2013 NFL Draft: Ranking College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Prospects

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IApril 6, 2012

2013 NFL Draft: Ranking College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Prospects

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    For those of you college football fans out there who got sick of the perpetual media fawning over former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck last summer, well, get ready.

    There’s a new quarterback on the block, USC’s Matt Barkley, who’s about to receive the same type of cover-boy treatment that Luck did last offseason.

    When Barkley announced his decision to return for his senior year, he immediately became the early favorite to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy and be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    Like Luck, Barkley has everything you look for in a potential franchise signal-caller. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that he’ll be the only college quarterback that NFL teams will be keeping a close eye on during the 2012 season.

    Barkley may be this year’s “it” quarterback prospect, but there are plenty of other passers who will be looking to steal the spotlight away from him next season, just as Robert Griffin III did to Luck in 2011.

    Here’s a look at college football’s top 15 eligible quarterback prospects for the 2013 NFL draft.

1. Matt Barkley, USC

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    Matt Barkley could have entered this year's NFL draft and been a guaranteed top-10 pick, but Barkley knew that he had unfinished business to attend to back in Los Angeles. Deep down he realized that if he returned, he would have the opportunity to not only win a Heisman Trophy but a national championship as well.

    USC is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball for the 2012 season. Barkley will be the face of a team that will enter next season as one of college football's top-ranked national title contenders.

    As if being a Heisman favorite and the leader of a championship contender wasn't enough, the 6'2'', 220-pound senior will get the chance to feel what it's like to be college football's biggest celebrity this offseason; he's sure to grace plenty of magazine covers and be the focus of numerous ESPN feature stories.

    After watching what Barkley has been able to accomplish over his first three seasons as a starter for the Trojans, it's hard to say that he isn't worthy of the hype he's going to receive over the next few months.

    Rarely does a freshman quarterback walk into a program like USC and start from the first game of his career, but that's just what the former 5-star recruit out of California's Mater Dei High School has managed to do.

    Over the last three years, Barkley has thrown for over 9,000 yards, hit 80 touchdown passes and proved to be one of the most talented quarterbacks to grace the college game in years.

    Arm strength, accuracy, poise, leadership ability, pocket presence—you name the trait, Barkley's got it.

    It will be interesting to see if college football's new cover boy can do what Andrew Luck was incapable of doing last season and lead his team to a BCS championship and capture college football's top honor as a Heisman winner.

    But right now, Barkley looks like he should be able to live up to the hype and become the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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    There's no question that Arkansas has the type of offensive talent to compete for an SEC championship next season. With the Associated Press reporting the university has put Bobby Petrino on administrative leave (per ESPN), the Razorbacks' future has now become a bit murky.

    Whether Petrino returns to coach the team in 2012 or not still remains to be seen, but at least one thing's for sure in Fayetteville right now: Arkansas will have one of the top quarterbacks in the country, Tyler Wilson, leading the way next season.

    Last season, Wilson took over the starting job and proved to be one of the most consistent and effective quarterbacks in college football. He completed 63 percent of his passes for over 3,600 yards and helped lead the Razorbacks to an 11-win season and a Top Five national ranking.

    In my opinion, the 6'3'', 220-pound senior is a Tony Romo clone who has the arm strength and intelligence to decipher coverages and find the open receiver anywhere on the field.

    Wilson can make all the throws that NFL scouts are looking for in a potential starting quarterback. If he can overcome the Petrino distractions next season, he has the chance to be the trigger man for one of the most explosive offenses in the country in 2012.

3. Landry Jones, Oklahoma

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    At this point last year, Oklahoma was being praised as a No. 1-ranked national title contender, and Sooners quarterback Landry Jones was being touted as a Heisman favorite.

    Through the first six games of the season, all seemed to be going according to plan, but then came one of the most shocking and inexcusable upsets of the year, a 41-38 home loss to unranked Texas Tech.

    Instantly gone were the team's national title hopes, and gone were Jones' dreams of winning college football's most prestigious award.

    Jones managed to lead the Sooners back to a respectable 10-3 campaign but not before another embarrassing loss to Oklahoma State at the end of the regular season.

    The 6'4'', 229-pound senior was forced to return to Norman for one more year to help rehabilitate his image as one of college football's elite signal-callers.

    While Jones certainly didn't have a bad season by any means in 2011, as he threw for 4,400 yards and 29 touchdowns, it still wasn't the effort that many were expecting from him.

    After enduring a disappointing year, Jones will now be looking to redeem himself next season, and even though he won't have record-setting receiver Ryan Broyles to throw to anymore, he should have the type of supporting cast it takes to have Oklahoma right back in the Big 12 title race in 2012.

