Ranking the Top Quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIJuly 18, 2012

Ranking the Top Quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL Draft

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    There is no position more important to an NFL team than that of quarterback, which makes it the premium position of each and every NFL draft.

    The No. 1 overall pick in each NFL draft is usually a quarterback, and especially in recent years, the first round has been loaded with quarterbacks, often times with signal-callers selected way earlier than they should have been.

    Fortunately for teams who may need quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft, this year’s quarterback class has the potential to be as strong at the top and deeper than last year’s class, which featured Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, the 2012 NFL draft’s top two selections.

    How strong the class actually becomes will depend upon the development of its top seniors and whether breakout junior quarterbacks declare one year early to begin their NFL careers.

    Who are the top prospects that could make 2013 a “draft of the quarterback”?

    The following slides highlight the best signal-callers whose names could be called next April.

1. Matt Barkley, USC

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    Matt Barkley is to the 2013 draft class what Andrew Luck was to the 2012 draft class.

    Had Barkley declared for the 2012 NFL draft, he may have been selected ahead of Robert Griffin III, but in 2013 Barkley is an overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick.

    Barkley may not get quite the hype that Luck received over the past two years, but he is just as elite of a quarterback prospect. He can make any throw on the field, is an intelligent and consistent decision-maker, has great downfield accuracy, and is a good athlete.

    Barkley’s play has improved significantly in each of his three seasons at USC, so he should be expected to have his best season yet as a senior, a year in which he will be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and have a chance to lead the Trojans to a national championship.

    Barkley has adequate but not elite arm strength, but he throws a very good deep ball, has very good downfield touch and does a great job at putting proper velocity on his throws.

    Additionally, according to former NFL scout and current NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Barkley displayed significant improvement in his arm strength at last week’s Manning Passing Academy.

    Barkley does not have great height, but he has no problem throwing over linemen. He also has great footwork in the pocket and a very good release.

    As long as Barkley continues making the positive progress he has made in his first three seasons at USC, he will not be surpassed as the top quarterback prospect of the draft class.

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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    There are many potential quarterbacks who could join Matt Barkley in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft (all of whom will be addressed in the following slides), but the most sure bet to do so is Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson.

    Wilson’s junior season was his first year as the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback, and he was very impressive, as he more than held his own against the challenging defenses of the SEC.

    With a year under his belt, Wilson should be in line for a great senior season.

    Wilson does not quite have the cannon arm of his Arkansas predecessor, Ryan Mallett, but he is a very good deep-ball thrower. He is an accurate passer and a smart decision-maker.

    He still needs to become a more consistent passer, but that is to be expected with only one collegiate season under his belt.

    He is becoming NFL-polished, however, by working in a pro-style offense at Arkansas, and he has good footwork along with a very good pocket presence.

    Wilson is not much of a runner, but that should not be a setback for him going forward.

    He has the all-around game to be a very good pocket passer, along with sound mechanics and decision-making ability.

    If he has a strong senior season, he should be a top-10 draft selection.

3. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (Junior)

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    Logan Thomas’ game is still very much a work in progress, but of all the top quarterbacks in the junior class, he has the most potential to emulate the meteoric rises of Robert Griffin III last year and of 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton.

    As a prospect, he is actually quite reminiscent of Newton.

    Thomas has tremendous size, with listed measurables of 6’6’’ and 262 pounds, while he is also a dynamic running threat who can power through defenders with his size and strength and use his speed to run away from them, as well.

    He also has big upside as a passer.

    He has a very strong arm, a very good release and very efficient throwing mechanics. Thomas works both from under center and in the shotgun at Virginia Tech and has displayed NFL-caliber footwork in his drops.

    Thomas is a legitimate NFL dual-threat with his ability to run, but he also uses his athletic ability well as a passer. He has great pocket presence, and he is effective at throwing on the run.

