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Grading the QBs

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INDIANAPOLIS – In any NFL Draft, uncertainty reigns.

     Chan Gailey, entering his second season as head coach of the Buffalo Bills – a team holding the No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft and one seemingly very much in the market for a quarterback – said a recent trend has helped make that particularly true at the league&39;s most-high profile position.

     You want a quarterback in the draft?

     That&39;s fine, but Gailey and other personnel types and coaches said this week the reality is it could be a long search process, and without question, there will be uncertainty.

     "It's a different quarterback group," Gailey said at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, which will continue through Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

     "These guys have been in a lot of different types of offenses. It's not just your cut and

dried pro-style of quarterbacks in this draft. So you're projecting a little bit more maybe than we have in years past on this group."

     Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said this week while David Garrard is entrenched as the  starter, the team definitely has interest in developing a young quarterback.

     The Jaguars have selection No. 16 overall.

     "As a whole, what you&39;d like is to have a quarterback with veteran experience behind him with the ability to bring in a young player to develop," Smith said.

     Smith recently spoke of what the Jaguars seek at the position:

     "I think he has to be a leader. I think that&39;s the No. 1 leadership position – other than your head coach. He&39;s the next face of your franchise. From my standpoint, I look at the quarterback position as being the most difficult to play. They have to know what they have to do and they have to know what the 10 guys around him are doing on offense – and then what a defense is going to do to them.

     "There&39;s a lot of mental process that takes place at that position that I don&39;t think people really understand. There&39;s a learning curve there. It&39;s the biggest learning curve of any position."

     General managers said this week there is without question talent at the top of the 2011 quarterback class, but the trend toward spread offenses – a decidedly non-NFL scheme – has made projecting those players&39; NFL prospects difficult.

     "The spread offense and becoming adept to playing under center is a big challenge," Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

     Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, is being projected by many as a Top 10 selection, as is Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but the rest of the class is more muddled.

     Washington quarterback Jake Locker – who reportedly struggled at the Senior Bowl – is projected by some as a second-round selection, as is Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallet, though NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he considers each player a first-round prospect.

     Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick is projected in a second group at the position, as is Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi, Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton and Delaware quarterback Pat Devlin.

     "The way I look at it, I&39;ve got two different groups," Mayock said. "I&39;ve got the first group of four with first-round talent, and the next group of four with Dalton, Ponder, Stanzi and Kaepernick."

     As with any quarterback class – and indeed, any draft class – there is debate about the merits of each of this year&39;s top prospects, but the major factor discussed at the combine was trying to project professional success from a group that played distinctly college styles.

     "When you look at the spread you have to separate what they're doing in their scheme to what the player is doing from a physical standpoint," Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert said. "There are certain points in particular pass plays in college football where it's the same; a quarterback may come from the shotgun, he may come from under center, but once he gets to his depth and his reads and delivers the ball it's really all just quarterback play. It's not about the scheme. So you have to separate that."

     One factor about the quarterback position that has changed dramatically in recent years is not only the expectations of a young quarterback, but the results they have attained. Whereas once quarterbacks rarely had team success as rookies, Joe Flacco of Baltimore, Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets, Matt Ryan of Atlanta and Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh have reversed that trend in recent seasons.

     "I think people want them to come in and perform right away," Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network said. "But I think the reality of it is is we've seen that. Matt Ryan comes in and goes to the playoffs. Joe Flacco comes in and goes to the playoffs. But the supporting cast is always what helps and then you build the offense around it.

     "And I think that's where Roethlisberger is at now. I think the offense has become a Ben Roethlisberger offense in Pittsburgh. Eventually there's going to be a more Joe Flacco offense

in Baltimore."

     Mike Munchak recently took over from Jeff Fisher as coach of the Tennessee Titans, a team that not only will be in its first season without Vince Young next season, but also one that holds the No. 8 overall selection.

     "Obviously there are quarterbacks who have done that recently and have been successful doing that," Munchak said. "If we do pick a quarterback that high for that reason, then obviously we're hoping that he can do that for us. To count on that is obviously a tough thing to do. So there are other things you have to look at as far as getting a quarterback through free agency that's in the league. So we'll see how that plays out."

     Mayock, for his part, issued something of a warning for those with short memories.

     Whereas the NFL often has been littered with first-rounders who lacked NFL success – from Akili Smith to Ryan Leaf to JaMarcus Russell – early-selected quarterbacks in recent seasons have had a remarkable run of success. Sam Bradford, Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Ryan and Flacco – all first-rounders from 2008-2010 – either have succeeded or shown signs of doing so. Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall selection in 2009, also has shown signs of being a franchise player despite his playing time being limited by injuries.

     If that&39;s an encouraging trend, Mayock said it&39;s not one guaranteed to last.

     "If you look at the last three years, NFL teams have done a really good job with their first round quarterbacks," Mayock said. "It&39;s been like six hits in a row with no bust.

     "Which probably means we&39;re due for a couple of busts this year.

