As drafts advance, some quarterbacks burst into stardom while others bust into infamy. Some quarterbacks are considered elite before the draft process, while others surprise scouts with their success.
Whatever the case, scouting quarterbacks gives the ultimate testament to the fact that scouting is an inexact science where so many factors—too many to really control—can influence a quarterback's pro career.
So, to compare this 2012 quarterback class with the classes from 2008-2011, we can get a better feel for how elite these quarterbacks are this year and what we really can expect.
Note: These rankings are based off of my scouting at OptimumScouting.com, and are based off of COLLEGE Scouting, not current/recent pro performance. A few exceptions have been made from our rankings from college to make this list more based off potential that wasn't included in our pre-draft rankings.
For starters, here are five quarterbacks that I did NOT grade highly compared to the players on this list, but have shown promise and were ranked highly by other scouts coming out of college:
Andy Dalton, TCU (Cincinnati)
Christian Ponder, Florida State (Minnesota)
Colt McCoy, Texas (Cleveland Browns)
Brian Hoyer, Michigan State (New England Patriots)
Matt Flynn, LSU (Green Bay Packers)
Now, on to the list.
I have seven quarterbacks from the 2012 NFL draft on this list, the first being Nick Foles from Arizona.
While he himself is battling with Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, Kellen Moore of Boise State and Ryan Lindley from San Diego State for our No. 7 spot in quarterback rankings, I think Foles is getting a bit short-changed in his talents compared to other QBs in the country.
He runs a very West Coast offense, something that I believe will need to be the same at the NFL level for him to be successful. He doesn't have great athletic ability, but can move in the pocket, gets into a rhythm quickly as a passer and can make all the throws, especially within 20 yards.
Potential starter at NFL level.
Freeman was a very raw quarterback coming out of college and wasn't viewed by many as a first-round pick because of it.
However, Freeman appeared to be everything JaMarcus Russell was not.
He had a cannon arm and great size similar to previous bust JaMarcus Russell, but he had very high character, leadership and coachability as a quarterback.
Now, Freeman is still going through a learning curve in the NFL, but he's in a perfect chance to grow with this team, the youngest in the NFL.
Tannehill worries me a bit as a prospect because he's still not confident enough mentally and with his arm to make NFL throws at the NFL level.
He has the outstanding arm strength, can place balls well especially on the sideline and has obvious athletic ability, being a former receiver himself.
However, my three biggest concerns are these:
How long is it going to be before he really "gets" the quarterback position?
When/If he does get there, is his ceiling high enough to warrant the risk that he doesn't fully develop?
And can he make throws consistently in the middle of the field, including reading the defense, checking down and being accurate down the middle of the field?
Those three concerns push the impressive Tannehill out of the first-round quarterback talent.
Ryan Mallett fell to the third-round out of Arkansas for two main reasons: questions about his character and pocket mobility.
Obviously, the first one was a much bigger concern, further echoing the fact that teams now are looking for quarterback prospects with little negatives and a lot of positives for the future.
Mallet is an elite arm talent, maybe one of the top 3-4 on this list. But the legitimate character concerns pushed him down our board despite his talents, and he'll have to prove on his second team that he can still be an NFL starter.
I fell in love with Kaepernick as a prospect after I got a chance to watch him develop and speak with him personally at last year's Senior Bowl.
He was already a trendy favorite among scouts a year ago because of his outstanding arm strength, athletic ability and production.
Kaepernick ended up at the top half of the second-round thanks to his high ceiling, despite not nearly being close to starting in the NFL.
Now, he'll have a chance to sit a full year behind Alex Smith in San Francisco, and seems like he won't be rushed at all to play for at least a year and a half.
I was a huge Chad Henne fan coming out of college because of his leadership, accuracy, longevity of college success, handling of a pro offense and ability to make all the throws.
Henne ended up falling to the second round to the Dolphins, where despite showing signs of flashing, he never really manufactured into much and is likely gone this year.
Henne really didn't have a whole lot of help in Miami, but it's no excuse for his failures.
