If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, comparison is a close second.
Every QB, like a snowflake, is unique in his own way. But some quarterbacks more closely resemble others—ones who have come before them, men who have blazed a trail for their future.
By comparing college QBs to their professional analogues, we can't necessarily predict how a prospect will turn out, but we can examine the precedent of players they resemble.
Plus it's a whole lot of fun.
Note: Not all listed QBs are guaranteed to start in Week 1; they are the projected starters as determined by the author.
Pro Comparison: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Allen is a little shorter (6'2'') than Smith (6'4'') but possesses the same deceptive athleticism and plucky resolve.
Buried last year behind Tyler Wilson, Allen hasn't yet had a chance to show much of that on the field. But Bret Bielema listed him atop the post-spring depth chart and lauded him for his ability to avoid turning the ball over.
In like turn, Allen will occupy a similar role to the one Alex Smith played in San Francisco. He's good enough to distribute the ball to his weapons, avoid costly mistakes and wow with one or two individual plays each game. In time, he might have the potential to do even more.
Pro Comparison: Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Austyn Carta-Samuels started his college career at Wyoming—where he threw for over 3,600 yards in two seasons—and managed to see sparing reps at Vanderbilt last season.
Blessed with okay size (6'1'', but long), good athleticism and below-average accuracy, he's redolent of Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. Like Ponder, ACS has looked good in small spurts but has struggled when better defenses have made him a focal point.
At Wyoming, Carta-Samuels averaged just 117 passing yards on 23 attempts in losses vs. Utah (twice), Texas and BYU (twice). He's got the physical tools to succeed, but against fiery SEC defenses, much like Ponder in the NFL, he needs to throw with more confidence.
Pro Comparison: Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Jeff Driskel and Locker are both big, physical, athletic and capable of making every throw on the field. For whatever reason, though, neither has yet been able to translate that to success.
Both were highly touted when they entered their respective leagues (Driskel was 247 Sports' top-ranked QB; Locker was the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft), but their careers have thus far been labeled busts. Even en route to an 11-2 regular season in Gainesville, inconsistent play and an embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss have Driskel on thin ice with Gator Nation.
It's unclear what's prevented Driskel and Locker from success, and they still have time to fix all their dizzying tools into a well-rounded player. But that leash grows shorter with each passing game, so both would do well to figure things out quickly.
Pro Comparison: Tavaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks
On paper, James Franklin should probably be better than he's been. He's athletic, and he has a decent arm, but accuracy struggles have made him less than successful as a starter.
Not unlike Jackson—who has started 34 NFL games and played on three different teams—Franklin's upside always seems to earn him a second chance. No matter how bad he sometimes is (see: his 1.4-yard average on 88 carries last season), the allure of his good moments is hard to ignore.
Not unlike Jackson again, though, 2012 was the year when that finally started to come to an end. Franklin will need to be much better if he wants to retain his job through the season.
Pro Comparison: Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
Kiehl Frazier wishes his comparison was Cam Newton, the alumnus of his school with whom he was frequently likened as a prospect. But two seasons into his Auburn career, that is praise far higher than he's earned.
Instead, Frazier evokes more of Terrelle Pryor: extremely athletic, highly successful at the previous level, still searching for a way to translate those skills against better competition. Both men are also locked in QB competitions this offseason, though Frazier is far more likely to beat out Jonathan Wallace than Pryor is with Matt Flynn.
Now that Gus Malzahn—the man who coached Newton and recruited Frazier—is back in Auburn, marked improvements are expected. By this time next year, Tigers fans hope, this comparison will have changed.
Pro Comparison: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson is proof that wildly successful, admittedly undersized, undeniably dauntless college quarterbacks can translate to the new-age NFL.
Much like Wilson, who led Seattle to a playoff victory in his rookie season, Johnny Manziel compensates for his size by finding good throwing angles. He gets out of the pocket and finds creative seams to put the ball through, even though his linemen are much bigger than him. It's precisely how Jeff Garcia and (to a lesser extent) Drew Brees also managed to find NFL success.
Manziel needs to work on his accuracy if he wants to be as good as Wilson, but still just two years removed from high school, he's not that far behind the curve. Between all of that and their patented escapability, Wilson and Manziel are very similar prospects.
Pro Comparison: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton and AJ McCarron both take flak for being "boring" or for "managing games," but over the years, each has proven his insatiable ability to win.
McCarron is 25-2 in two seasons as a starter at Alabama, leading the Tide to a BCS National Championship in each of those campaigns. Dalton, meanwhile, went 34-3 in his final three years at TCU and has led Cincinnati to the playoffs in each of his first two professional seasons.
Alabama fans might get mad at this comparison, detesting such an "unworthy" analogue for their much-beloved signal-caller. But between the winning, the accuracy and the unjustifiable hate lobbed their way, McCarron and Dalton are as similar as they come.