     THE PROJECTED TOP QUARTERBACKS IN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT

     1.Cam Newton, Auburn | Top 10

     2.Blaine Gabbert, Missouri | Top 10

     3.Jake Locker, Washington | Rounds 1-3

     4.Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | Rounds 1-3

     5.Colin Kaepernick, Nevada | Rounds 2-4

     6.Christian Ponder, Florida State | Rounds 3-5

     7.Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa | Rounds 4-6

     8.Andy Dalton, QB, TCU | Rounds 4-6

     9.Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware | Rounds 4-6

*    WHAT THEY&39;RE SAYING*

     NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock on Newton:"His throwing mechanics are excellent.  If you want to compare them to the two best runners in the last bunch of years of big quarterbacks, Vince Young and Tim Tebow, his throwing mechanics are superior to both.  He&39;s a big, strong guy. . . . So to me there are two questions to Cam Newton. He comes out of a very simple pass offense at Auburn.  Basically, one look, and either the ball comes out or he comes on out. Can he process from an IQ perspective, a complicated NFL pass offense? That is number one. And number two, there&39;s some baggage to the kid.  We&39;ve got to figure that out."

     NFL Network Analyst Mike Lombardi on Newton:"You ever read the book Outliers 10,000 Hours? I mean, look, Cam Newton is a very, very talented player and he's done some remarkable things in an offense that is unique. But I think he's going to have to prove to the NFL people that he's committed, he's willing to work hard, he's really not an icon yet, that he's going to have to take some time to develop his game and he's going to have to show people that he's willing to work hard and that there's an offense that he can fit around in and he can develop within. That's a difficult question to answer. And here's the other issue. If you can answer all those, he still needs 10,000 hours of reps to hone his skills. The NFL is not like the NBA. You don't go from high school and start playing really good. The NFL takes time. And especially at quarterback, which you're almost like a fighter pilot. You have to be in the plane, you have to train yourself. It's very difficult. The game moves very fast and your confidence goes down. JaMarcus Russell, the same thing happened with him. The work ethic wasn't good. To me, Cam Newton has a huge 'Mother May I' step forward before he can become an icon."

     Mayock on Ryan Mallett:"Here&39;s what Ryan Mallet is. Ryan Mallett has unbelievable, God-given ability to throw a football.  And when he has a clear pocket and clear vision, there is nobody in the game better. Comes from an offense where you can see him drop back under center, you can see him play-action.  And there are two plays in the Georgia game that to me summarize this kid, back-to-back throws.  The first play he throws a 35-yard post against Georgia that was on the line the whole way.  Thirty-five yards, on a line, he hit his receiver right in the helmet.  It was an unbelievably difficult throw, and he made it look easy.  Literally the next play on a 7-yard hitch, he made a throw where three Georgia players touched it.  An under guy, a linebacker coming under, and a corner from behind.  It was one of the worst decisions in throws I&39;ve seen on back-to-back throws.  That is the problem with this kid.  Every time I get excited he does something from a decision making or an accuracy perspective that bothers me.  The common denominator is when he goes bad it&39;s because of pressure in the pocket.  When he can&39;t step up, when he can&39;t see, when he doesn&39;t have clear vision, I believe his production goes way down. Having said all of those things, I would be very concerned about taking him in the first round."

     Mayock on Gabbert:"I look at Gabbert and I say, okay, on tape I see a better athlete than I expected. I see a tough kid, and I see a kid that can make all the throws.  Those things are all important.  But when you chart every throw he makes over a six- or seven-game period, he&39;s a spread-offense guy.  Completely different than what he&39;s going to do in the NFL. So I&39;m talking about the transition from a college spread guy to an NFL guy which is a lot harder than people understand.  The footwork&39;s completely different, the reads are completely different. So when I talk about football IQ, I talk about this kid&39;s ability to transition from what he has been to what he needs to be, and how quickly can he get it done?"

     Gabbert: It&39;s a full-time job. I realize that. I know that. That&39;s been my goal, to only do football. I&39;m going to be in the film room. I&39;m going to be in the weight room."

     Mayock on Kaepernick: "I had a chance to see him last summer at Peyton Manning&39;s Passing Academy. I spent three days watching the kid throw the ball with Peyton and Eli.  He&39;s got a huge arm.  He&39;s a great athlete, and he&39;s got a big frame.  The kind of guy you want to buy into. He&39;s the kind of guy that&39;s going to rise a little bit.  A lot of people thought he was a third, fourth, fifth rounder heading into the season.  Now he&39;s probably a second-round type of guy. But he&39;s got a very long motion. He&39;s got some technical flaws that have to be worked on, and he&39;s a little inconsistent and wild.  But if you can work with him, he&39;s got the most upside of those kids. You&39;ll laugh when you see him. He can throw the football through a wall.  But there is so much work that has to be done with this young man.  The tradeoff is how early do we take him versus when can we get him on the field?

     Ponder:"We ran multiple formations and a ton of different pass formations at Florida State. I did a lot of checking at the line. Just talking to scouts already, a lot of things that they do, we&39;ve already done at Florida State. I think that&39;s a huge advantage for me."

     Mayock on Devlin:"He&39;s a really intelligent kid.  He understands pass protections, he knows where and when to throw the football.  . . . Right now Pat is considered more of a mid-round guy, fourth, fifth round guy.  As far as what he can do between now and then, now&39;s the time that he&39;s going to shine because he&39;s going to be really good in the interviews. He&39;s going to look you in the eye.  He&39;s going to spit out protections and numbers and he gets the game of football.  He&39;s got to throw the football extremely well at the Combine, and he&39;s got to do it again at his pro day, and that&39;s the only way he&39;s going to move himself up."

*    Locker on questions about his accuracy: "*I knew coming into this it (accuracy) would be a big question, so I&39;m ready for it."

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