(March 18)—If you want a quarterback, you'd better get into the top 10 picks of this year's draft, because the ranks are thin and three passers are likely to go quickly.
Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers top a limited group of passers that, depending on need at the position, could include a fourth first-round prospect. Manning may be taken with the first pick of the draft, while Roethlisberger and Rivers would seem to fit into the 5-11 area. San Diego at one, Arizona at three and Pittsburgh at 11 are candidates to draft a quarterback, and other teams may be willing to trade into the top 10 selections to pluck one of the passers.
Mississippi's Manning, 6-5, 221, has the great bloodlines, but he's not to be confused with his brother, Peyton. Eli isn't the student of the game Peyton is. The younger Manning doesn't have his brother's personality or his attention-to-detail qualities, but Eli has all of the Manning instincts for the position.
"Great sense of the position and passer intangibles," jaguars.com draft analyst Tony Pauline said of Manning. "He's accurate and knows where his receivers are."
The rap on this Manning is that he doesn't have a big arm and isn't suited for a vertical passing game, which also means he would do best with a warm-weather or dome team.
"There's no Orlando Pace-type player at the top of the draft, so he's worthy of the first pick and you're going to get early returns from him," Pauline said of Manning.
Miami of Ohio's Roethlisberger, 6-5, 241, is a big, powerful pocket-passer. "Probably the best arm in this draft," Pauline said. "He's a productive leader who can carry a team; great intangibles, physically and mentally. But he'll need time to adjust to the competition."
Roethlisberger turned in an average performance at the February scouting combine. He needs to improve his long-throw accuracy, but his natural skills may offer more upside than those of any other quarterback in the draft.
North Carolina State's Rivers, 6-5, 229, is said to be the target of San Diego and Pittsburgh. It's thought the Chargers will attempt to trade down a few spots and draft Rivers.
Rivers has a passing motion that might chase away most scouts, but if they stay around long enough they might fall in love with a guy who Pauline describes as the "consummate winner. He knows how to get the job done. He has a hideous release and doesn't have the huge arm, but he'd be very good in a west coast offense or in an offense that relies on the short passing game. He looks ugly but he gets the ball to his receivers," Pauline said.
The risk with Rivers is that his low, sidearm release will result in batted-down passes, but attempts to change his fundamentals may even be riskier. "If you draft him, you may have to build an offense around him and let him do what he does best," Pauline said.
Rivers' draft stock shot up as the result of a "lights out" Senior Bowl performance.
The fourth first-round possibility is Tulane's J.P. Losman, 6-2, 224. Losman is an outstanding athlete with a great deep-ball arm. He makes plays with his arm and his legs, but he tends to be streaky, is not very accurate in the short-passing game and will spray passes over the middle. He may need development time. His likely draft spot is early in the second round.
Then the pickings, beginning with Cody Pickett, get slim. Pickett, 6-3, 233, of Washington heads the next group of quarterbacks. Pickett is a good athlete with a good arm. He can make all of the throws and makes plays with his legs, but he can get wild with his throws. He was average in the Senior Bowl and didn't stand out at the combine. He needs work on his fundamentals.
Jackson State's Robert Kent, 6-4, 222, has a big arm and is a fluid athlete, but he's coming off a disappointing senior season in which he complained about not getting enough throws. He was noteworthy at the combine and has made up ground in the postseason.
Jared Lorenzen is an intriguing prospect. At 6-3, 288, the Kentucky quarterback is a physical marvel. "He doesn't look fat, but he's 20 percent body fat," Pauline said.
Lorenzen has a tremendous arm and literally knocked over one of the practice catchers at the combine. He could be a steal on the second day of the draft, but only if he makes football a priority. He played for three different coaching regimes at Kentucky and, as a result, was never very consistent. He struggled to read defenses and repeatedly got into trouble by forcing passes.
Michigan's John Navarre, 6-6, 246, has a slow release and lacks arm strength, but he's an intelligent quarterback who could benefit from the Tom Brady mystique. Navarre can only play in certain systems.
Luke McCown, 6-3, 208, of Louisiana Tech doesn't have the skills NFL scouts like, but he was ultra-productive in college and that'll attract a team in the late rounds.
Bowling Green's Josh Harris, 6-1, 238, is a great athlete with a top arm. Harris can make all of the passes and makes plays with his legs, but he lacks accuracy, had a terrible Senior Bowl and was average at best at the combine. He needs work on his fundamentals, but he has upside for a patient team.
Other late-round candidates are Scott Rislov of San Jose State, Bradlee Van Pelt of Colorado State and Matt Schaub of Virginia.
"It's solid, not outstanding," Pauline said of the quarterback crop. "There are four guys at the top who have starting potential; three guys who can beat teams right off the bat."
Pauline will provide jaguars.com with updates up to the draft. His draft guide may be purchased by visiting his web site at tfydraft.com.