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QB an uncertain position


INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Barkley said without question it's a goal.

Geno Smith, too, said the idea of being the No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft…well, yes, it's the objective and would be a big deal.

That's standard talk for the best quarterbacks in a draft class, a description most believe befitting of Smith and Barkley, but here's what's unusual – and to some analysts – a bit disturbing about the 2013 NFL Draft.

To most analysts, Barkley doesn't appear worthy of the selection.

And to many, Smith doesn't, either.

In a league driven by quarterbacks, and in an era in which the position often gets forced up draft boards, the talk at the combine isn't of which quarterback will absolutely be selected No. 1, but of whether there is a quarterback worthy of consideration with the selection.

"It's just a tough evaluation trying to figure out which quarterbacks in this draft – if any – will be great starting quarterbacks," ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper said recently.

Indeed, that is an overriding question here at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, which continues through Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis:

Will a quarterback go No. 1?

Will one go in the first round?

Predraft speculation in this draft is mixed at best, critical of the position at worst.

Kiper said he doesn't list any of the quarterbacks in this year's class on the top 25 on his board. ESPN analyst Todd McShay said while there's a chance teams could take a quarterback late in the first round he doesn't rate any as first-rounders.

NFL Network's top draft analyst, Mike Mayock, recently summed up the 2013 draft as a deep one with "not quite the difference makers at the top end and a whole lot of holes in the quarterbacking class."

Mayock rated Smith and Barkley – the consensus pre-combine choices as the top two players at the position – somewhere between Nos. 20 and 32 in the first round, but also said the desire to find a franchise quarterback could put Smith in the conversation much higher.

Smith, a senior from West Virginia, at one point was considered perhaps the top player in the draft, but he and the Mountaineers struggled in the second half of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey said recently there's no clear-cut quarterback at No. 1, but with the Chiefs needing a quarterback, analysts – Mayock included – believe the team could consider Smith.

"We don't know that there are a lot of people who think Geno Smith is in that ballpark," he said. "I don't, but there are a lot of people that think he should be considered."

The uncertainty at the top of the draft is in sharp contrast to previous years, when quarterback more often than not dominated the draft. A quarterback has been taken in the top three every year since 2001, and a quarterback has gone No. 1 overall the past four seasons and nine of the past 11.

It is in particular contrast to last season, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the consensus top two selections and widely considered can't-miss prospects. They didn't miss, and neither did third-round quarterback Russell Wilson, with the trio leading the Colts, Redskins and Seahawks, respectively, to the postseason.

"There's been a lot of comparisons recently to last year's rookie class and they're well-deserving," Barkley said. "Those guys came right away and played and made their marks, won playoff games. There's always going to be that comparison, whether it's just or unjust.

"I don't feel there's any need to live up to what they lived up to. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough."

Smith said last year's group changed expectations for this quarterback class, and beyond.

"That's the one thing I took from it – no matter what age difference, where you come from or what pick you are when you're taken for that role as a quarterback in the NFL, you have to lead by example," Smith said. "That's the thing all those guys did.

"They set the bar very high. I want to be one of those guys that step in and do the same thing.'"

While Smith and Barkley are the most-discussed quarterbacks in this class, draft analysts say the quarterback class may actually be defined by the depth at the position. Players such as Mike Glennon of North Carolina State, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Zac Dysert of Miami of Ohio, Tyler Bray of Tennessee, E.J. Manuel of Florida State and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse make it a deep class, if one that lacks an obvious superstar.

"The depth is sensational," said McShay, who said as many as seven quarterbacks could go from the late first to late-second round.

Kiper shortly before the combine cautioned that teams looking for a repeat of Wilson likely will be disappointed. While he led the Seahawks to the postseason after being selected in the third round, he also excelled despite a lack of prototypical size. Still, Kiper said such stories occur rarely and can't be expected to be duplicated.

But that doesn't mean teams can't find a quarterback this year, and it doesn't mean that a player such as Barkley or Smith can't be starters, or even stars. Scouting a quarterback is an inexact process. Smith as recently as early this season was projected as a franchise player, and had Barkley entered the draft last year he likely would have been the No. 4 overall selection to Cleveland.

In a year, that changed. Barkley slipped and no one rose to take his place, leaving a rare draft year in which the quarterback is at best undefined and at worst defined by Mayock when he said "there is just nothing amongst this group of quarterbacks where you can bang the table and say I love this kid, and this is the quarterback of the future for my team."

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