Robert Griffin: Top-Five Pick?
The college season is winding down and the 2012 quarterback class is starting to take shape behind Andrew Luck.
After hours of film study, I've concluded the passing-driven NFL can expect one of the strongest crops seen in years when April's draft rolls around. It appears as if up to six QBs could potentially come off the board in the first 50 picks or so. The class is deep as well with some middle- to late-round gems that could outplay their draft position.
Indianapolis has a firm hold on the first overall pick at the moment and unless Peyton Manning returns healthy, it looks they will be the team to land the highly touted Stanford product. Though Luck won his recent duel with Southern Cal, it was exactly the type of performance signal-caller Matt Barkley needed to cement his status as a top prospect. It appears now, due to Barkley's emergence, as if struggling teams like the Cleveland Browns or Miami Dolphins will have a chance to grab a heck of a consolation prize.
In the following slideshow I will be taking you through detailed notes on my top 10 quarterbacks likely to be part of April's draft.
Stanford's Andrew Luck is a remarkably cerebral player, a rare leader, competitor, and winner. He is an excellent decision-maker who shows a great understanding of anticipation, timing, and ball placement. Few college quarterbacks control their team's offensive responsibilities and play-calling to the extent that he has. His experience in a pro-style offense has been extremely beneficial and he is able to read defenses at an advanced level.
In addition to a sterling set of intangibles, Luck is an ideal physical specimen with great size and athleticism. His mobility is far beyond average; at 230 pounds he is very light on his feet and tough to bring to the ground. He showcases pocket elusiveness and the ability to improvise, keeping his eyes downfield on the move.
Though he does not always show the freakish arm strength past top picks have, Luck is capable of making big-time throws and will flash impressive velocity. He is exceptional throwing on the move, showing the ability to roll both to the left and right, delivering accurate passes even across his body.
Before you pencil in Andrew Luck as the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, it may be worth your time to consider his flaws. He is not the best deep-ball passer at this point; he has proven capable but is a bit inconsistent in that area. Like many signal-callers, accuracy and velocity suffer when there is pressure in his face. It is also worth noting that he played behind one of the best offensive lines in college football during his time at Stanford.
Grade: First Overall Pick
In recent weeks, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley has emerged as a top prospect in his own right. On film, he displays a very natural feel for the game, showing a great understanding of anticipation and timing in the passing game. He is a good decision-maker with a strong background in a pro style offense. His awareness stands out as he knows where his receivers are on the field, reads defenses, and gets rid of the ball quickly.
Barkley has also shown that he has fantastic "arm talent." He displays excellent command, making difficult touch throws or driving the ball into tight windows. Arm strength is not elite, but is well above average. Turn on the USC-Stanford or USC-Colorado tape and you can expect to see a wide array of beautiful and impressive throws.
Earlier in his college career, I questioned Matt Barkley's ability to lead his team and win games. Recently he has exuded great confidence, poise, and natural leadership traits. An adequate athlete, Barkley has shown solid footwork and mobility, but must learn to use his feet better when escaping pressure. Occasionally he is guilty of overthrowing passes across the middle, though he is rarely guilty of under-throwing receivers. Finally, his height (6'2") may be a concern for some NFL teams.
Grade: Top-Five Pick
First and foremost, Baylor's Robert Griffin III is a remarkable athlete for the position. Throughout his collegiate career he has proven capable of improvising and really hurting defenses with his running ability. While he was once known almost exclusively for his rare athleticism, he has shown this season that he is a natural pocket passer with a good feel for the position.
One significant change from past years, Griffin has developed into an elite deep-ball thrower. We have always known he has a very strong arm, throwing with tremendous velocity and rpm's. This year, he has shown improvement in terms of short to intermediate accuracy and ball placement. Even on the move, rolling to the right, he displays the ability to throw accurately down the field. His unique blend of speed and ability to throw the deep ball allows the Baylor offense to really stretch defenses.