Henne couldn't consistently be confident in his abilities and win games for his team. He has a lot of quarterback talent, and maybe a change of scenery could be the best for Henne.
Coming out of Delaware, Joe Flacco was sought after as a potential second- or third-round strong-armed gunslinger who maybe could develop down the road.
But after a wowing NFL combine—maybe the most influential combine of the past 10 years for a quarterback—Flacco became the first-round pick of the Ravens.
Out of Delaware, Flacco's ability to check down across the field, consistently place the ball well short and his overall accuracy worried me, but I still gave him a fringe first-round grade.
Most of those concerns have held true at the NFL level, and the Ravens seem to be still waiting on that Flacco breakout year that has been coming for years now.
I'll admit I was a very big Jimmy Clausen fan out of college.
His compact release, time in a pro style offense, maturity over his career and accuracy in the middle of the field made me think Jimmy Clausen could really give Sam Bradford a run for his money as a passer in the NFL.
And while I still hold onto the hope that another team will give him a shot—similar to how the 49ers have given Alex Smith another shot this year—I still believe he can be a starter in the NFL.
Too bad he's stuck behind Carolina's Cam Newton for another year.
Another 2012 NFL draft prospect, Landry Jones is obviously not high on my board when it comes to drafting a franchise quarterback.
While he's still likely to end up in the Top 20 because of his pocket accuracy, play reading ability, size and solid enough arm, I don't think he's worth the risk at all to be taken in the Top 10.
My biggest concern with Jones is his inability to use good technique or keep his composure and accuracy outside the pocket and when the pocket starts to break down.
Both skills are something every good quarterback in the NFL has, especially now with most good starters (outside of Brady and Brees) having great quickness for the position.
Rated slightly higher than Landry Jones on my board, I think Weeden is an outstanding arm talent, impressive overall athlete and a confident passer across the field from the pocket.
He can make all types of throws around the field and has the consistency and confidence in those throws right up there with Luck and Barkley in this class.
He needs to be more confident as a pocket passer and set up and drive the ball more effectively, but outside of that and his age (being 28 going on 29), he seems like a well-polished, strong armed quarterback and still should be considered for the first two rounds.
Many weren't high at all on Jake Locker a year ago thanks to his erratic accuracy at times and struggles his senior year at Washington.
However, Locker's athleticism outside the pocket, his outstanding arm strength, his development in technique as a passer and his ability to play through a poor supporting case won me over on him as a prospect.
So far, he has only played in one game for the Titans, but that is mostly thanks to the surprising play of Matt Hasselbeck.
Just because he's not playing now doesn't mean you should forget about Jake Locker for 2012 and beyond.
So far this year, Gabbert has struggled. Mightily.
But Gabbert wasn't supposed to be successful this year.
His scouting report would've stated that he needed time to feel comfortable in the pocket, needed time to develop his footwork, needed time to learn the position as a whole.
But while he won't show immediate rewards, Gabbert has a lot of talent as a quarterback, and dividends could be paid for Jacksonville in 2012 and 2013 if they can add some weapons on offense around him long term.
Compared to the hype he received out of college, you'd think Bradford would be a lot higher on this list.
However, two red flags came out about Bradford that so far have held true so far in his pro career.
For one, he needs great talent around him to be more than just an average quarterback.
While that may be the case for most quarterbacks, Bradford always seemed to rely on timing and consistency in his offense at Oklahoma, and outside of that comfort zone, he didn't seem to be able to maximize his abilities as a passer.
While he has been impressive at times in St. Louis, we've seen this year that he really can't make do the way others on this list have so far.
And two, he's injury prone.
Whether it was the ankle or leg or shoulder, Bradford has been banged up worse than most running backs.
Once again, he's hurt in his career. Some players suffer injuries at times—even quarterbacks like Matt Stafford—but aren't injury prone.
However, when players consistently get injured in different areas of the body, it's a long-term red flag.
Bradford has it, as does Christian Ponder. It's a factor that was talked of lightly, but so far it's limited Bradford's development.
Coming from a pro style offense where he consistently made NFL throws, controlled his offense at times and utilized the weapons around him, Sanchez looked to me worth the risk of his still-raw throwing ability.
