He's the player that handles the ball on every snap. Without a good one, it's almost impossible to win in the NFL. It's the quarterback. He's your captain.
Some teams have one. Some teams don't. Those that don't strive for one; those who do clutch on to them for dear life. As a result, most teams must take a chance in the draft on a top quarterback to revive their franchise.
The 2011 draft is chocked full of quarterback prospects. However, it doesn't have the big name quality this upcoming draft has with Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, and Colt McCoy. But overall it's a much better class, with great depth, upside, and many potential first rounders.
Keep in mind, these are extremely early projections and will definitely change by April 2011. Feel free to comment on who you think has a chance for the first round or a sleeper prospect you like!
If having great stats get you drafted highly, Case Keenum would be the undisputed No. 1 overall pick. Just this past year, Keenum put the Cougars back on the national stage and at one point they were ranked 12th in the nation. He also threw for 5,671 yards and 44 touchdowns while garnering Heisman consideration.
However, stats don't tell the whole story. Keenum has some big question marks coming into the draft. He comes from a goofy, high-school style offense that hides some of Keenum's weaknesses. Keenum takes snaps almost exclusively out of the shotgun and therefore will have to somehow prove to scout's that he can stand strong under center. His arm strength also is a question, considering he mostly throws short underneath routes. On the other hand, Keenum has nice pocket poise and decent size.
This upcoming season/draft season will be huge for Keenum. Luckily, it can really only go up for Keenum, barring injury or a horrendous year. If he puts up yet another monster season, his production might just be too intriguing for a team to pass up, and he'll have a chance to go, at top's, around the fourth round.
However, the Senior Bowl will be even more crucial to Keenum. If Keenum shows that he has decent arm strength and adapts to a pro style system well, he could find himself in the second-third round discussion. However, if he bombs at the Senior Bowl, more questions may emerge and Keenum may find himself falling to the seventh round or even in undrafted free agent territory.
Projected Round: Fourth-Sixth
When one hears the term "spread quarterback," some immediate qualities come to mind—lacking arm strength, short, shotgun snaps, big stats, and the ability to create with his feet.
Throw all those preconceived notions out the window with Blaine Gabbert. Unlike most spread quarterbacks, Gabbert has a big-time arm; it's one of the best in this class. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, he's got your prototypical pocket passer size. He won't beat you with his feet, but he's shifty in the pocket. He's still young and at times, struggled with decision making as a sophomore, but it's likely to assume that he'll continue to improve in that department.
However, much like previous Mizzou prospect Chase Daniel, Gabbert faces questions about his ability to take snaps from under center and that gimmicky offense that he plays in. However, even though Chase Daniel was a highly successful college quarterback (much more successful then Gabbert has been to this point), he didn't have the size or arm strength.
Gabbert will more then likely be drafted on upside if he declares (which I have my doubts if he will, I have a feeling he'll stay for his senior season), and he has the ability to develop into a decent starting quarterback after a few seasons.
Projected Round: Fourth-Fifth
If college football had a Peyton Manning, you could argue that it's Ricky Stanzi. Starting with a season-opening win against Northern Iowa, Stanzi mounted countless comeback drives for what many called the "luckiest team in college football".
He led the Hawkeyes out of early 10-0 holes against Penn State and Wisconsin to win 21-10 and 20-10 respectively. A touchdown pass on the final play clinched a 15-13 conference win against Michigan State.
After trailing by 10 going into the fourth quarter in a five interception game for Stanzi, he bounced back and threw two touchdown passes in a four-touchdown fourth quarter explosion, beating the Indiana Hoosiers 42-24. Those five interceptions draw to the eye his 15 interceptions on the season, which are a concern.
With good size and coming from a pro-style offense under Kirk Ferentz, Ricky Stanzi doesn't have some of those questions the first two guys in this slideshow have. However, Ricky Stanzi doesn't have some of the upside either. His arm is good, not great, and he doesn't have enough speed to carve out a niche. Likely a career reliable backup, Stanzi has the ability to develop into a starter but probably won't start the first few years of his career.
Projected Round: Fourth-Fifth
Tolzien's one of those prospects who's flying below the radar in this draft class. In his first year as the starter for the Badgers, Tolzien put together a respectable season. He threw for 2,705 yards and 16 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for a 10-3 Wisconsin team that ended the season with a win over No. 15 Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Tolzien's an accurate passer that comes from a pro-style offense. He is a solid mid-round prospect who could end up as a starter two to three years down the line. With Gabe Carimi, John Clay, and Nick Toon around him on offense, he should find more success next season, as should the Badgers.
Projected Round: Second-Third
With a chance to finish the season undefeated and keep their national championship hopes alive, the Texas Longhorns traveled to Kyle Field to take on the Texas A&M Aggies on Thanksgiving night.
The Aggies gave the Longhorns a game, trailing just 42-39 with seven minutes remaining (they went on to lose 49-39). Not only did the Aggies gain confidence from this game, but there quarterback also had a national coming out party.
In the nationally televised game, Jerrod Johnson showed America what he can do, as he threw four touchdown passes, nearly 350 yards passing, and gained 97 yards on the ground.
Johnson might have the most upside in this draft class, but also could find himself wallowing in the middle rounds. On the bright side, he can take snaps under center, has a wicked arm, and has excellent mobility. On the other hand, he has a lagging release and struggles with accuracy at times. Think Byron Leftwich with speed.
If Johnson can streamline his release this season it should help out his accuracy and he should solidify himself as a first round prospect. If he doesn't, he'll still have a chance to be taken late in the first round by a team who needs a quarterback for the future. But it's more then likely that he will be in that second and third round mix.
Projected Round: First-Third
Here's a rant for you. There's something I don't understand with the media's treatment of Terrelle Pryor. They talk and report like this kid is Vince Young or Eric Crouch; an amazing dual threat who should be perfect in every game he plays. Note to ESPN—THE KID WAS JUST A SOPHOMORE! Despite what others may think, freshman and sophomore quarterbacks rarely make a difference.
Sorry, had to get that out there. The 2009 Rose Bowl was a huge deal for Terrelle Pryor; he proved himself to be a more than worthy as a passer, and as the missing piece on a team that's struggled in big bowl games in the past. With a rocket arm, fantastic size, and killer speed (he's the fastest quarterback in this list), Pryor has all the physical tools, and at the end of the 2009 season and the Rose Bowl, Pryor seemed to put all the pieces into place.
If he builds on those performances he'll be in contention for a top 10 pick. If he struggles, Pryor will be drafted in the first two rounds just for his tremendous upside.
Projected Round: First-Second
Florida State has been in a period of flux recently. After falling on already hard times, they've had to suspend standout wide receiver Preston Parker (a player I find myself quite closely attached to...) and they've lost all-time great coach Bobby Bowden.
But senior quarterback Christian Ponder is doing something you don't see in the college ranks too often, he's taking the lead. He's become a vocal leader in the locker room and he's taking over to help this team get back on the right track in his senior season.
In a pro style offense, Ponder had an outstanding 68.8 completion rate, all the while cutting his interceptions from the previous year almost in half (13 to 7) and throwing 14 touchdowns.
Much like Jimmy Clausen, he has a decent arm and can make all the throws. He's a decent athlete that can move around in the pocket and get away from defensive lineman.
I personally am a fan of Christian Ponder. While he's the most elite physical prospect, I like his intangibles and if he finds success this season and lofts less balls (he needs to work on putting better touch and zip on passes), he'll put himself in a firm strangle hold for the second or third ranked quarterback in this class.
Projected Round: Top 25 Overall Pick
With preseason hype victim Jevan Snead, all-time great Tim Tebow, underappreciated Stephen Garcia, and national champion Greg McElroy, the SEC certainly had a batch of solid quarterbacks.
But above all of those, many considered Ryan Mallett to be the best quarterback in the SEC this season. Under Bobby Petrino, Mallett has honed his skills into a very solid package.
Mallett's in contention for having the strongest arm in this class, and along with his pro-style success and solid accuracy, Mallett has a chance to become the top quarterback in this class.
Projected Round: Top 15 Overall Pick
Some of you are probably shocked here. Some of you probably haven't even heard of Andrew Luck. Here's your primer; with Jim Harbaugh and Toby Gerhart, he's a key reason Stanford found success this past season.
While his arm isn't a rocket, it's strong enough to get the job done. When comparing him to a recent prospect, think Mark Sanchez. He's got the ability to elude the rush but isn't a Vince Young or Dennis Dixon type prospect. At 6'4", 235 pounds and with a pro-style background, he's got the makings of a classic pocket passer.
In just his redshirt freshman season he showed poise and football smarts beyond his years;, throwing 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions. The Oregon Ducks secondary coach John Neal is on record as saying that Luck is "the best quarterback since, I don't know, Brett Favre.''
While his footwork is a little sloppy and he still showed flashes of that inexperience, the key is that it was his redshirt freshman year. Do I think Luck should come out in 2011? Heck no. If he stays for an extra year or two, he has a chance to be one of the best quarterback prospects to come along since Peyton Manning. But for now he's just a very good one.
Projected Round: Top 15 Overall Pick
Normally I'd harp on a projected top 10 pick for coming back to school. The reasoning is essentially that there's nowhere to go but down. I can't do this to Jake Locker.
While some may say it shows he doesn't have a "love of the game," I just don't see it. Locker wants to win and doesn't feel his job at Washington is done. Washington has a great chance to go to a bowl game next season, which, considering their 0-12 2008 season, is a huge accomplishment.
Locker's got a big arm and has great speed. However, for the first two years of his college career, he played and practiced the spread offense. Upon Steve Sarkisian's entrance, the Huskies switched to a pro-style offense and Jake Locker thrived. Despite his success and quick transition, it was still only one year. With a second year under his belt, Locker will be considered an even more polished prospect and should be considered the consensus No. 1 overall pick.
Projected Round: Top Three Overall Pick
Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama (Senior) is a pretty non-descript prospect. He hasn't put up great numbers and he doesn't have great measurables, but he just wins. In the draft world, "just wins" is code for "is surrounded by great talent." He should be looked at as a late round prospect.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada (Senior) spearheads one of the most lethal rushing attacks in college football, but struggles in the passing game. In fact, in Nevada's five losses, they threw the ball an average of 28 times, 140 times total. During Nevada's eight-game midseason winning streak, they threw the ball a total of just 142 times, only two more in nearly twice as many games. They averaged just 17 passes during that win streak.
Kaerpernick will be tested during the Senior Bowl to see how his passing holds up, but will also have to get some looks at wide receiver or wildcat QB. A late/undrafted prospect that should get an invite to a training camp.
Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware (Senior) (pictured above) is the next Fightin' Blue Hens quarterback to get a look in the draft. With a big arm, he'll get plenty of comparisons to his predecessor at Delaware, Joe Flacco. If Devlin impresses in pre-draft workouts and bowl games, he'll shoot up draft boards much like Flacco did. For now, I'm putting him as a fourth-sixth round prospect; the closest prospect to being on this list.