NFL Draft Preview: Quarterback

Posted Apr 8, 2013

Duke quarterback Sean Renfree could be a sleeper in this year's draft class. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

After a banner year for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL, teams looking to get signal callers of impact similar to the likes of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in this year’s NFL Draft will almost certainly come away disappointed.

It was no surprise when Luck and Griffin went first and second, respectively, in last year’s draft and then went on to strong rookie performances. It was a bit more of a surprise that Wilson won the starting job in Seattle and matched Griffin and Luck’s efforts.

But it will take a surprise larger than Wilson’s for one of the rookie quarterbacks in this year’s class to make a difference on that scale in year one.

For proof of what NFL teams think of this year’s draft class, look no further than the way nearly every quarterback-needy team in the league opted to take the free agent or trade route to attempt to bolster the position.

In Kansas City, the team with the first pick this year, opted to trade a valuable second-round pick for San Francisco’s Alex Smith and spent a decent chunk of change on free agent Chase Daniel.

In Oakland, the Raiders traded away Carson Palmer but got Matt Flynn from Seattle. Arizona acquired Palmer and signed free agent Drew Stanton. Buffalo signed Kevin Kolb, whom was released by the Cardinals.

It was no coincidence that the only franchise quarterback available got a monster contract from his own team as Baltimore took care of Joe Flacco with a mega-million dollar contract that makes him one of the highest paid players in the league.

With that serving as a referendum on this year’s NFL Draft class, there are still some talented quarterbacks coming out, though none of them share the reputation of players like Griffin and Luck.

By most accounts, it’s West Virginia’s Geno Smith heading the class of this year’s draft. He posted spectacular numbers in his final season in Morgantown and wowed scouts with his performance at the Mountaineers’ pro day.

In a normal year, being the top quarterback usually translates to being the top player drafted. While it doesn’t appear that will happen this year, Smith could still go much higher than draft analysts such as ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. believe he’s worth.

“I've said all along I think he's 20 to 32, and everybody is kind of saying the same thing,” Kiper said. “I said it three months ago; I thought he was a 20 to 32 guy.  I kept asking teams, is he going to go in the first, is he going to go -- yeah, he's going to go in the top ten.  Well, he's going to go in the top ten, but everybody thinks he's 20 to 32 so it's been an interesting dynamic trying to evaluate where he'll project.”

Considering the fact that the apparent top quarterback is hard to project, it makes slotting in the rest of the class that much more difficult.

Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib have seen their names in the first round of a number of mock drafts but there is no consensus on where they will land.

North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Tennessee’s Tyler Bray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson are other confounding prospects who figure to be valued much differently depending on the team.

For teams looking to jump on board the zone read craze that hit the league last year – with Griffin leading the charge – only Arizona’s Matt Scott seems to be capable of fitting that bill and he projects as a mid-round choice at best.

From a Rams perspective, the quarterback position is far from a need. In fact, general manager Les Snead made it clear at February’s scouting combine that quarterbacks in this draft class were hardly being evaluated with Sam Bradford already in place.

Of concern for the Rams among the top quarterbacks is only how many go in the top 15-20 picks in the draft. That’s important in the sense that the more that go that high, the more players at positions of more need for the Rams will be available when they pick.

That could also play into whether the Rams find themselves in prime trade position for teams that may be looking to move back into the first round to get their guy before another team does.

Of course, aside from Bradford the only other quarterback on the current roster is second-year man Austin Davis. An undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss last year, Davis flashed potential in the preseason last year.

Davis showed enough as a rookie that coach Jeff Fisher essentially declared the job as Bradford’s backup Davis’ to lose at the scouting combine.

Still, unless the Rams opt to bring veteran Kellen Clemens back into the fold, they will need at least one more quarterback to get through the offseason and training camp. Most likely, the Rams will turn to the undrafted free agent route again or perhaps use a late-round pick on one to get their main.

Some sleepers of note who could be of interest down the line or to sign in the moments after the draft are UCLA’s Kevin Prince, Texas State’s Shaun Rutherford and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington, among others. 

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia – A good athlete with good accuracy down the field. Needs to find consistency.
2. Matt Barkley, USC – Once thought a surefire top pick, he struggled in his senior season. But still has high level accuracy and intelligence to be a starter in NFL.
3. E.J. Manuel, Florida State – Good athlete with imposing size. Needs work on accuracy and anticipation.
4. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse – Doesn’t have any trait that makes you drop your jaw but a tough competitor who has a knack for performing well in pressure situations.
5. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State – Tremendous arm talent who throws the deep ball well but doesn’t move well in the pocket and can be inconsistent on short to intermediate throws.

Sleeper: Sean Renfree, Duke – Maybe not the most gifted athletically or in terms of arm talent but extremely smart with good accuracy and has been coached as well as any signal caller in the draft.