Pro Comparison: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Zach Mettenberger was a slight disappointment at LSU last year—his first under center—but between his raw physical tools and the addition of Cam Cameron at offensive coordinator, expectations are high once again going forward.
Cameron coached Joe Flacco in the NFL, and a similarly tailored pro-style system could see Mettenberger flourish. He's big and strong like last year's Super Bowl MVP, and much like with Flacco, scouts have raved about him. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com writes that Mettenberger has "outstanding arm strength" and "a beautiful deep ball."
The rest of Mettenberger's game is a work in progress, but the same could easily be said about Flacco at this age. With the right coaching, LSU's towering, 6'6'' QB could eventually find similar success.
Pro Comparison: Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Just to be clear: Getting compared to Romo is a good thing, not some sort of backhanded insult.
Despite limited size at 6'2'', Romo is a rare blend of accuracy, athleticism, arm strength and moxie. In like manner, Aaron Murray, 6'1'', led the NCAA in adjusted yards per pass attempt last year and also has very deceptive athleticism (247Sports ranked him a 5-star dual-threat high school QB in 2009).
Unfortunately, both players have been brandished with the dreaded "can't win a big game" label. But with the immense talent each possesses, it would come as a shock to no one if they finally broke through this year.
Pro Comparison: Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
This might be a little too flattering for Tyler Russell—Cutler is, obviously, the much better player—but both QBs have been plagued by the same fault over their careers: inconsistency.
Both Russell and Cutler can wow on one drive, throwing a pass that makes you wonder why they aren't a Heisman/MVP candidate. But the next drive they'll be a different guy entirely, making a play that leaves you wondering why they're even on the field to begin with.
Russell had a good 2012 season but left it off with an ugly coda in the Gator Bowl. He threw four (awful) interceptions against Northwestern, handing the Wildcats their first bowl win since 1949 and abating the hopes of Bulldogs fans going forward.
If he can keep "Good Tyler" on the field in 2013, Mississippi State could make some noise. But again, for Russell, that chore has always been easier said than done.
Pro Comparison: Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (circa 2010)
People seem to forget that before Sanchez buckled under the bright lights of New York, he led the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship Games. And even then, before his public and unceremonious regression below the mean, no one gave him any respect.
The same could be said for Connor Shaw, a throwback player who is easy to nitpick apart on film but usually finds himself on the right end of the scoreboard. He's 17-3 as a starter for the Gamecocks (10-0 at home) and always has his team playing its best football at the end of the season—just like Sanchez used to with the Jets.
Again like Sanchez, Shaw's accomplishments go unappreciated, as some fans have called for super-backup Dylan Thompson to usurp him under center. Hopefully he copes with that burden better than his New York counterpart.
Pro Comparison: Matt Schaub (circa 2008)
Schaub's first two seasons in Houston were plagued by injuries, casting a pall over what many believed to be an underrated team. He was a big, impressive passer who couldn't manage to stay on the field, and his team suffered because of it.
Smith may or may not be a similarly talented player—two seasons in, his injury history is too big and his sample size is too small. First it was a shoulder against Tennessee, then the same injury against Florida, then the ankle against South Carolina. No one knows if Smith is capable of turning Kentucky around.
Schaub finally stayed healthy in 2009, starting all 16 games for Houston and leading the NFL with 4,770 passing yards. It's doubtful Smith can have that magnitude of success in the SEC, but again—who really knows? At 6'4'', he certainly has the size and arm for the job.
Pro Comparison: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Again, this is far too flattering at first glance. Wallace is nowhere near Luck's caliber of quarterback. But some striking similarities between the two—particularly how they affected their teams last year—are hard to ignore.
Like Luck, Wallace is an impressive all-around prospect—he's big, he can make every throw, and he's deceptively good with his feet. Like Luck, he took over a team coming off a terrible season (Ole Miss went 2-10 the year before; the Colts went 1-15) with a new head coach. And like Luck, he led that team to a winning record and postseason success in his first year as a starter.
Both Wallace and Luck struggled with interceptions last year—Wallace led the NCAA with 17, while Luck led the AFC with 18—but each should take better care of the ball in 2013. If Wallace plays his cards right the next year or two, he, like Luck, could also have a big NFL payday awaiting him.
Pro Comparison Matt Hasselbeck
Justin Worley is a little hard to peg—he wasn't a huge recruit coming out high school, he's only thrown 110 passes at Tennessee and he's locked in a close QB competition with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman.
But from all indications, Worley has a good deal of Matt Hasselbeck in him. He's big but not huge, with a good-not-great arm and great-not-good vision. Blessed with one of the (if not the single) best offensive lines in America, Worley could be deadly moving his feet and scanning receivers this season.
Hasselbeck isn't the sexiest comparison (both figuratively and literally), but he was an accomplished passer who made three Pro Bowls in his career and a Super Bowl in 2005. There are far worse people with which to be likened.