Projecting the NFL Careers of the Top 10 QB Prospects in the Draft
With so many measurables to evaluate as well as intangibles that can't be measured, quarterbacks are easily the toughest position for an NFL teams to predict future success.
From Andrew Luck to Robert Griffin III to Matt Barkley, this article will take a look at how the top 10 quarterback prospects' NFL futures may turn out.
Andrew Luck came to Stanford as a very highly rated prospect out of high school and hasn't disappointed. In fact, if Luck came out of school last year after his sophomore season, he likely would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Despite the loss of coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL, Luck has improved his stock this season. The reason for that is because he has started to call his own plays in Stanford's no-huddle offense, à la Peyton Manning. That's something extremely rare, even in the NFL.
As if his combination of solid arm strength, elite accuracy and ability to pick apart a defense weren't enough to guarantee future success, Luck now adds something very few others are truly capable of.
It's hard to compare any college quarterback to Peyton Manning, but I can see him being one of the best in the league with multiple All-Pro seasons and at least one Super Bowl ring before he finishes his pro career.
Robert Griffin III
With his strong arm and elite level of athleticism, Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin III was already high up on the NFL radar heading into the 2011 season. Griffin's spectacular season has likely pushed him up to the first round of the NFL draft.
Griffin's incredible efficiency—he's 142-of-182 in his passing attempts along with a touchdown to interception rate of 22-to-2—and ability to carry his team to victories against teams with more talent really stand out.
I can see Griffin making an impact as a rookie, although not quite the same impact Cam Newton is making this year, and continuing to make an impact throughout his career. Griffin will make his teammates better, something that translates into the potential to win a Super Bowl or two during his career. He could potentially be the quarterback people hoped Michael Vick would be.
Oklahoma junior quarterback Landry Jones reminds me of Detroit Lions current star Matthew Stafford at the same point in his career. Both are players with very high skill levels but need significant coaching to be able to come close to realizing that potential.
Jones has a strong arm with the potential to improve it, although likely not into the same neighborhood of Stafford's arm. His accuracy and ability to read defense are both things that need work, something that has resulted in him throwing too many interceptions for a player with his potential just like Stafford. Another thing that will require some work will be learning to take his snaps from under center, as he mostly lines up in the shotgun formation for the Sooners.
Ultimately, this depends on the NFL team that selects him and what the coaching staff can do with him. Jones could end up having success similar to Stafford on the next level, but it will likely take him some time just like the Lions star. Jones could also be a total bust without the necessary coaching. I project him to be somewhere in the middle, a solid middle-of-the-road NFL starter.
Matt Barkley came to USC with much hype, and after being the first junior to be named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year, it wasn't totally undeserved. At USC Barkley had some struggles in his first two seasons before finally starting to put together his talent as a junior this year, although some of his success can be attributed to star receiver Robert Woods.
Barkley rates at least average in every attribute that NFL scouts evaluate and really stands out for his accuracy, quick release and ability to read defenses. Although his arm strength is his weak spot, he still rates as average there and should be able to succeed in spite of that.
I believe Barkley's NFL career will have a similar career path to his college career, He will struggle as a rookie, improve in his second season and then take off in his third year. Barkley may not post eye-popping numbers in the NFL but should be able to deliver wins similar to the Baltimore Ravens' Joe Flacco.
Texas A&M had such depth at the quarterback position that Ryan Tannehill redshirted his first year on campus and then spent his first two years on the field at receiver. Due to an injury to Jerrod Johnson last year, Tannehill split his junior season between receiver and quarterback. It wasn't until this season, his senior year, that Tannehill finally got to be the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the Aggies.
Tannehill has been good, although not spectacular—not surprising considering he hasn't played or practiced much at the position the last few years. Tannehill is still a potential first-round pick for the 2012 NFL Draft because of his very good arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. A little work to fine-tune his skills could really make a huge difference.
Tannehill will need at least a year, maybe two, before he's ready to see significant time in the NFL. Although the way he's played this season and with his skill set, he's a got the ability to become a star with the right coaching. I expect Tannehill to take a while to be ready, but whoever drafts him will see he's worth the wait. Tannehill should have a few Pro Bowl seasons in him once he's ready with the potential to be an All-Pro.
