Take A Pass: When The QBs Of 2013 Should Be Drafted
By David Seigerman
When you hear all the questions and concerns raised about the Quarterback Class of 2013, the inclination is to react toward them with empathy. It’s not easy to watch Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers sit in the green room as their professional world literally passes them by.
That’s not what we should be feeling toward this latest crop of quarterback hopefuls. Instead, as the picks roll in and their names have yet to come off the board, the only appropriate thing to say to them is, congratulations.
Mazel tov. Attaboy. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Because in truth, being picked early should not be the metric by which draft day success is measured. First paychecks aside, the only thing that truly matters is getting picked by the right team.
Make no mistake. Quarterbacks taken in the first round, particularly at the top of the draft, are expected to start right away. And after the immediate impact that rookie quarterbacks have made in recent years – from Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan through Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson – they are expected to win.
Geno Smith knows this. He admitted as much at his combine press conference. “Those guys changed expectations for any quarterback, let alone rookies.”
It is difficult to envision any one of the dozen or so quarterbacks likely to be drafted this week being ready to start Week 1. They all need time and the right opportunity to develop at the next level, a luxury that is rarely afforded to guys earning first-round money.
The best thing that can happen for this draft class, collectively and individually, is that no one goes high in the draft. A pick like that comes with pressures and comparisons that will do none of these quarterbacks any good. Would they all want the opportunity to play right away? Absolutely. They’re quarterbacks. They want the ball in their hands.
But this is not about ego; it’s about where you go. Ask Rodgers. Or Andy Dalton. Or Colin Kaepernick. Or Tom Brady, for crying out loud.
Going early contributes less to a prospect’s NFL success than going to the right situation. Here is a look at how the eight top quarterbacks would be best served to come off the board:
Geno Smith: Philadelphia, first round (No. 27)
First off, this requires a trade back into the first round, and it may require Philadelphia to jump up even higher, perhaps to the Colts at No. 24 or one of the Vikings’ picks bookending Indy. But anything from pick 26 and beyond is acquirable, and the Eagles should move where they have to in order to make this happen. Here, they swap places with Houston, which gets its receiver at Philly's spot in the second round.
Because he spent his college career in the Air Raid Offense (no graduates of which have gone on to any sort of NFL success . . . yet), Smith needs to wind up with a coach who understands the challenge of converting to a more traditional NFL offense. Who better, then, than Chip Kelly, who wasn’t hired to bring traditional offense to the Eagles?
Michael Vick could be the perfect fit for the kind of offense Kelly wants to run. Michael Vick circa 2004, that is. He may be the short-term answer, but Dennis Dixon is not the long-term answer, despite his ties to Oregon. That leaves Nick Foles, himself an Air Raid grad.
If Kelly is building an offense around what he has on hand right now, Smith fits that mix better than any other quarterback in this draft (Matt Scott, Foles’ successor at Arizona, might be an option to consider much later). Smith has played and practiced at the tempo that Kelly is known for. And the Eagles’ receivers (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin) are not entirely dissimilar to the guys Smith was throwing to at West Virginia (Tavon Austin, Steadman Bailey).
It is way too early to take Smith at No. 4, when the Eagles are first on the clock. But if they’re willing to jump the line in the back half of the round, they could be the best fit Smith could hope for.
Matt Barkley: Jacksonville, second round (No. 33)
As Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, said, “Barkley was born to be a quarterback.”
Barkley has started for eight years – four in high school, four in college – and is far and away the prospect most ready to run an NFL offense. He has a pro-style pedigree, and that fits exactly what Jacksonville will be running under new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
The questions about the health of Barkley’s shoulder were answered during a solid, but not sensational, pro day. The questions about his arm remain.
He cannot make some of the throws that other QBs in this class are capable of. He doesn’t have the mobility or speed of some of his peers. But he does something better than anyone else, and that is he understands how to read a defense.
Getting in the right play is paramount to an NFL quarterback’s success. Standing at the line of scrimmage, going through a pre-snap read and calling the right play is not innate. That is a skill developed in the film room and on the field, Barkley’s two primary addresses for nearly a decade.
Blaine Gabbert may still be given one more chance to make it work in Jacksonville. But Barkley would give new coach Gus Bradley (whose old boss, Pete Carroll, recruited Barkley to USC) a capable understudy, preparing to make the best of his own opportunity when it comes.
Ryan Nassib: Buffalo, second round (No. 41)
This one feels too easy. New head coach comes to town, brings his offensive coordinator with him. The quarterback who helped him turn the program around (thereby earning his NFL shot) is available. And there’s no proven quarterback on the roster.
Kevin Kolb is there just in case someone likes Nassib more than Doug Marrone and nabs him before the Bills can get back on the clock. But if Nassib is still available (or if Buffalo moves up to, say, No. 28 or 29), there’s no reason not to believe that the reunion will become reality.
To be sure, this is not just about familiarity. A lot of coaches, when given an NFL job, would sooner take his film guy along than his former quarterback. But Nassib’s comfort level with Marrone’s (and Nathaniel Hackett’s) system would be a huge advantage to his adjustment to the NFL. Ryan Tannehill enjoyed a similar benefit last year, when his offensive coordinator with the Dolphins was Mike Sherman, his old head coach at Texas A&M.
Marrone understands what Nassib’s capabilities are. He’s got an NFL arm, but needs to improve his decision-making. In other words, Marrone and Hackett can continue the conversation they’ve been having with him for a few years already.