    Jones may never be a championship-level quarterback in the NFL, but he's the type of Matt Schaub-esque hurler who can step into a pass-first offense and succeed at the pro level.

    If Jones can put his 2011 troubles in the rear-view mirror, he'll have the chance to prove that he's worthy of being a top-15 pick in next year's NFL draft.

4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee

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    I got my first real glimpse of Tyler Bray during the crazy 2010 Music City Bowl when Tennessee battled North Carolina in what turned out to be an entertaining, yet disappointing, double-overtime 30-27 loss for the Volunteers.

    What I saw that night was an extremely gifted young freshman quarterback who had all the tools to become a star but who also had a lot of growing up to do both physically and mentally.

    Suffice it to say, I was glad to see the progress that Bray displayed when I got to see Tennessee rock Cincinnati early on last season. The 6'6'', 210-pound junior was nearly flawless against the Bearcats, as he rolled up over 400 yards through the air and threw four touchdown passes in the 45-23 victory.

    I was disappointed that a hand injury robbed Bray the chance to prove himself against the defenses of LSU, Alabama and South Carolina last year, but from the two games that I have seen him in, I believe the California native has everything you look for in an upper-echelon quarterback prospect.

    Bray has grown into a true offensive captain during his time in Knoxville, and with receivers like Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter both returning, he's got the chance to have a monster junior campaign in 2012.

    Tennessee coach Derek Dooley may be a "hot seat" coach after two mediocre outings, but with Bray leading the way, the Vols could turn out to be one of the SEC's sneakiest dark horses next season.

5. Geno Smith, West Virginia

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    Geno Smith's first year as a starter at West Virginia was my last year as a student in Morgantown, so I've had the chance to see Smith grow and develop over the past few years, and I have to admit, last season, he managed to exceed the high expectations I had for him. 

    Last year, Smith proved to be a perfect fit for Dana Holgorsen's pass-happy offensive attack, as he racked up 4,385 passing yards, the fourth-highest total in the country and threw 31 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

    The 6'3'', 214-pound senior led the Mountaineers to a Big East championship and their first BCS bowl game in four years. His performance in the Orange Bowl against Clemson drew attention and accolades.

    Smith helped lead West Virginia to a bowl-record 70-point performance against the Tigers, and he threw for over 400 yards and accounted for seven of his team's 10 total touchdowns.

    Now that the Mountaineers are moving to the Big 12 next season, Smith will have the chance to prove himself against some of the best competition that college football has to offer.

    If he can step up and handle the spotlight and the pressure in 2012, he'll have success.

    Smith has the superior arm strength, pinpoint accuracy and the overall explosive passing ability to grow into both a Heisman candidate as well as a first-round quarterback prospect next season.

6. A.J. McCarron, Alabama

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    Is A.J. McCarron ready to become the face of Alabama's offense in 2012?

    That's one of the big questions swirling around Tuscaloosa this offseason.

    Last year, McCarron played the role of game-manager to perfection, as he helped lead the Tide to a 12-win national championship season. However, now that star running back Trent Richardson is gone, it will be up to McCarron to step up next season and become a true offensive leader.

    Given what we saw from the 6'4'', 205-pound junior during the national championship game against LSU, he definitely has the skills and the talent to handle the role and responsibility.

    Last year, McCarron wasn't asked to win games by himself, as he had the best running back and the best defense in college football to help him out, but he still deserves credit for being one of the most efficient passers in the country.

    The savvy signal-caller completed nearly 67 percent of his passes and only threw five interceptions in 2011, and he stepped his game up when it counted against the tenacious LSU defense in the BCS Championship Game. 

    McCarron has the size, athleticism, accuracy, intelligence and intangibles that NFL teams are looking for in a starting quarterback, and if he proves that he can handle being the catalyst for Alabama's offense in 2012, next season might just turn out to be his last in a crimson uniform.

7. Aaron Murray, Georgia

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    Aaron Murray's sophomore campaign didn't exactly start off in spectacular fashion, as Georgia disappointingly dropped its first two games of the 2011 season.

    Sitting at 0-2 and in desperate need of a shot in the arm, the Bulldogs needed Murray to step up and get the team back on track, and he did just that, as he led Georgia on a 10-game winning streak, guided the team to the SEC East Division title and helped save coach Mark Richt's job.

    Sure, the season didn't end the way that Murray had hoped. The Bulldogs ended up getting blown out by LSU in the SEC championship game and then proceeded to lose a heartbreaking triple-overtime game to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl, but it was what Murray did in between that was so impressive.

    The 6'1'', 211-pound junior threw for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, and he certainly didn't seem to miss star receiver A.J. Green very much.

    Murray may not possess the prototypical size and stature that NFL teams are looking for in a starting quarterback, but he makes up for it with his arm, his moxie and his top-notch intangibles.

