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Finding NFL QBs in college is guesswork

INDIANAPOLIS – The guys here with the QB designation on their workout clothes may have been playing quarterback for most of their lives, but it's becoming increasingly clear that very few of them have any idea of how to be a quarterback.

There's a difference, you know. A rather drastic difference in fact, whenever an NFL team is thinking about the sizable investment that is a premium pick in a particular draft. And understand that the investment is twofold – the money, the allocation of salary cap space, is easy to recognize, but there's also a commitment to that indivisual in terms of allowing him time to develop while also assigning other personnel moves to support him.

During this 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, the quarterbacks had worked their way through the Media Center at Lucas Oil Field by the close of business on Thursday, and while there ceretainly were a bunch of storylines to come from those in the group, but NFL personell people aren't at all sure how many actual players are going to come from those in the group.

It's not so much that this particvular group of quarterbacks is uninspiring, but it's that the position isn't being played the way the NFL wants it to be played.

"High school football is leaning toward the spread. College football, obviously the majority of it is spread offenses now," said General Manager Kevin Colbert. "So when you look at a college quarterback in the spread offense you just try to remove some of the aspects of what we might call an easy completion – a bubble screen, a now pass. Eliminate those and try to look for NFL-type throws, NFL-type decisions, NFL-type athleticism."

Sounds plausible, but this is what is now being presented to the NFL: Bryce Petty is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and in college he completed 530-of-845 (62.7 percent) for 8,195 yards, 62 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Had those statistics been compiled in the NFL, Petty would have had a rating of 114.3. In 2014, nobody in the NFL had a rating of 114.3.

But not only did Petty post those numbers at Baylor, where Coach Art Briles operates an offense best described as basketball on turf, to the point that Petty admitted to the media that the first time he ever had to call a play in the huddle was at the Senior Bowl.

Because at Baylor and a lot of other places where the same style of football is played, the entire offense looks to the sideline where one of those cards being held up is code for the play, and then the quarterback signals for the shotgun snap, and away we go. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Never does the quarterback have to receive information from the sideline that then must be communicated accurately and promptly to the rest of the unit.

"It's so unique seeing those guys go into the Senior Bowl and be under center," said Seattle General Manager John Schneider. "When you watch college football you see those guys looking to the sideline … you may question the guy's decision-making. You may value it higher, his intellectual level or what a good football guy he is, but you don't truly know because they are looking at the sidelines at cards."

This 2015 group has Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota at the top, and if one issue was assigned to each identifying the NFL's biggest issues with each of them, it would be character with Winston, and style of offense with Mariota.

"It's really about figuring out how the guy processes," said Schneider. "Can he get the information? Can he express it to his teammates? Can he read a defense? I don't know how many of you have sat in a quarterback room … that's pretty intense stuff. It's like learning a whole language. I'm just saying it's hard to evaluate those players at the college when you are at a game and watching them play live and, you know, they're looking at cards with colors and turtles and stuff. You have no idea what they're doing, as opposed to watching guys line up under center, read a defense, check out of a play."

There is more risk-reward associated with spending a high pick on a quarterback than any other position on a football team, but the other side of it is that without one it's very tough to win in the NFL.

"At the end of the day, when you look at a lot of quarterbacks coming from those systems to the NFL, some make the transition well," said Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan. "A lot of it has to do with the intangibles, his aptitude, his work ethic, his mental toughness."

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