Tyler Wilson: Kansas City, third round (No. 63)
When someone is asked to describe a quarterback’s strengths, and the first answer is “toughness,” as it’s repeatedly been in the case of Wilson, it’s like asking about a blind date’s looks and hearing that she has a “great personality.”
Toughness is a critical intangible; that goes without saying in the NFL. Not every quarterback has it, and those who do will be able to do things other guys won’t.
Teams do not have to question Wilson’s toughness, neither mental nor physical. He is undaunted by pressure, unflinching in a pocket collapsing around him, and no stranger to the off-the-field drama that can surround a football program (it’s starting to sound like he’d be a good fit for the Jets).
Where Wilson needs work is in running an offense. He can make throws to all levels, and he’s comfortable in his progressions. But he needs to develop an ability to read and understand an NFL defense.
Before his final season at Arkansas, he lost his head coach and top three receivers. What resulted was a bust of a year, during which Wilson’s development was stunted. In Kansas City, he’d have the opportunity to develop behind Alex Smith (worked for Kaepernick, didn’t it?) and work with Andy Reid. Practically every quarterback he had in Philadelphia got better under Reid’s tutelage, and Wilson will have the chance to learn from one of the game’s great teachers.
E.J. Manuel: Oakland, third round (No. 66)
In 2011, when Rodgers was named league MVP, the best performance turned in by a Packers quarterback that season was by Matt Flynn. He threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns – both Green Bay records. It was enough for Flynn to get a nice contract with Seattle, and then inspire Oakland to trade for him a year later.
If anyone tells you they know what the Raiders will get out of Flynn, they’re lying. Joe Philbin was Flynn’s offensive coordinator in Green Bay; when he was named head coach in Miami, he chose not to sign Flynn as a free agent. After Flynn arrived in Seattle as the presumptive starter, he lost his job to Wilson in the rookie’s first training camp.
All this sets the stage for the Raiders to take a quarterback, just in case Flynn turns out to be a one-game wonder. Right now, the backup is Terrelle Pryor, and Manuel is a better prospect from the same multi-threat mold.
The bad news is that Manuel doesn’t do anything great. The good news is he does everything well. He has a decent arm, is capably mobile, can run when plays are designed for him to do so and scramble effectively when passes break down. He can play under center or take snaps in the pistol.
He’ll be a versatile weapon for new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who helped develop Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. The Freeman-Manuel comparison is not a stretch, in neither size nor style, though Freeman has the considerably stronger arm.
Zac Dysert: N.Y. Jets, third round (No. 72)
The first-round run on quarterbacks never happened, but it’s on now.
The temptation is to call Dysert the Next Ben Roethlisberger, since he broke all of Big Ben’s records at Miami (Ohio). But that’s not entirely accurate. Dysert is big (but not Big Ben big) and mobile (but not Big Ben mobile).
Still, he is as comfortable throwing on the run as he is in the pocket, and has developed his ability to read through his progression. That’ll happen when you throw the ball nearly 1,700 times in your college career.
Dysert, though, needs polish. Coming in as a third-round pick, he would not be viewed as an immediate threat to Mark Sanchez’s job. But new GM John Idzik has to be looking for a quarterback of the future, just in case this year breaks badly for the Jets. This draft is his chance to pick a project he wants to develop, and turn that kid over to new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
And if Idzik does make a coaching change next year, Dysert would be one player unfazed. He played for three head coaches and four offensive coordinators at Miami.
Tyler Bray: Tampa Bay, third round (No. 73)
Every move they have made this offseason (specifically the aggressive acquisitions of Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis) suggests the Bucs are looking to be relevant in the NFC South. Now.
In order to get back to the playoffs, Tampa Bay will need Freeman to take the next step in his development. It may not be realistic to expect him to do what Flacco and Ryan did in their fifth seasons, but they do need him to achieve a certain level of consistent production.
Bringing in a guy like Bray to push Freeman seems to fit the Bucs’ current M.O. He has all the physical tools you can ask for in a quarterback. He has perhaps the best arm in the field, and the confidence that comes with it. He’s a natural dropback passer, and is comfortable under pressure in the pocket.
It’s the mental and emotional part of the package that keeps Bray out of the first round. With time – and some of Greg Schiano’s trademark tough love – Bray will mature, as will his game. For now, his biggest contribution to the Bucs is his mere presence in Freeman’s rearview mirror. In time, and with improved decision-making and accuracy, he could turn out to be the steal of this draft.
Mike Glennon: Pittsburgh, fourth round (No. 115)
Sixty-eight quarterbacks threw a pass in 2012, five fewer than the previous year and 11 less than 2010. Few teams appreciate the importance of having depth at quarterback more than the Steelers, who haven’t gotten a full 16 games out of Roethlisberger since 2008.
They’ve brought in Bruce Gradkowski as their No. 2, and trimmed about a century off their roster’s age by parting ways with Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
But Pittsburgh needs to start thinking about the future, and Glennon might be the perfect project. All he’s done in two seasons since taking over when Wilson left N.C. State is throw for 7,000 yards and 62 TDs (oh, and 29 interceptions, which speaks to the need to develop both a better feel for coverages and accuracy in general).
At 6-foot-7 (a literal longshot – two inches taller than Roethlisberger, though he’s about 15 pounds lighter), he can see the field, even in a collapsing pocket. Glennon just needs time to better understand what he’s seeing. Having the chance to work alongside Roethlisberger would be exactly the kind of program that would enable Glennon to grow into his body and the position.