Ed. note—The following is the first installment in a nine-part series previewing the 2006 NFL draft. This installment features the quarterback prospects.
Teams at the top of the draft wanting a quarterback have a dangerous decision to make: Do they take a swing for the fence by drafting super athlete Vince Young, or should they opt for the safer route and select Matt Leinart?
USC's Leinart and Texas' Young are considered to be the top two quarterback prospects in this draft, and Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt is right behind them.
Is Young, a player with sensational raw talent but frighteningly-bad mechanics, worthy of the first pick of the draft? "Not in my mind," draftnik Tony Pauline said. "He's a long-term developmental prospect. If you rush him you could ruin him."
Pauline, publisher of "TFY Draft Preview" and its website, tfydraftpreview.com, returns this year as jaguars.com's draft expert. Pauline expects Leinart, Young and Cutler to all be selected in the top 10 picks of the draft. Pauline sees Young as a major risk/reward prospect who could turn out to be the next Michael Vick or the next Ryan Leaf.
"Physically, he grades out as the best player in the draft. Mechanically, he's a nightmare," Pauline said of Young, 6-4, 230. Pauline puts Young right behind Leinart in the quarterback rankings.
Leinart, 6-4, 225, has great mental intangibles and command of the offense. He's been an accurate and productive passer on a big-time level, having lost only two games in his three years as USC's quarterback. Leinart doesn't have the big arm or great mobility, but he played in a pro-style offense and would seem to be groomed for early success on the NFL level.
"He's more of a ball-control quarterback than a dominating passer. He's not a Carson Palmer but Leinart is more polished coming out. He's worthy of the first pick if you build a system around him," Pauline said.
Young is an amazing athlete with a strong arm, but he seldom shows that arm strength. Young is a touch passer who's coming into the draft as a junior eligible and who desperately needs more learning at the position.
Pauline believes Young offers more upside than any other player in the draft, "but he has as much downside as anybody in the draft. Whoever takes him will have to work from the ground up. He has a horrible throwing motion, played in a system that was designed around him and seldom had to make more than two reads," Pauline said.
Cutler, 6-2, 225, has a classic NFL arm. He's consistently improved his game in a program that hasn't surrounded him with top talent. Cutler needs to improve his accuracy and footwork. His live arm has allowed him to be successful with poor mechanics at times. Cutler is not a finished product. He needs to be better at reading defenses and must become a more disciplined pro-style passer, but he has a top arm and that should make him a top 10 pick.
The fall-off from Cutler to the next-highest rated quarterback is dramatic. Pauline believes Georgia's D.J. Shockley is number four but Shockley isn't likely to be picked before the fourth round.
Shockley is athletic and makes plays with his arm and legs. He'll flash accuracy and offers a lot of upside, but he's very raw, having been a starter for only one season at Georgia. Shockley also has a strange throwing motion; appears to push the ball and can be wild at times.
Alabama's Brodie Croyle, 6-2, 205, is number five. Croyle is a solid pocket passer who's at his best in the short passing game. He's accurate inside 15 yards but lacks accuracy on deep balls and throws outside the numbers. He has leadership qualities and is productive but lacks a big arm or NFL body. There are also injury concerns. He's a fourth or fifth-round prospect.
Kellen Clemens, 6-1, 219, of Oregon is a great timing passer. He's a West Coast quarterback all the way. Clemens is very accurate in the short-passing game, hits his receivers on the break and in stride, but has marginal arm strength. He had one top year in college and may be a system quarterback.
Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst, 6-5, 224, has great size, an excellent arm and can make all of the throws. His physical skills stand out and he's mobile. He makes poor decisions, however, and didn't have the kind of senior year that was expected of him.
Reggie McNeal, 6-2, 202, of Texas A&M ran a 4.38 at the scouting combine. McNeal is a top runner and has a powerful arm. He's a solid developmental quarterback who will probably be tried at wide receiver or running back.
Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs and Toledo's Bruce Gradkowski are the latest Mid-American Conference prospects.
Jacobs, 6-4, 225, is coming out as a junior, which won't help his stock since Jacobs is so raw. He's got a good arm and is accurate. He makes solid decisions in the pocket but is fundamentally terrible, which has caused him to be described by critics as a sandlot player. If you like Young in the first round, you gotta love Jacobs in the seventh round. He has a big upside but his draft stock won't represent much of a risk. Jacobs injured his shoulder in 2005 and missed some games. He could be a steal late in the draft.
Gradkowski, 6-1, 220, doesn't have a deep arm and is likely only to be a backup in the NFL, but he's tough and studious and might be the perfect fit for a team looking for a long-term backup. Gradkowski is a blue-collar, thinking man's quarterback with limited physical skills. He turned in a strong performance at the combine.