It is (very) early, but USC quarterback Matt Barkley is currently the top quarterback of the 2013 draft class and potentially the first overall pick. With so much time between now and next April, however, the rest of college football might have something to say about that.
Remember, it wasn't that long ago that ESPN analyst Todd McShay called Robert Griffin III a fourth-round prospect...at wide receiver! Then the 2011 college football season came and RGIII won himself a Heisman Trophy en route to solidifying himself as the second overall pick.
On the other end of the spectrum, consider Jevan Snead. McShay called Snead a first-round pick in the fall of 2009 and Snead based his decision to leave Ole Miss after his junior year off of that. He went undrafted. Before you get too rough on McShay, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports projected Snead as the first overall pick just a few months earlier.
It isn't McShay or Prisco's fault that 32 teams repeatedly passed on Snead or that Snead has failed to even stick around on an NFL practice squad out of college. Snead had played poorly in his junior season, making people forget his lofty recruiting status and his play as a sophomore.
Is Matt Barkley the next Jevan Snead? I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. Still, Barkley doesn't have the solidified status of Andrew Luck (or Matthew Stafford before him) whom many had correctly pegged as the first overall pick for a while.
So why isn't Barkley a lock? At (a generous) 6'1", Barkley doesn't have the elite size that scouts crave out of quarterbacks in the top half of the first round. On top of that, his arm strength and athleticism are both average and won't do him any favors at the next level—or, perhaps more importantly, in the pre-draft scouting process.
Yet, Barkley excels between the hashes and can read defenses with the best of them. Coming out of a great program like USC (with a great coach in Lane Kiffin), he'll definitely be NFL ready. But will he have the upside to become truly great?
As Barkley seeks to answer these questions over the course of the 2012 season, these four quarterbacks will look to topple him as the top quarterback off the board in the 2013 NFL draft.
Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
In 2011, Wilson was given the keys to one of the most high-octane offenses in all of college football. Combine the offensive genius of Bobby Petrino and three wide receivers drafted in the 2012 NFL draft (Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs) and you'll get a pretty great environment for a quarterback to excel in.
In 2012, Wilson will be getting back a valuable weapon in Knile Davis, but will be missing three of his favorite targets and will be under the tutelage of John L. Smith, who is a defensive-minded head coach.
Ironically, Wilson's team could have its best year with Wilson as a senior and it could end up hurting Wilson. If Davis has the Heisman-caliber season many think he could at running back, and Smith decides slowing down the offense will help the team compete for an SEC title, Wilson may see his stock plummet.
While Wilson lacks truly elite arm strength, he has every other physical tool scouts are looking for—prototypical size, surprising athleticism, durability and a quick release.
Bottom line: If Wilson excels despite the many obstacles standing in his way, he'll hear his name called early next April, potentially before Barkley.
Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech)
Thomas is already making a lot of pundits invoke Griffin's name in regard to his draft status.
Virginia Tech, like Baylor in 2011, seems to be on the verge of special things on the back of their junior quarterback. Thomas, like Griffin, is the "new breed" of mobile quarterback that teams are looking for, with capability as a passer and an arm as impressive as his legs.
The negatives are about the same as well. Thomas is a mess mechanically that will need to be cleaned up before he takes an NFL snap. The offense Virginia Tech runs is similar to Baylor's, and is just shy of what NFL teams would consider "pro style." Also, Thomas depends on his speed a little too much when things break down.
All that said, Thomas is a better prospect now than Griffin was before his final season as a Baylor Bear. He has better size and more arm strength.
Bottom line: With a season anything like Griffin had in 2011, Thomas' stock will rise even higher than Griffin's, and he could easily be the first quarterback selected in April.
Tyler Bray (QB, Tennessee)
Bray has yet to play a full season for the Volunteers, but when he's healthy, he's been awfully impressive.
Standing tall at 6'6", Bray has a wiry frame that reminds some of Brock Osweiler, but reminds me of current 49ers backup Colin Kaepernick before he filled out. Like both of those guys, Bray is a good athlete with a strong arm, and has the ability to make throws at every level as well as some mechanical issues to work on.
If Bray can put a full slate of games together, there isn't any reason Tennessee couldn't compete for the SEC East title.
Bottom line: Bray has the potential to be a top pick in 2013, but it is more likely that he will stay in school and achieve near-"sure thing" status for the 2014 NFL draft.
Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)
Rewind to 2010. Mettenberger was a Georgia Bulldog and was beating (by many estimations) Aaron Murray in a battle for the starting quarterback position.
Some legal trouble (underage drinking, bar fights and second degree sexual misconduct) sent Metterberger packing to Butler Community College and moved him off NFL teams radars.
However, much like Cam Newton a few years back, Mettenberger didn't stay down for long. Butler C.C. went 11-1 to earn a spot in the JUCO national championship game, and Mettenberger earned some redemption, as schools across the nation once again beat down a path to his door.
He enrolled early at LSU and already has Les Miles thinking about a return to a championship game of his own. This time with the real deal at quarterback and a wide-open passing attack to complement him.
Physically, Mettenberger is a specimen at 6'5" and 225 lbs, with potentially the best arm in the draft class. He is a pure pocket passer in the mold of Matt Ryan or Eli Manning who has a surprisingly quick release and the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes as he's taking a hit.
Bottom line: He'll have to keep his nose clean and convince NFL scouts the worst of his past is behind him, but there is no reason Mettenberger couldn't be drafted in the first round next April. And, with his tools, the sky is the limit.
The Best of the Rest
If we're truly looking for someone to be this year's Griffin, Denard Robinson (QB, Michigan) is probably the most comparable. Like Griffin pre-2011, no one is giving Robinson the time of day, and some refuse to even list him as a quarterback on their preseason previews.
Robinson has all the tools, but it's hard to see him developing as a passer this late in the game. Yet, if Griffin could do it after a really poor sophomore season, Robinson could follow suit.
Another couple of names to mention with similar profiles are Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia) and Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson), although the latter will probably make more noise in 2014.
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) is a solid college quarterback, but I question if he (like many Oklahoma players before him) is simply the product of a great system and the phenomenal talent around him. If Jones can rebound from an atrocious junior season, he could be a solid prospect to challenge for first-round honors.
Once Mettenberger left town, Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia) took the reins and never looked back. The Bulldogs look poised for big things in 2012, and Murray is a big part of that. He plays in an NFL-style offense against NFL-caliber SEC defenses, and his strong arm will wow a lot of scouts once he gets to the pre-draft process.
Michael Schottey is an NFL Associate Editor for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He has professionally covered both the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions, as well as NFL events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl.