Once upon a time—as recently as 2007—quarterbacks could fall in the NFL Draft.
Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, considered a top-five prospect in the class of 2007, plummeted through the first round to the 22nd pick. Invited to attend the draft in New York City's Radio City Music Hall by the NFL, Quinn waited over two hours before the Cleveland Browns traded up to his rescue.
Two years prior, California's Aaron Rodgers had watched as the NFL's guest in front of a live TV audience as 23 teams chose other players. Projected by some as the draft's first overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers, the floor dropped out of Rodgers' draft stock when the Niners opted for Utah quarterback Alex Smith instead.
Jimmy Clausen, of course, is neither of those quarterbacks.
Quinn's failure to become Cleveland's starter is trumpeted by Clausen's detractors as a red flag against Notre Dame quarterbacks. His 7.3 yards per attempt from his last season in college, however, match up better with Texas' Colt McCoy (7.5) than Clausen (8.8) in the class of 2010.
Behind an offensive line featuring future NFL starters John Sullivan at center and Ryan Harris at left tackle, Quinn still ran a watered-down, dink-and-dunk version of coach Charlie Weis' pro-style offense compared to the aggressive, high-octane aerial attack under Clausen's command.
Rodgers, a junior college transfer with only two seasons of starting experience in college, had to overcome two NFL prejudices that won't encumber Clausen.
For starters, his coach—Cal's Jeff Tedford—had more NFL bust quarterbacks to his name in 2005 than Weis would have years at Notre Dame. As a "Tedford quarterback," Rodgers was fighting not only his own critics, but those of Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller before him.
According to Football Outsiders analyst David Lewin's "Lewin Career Forecast", too, the quarterback prospects who have the best pro careers generally start at least 37 games in college. With just 22 starts under his belt as a Golden Bear, Rodgers fell well short of that benchmark.
Having started 34 games since his freshman year in South Bend, Ind., Clausen's experience is much closer to Lewin's NFL standard. And, despite Quinn's disappointing career thus far, Weis' track record can hardly be considered comparable to Tedford's.
With new rules in the pro game offering quarterbacks and their receivers greater protection than ever in 2010, even those recent examples of draft-day tumbles don't matter. In a league where nine of the 12 most-prolific passing attacks make the playoffs, as happened last season, franchise quarterback prospects don't fall.
USC's Mark Sanchez, for instance, showed enough promise in one season as a college starter for the New York Jets to trade up to the fifth overall pick in 2009 for him. In 2008, the Baltimore Ravens traded for the 18th pick to take Delaware's Joe Flacco, a transfer from Pittsburgh who had been graded as a second-rounder.
Enjoying the highest premium on their position in football history, modern quarterbacks are coveted and traded-for centerpieces in NFL franchises' bids for future success.
Picking tenth in this year's first round, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith might covet a trade down more than Clausen. Having dealt Jacksonville's second-rounder to New England last year, Smith has remarked on several occasions that the Jaguars would do well to recoup that pick through trade.
Having a top quarterback prospect available at their draft spot would shorten the odds considerably on his chance of finding a willing partner.
Smith has made clear, though, that his ultimate concern is getting the most value possible out of the Jaguars' draft picks. Should Jacksonville's suitors for the tenth pick fail to offer a sufficient ransom, he'd be hard-pressed to find a better value move than picking Clausen for the Jaguars.
Incumbent quarterback David Garrard certainly hasn't done enough for Jacksonville to consider him a lock at the position.
After bursting onto the NFL scene in 2007, when he took over for former first-rounder Byron Leftwich as the Jaguars' quarterback, Garrard's performance has fizzled out. Despite a six-year, $60 million contract extension in 2008, Garrard has done little to prop up his younger, less-experienced supporting cast since.
To an extent, Jacksonville's shaky pass protection and sub-par receiving corps have hampered Garrard's play. Still, in a league where Super Bowl-winning signal callers like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have done more with less in those areas, the buck ultimately stops under center.
If Clausen is available for the Jaguars, barring a worthwhile offer to trade down, they'll likely decide that improving their offense starts at quarterback.