NFL Draft 2013: Breaking Down Best Quarterback Prospects

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJanuary 1, 2013

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 17:  Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drops back to pass against the Oklahoma Sooners during the game on November 17, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The perception is that the NFL draft will have a shortage of franchise quarterbacks from the 2013 class. But that may not be the case, as there is some intriguing talent on the board that teams may consider choosing as their long-term answer under center.

Offenses are changing in pro football, as are expectations for rookie quarterbacks after last year's unbelievably successful crop that features three QBs leading their teams to the playoffs.

Complicating things further with this year's bunch is that the top guns had high expectations at their respective colleges, but their teams failed miserably to reach them.

Here is a breakdown of the current top four prospects at the game's most important position, and how they project in the draft.

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia

All three of the aforementioned rookie playoff quarterbacks from the 2012 class are all dynamic athletes, and Smith falls into that category—although he isn't as fast as the likes of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.

Smith plays in a spread offense with the Mountaineers and benefits from more generous throwing windows and an exceptional duo of playmakers in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin to help him.

But in order for those receivers to be in a position to make plays after the catch, Smith has to put the ball on the money. That is something that seems uncanny about his game: accuracy. That is widely considered the most important attribute to succeed in the NFL. He also possesses prototypical size at 6'3" and 220 pounds.

With a completion percentage at around 71 percent to go with 42 touchdowns and just six interceptions, it's clear that Smith has a high football IQ and consistently makes the right decision with the football.

What Smith hasn't used as much in his senior season in Morgantown is his legs. He's not blindingly fast by any means, but mobile enough to give opponents something to think about.

If there is any quarterback that would be considered with the No. 1 overall pick at this moment, it would have to be Smith.

Projected stock: Top-five pick

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Wilson went through the ringer as a senior.

Facing SEC competition with a dubious supporting cast, an unstable coaching situation and a defense that couldn't compete with the other high-powered offenses in the conference, the senior fared pretty well under the circumstances.

The Razorbacks ranked just 107th in the nation in rushing, and Wilson had to frequently bring his team back from behind. It was an uphill battle, but he still managed to complete 62 percent of his passes and register 8.45 yards per attempt.

Considering the caliber of defenses he faced, a 21-to-13 touchdown to interception ratio isn't too shabby.

Injuries really hurt Arkansas, which was ranked in the top 10 to start the year. Wilson got hurt in the opener though, and it resulted in a loss to Louisiana-Monroe that put to rest talks of a championship of any kind.

In a nutshell, 2012 wasn't Wilson's year. But the 2013 draft may bring him better fortune.

The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are sitting at eighth and ninth respectively with too much money invested in below-average quarterbacks.

Whether Wilson starts right away or rides the pine to learn remains to be seen, but he is 6'2" and 218 pounds with a very strong arm and has the ability to make an instant impact at the next level.

His stock should only rise in the combine and the Senior Bowl, and the toughness he displayed in his final collegiate season from a physical and mental standpoint is a desirable intangible for a QB of the future.

Projected stock: Top-10 pick

3. Matt Barkley, USC

Strangely enough, the Trojans' embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech on New Year's Eve in the Sun Bowl really helped Barkley's perpetually plummeting draft stock.

Many of Barkley's predecessors have failed in the pros—Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez most notably—and based on USC's very poor performance as a preseason No. 1, it seemed like a mistake for Barkley to return for his senior season.

That all changed on Monday. Talented backup QB Max Wittek was horrendous against the Yellow Jackets' mediocre pass defense, even with the talents of Heisman contender Marquise Lee and Robert Woods at his disposal.

Critics will say that Barkley doesn't have the greatest arm strength or height for an NFL signal-caller. However, he endured a lot of adversity in his four years at Southern Cal, and started nearly every game since he arrived on campus.

A two-year postseason ban and the right shoulder injury that ended his senior season will give him a bad rap, but Barkley will be determined to prove critics wrong at the next level.

At one point, Barkley was considered the top prospect in the draft. Now he doesn't look like such a product of his supporting cast, as so many have at USC before him. Shoddy pass-protection and playing from behind thanks to an inconsistent defense hurt Barkley's numbers as a senior.

With a better understanding of pro-style offenses than most spread-oriented college prospects, it's unwise to dismiss Barkley despite what the numbers say.

Assuming he is healthy, Barkley shouldn't fall out of the first round.

Projected stock: Late first round

4. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

If teams at the top of the draft are hesitant to so heavily invest in a quarterback with a high pick, they could take their chances in Round 2 with a player like Nassib.

It's hard to project Nassib's impact in the pros, since the Orange aren't exactly a program that routinely churns out quality NFL players at the rate of other college football powerhouses. But Nassib's tools are impressive.

In snowy conditions at Yankee Stadium, the Syracuse signal-caller won a showdown with West Virginia's Smith in the Pinstripe Bowl, although the running game was the true determining factor as to why Nassib's side won.

Putting the bowl game aside, there was a marked improvement in Nassib's decision-making over the second half of the season. In the Orange's last six regular-season contests, he threw just one interception in that span compared to 13 touchdowns.

At 6'2" and 228 pounds, Nassib also has good size and a great arm. His yards per attempt jumped from 6.47 as a junior to 7.95 as a senior, and it's difficult to poke many holes in his game at this point. He should be one of the fastest risers leading up to April's draft, especially with the perceived weakness of this QB class.

Look for Nassib to even sneak into the first round as a developmental prospect, but more likely land somewhere in the early or middle portion of the second round.

Projected stock: Second round


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