An intriguing crop of quarterbacks highlights what is generally regarded to be one of the weakest overall draft classes in recent memory.
Boston College's Matt Ryan heads the NFL draft's quarterback crop, but jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline of "TFY Draft Preview" does not consider Ryan to possess star-quality talent.
"I do not think he's a franchise guy. I don't think he has the dominant downfield arm. I think he's a lesser version of Peyton Manning, which isn't a bad thing, but he's more of a game manager compared to a downfield vertical passer, but he does it exceptionally well," Pauline said.
"It's solid," Pauline added of this year's quarterback class. "Is it good? You don't have a franchise quarterback but there's a good amount of depth to it."
First-day depth will be provided by Louisville's Brian Brohm, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Michigan's Chad Henne. The first day of this year's draft, April 26, will include only rounds one and two. Rounds 3-7 will be conducted the following day.
Ryan, 6-5, 228, is a tough, intelligent, savvy quarterback who is groomed and ready to go. The big problem is that he appears to lack the physical skills for his game to grow.
"He does a great job commanding and leading the offense. Uses all of his receivers. Has done it for three years," Pauline said of Ryan. "He can throw it 50 yards but his passes tend to tail off at the end. Speed receivers are going to have to slow up. He can't drive his deep passes and that's a concern, no doubt about it.
"He's a top six pick. In this draft he's worthy just because it's such a bad draft," Pauline added.
Brohm, 6-3, 230, of Louisville is also an excellent game manager. In many ways, Brohm is a carbon copy of Ryan, except Brohm doesn't have Ryan's grittiness. Brohm is an accurate short-range passer who has good pocket awareness and command of the offense, but he peeks at the pass-rush and gets rattled when under pressure.
"He's not a vertical passer," said Pauline, who sees Brohm as a middle to late-first round pick.
Delaware's Flacco, 6-6, 236, is for a team not afraid to take a swing for the fence. "Physically the most gifted quarterback in the draft, hands down," Pauline said. "Great size, huge arm, easily gets the ball downfield and can thread the needle. Also puts touch on his throws."
Flacco was very good at the combine and at the Senior Bowl. The risk factor with Flacco is that he only played two full seasons at Delaware after transferring from Pitt. Most of his snaps have been out of the shotgun and he has some footwork issues to be resolved. Flacco is at least two years away from being an NFL caliber quarterback. Pauline projects him as a top-of-the-second-round pick, but somebody could fall in love with his talent and reach.
Henne, 6-3, 230, went into his senior season as the number one quarterback in college football. Then came a shoulder injury that dogged him the whole season.
"Terrific physical skills. Best downfield passer in the draft. Can accurately hit receivers in stride 50 yards downfield," Pauline said of Henne.
His shoulder injury has healed and it is of no concern to NFL scouts, as Henne showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury at the Senior Bowl or at the combine. He was solid at both and starred in Michigan's bowl win over Florida.
The only knock on Henne is that his accuracy tends to be streaky and that will likely cause him to fall into the second round.
USC's John David Booty, 6-2, 218, has an NFL arm and solid physical skills. He's an accurate passer and knows how to use all of his weapons. His senior year, however, was a downer; he didn't take the next step up. He was wild at the Senior Bowl and there's no guarantee he'll be anything more than a backup. He's a third-rounder.
Erik Ainge, 6-5, 225, has never been able to completely harness his talent. "At times he looks like a first-round talent and at other times he looks like you wouldn't even draft him," said Pauline, who projects the Tennessee passer to go in the third round.
Andre Woodson, 6-4, 229, of Kentucky is a top athlete who can throw it far. The problem is with how he throws it. "Horrible throwing motion; has a hitch and takes forever to release the ball. Not always accurate with his throws and lays out receivers. Receivers have to wait for the ball," Pauline said. Woodson is a fourth or fifth-round prospect.
Tulsa's Paul Smith, 6-1, 208, is a Jeff Garcia clone. Smith has great field sense, an above-average arm, is poised, resourceful, buys time and makes the most of his limited ability. He projects as a backup in a West Coast offense; fifth or sixth round.
Colt Brennan, 6-2, 200, of Hawaii was a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, but he's going to have to wait until the late rounds of the NFL draft before his name is called. Brennan is an accurate passer with poise, vision and command of the offense. He's also a sidewinder with minimal arm strength. Defensive backs at the Senior Bowl were able to break up his passes because his receivers had to wait for the ball.
Josh Johnson, 6-2, 213, of San Diego is athletic and productive on a small-school level. He's a good short-range passer and can throw on the move, but he's challenged in the vertical game; seventh round.
Other quarterbacks who may receive late-round consideration are: Matt Flynn of LSU, Sam Keller of Nebraska, Kevin O'Connell of San Diego State and Bernard Morris of Marshall.