NFL Draft 2013: Are There 'Franchise Quarterbacks' Hidden Within This Class?

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IFebruary 10, 2013

Is Geno Smith the future face of an NFL franchise?
Is Geno Smith the future face of an NFL franchise?Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The term "franchise quarterback" is tossed around quite a bit in today’s NFL. People use the term to describe the best quarterbacks the league has to offer.

Sometimes it is warranted. Other times, you have to scratch your head and wrack your brain to figure out why a certain player is labeled a franchise guy.

What is a franchise quarterback?

A franchise quarterback is a leader in the offensive huddle. He commands respect and gets it. He is tough; injuries do not hinder him as they would another quarterback.

And more than just from a statistical standpoint, a franchise quarterback makes plays when his team needs him most. Being clutch is a big part of what makes a franchise quarterback a franchise quarterback.

Do all franchise quarterbacks share all the same traits?

Some franchise quarterbacks are more clutch than others are. Some have a higher pain tolerance. Some are quieter leaders. Some do not fill a stat sheet.

But know this: All franchise quarterbacks show signs of every characteristic listed above, and then some.

The chart below shows current "franchise quarterbacks" in the NFL.

That is not a large list, and it is subject to review down the road, pending a handful of young quarterbacks replacing soon-to-be-retiring ones (potentially three or more from the 2012 class alone, not to mention those who still hold out hope for Josh Freeman and Andy Dalton).

Here is a chart showing potential franchise quarterbacks of the future.

Will every name from this chart be mentioned as a franchise quarterback five years from now? Absolutely not. It can be said with a fair amount of certainty that at least three of these names will not be starters much longer, let alone be mentioned as franchise quarterbacks.

Any given season, there are anywhere from 14 to 18 teams explicitly sure they have their franchise guy for the next half-decade or longer. That leaves the rest of the teams to pick and choose the best fill-in starters as possible until they can find their guy.

How does that pertain to the 2013 draft?

Many draftniks and experts have called the quarterback class of '13 a weak one. Could it be that because of last year’s class—one that produced three playoff appearances and three of the best rookie seasons in NFL history—that we look down upon the current class as inferior?

Does the class of '12 fog our judgment?

The class of 2013 is not the class of 2012—that much is certain. It may be closer to the 1996 class than any other in recent memory.

Don’t remember the quarterback class of 1996? Here’s a refresher:

  • Eight signal-callers selected, together producing zero Pro Bowl appearances.
  • Tony Banks led the way with a 35-43 record as a starter with four different teams (started the first five games of the 2000 season with the Baltimore Ravens, going 5-3 despite his 68.7 passer rating).
  • Five of eight QBs never started a game; four—Spence Fischer, Mike Cawley, Jon Stark and Kyle Wachholtz—never played in a game.
  • In 174 combined games, Banks, Bobby Hoying, Jeff Lewis and Danny Kanell totaled a 68.7 passer rating while throwing 119 touchdowns and 124 interceptions.
  • Kanell was the only one to start a playoff game; one, in 1997 with the New York Giants—a 23-22 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

That class of '96 did not produce a franchise quarterback—a rare feat for the last 20 NFL drafts. It didn’t even produce a quarterback of note. Nearly every class since 1993 has produced at least one quarterback worth remembering; perhaps not all worthy of the "franchise quarterback" tag, but notable nonetheless.

What, then, does the class of 2013 have to offer the NFL?

Is there a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers tucked away in this draft? A Drew Brees or Matt Ryan? How about a Russell Wilson or Andy Dalton?

If you can’t answer "yes" to any of those options, maybe these will suit you better: Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne? Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson? Kyle Boller or Chris Simms? How about JaMarcus Russell?

Teams could be more likely to find one of those types of players at quarterback in April than anyone from the first list.

Am I saying the entire class is full of losers and they will amount to nothing more than the class of '96? I am not. However, the notion that Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson, Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib are being mentioned as potential high first-round picks is questionable, especially considering the wealth of talent at other positions.

Smith put up gaudy numbers against weaker foes in 2012 but struggled down the stretch when the schedule got tougher. He shows good touch on deep passes, and that will attract NFL teams.

I feel he must work on his progression if he wants to succeed at the next level, however. Smith also loses accuracy under pressure and makes poor decisions when forced to act quickly.

Wilson could end up being the best quarterback of the class. He shows good leadership, is as tough as nails and could have the most accurate arm of the bunch. Where he struggles is in decision-making. He reminds me of Jay Cutler minus the cannon and with more accuracy.

His performance slipped in 2012 due to line play, so getting him behind a good offensive line at the next level is paramount. That can be said of most quarterbacks, but a bad O-line may derail his career early by creating bad habits in the pocket.

Barkley is a leader and is accurate, but his arm strength has come under scrutiny by some. Any quarterback can toss it 60-plus yards downfield, but getting it there in a hurry is different than floating one up there. Big question for Barkley: Can he get it there?

Glennon has the biggest arm of the class. This will attract coaches who favor the vertical passing attack—coaches like Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals. His accuracy does leave something to be desired, as even when a defender falls down he has trouble getting open receivers the ball where it should be.

Nassib troubles me. He flashes good pocket awareness at times and is athletic enough to escape a collapsing pocket. But even the easiest of throws get away from him too often to be coincidence. He makes poor decisions and locks onto one receiver too often.

In one instance against USC last season, Nassib rolled to his left while staring down receiver Jarrod West the entire time. When he finally let the ball go, it traveled five yards and directly into the belly of USC linebacker Dion Bailey for an interception.

I am not claiming to be some draft guru damning these quarterbacks to careers of mediocrity, leaving teams impoverished at the position. I am, however, sick of seeing quarterbacks like Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker thrust high into a draft’s first round simply because teams are in search of a franchise guy.

By the time Locker and Gabbert were off the board in late April 2011, guys like J.J. Watt, Mike Pouncey and Ryan Kerrigan were still available.

No one could have predicted the season Watt would have in just his second year in the league, nor is it easy to forecast how quickly a young center can adjust to the larger, faster and more powerful defensive linemen of the NFL.

But the risk factors were there for the quarterbacks taken high in 2011. More questions were raised about them than any issue that had to do with the three alternatives left on the board.

They were taken because of the incessant need to find a franchise quarterback—pressure from fanbases, pressure from front offices; it can drive a coach to madness and leave him jobless if he does not develop the guy thought to be a certain winner (Jags’ Mike Mularkey is a prime example).

It is still too early to label any of the quarterbacks from 2011’s first round as draft busts, but it does not look good. Cam Newton, the No. 1 pick that year, has been good at times, but he has also been really bad more often than should be the case with a top overall selection.

Newton and the Carolina Panthers have been in 16 games over two seasons in which they have trailed by one possession in the fourth quarter or overtime.

They have won just two of those games while dropping 14, and Newton has completed just 51.8 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions for a 76.7 passer rating in them.

He is a dynamic athlete. But is he clutch? Not even close.

Is there a franchise quarterback hidden in this draft class of 2013? If there is, he is not obvious. There is a real possibility there are none and that more head coaching jobs will soon be lost because of teams’ need to find "the guy" by reaching in the Top 10.

Are any of the quarterbacks in this class comparable to current franchise quarterbacks in the NFL? Look at the first chart again and tell us what you think.


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