Every single year we hear the same thing. In 2009 Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman would pale in significance compared to next year’s quarterbacks. People talked up Sam Bradford correctly, but Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow were vaulted above their means. When reality set in, the 2011 class came into focus.
By August people started to look at Andrew Luck, Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett – and wondered if Christian Ponder could work his way into round one. When the 2011 draft arrived Luck was staying in college and Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert were now on the scene. With the Seahawks still looking for a long term answer, attentions now turn to 2012.
“Next year is a better class” is the turn of phrase rearing it’s ugly head once more.
Let me start by saying, I’m not ruling it out. It’s still far too early to project and who knows who will join the party? Certainly nobody was talking about Cam Newton this time last year. You have a prospect in Andrew Luck who many believe to be a generational prospect capable of forming a dynasty. I’m not completely sold on that, but clearly the guy is very talented. Whoever owns the #1 overall pick in 2012 will almost certainly be taking the Stanford quarterback.
After that, it’s a mixed bunch with some potental among the underclassmen who are never certain to actually declare (see: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford). The 2011 class had it’s critics but four guys went in the top twelve picks. Even without Andrew Luck, there was unnatural first round depth this year and no guarantee that it’ll be repeated any time soon.
Many tout Matt Barkley as a potential top ten pick in a years time and certainly he is a talented player. However, he still has a lot of things to work on because his footwork and decision making can be refined to max out his potential as a third-year junior starter. He’s had flashes of brilliance including a superb display against Stanford last season. He followed it up with an equally classy performance against California. Yet there were too many games that SC should’ve dominated and didn’t and Barkley’s numbers were poor. He was a non-factor in defeat to Washington, out-shone by Jake Locker. He was only OK against Washington State and patchy against UCLA.
I’m not convinced he’ll declare after the 2011 season, but there’s no way of knowing as we sit here today. Sanctions preventing USC from featuring in a BCS Bowl game will be lifted for Barkley’s senior year, which will be tempting. The potential to go first overall may also sway his final decision, a prize almost certainly out of the question with Luck taking center stage.
Landry Jones is in a similar situation having started unexpectedly as a freshman due to Sam Bradford’s unfortunate injury in 2009. He developed as a sophomore into a much more accomplished passer and has a chance in year three to cement his credentials to be a first round pick. He has the size (6-4, 220lbs) and major production in Oklahoma’s pass-friendly offense (64 touchdowns already).
I like his arm and he’s efficient, but I’ve seen two sides of him. One, the inch perfect four touchdown display against Florida State last year where he recorded 380 yards and completed 30 of 40 passes. Then there was the frustrating game against Missouri, where Blaine Gabbert out performed Jones on the big stage with the Sooners ranked #1. Such is the issue I have, that when he’s at his best he’s ultra efficient and when he’s bad it’s because he becomes sloppy. Can he shine past the stat-padding offense and become the focal point that Sam Bradford became? Or does the offense mask a guy who’s got all the tools you look for but simply isn’t special?
Alongside Luck, those are the three names you’ll read about the most, but what about some of the others?
Kirk Cousins may end up being the second best prospect available if he keeps going. He’s mobile, he’s generally accurate and he appears to have the arm. He needs to add some weight to a 6-3 frame which scraped above 200lbs as a junior. You’re looking at a guy who has shown he can make a range of throws and does a good job switching between targets. He completed 67% of his passes last year in a tough three-way divisional battle in the Big Ten.
The problem with Cousins in 2010 was consistency and the occasional flash of bad decision making. There were some excellent games and performances mixed in with some pretty rancid displays. 9/20 for 131 yards and an interception against Minnesota isn’t good enough when you’ve shown capable of 69% and three scores in a win against Wisconsin.
If he can become more consistent and add weight, he’s one to watch.
Another player to keep an eye on is Ryan Lindley at San Diego State. Again, you’re talking about ideal size (6-4, 215lbs). He has a nice quick release, but has a tendency to stare down his targets. The arm is strong enough as you’ll see on the video below and certainly there’s some potential. You’re also looking at a guy who in three years starting has never completed more than 58% of his passes. He’s also thrown 39 interceptions in that time, alongside 67 touchdowns.
A final mention for another quarterback I recommend keeping in your thoughts when we eventually get closer to the 2011 college football season is Austin Davis of Southern Mississippi. He’s a more modest physical talent and admittedly I’ve only seen him once – in last season’s ‘Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl’ loss to Louisville where he threw two touchdowns and registered 205 yards. He showed an athleticism and mobility, a zip to his passes if not the big-time arm and this was a controlled performance. His task is to take things to the next level as a senior.
They are the names I recommend. Now for those that I think are slightly over rated.
Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State) is not a NFL quarterback in my view and I wrote about that in greater detail here. Great college achiever, potentially a good coach down the line, but not a player I expect to see on a Sunday. Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) will be labelled with the classic ‘west coast offense’ tag that is given to so many players with physical limitations. He puts up the big yardage, but he’s not a clinical player who stands out and certainly his offense encourages production. When I watched him in 2010 I saw a later round pick, but he has every chance to be over drafted in the same way Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton saw their stock rise.
Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State) is a fantastic athlete and sometimes you watch him and want to believe it’s possible that he could develop into a prospect. It won’t happen though and nobody is going to touch him in the early rounds, if at all (at least as a quarterback). Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State) had a 4277 yard season in 2010 and looked the part of a pro-prospect, but how can you seriously consider a guy who will be 28-years-old in October and hit 29 as a NFL rookie?
By request I’ve added a Robert Griffin (QB, Baylor) video below. I’ve not had the opportunity to sit down and really look at Griffin, so feel uncomfortable passing judgement. I like the guy having seen a few interviews over the last 12 months and he’s someone I look forward to watching in 2011. You’re talking about a very mature, humble individual who completed 67% of his passes last year. What I can determine is that he’s the focal point of the Baylor offense, he’s incredibly elusive and capable of making plays with his legs. The offensive scheme at Baylor may never truly test him as a pro-prospect, but he starts the season against TCU’s defense on September 2nd which should be interesting.
Here’s the tape:
Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State)
Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
Nick Foles (QB, Arizona)
Terrelle Pryor (QB, Ohio State)
Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State)
Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
Robert Griffin (QB, Baylor)