    The two-year starter has continued to improve and mature in each of his first two seasons, and he now sits on the doorstep of greatness, ready to lead a team that will enter the 2012 season as the favorite to repeat as the SEC East Division title winner.

    Murray's got what it takes to make a serious run at the Heisman Trophy next season, and if he leads the Bulldogs back to Atlanta and puts up big numbers, he'll have to strongly consider leaving Athens a year early.

8. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State

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    Because of the circumstances surrounding Russell Wilson's transfer from North Carolina State to Wisconsin last offseason, Wilson's successor, Mike Glennon, was unfairly compared to the Badger signal-caller throughout 2011 by Wolfpack fans who obviously missed the former ACC star.

    Still, even though Glennon obviously didn't have the same type of success that Wilson experienced in Madison last year, he showed enough glimpses of his potential to make NFL scouts take notice; that's for sure.

    The 6'6'', 225-pound senior has a prototypical build for an NFL pocket-passer, and he showed off his cannon for an arm on a regular basis in 2011, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns.

    Glennon has already been favorably compared to another former Tom O'Brien pupil, Matt Ryan. While he may not rise to the same type of heights that Ryan did as a senior at Boston College, when he became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, he definitely has the chance to prove that he's a starting-caliber NFL quarterback prospect.

    If the younger brother of former Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon can continue to develop and mature, he should distinguish himself as one of the top pure passers in not just the ACC but the entire country in 2012.

9. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

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    It may be too early to start calling Logan Tomas the next Josh Freeman, but the sophomore signal-caller certainly bears a strong physical resemblance to the young Tampa Bay quarterback. 

    Like Freeman, Thomas is a tall, mobile passer who possesses the arm strength to make every throw in the book. Last year, the sturdy 6'6'', 254-pound Virginia native showed plenty of flashes of his enormous potential by throwing for over 3,000 yards and accounting for 30 total touchdowns for the Hokies. 

    Admittedly, there were times when Thomas struggled with his consistency, and Virginia Tech won't be able to afford those same mistakes without RB David Wilson in the backfield to bail him out next season.

    Still, if the big junior signal-caller can improve on his accuracy and become the true focal point of the offense, it wouldn't be surprising to see Thomas guide Virginia Tech into serious contention for a BCS championship next season.

10. Casey Pachall, TCU

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    Casey Pachall had some big shoes to fill last season when he took over for Andy Dalton, who was one of college football's most successful and consistent quarterbacks of all time. If Pachall felt the pressure, though, it certainly didn't show, as he led the Horned Frogs to an 11-2 season and proved to be just as reliable as his predecessor.

    Last year, Pachall completed 66 percent of his passes for over 2,900 yards and hit 25 touchdown strikes compared to just seven interceptions.

    The big 6'5'', 216-pound junior has a similar physical makeup to former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, and while he may not possess the same type of arm strength that Mallett has, he's the type of tall pocket-passer that NFL teams are looking for.

    The TCU coaching staff kept the training wheels on Pachall in 2011, and he wasn't forced to routinely beat defenses down the field with his arm. However, now that he has a year of experience under his belt, the tall Texas native should be ready to unleash his full array of skills next season.

    With one of the best running back trios in the country, comprised of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James, along with one of the best receiver trios, comprised of Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter, Pachall will have the type of supporting cast surrounding him to really make an impression on the Big 12 in TCU's inaugural season in the conference.

    If he can perform well against the step up in competition and seize the opportunity to show scouts that he's the real deal, Pachall could really make a name for himself on the national stage in 2012.

11. E.J. Manuel, Florida State

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    After showing some tremendous flashes of potential during spot relief duty as Christian Ponder's backup during his first two years on the field at Florida State, E.J. Manuel was finally handed the keys to the Seminoles offense for the 2011 season.

    Even though Florida State turned out to be one of the most disappointing teams in the country last year, Manuel still had moments when his rare physical traits were on full display. 

    The former highly touted 4-star recruit is clearly one of the most athletic quarterbacks in college football, but he's still relatively raw at this point in his development.

    Last year, Manuel completed 65 percent of his passes for over 2,600 yards, but he still showed the type of lapses in judgement and bad decision-making that you usually see from a first-year starter.

    NFL scouts are fully aware of what Manuel has to offer from an athleticism standpoint, but they're going to be looking to see if the 6'5'', 245-pound senior can read defenses, make better decisions and handle pressure-packed situations better than he did last season.

    If Manuel can improve on those three areas and if he can lead Florida State back into the ACC championship race in 2012, he's the type of quarterback prospect that could really see his stock rise dramatically over the course of next season.