    The Hokie has displayed the ability to throw the ball downfield accurately and into tight windows, but needs to do so with more consistency and develop better downfield touch. Thomas also struggled last year with his decision-making and making reads.

    With those concerns in mind, however, it is important to remember that Thomas was in his first season last year and only a sophomore.

    Thomas should make significant progress as a junior, and if he cuts down his mistakes while continuing to build upon his strengths, he will end up as a first-round draft pick.

4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (Junior)

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    Of any of the potential quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL draft class, Tyler Bray has the most natural physical tools.

    Standing tall at 6’5’’, Bray has a very strong arm, the ability to drive the ball better downfield than any other quarterback on this list and quick feet. Bray has a quick release and passes explode off of his hand. He has sound mechanics, good pocket presence and the ability to squeeze passes between tight downfield windows.

    Bray’s biggest concern is a lack of consistency. He is mistake-prone, lacks downfield touch, stares down receivers too often and often tries to make too many throws that he should not attempt in the first place.

    Many of Bray’s issues should diminish with experience, though.

    Bray missed five games last season due to a broken thumb and performed poorly in two games following his return.

    However, if Bray can stay healthy for a full season next year, he could gain the necessary experience to be better prepared to become an NFL quarterback.

    Bray’s game is raw, but his raw passing talent and potential are immense.

    If Bray can cut down on mistakes and become consistently productive, he will make a serious push to the top of the draft class, whether he declares in 2013 or waits until 2014.

5. Landry Jones, Oklahoma

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    Landry Jones was once very much in the conversation with Barkley and Griffin to be considered the second-best quarterback if he declared for the 2012 NFL draft, but Jones’ junior season at Oklahoma was a disappointment.

    After a strong start to the year, his play really diminished late in the year, raising serious questions about whether Jones is a franchise quarterback prospect.

    Jones is a very skilled downfield passer with a strong arm, and he can make just about any throw on the field. Jones has good mobility and pocket presence, good footwork, and efficient mechanics and can fit the ball into tight windows.

    His many great abilities, however, are often offset by his proneness to mistakes.

    Jones makes too many bad reads and poor decisions, and as a result he threw 15 interceptions last year. His accuracy was inconsistent last season, and late in the season, the Sooners frequently turned to backup quarterback Blake Bell in clutch situations, which showed a lack of faith in Jones’ reliability.

    If Jones rebounds with a strong senior season, he will be a first-round draft pick, as he is a pro-style passer with great physical attributes and passing ability.

    His stock is on the decline as of late last season, however, and he needs to bring it back up to where it once was as part of a strong quarterback draft class.

6. Aaron Murray, Georgia (Junior)

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    Aaron Murray became a starter right away as a true freshman and has grown up very well over two seasons while playing in the nation’s toughest conference, the SEC.

    Murray is a very talented passer with the potential to rise to first-round status for the 2013 NFL draft. He has a strong arm, and he throws the ball with great downfield accuracy and touch. He does a great job of throwing his receivers open, and he can make quick and efficient reads.

    When Murray has time to set his feet and launch downfield, he can make any throw with his arm strength and ability to squeeze the football between tight windows.

    However, he struggles when he is facing pressure in the pocket and tends to be prone to mistakes, having thrown 14 interceptions while completing less than 60 percent of passes last season.

    Murray’s mechanics are sound, but he will be knocked for a lack of height. His size does sometimes have an adverse effect on his throwing, as he passes can be tipped at the line of scrimmage.

    Overall, however, Murray has a tremendous ability to throw the football deep and make throws into tight windows.

7. Geno Smith, West Virginia

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    Geno Smith’s name does not carry the same prestige as those of the six quarterbacks ranked ahead of him, but among senior quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class, he could be the big riser.

    Smith has a strong arm, gets great velocity behind his throws and may have the best release of any quarterback in these rankings. He is an athletic quarterback with quick feet, has definite NFL size, and does a good job of using his vision and looking off receiving targets.

