s throwing – there’s no wiggle room or adjustment. He won’t run away from pressure and he won’t make plays with his legs.
Foles has not got a big arm, it’s barely mediocre and he’s a marginal threat as a deep passer. Even on short range passes, he’ll often throw a knuckle ball on a simple screen or swing pass. When throwing downfield, he’ll toss it up for grabs with no velocity. Technically he’s a bit side-arm and while the height makes it less of an issue, he’d need to work on not only his release but leaning his weight towards the front foot to try and generate some power.
Not being a great physical prospect isn’t the be all and end all, but he just hasn’t got the required level of accuracy to compensate. We can look at the numbers and he had a 20/10 ratio last year, over 3000 yards passing and a 67% completion rate. All very impressive, yet it’s important to remember the funky Arizona scheme he’s working within. It’s exclusively screens, swings and slants. He threw as many as 54 passes in a game last season, most of which are high percentage completions to get the ball in space and make the most of the team’s playmakers such as Juron Criner.
When a player is competing within an offense that does such a great job making life easy for the quarterback, you expect them to at least master that scheme. I don’t get the feeling Foles is anywhere close to making the most out of the pass-happy offense he’s been provided with. If he can’t get a handle on this Arizona offense, how is he going to get a handle on a much more complex scheme in the NFL?
You may be surprised by the grade I’ve given Foles because he enjoys a lot of positive hype, but don’t take my word for it. When the National Football Scouting meeting took place earlier this summer, Foles was given a 7th/UDFA grade. Last year they give a similar grade to Colin Kaepernick, but it’s understandable why he was able to vault his grade much higher during the 2010 season. Kaepernick is an athlete, he’s got a rocket for an arm, he’s had major production in college and he led his team to a one-defeat season last year including a big win over Boise State. Foles cannot rely on wins, physical tools or mass production to promote his stock.
Another argument can be made about prospects getting over drafted in recent years and certainly I was more than a little surprised to see Christian Ponder go 12th overall and Andy Dalton find a home early in round two. It’s worth noting that Ponder received a high first round grade by the NFS last year. Despite that, prospects that go early tend to have a niche or a defining talent that justifies the decision – athletic ability, accuracy, leadership, smarts. Foles is a below average athlete with mediocre accuracy and he hasn’t got a great command of his offensive scheme.
When I sit down and try to think of the team that’s going to make Nick Foles an unexpected first round or early second round pick, I can’t find them.
The player that Foles most reminds me of is Dan LeFevour. He was of a similar size (6-3, 230lbs) competing in a pass-happy offense that made life easy for it’s quarterback and generated high numbers. LeFevour was a better athlete than Foles and could at least make something happen on the ground, but ultimately he wasn’t a good enough physical talent to make it an advantage. Many people – including Mel Kiper – touted LeFevour as a potential early pick. In the end he was a 6th round selection.
Now it’s only fair to stress that these are pre-season discussions and Foles, having opted not to declare for the most recent draft, has the opportunity to greatly improve his stock in 2011. However, he is the poster boy in my opinion for a class of quarterbacks that are just flat out being over rated at this stage.
People love to criticise the 2011 class of QB’s, but the three players taken in the top ten have an excellent chance to succeed in the NFL in my opinion. Colin Kaepernick should be given the chance to start in San Francisco this year, while Ryan Mallett may end up being of much greater value down the line having been rescued by the Patriots in round three.
Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton could both start this year for Minnesota and Cincinnati – they will get their shot.
If you combined the 2011 class of QB’s with the potential group of 2012 QB’s, I’d rank them like this: Luck, Barkley, Gabbert, Newton, Mallett, Jones, Locker, Kaepernick, Cousins.
If Luck and Barkley both declare for next year’s draft (and there’s every chance Barkley will stay at USC for his senior year), you’re getting two top-end quality draft picks at the position. The class as a whole though has a lot of question marks – and I’d temper expectations if you’re expecting multiple first round picks. It wouldn’t be a total shocker for me if only two quarterbacks went in round one next year.