12. Keith Price, Washington

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    Keith Price caused a lot of buzz when he outperformed Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl last December. Although Washington came up short in the wild 67-56 shootout, Price still shined, as he torched the Bears defense for 438 yards through the air and accounted for all seven of his team's touchdowns.

    That stellar performance has now left some wondering if Price could be the 2012 version of RG3.

    While he may not possess the same type of rare elite physical ability that made Griffin a star last season, the 6'1'', 195-pound junior is the type of dual-threat quarterback that's capable of making a major impact next season.

    Last year, Price threw for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns and finished with the same 161 passer rating as USC's Matt Barkley.

    Price certainly has what it takes to put up the same type of gaudy numbers that Griffin did last season, and he could develop into a similar type of breakout star in 2012.

13. Tajh Boyd, Clemson

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    Tajh Boyd arrived at Clemson as a highly touted 5-star recruit, coming out of Virginia's Phoebus High School. However, up until last season, he didn't have a chance to prove himself, as he had to sit behind Kyle Parker.

    When Parker opted for a future in baseball before the start of the 2011 season, Boyd finally got the chance to show his stuff, and he certainly made the most of it, as he led the Tigers to an ACC championship and their first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl game.

    Boyd put up impressive stats in his first year as a starter, throwing for over 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns.

    The 6'1'', 230-pound junior proved that his high school hype was legitimate, and he'll now enter the 2012 season firmly on the NFL's radar.

    Boyd reminds me a lot of Donovan McNabb, as he's the type of thickly built pocket-passer who can move around and create plays both inside the pocket and out.

    Although he faded down the stretch and played poorly in Clemson's four late-season losses, Boyd still showed enough promise last year to warrant interest from NFL scouts.

    If he can prove that he can play at a high level for an entire season and lead the Tigers into contention for another conference championship in 2012, Boyd should continue to make a name for himself among the scouting community next season.

14. James Vandenberg, Iowa

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    Last year, Ricky Stanzi became the first Iowa quarterback drafted since Matt Rodgers in 1992 when the Kansas City Chiefs selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

    The Hawkeyes may not have to wait another 19 years to have another quarterback selected, though, as Stanzi's successor, James Vandenberg, showed the type of skills during his first season as a starter that could interest a few NFL teams.

    Last year, Vandenberg threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he showed that he has the tools and physical ability to develop into an intriguing quarterback prospect.

    The 6'3'', 212-pound senior only led Iowa to seven wins last season, and he was very erratic in losses to Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Nebraska. However, if he can work on his consistency and sustain a high level of play throughout the 2012 season, there will definitely be some NFL teams that could look at him as a potential reliable backup in the pros.

    Vandenberg will miss RB Marcus Coker and WR Marvin McNutt, who were two of the Big Ten's top offensive playmakers in 2011, but he will have two talented receivers to work with in Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley.

    If Vandenberg can improve his consistency and lead Iowa to a few more wins in 2012, NFL teams should surely take notice of what he has to offer as a potential pro quarterback.

15. Tie: Denard Robinson and Collin Klein

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    The two wild-card quarterbacks to watch in 2012 will be Michigan's Denard Robinson and Kansas State's Collin Klein.

    Robinson and Klein have already established that they are two of the premier running quarterbacks in college football, as both signal-callers ran for over 1,100 yards last season.

    The question is, do either of them have the necessary skill set to translate into a pro-style passer in the NFL?

    In each of the past two seasons, we've seen supremely athletic and mobile quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III rise to stardom and become highly coveted elite NFL prospects. However, neither Klein nor Robinson has shown that they have the type of arm strength, accuracy or passing prowess that Newton and RG3 displayed during their respective breakout campaigns. 

    Right now, both are simply great runners who happen to play quarterback.

    Robinson reminds me a lot of former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith, while Klein seems to be a slightly less athletic version of former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones.

    Both Smith and Jones had to make the transition to wide receiver at the NFL level, and unless Robinson and Klein can show some marked improvement as passers next season, they both might have to do the same.

10 Seniors to Watch

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    1. Jeff Tuel, Washington State

    2. Alex Carder, Western Michigan

    3. Sean Renfree, Duke

    4. Seth Doege, Texas Tech

    5. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt

    6. Dayne Crist, Kansas

    7. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State

    8. Zac Dysert, Miami (Ohio)

    9. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

    10. B.J. Daniels, South Florida

10 Underclassmen to Watch

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    1. Bryn Renner, North Carolina

    2. Zach Mettenberger, LSU

    3. Derek Carr, Fresno State

    4. James Franklin, Missouri

    5. Connor Shaw, South Carolina

    6. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

    7. Danny O’Brien, Wisconsin

    8. Kurt Hess,Youngstown State

    9. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State

    10. Chase Rettig, Boston College