(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, set for April 25-27.)
Coach Mike Tomlin has referred to the read-option offense as the "flavor of the month," but it definitely won't be the flavor of this month. Not April 2013, because when the NFL gathers to start making seven rounds worth of draft picks over three days, the class of quarterbacks will have a distinct drop-back passer flavor.
Teams looking for the next Russell Wilson or Robert Griffin III, good luck. The next Colin Kaepernick? Forget about it. Not in this class.
Typically, the top quarterback talents in this upcoming draft are identified as West Virginia's Geno Smith, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, USC's Matt Barkley, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Tennessee's Tyler Bray, and North Carolina State's Mike Glennon. None of those guys is a statue, but not a single one has the kind of movement/running ability to cause an NFL defensive coordinator any sleepless nights.
"I think in the NFL you're always going to have to be a passer," said Barkley. "It's a passing game. As much as the read-option
is successful, the Super Bowl winning quarterback is similar (in style) to how I play. That style, that tradition, I don't think that'll ever fade. And yeah, I'm a traditional dropback quarterback, a passing quarterback."
Traditional dropback quarterback is a nice way to describe Joe Flacco, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, and the guy in this class who most resembles him physically would be Glennon, who is an inch taller at 6-foot-7 and 25 pounds lighter 220. At this point in the process there is no realistic scenario in which Glennon is the first quarterback picked, if for no other reason than that he threw 29 interceptions in 26 games as a college starter. His accuracy and ability to read coverages both will have to improve at the NFL level.
Geno Smith (6-3, 220) figures to be the first quarterback off this board, but that has nothing to do with any reasonable expectation that he's a sure thing. Operating within Dana Holgorsen's high-wire act of an offense, Smith threw for 25 touchdowns and no interceptions through six games of 2012 before leveling off with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions over the final seven games against far tougher competition. Smith didn't help himself by declining an invitation to the Senior Bowl, because it was a chance to compete against the best.
It seems as though the only other guy in this class to have a shot to go in Round 1 is Barkley, but it won't be because of the season he turned in as a senior in college. Barkley would have had a chance, a chance, to be the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he opted to return for another season at USC, where his completion percentage dropped from 69.1 to 63.6 percent, and his interception total rose from seven to 17. Now, he will get into the first round if a quarterback-needy team reaches for him the way the New York Jets reached for another USC quarterback named Mark Sanchez.
Among the other prospects available here, Nassib (6-2, 225) and Jones (6-4, 220) are two who have a chance to get picked before the close of draft business on Friday when the second and third rounds will be held.
Nassib is a decent athlete at the position and has a good-enough arm and a quick release, but what has made him more interesting a prospect is that his college coach at Syracuse – Doug Marrone – is now the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, who are in need of a quality starting quarterback. Those may be strictly coincidental facts, but trying to read the tea leaves is what happens leading up to every NFL Draft.
Jones, like Barkley and maybe even Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (6-2, 220), is someone who didn't help his draft stock by going back for his senior year in college. For Oklahoma in 2011, Jones completed 65.6 percent for 4,718 yards with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and ended his season by winning the Fiesta Bowl's Offensive Player of the Game award. But last season, even though his numbers were just as gaudy, his efficiency wasn't the same. He showed he could be rattled by pressure and that his down-the-field accuracy isn't great.
Wilson was voted first-team All-SEC at quarterback in 2011 after being 11-2 as a starter while passing for 3,638 yards with 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Last season, the Razorbacks finished 4-8, and there were a lot of games and situations where Wilson was made to look ordinary. He does have courage to stand in the pocket and make throws under pressure, and the fact Wilson took a regular beating in 2012 and kept coming back could help him in this draft.
There are things to like about each of these prospects, but as NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, "There is just nothing amongst this group of quarterbacks where you can bang the table and say, 'I love this kid, and this is the quarterback of the future for my team.'"
THE 2012 NFL DRAFT, QB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 11
Picks by round: 4 in the first; 1 in the second; 2 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 0 in the fifth; 1 in the sixth; 2 in the seventh
Highest pick: Andrew Luck, Stanford, Round 1, 1st overall, by Indianapolis
Biggest impact: The common perception might be that Luck had the biggest impact, but Robert Griffin III was voted the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and he deserved it.