Ryan Lindley has been a standout for San Diego State for the past four seasons. His numbers are very impressive across the board with 10,822 passing yards and 79 touchdowns. It hasn't been all smooth sailing for the Aztec star, as he has thrown 43 interceptions in that time.
Lindley stands out to the pro scouts because he has a strong arm, good poise in the pocket, the necessary intangibles and above-average accuracy. When you add in the fact he has decent mechanics and the fact that he possesses enough athleticism to not be a statue in the pocket, he looks even better. Another positive is that through six games this year he has thrown 12 touchdowns to only four interceptions.
Lindley's major flaws are that he's below average at reading defenses, along with the fact he takes the bulk of his snaps from the shotgun instead of under center. Another thing that could work against him is that he looked good in part because he was playing in former coach Brady Hoke's offense, and the last quarterback to do so—former Ball State quarterback Nate Davis—hasn't found NFL success.
I think that Lindley has the makings of a career backup on the NFL level. Similar to Davis, Lindley does have some skills that will keep him around as a second- or third-string guy, but he lacks the ability to succeed as a starter in the NFL.
At age 28 Brandon Weeden isn't the typical NFL draft prospect. The Oklahoma State star got a late start to his college career after pitching in the minor leagues for the New York Yankees. Still, Weeden has put up huge numbers for the Cowboys over the last few two years.
Weeden is an NFL prospect because he has solid arm strength, the ability to read a defense fairly well, decent accuracy and solid athleticism.
In addition to being a little old for a prospect, Weeden's mechanics leave something to be desired and there are questions about his ability to adjust to the pro game after playing in a pass-happy spread offense in college.
Weeden is a guy that I think will have a solid five- to seven-year NFL career, although in a backup role. His maturity and skill set make him an ideal candidate for a team that is looking for immediate help in that role, such as the Kansas City Chiefs.
Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is a solid NFL prospect despite the fact that he doesn't get much national attention. Cousins has the necessary skills to succeed in the NFL but does need some coaching to be able to make an impact on that level.
Cousins possesses good arm strength, poise in the pocket, a quick release and good accuracy. He's also a good athlete playing in a pro-style offense, things that will help him get picked early on come April.
Cousins doesn't have great mechanics and has a tendency to force the ball into traffic as well as hold onto the ball too long under pressure, things that need to be overcome if he wants to succeed in the NFL.
Cousins will be drafted in the second or third round of the NFL draft, but there is something in my gut that tells me he doesn't have what it takes to succeed in the NFL. Cousins is likely to be a career backup.
Case Keenum makes the list despite being more of a late-round prospect because he is the NCAA's all-time leader in passing yards. Keenum has had quite an impressive run at Houston over the past five seasons, and with his team currently sitting at 7-0 it could get even better over the next few months.
Keenum is considered by many to be a system quarterback who takes advantage of running a spread offense built to pass the ball all over the field. That also means he will need to make the transition to taking snaps from under center instead of lining up in the shotgun every play. His other negatives are a below-average arm, ability to read defenses and the way he struggles under pressure.
Keenum will be drafted based purely on his college numbers when an NFL team decides to take a flier on him, hoping he can adjust to the pro-style and continue his success. The fact he's a winner is another thing that could help his cause.
Keenum doesn't have much of an NFL future, and in fact it would be an accomplishment if he could stick around for a year or two as a backup.
Russell Wilson first has to decide if he'd even like to play in the NFL or if he'd rather stick it out playing baseball for the Colorado Rockies' minor league teams. With his baseball struggles in his first professional season as well as his return to college football, it shows he may be leaning in the direction of football.
Wilson has good arm strength, strong accuracy and poise in the pocket, despite being considered more of a dual-threat quarterback than a true drop-back passer. Obviously, Wilson has an elite level of athleticism that allows him to create plays with his feet, but his other attribute that sets him apart is his efficiency as a passer? His career touchdown to interception rate is greater than 3:1.
Wilson's only true flaw is that he's only listed at 5'11", something many NFL teams will immediately drop him way down their draft boards for. The only other flaw could be that he's been playing baseball throughout his whole career, so he has never focused solely on football.
I see Wilson being a mid-round selection in this year's draft. I also predict that because of his dual-sport focus for the bulk of his career that he will need a year of developmental time. Assuming he goes to a team that will allow him that developmental time, Wilson should go on to have a strong career as an NFL starter.