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Palmer tops deep QB crop


The following is the first of 10 installments previewing the 2003 NFL draft class. Today, we feature the quarterbacks.

The strongest class of quarterbacks since 1999 could produce as many as three top 10 picks and as many as five passers could be selected in the first round of the April 26-27 NFL Draft.

USC's Carson Palmer is the star of the show. He could become the first player selected and the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner has already stated he'd be happy to become the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback of the future.

Palmer, 6-5, 232, threw for 32 touchdowns last fall and impressed pro scouts with his skills and mechanics. Palmer is said to be capable of making all of the throws, possesses athleticism, decent mobility and touch on his passes.

But Palmer is not without his critics. His arm is not considered to be especially strong or his release particularly quick. He is not a John Elway or a Dan Marino type of talent, and his mild-mannered personality has been criticized for lacking leadership qualities.

If Palmer is a risk, he's a risk the Bengals will accept or they will trade the pick to another team willing to accept the risk.

Marshall's Byron Leftwich, 6-5, 241, has the big arm Palmer lacks. Leftwich's talents are exciting in every way, though Leftwich doesn't have the kind of mobility desired in the contemporary pro game. Leftwich is an old-fashioned drop-back, pocket quarterback who possesses prototype size and arm strength, a classic release and instincts for the position. His leadership skills and toughness are well-documented and he threw for 30 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards last season.

At least four other teams in the top 10 -- Chicago, Arizona, Carolina and Baltimore -- have need for a young, developmental quarterback. The Jaguars have stated a desire to sign Mark Brunell to a contract extension and, of course, David Garrard is considered to be the team's developmental quarterback of the future. But that doesn't mean the Jaguars won't be interested in selecting a quarterback in the later rounds.

California's Kyle Boller has shot up draft boards on the strength of his size, speed and strong postseason showing. Boller, 6-3, 234, has 4.6 speed, outstanding athletic ability, a strong arm and more mobility than Palmer or Leftwich. The knock on Boller is a lack of accuracy. He could go to Carolina or Baltimore with the ninth or 10th picks.

Florida's Rex Grossman, Texas' Chris Simms and Louisville's Dave Ragone all have high-round potential.

Grossman's numbers dropped significantly last season, but he maintains the instincts to be a top pro passer. At 6-1, 217, Grossman doesn't have prototype size, arm strength or mobility, but his release is textbook and he throws a very catchable deep ball. He could sneak into the first round.

Simms, 6-4, 220, never quite realized the stardom for which he was predicted when he was a celebrated national recruit. In 2002, Simms enjoyed his best season -- 26 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards -- but he didn't win the big games. His size, arm strength, accuracy and mechanics are good enough, but his instincts have come under scrutiny.

Ragone, 6-3, 249, is the top left-hander of the class. Ragone didn't have great numbers last season, but he impressed scouts with his toughness while becoming the most sacked quarterback in Division I-A. He's not the most athletic quarterback, but he lacks nothing between the ears.

Miami's Ken Dorsey, Boston College's Brian St. Pierre, Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Iowa State's Seneca Wallace represent depth in the quarterback class.

Dorsey, 6-4, 205, almost never lost at Miami, but the talent surrounding him may have made him look better than he really is. Dorsey's arm strength and mobility are less than what pro teams want. When he's faced stiff pass-rushes, he's struggled.

St. Pierre, 6-2, 218, didn't have a great senior season. His physical limitations surfaced, but he faced top competition and always held his own. He's mobile, tough, durable and competitive. His arm strength and accuracy are average at best.

Kingsbury, 6-3, 208, threw for big numbers in a pass-happy offense, but Kingsbury doesn't have an NFL-caliber arm. A West Coast offense or an offensive system that promotes the short-passing game would seem to fit Kingsbury best.

Wallace, 5-11, 196, is super athletic and offers potential as a defensive back and wide receiver. Wallace has scintillating scrambling ability, a powerful arm and outstanding instincts. He could become the steal of the draft.

Other recognizable names who carry draftable grades are Brad Banks of Iowa, Jason Gesser of Washington State and Brooks Bollinger of Wisconsin.

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