In addition to physical ability, Robert Griffin is impressive in other aspects. He is a natural leader, very smart with strong intangibles. His footwork has improved greatly in the pocket, but he will need to adjust to playing under center in the NFL. Fearless under pressure, Griffin must learn to protect his body better. At just 6'2" 220, height may be an issue for some and durability will be the major question down the road.
Grade: Top-20 Pick
As much as you could say Stanford is a national championship contender due to the play of Andrew Luck, you could equally argue Oklahoma State would be out of the picture were it not for Brandon Weeden. In terms of value to his team, few players make the difference the 28 year-old has for the Cowboys.
In projecting him to the NFL, it is not hard to realize Weeden possesses the arm strength to make any throw. He may be this class' premier "arm talent." Over the past two seasons, he has shown very impressive accuracy downfield and tremendous command over his offense. His throwing mechanics are good and he has a very quick release. The ball really jumps out of his hand and he has specialized firing the ball to the far hash with excellent velocity. Unlike many spread quarterbacks, he reads defenses well, sees the field, and makes every throw in the book.
Weeden shows a strong understanding of anticipation and timing in the passing game. Though he is not especially fleet of foot, he displays good pocket presence, efficient footwork in the pocket, and can throw a bit on the move. Physically, he has good size at 6'4", 220, but is not overly mobile (as I alluded to) and not particularly adept when he needs to improvise and use his feet. His age will definitely play a big part in where he is drafted, but he has the tools to be a starter in the NFL for a good stretch.
Grade: Late First to Early Second Round
Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill is a particularly intriguing combination of size (6’4", 225) and athletic ability. The former top receiver for the Aggies has settled in at quarterback and has showcased a skill-set that will have some NFL scouts drooling.
Tannehill is a strong-armed passer with the ability to drive the ball outside the hash with velocity. Additionally, he has excellent mobility and can hurt defenses with his running ability. He has shown the ability to throw accurately on the move.
While he understands and utilizes timing in the passing game, Tannehill tends to lock onto his primary receiver. That said, he has shown flashes of effectively going through his progressions. Though he appears to possess impressive intangibles and leadership qualities, he is part of an A&M team that has given up second-half leads continuously in 2011.
Experience is bound to be a concern for some teams looking for an immediate starter. As I noted before, Tannehill played exclusively WR for over two years. He is still a project, he will need time, and establishing consistency will be the biggest thing.
Grade: Late First to Mid-Second Round
There has been some debate over whether Oklahoma's Landry Jones is a top NFL prospect or not. While he has his flaws, he displays excellent command of an up-tempo Sooners offense. His extraordinary production is worth noting, as his success as a game manager. On paper, he has he intangibles, size (6'4", 220,) and arm talent to project as a future starter at the next level.
Jones is essentially a rhythm passer that is scary when at his best. His game is characterized by a pre-snap reads, efficient footwork in the pocket, and a quick release. Playing in that system, his accuracy and ball placement are generally very good. Occasionally a spread offense can mask a weaker arm. That's not the case here, as Jones has a strong arm and flashes the ability to make any throw.
While Landry Jones certainly has a strong sense of timing and anticipation, he is not particularly effective when he must improvise. With just adequate athleticism and a strong proclivity for the pocket, he lacks the ability to extend plays. His pocket presence is good, but he makes hasty decisions under duress. Because he typically makes up his mind where the ball will go pre-snap, decision-making will be a question for scouts.
Grade: Late First to Early Third Round
The first thing you will notice when taking a look at Arizona's Nick Foles is his prototypical size at 6’5" and 240. He has very good arm strength, showing the ability to drive the ball to the far hash and fit the ball into tight windows downfield. Though he is not particularly consistent, he flashes a very nice deep ball. In addition, his ball placement and accuracy on short to intermediate throws is generally good.
Unfortunately for Foles, there are a number of issues holding him back from being a top prospect in this or any quarterback class. He is not an exceptional athlete by any means; he shows limited escapability and a tendency to become flustered by pressure. Mechanically he must improve consistency.