    Smith does a great job of completing intermediate timing throws and will impress NFL scouts with his ability to hit receivers accurately on the numbers on tough comeback and out routes.

    He struggles, however, with touch and accuracy on deep-ball throws, which takes away from his ability to drive the football downfield.

    Additionally, Smith plays in a system in which the quarterback never lines up under center. He will need to learn how to take snaps under center to succeed in the NFL, and he must refine his footwork on his drops.

    Overall, Smith was one of the best quarterbacks in college football last season, and he is a legitimate NFL prospect.

    Making into the first round could be a stretch, but watch for his stock to rise with a strong senior season.

8. Casey Pachall, TCU (Junior)

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    In the 2011 NFL draft, TCU quarterback Andy Dalton was selected in Round 2 by the Cincinnati Bengals, and he went on to have a fantastic rookie season in the NFL, leading the Bengals to a surprising playoff berth.

    How does Pachall compare to his predecessor?

    He has better measurables and a much stronger arm, and in his first season as the Horned Frogs’ starting quarterback, he broke Dalton’s school records for completion percentage and passing yards.

    At listed measurables of 6’5’’ and 226 pounds, Pachall has prototypical size for an NFL quarterback.

    He also has a very good arm, giving him the ability to drive the football downfield in ways that Dalton never could for TCU.

    Pachall’s downfield accuracy is still very much a work in progress, though. Additionally, he will have a big adjustment to make at the next level from working out of the pistol formation at TCU, as he will need to learn how to take NFL drops from under center.

    What makes Pachall so encouraging as a prospect, however, is that he has emulated Dalton’s winning ways at TCU, showing the ability to lead his team to clutch victories, while being much further along as a sophomore passer than Dalton was.

    Pachall is not quite at the level of the top passers in this draft class, but assuming he continues to progress as a junior, his stock will continue to rise.

9. E.J. Manuel, Florida State

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    There is a significant drop-off following the top eight prospects at the quarterback position, but among seniors, E.J. Manuel ranks as the best of the rest.

    Manuel is an athletic, dual-threat quarterback with a strong arm, and he has been productive in his time as a starter at Florida State. He throws the ball with good velocity and is a mechanically sound passer.

    However, Manuel struggles with his downfield touch. He tends to underthrow his receivers, forcing them to break off routes or make difficult catches, but at other times, he overthrows his receivers.

    He will need to become much more precise with throwing the ball into tight windows to succeed at the next level.

    Manuel’s running ability is an asset, but he typically has to use it as his escape when pressure collapses the pocket, for he really struggles to throw under the pressure of the pass rush.

    Manuel has potential, but he is unlikely to be an NFL starting quarterback.

    He compares well with current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, for he is a dynamic dual threat who may have the ability to be an NFL spot-starting quarterback but does not have the pocket-passing skills to be a next-level starter.

Other Seniors to Watch

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    10. Matt Scott, Arizona

    11. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State

    12. Jeff Tuel, Washington State

    13. Alex Carder, Western Michigan

    14. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt

    15. James Vandenberg, Iowa

    16. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State

    All of these senior quarterbacks have potential as late-round draft prospects but must make necessary progress in their senior seasons to be selected at all.

    Any of these quarterbacks could rise up the draft board with a strong senior year, but all have significant drawbacks in their games that keep them from being more than late-round prospects heading into their final collegiate seasons.

    The two quarterback prospects with the most promising potential out of this group are Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers.

    Scott played well while filling in for an injured Nick Foles in multiple games in his junior season and showed serious potential as a passer, but he redshirted last season while fellow senior Nick Foles finished up his career at Arizona.

    Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has impressive physical tools and has displayed shades of his brother’s greatness, but he was much too mistake-prone and inconsistent with his accuracy last season.

    Thanks for reading!

    Check back all year long for updates and more analysis of quarterbacks and all other prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft.

    Follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.