He was a great athlete, had the arm to make the throws, had the experience and maybe most importantly, had the "moxie" that quarterbacks need.
So far, he's struggled in the NFL. A lot of that is from his biggest weakness in his inability to consistently be accurate in fitting the ball into mid-range windows.
He's improved, but that fact, combined with his lack of consistency as a passer, has made Jets fans frustrated in his play.
Still, the ceiling is high, and I think it's only a matter of time before it's realized. Keep in mind, he did just turn 25 years old.
Here's where we get to the real game-changers of the past five years.
Griffin is finally starting to gain national interest as a high-ceiling passer.
While I realize Griffin's high ceiling as a passer, I'm not ready to crown him yet as a lock to be successful.
As for the concerns, I still think he's not a complete, confident, passing quarterback yet, and I'm not sure when that timetable will come true.
He's improved dramatically over his career, a lot thanks to his high IQ, focus and overall intangibles, but he's still a ways away from being a consistent passer.
Also, I think his ability to utilize the pocket and to understand the velocity on his throws are two big throwing concerns.
Griffin is an outstanding athlete with a rocket arm and a consistent showing of improvement.
He's still far away and not all that comparable to Cam Newton in style, but it's tough to put a finger on how long it'll take for Griffin to make a consistent impact as a passer.
I'll be honest, I wasn't sold on Cam Newton out of college.
I had him rated behind Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker as a prospect for the sole reason that he was very raw as a passer coming out.
He had some character red flags that I personally had found out, and I was very skeptical of his offense in college.
However, I tried to make it clear that Newton had an extremely high ceiling and that he very well could be the draft's best quarterback.
Still, I'll admit, I was wrong on Cam Newton, and severely undersold his winning attitude, his strength/running speed combo as an athlete and his ability to use his arm strength to overcome a lack of accuracy early.
A rare prospect, we've only scratched the surface of seeing what this rare and surely unique passer can develop into.
While Cam Newton may have been the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the last five years, Matt Ryan may have had the highest floor as a prospect.
That means that while Cam Newton could be the best quarterback of all time-good, Matt Ryan was set to be at the very worst a consistent starter in the NFL.
So far, he's done that and more.
He's been able to put his name in the Top 10 QBs in the NFL at times and seems well on his way to getting there with the weapons he has.
He's still improving, but his mental makeup, accuracy and confidence are outstanding. He's a lot like a slightly lesser version of Aaron Rodgers as a quarterback—high praise.
Coming out of high school, Mel Kiper Jr. said that Matt Stafford was a future No. 1 overall pick.
While I don't consistently trust Kiper's evaluations, I must give credit to where credit is due—Stafford was and is a hell of a quarterback.
In his career in the NFL, he's had to overcome a few injuries, but he's shown guts, leadership and the arm talent that scouts gushed about.
When/As he's healthy, the Lions will continue to win.
And Stafford is well on his way to being one of the most promising quarterbacks in the NFL.
Andrew Luck is getting all the hype out of this quarterback class, and for good reason—he's special.
But while I'll talk about him in another slide, he's not the only elite quarterback in this class.
There's another—Matt Barkley of USC.
Barkley doesn't have the 6'4" size Andrew Luck has, and maybe not quite the arm of Luck.
But other than that, he's very similar in terms of accuracy, NFL-readiness, confidence, composure, outside the pocket ability, pre- and post-snap reads and more.
If Luck is the top player in this draft class, then Barkley may be the second-best quarterback and player in this class as well.
Here's the man everyone is gushing over.
And realistically, they probably should. He's special in every way as a quarterback.
He's got the arm, the size, the accuracy, the athleticism, the poise. He's got the moxie, the swagger, the humbleness, the high character, the accolades and the leadership.
So what's not to like? Well, not much.
But does he still make mistakes? Absolutely.
I feel some people have already crowned him as the next great NFL quarterback.
Could he be? Sure. Will he be? Completely unknown.
He's elite, he's special, but he's not perfect.
Still, he's without question the highest grade I've given out to a QB.