Playing in a gimmicky, pass-happy spread offense, Foles does not always see the whole field, often locking on to this primary target. Though he has three solid years of experience, is worth noting that he has lost thirteen of his last fifteen starts.
Grade: Late Third to Fourth Round
Most visibly, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is intelligent and a natural leader. His speech at the 2011 Big Ten kickoff luncheon was memorable and served testament to his maturity. Throughout his time in East Lansing, the three-year starter has won several big games with the Spartans and shown a lot of heart.
Though many question his physical ability, on film Cousins' arm strength appears more than adequate for the next level. When his feet are set, he is an accurate passer with decent ball placement. Playing in a fairly conservative, run-heavy offense, he has proved to be an efficient game manager, but seems slightly uncomfortable playing from behind
Kirk Cousins shows some escapability and nifty footwork facing pressure, but he is not particularly mobile. That is to say: he is not much of a threat outside the pocket. Cousins can be rushed and is not very comfortable throwing and making decisions on the move. He must learn to read defenses at a higher level before he steps on the field against NFL personnel and schemes. In addition, he does not look very impressive physically at a slender 6'3", 215.
Grade: Fourth to Fifth Round
San Diego State's Ryan Lindley is kind of the sleeper in the quarterback class. Physically he looks like the total package and it is worth noting the four-year starter has enjoyed a very productive career. With former coach Brady Hoke taking the job in Ann Arbor and his top receivers from a year ago moving on to the NFL, it is no surprise that Lindley has been flying under the radar.
As I mentioned, his physical ability is ability is outstanding. Lindley stands an impressive 6'4", 230 and has a live arm. Capable of airing it out with excellent velocity, he has a quick release and tends to make some "wow" throws.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks for the Aztec signal-caller. Lindley shows inconsistent footwork in the pocket, displaying average mobility and agility. His accuracy is also just average and has been inconsistent. Pocket presence could certainly improve as he is currently too easily flustered by the pass rush.
Grade: Fifth to Sixth Round
Few quarterbacks have created the buzz Wisconsin's Russell Wilson did when he chose to play his Senior season as a Badger. What you notice first when you turn on the tape: he is a very good athlete at the position, showcasing excellent mobility and escapability in and outside the pocket. He is capable of picking up first downs with his legs and throws well on the move.
As a Badger, Wilson's accuracy and ball placement have improved. Unlike many mobile quarterbacks, he is a poised, confident, and efficient passer in the pocket. His arm strength is more than adequate for the next level and he will throw downfield with touch.
While height (5'11") is the major concern and will likely limit his chances to become a starting QB, one thing Russell Wilson is not short on is experience. He is a four-year starter with tremendous production at both Wisconsin and North Carolina State. A natural leader with strong intangibles, Wilson has a chance to stick in the NFL as a backup.
Grade: Fifth to Sixth Round
11. Kellen Moore
11. Kellen Moore, Boise State
- Diminutive college signal-caller has placed his name in the record books forever.
- A very efficient and accurate passer that lacks the arm strength to stretch defenses.
Grade: Sixth Round to Undrafted
12. Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois
- Very mobile, productive quarterback in the MAC.
- Lacks exceptional size and is relatively unpolished.
- A late-round project.
Grade: Sixth to Seventh Round
13. John Brantley, Florida
- Never lived up to his expectations in Gainesville, but may make a better pro if he is able to stay healthy.
- Has shown flashes, but is inconsistent and mistake-prone.
Grade: Sixth Round to Undrafted
14. Case Keenum, Houston
- Incredibly productive college player will likely have to look to the Arena Football League to extend his legacy.
- A product of his system that lacks NFL size and arm strength.
Grade: Seventh Round or Undrafted
15. Dominique Davis, East Carolina
- Mobile passer that has seen a dip in production this season.
- Has an NFL arm, but is not especially accurate.
- Lacks experience in a pro-style offense.
Grade: Seventh Round to Undrafted