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Draft King Analysis

July 2, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Looking ahead to April 2012, the crop of draft eligible quarterbacks who could be available is rather impressive. But, with the top three prospects all having remaining NCAA eligibility beyond 2011, it's possible (albeit unlikely) that the list could go from stellar to underwhelming.

One name that appears unlikely for the 2012 Draft is now-former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor. According to published reports, Pryor is working out with former Bengals QB Ken Anderson with an eye toward applying for the 2011 NFL supplemental draft. The fact that Pryor attended the NFLPA rookie symposium in Florida is a telling sign of his future plans.

This report from ESPN last month reveals that there could be a 2011 supplemental draft if at least one college football player (or, excuse me, student-athlete) applies for it before the deadline. When exactly that deadline is, at this point, is unknown. But the ESPN report goes on to say that if there is a supplemental draft, it would take place in "mid-to-late July", so it would stand to reason that the unknown deadline would fall before the middle of this month.

In short, if Pryor (or anyone else) is going to apply for it, he will have to do so in the next couple of weeks. It had been speculated that CB Janoris Jenkins, kicked off the team at Florida for multiple arrests for possession of a plant that grows naturally out of the ground (you know, the one that Big Pharma lobbies so hard to keep illegal), might look to take the supplemental draft route into the NFL for the 2011 season. But Jenkins quickly squelched that speculation by deciding to take his talents to Florence, AL and Division II University of North Alabama, which is turning into a modern day version of what West Texas State was in the early 1970s as a home for wayward Division I-A/FBS college football players.

Presuming that Pryor is out of the mix for the 2012 Draft, here's a close look at eight quarterbacks who are receiving varying degrees of attention and consideration from scouts, along with mentions of some other quarterbacks also worth keeping an eye on this fall. An asterisk next to a player's name indicates that he has NCAA eligibility for the 2012 college season and a reminder that he is not guaranteed to be part of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Andrew Luck, Stanford (6'5", 235 lbs.) *
Luck surprised the football world in January when, despite his head coach leaving Stanford to coach the 49ers, and despite being all but a lock to be taken #1 overall by Carolina in the 2011 NFL Draft, he opted to return to Stanford for his redshirt junior season in 2011.

In 2010, Luck threw for 3,338 yards with a 70.7 completion percentage and 32 touchdowns against just 8 interceptions. The best QB to come through Stanford since John Elway, it would be very surprising (barring injury) for Luck to not be the first quarterback taken next April, if not the first player selected overall in the draft, presuming that a team needing a QB ends up with the top pick.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6'4", 220 lbs.) *
Right now it looks like a fight between Jones and USC QB Matt Barkley to see who will be the pre-season favorite to be the second-best quarterback prospect for 2012 behind Luck. You could argue it either way at this point or call it a 2A/2B situation, but I'm giving the tie-breaker to Jones because he has prototype height, whereas Barkley is slightly shorter than what NFL teams typically look for in top-tier QBs.

Jones threw for 4,718 yards in 2010 with a 65.6 completion percentage for a whopping 38 TDs against 12 interceptions. Oklahoma has asked him to throw the ball quite often in his two seasons as the team's starting QB, with him attempting more than 1,050 passes thus far. In OU's 47-41 shootout win over Oklahoma State on 11/27/2010, Jones threw a staggering 62 passes in that one game alone.

Matt Barkley, USC (6'2" 220 lbs.) *
Hardly a midget at 6'2", Barkley nonetheless will face scrutiny from the overthinkers who might knock him down a notch in their evaluations because he isn't 6'4" or 6'5" like the other quarterbacks in the top six of this list. Unlike Luck and Jones, Barkley didn't have the option for apply for entry into the 2011 NFL Draft, as he was a true sophomore and thus not three years removed from his high school graduating class. Returning to USC would have been the right move for him anyway, even with the NCAA hammer having come down hard on the Trojans for the numerous sins committed during the Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush era.

Barkley threw for 2,791 yards in 2010 with a 62.6 completion percentage and 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Him completing 62.6% of his passes isn't terrible, but if Barkley can bump that number up closer to 65% this fall, it will look better for those scouts and GMs who put value into such things.

Ryan Lindley
Ryan Lindley's passing accuracy is a concern for NFL scouts. (Icon SMI)

Ryan Lindley, San Diego State (6'4", 215 lbs.)
There is a major drop from the first three guys on this list and the rest of the bunch. Lindley has prototype height for the NFL QB position, but he faces the challenge of leading San Diego State this fall in the post-Brady Hoke era, with Hoke taking the head coaching job at Michigan coming off a 9-4 season with the Aztecs last fall. Lindley said he considered jumping to the NFL when Hoke left SDSU, but he made the (wise) decision to return to San Diego State for his senior season.

Completion percentage is an issue for Lindley. Look at the numbers from his time at San Diego State: 56.7% in 2008, 54.7% in 2009, and 57.7% in 2010. He'll need a Ryan Mallett level of improvement (55.8% in 2009 to 64.7% in 2010) to take the lead among the second-tier quarterbacks this fall.

Nick Foles, Arizona (6'5", 245 lbs.)
As of this writing it's unclear what the status of Arizona star WR Juron Criner is, though clearly Criner is dealing with something rather serious. It's possible that Criner will miss the entire 2011 season, in which case the ability of Foles to play quarterback at a top level (and stay healthy) will very much be put to the test without him having a top-tier wide receiver at his disposal.

Foles threw for 3,171 yards in 2010 with a 67.1 completion percentage and 20 TDs against 10 interceptions. He was sacked a whopping 23 times, which is particularly notable since he suffered a knee injury against Washington State that caused him to miss two games. Moreover, Foles has to prove that he hasn't regressed from the impressive showing he had pre-injury last year; there is a drastic difference in his numbers, including his completion percentage, pre-injury compared with post-injury.

At 245 pounds, Foles is not particularly a threat to scramble with the ball, and it's of paramount importance that Foles shows that there isn't a lingering fear in the back of his mind that he might sustain another injury as he surveys the field from the pocket on passing plays. The Nick Foles who went 28-for-39 for 303 yards and two TDs (with just one interception) in a victory over #9 ranked Iowa is the guy who NFL general managers want, not the Nick Foles who returned from injury with accuracy issues as Arizona lost their final five games of 2010.

Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M (6'4", 220 lbs.)
There is a certain layer of mystery for Tannehill at the quarterback position; he redshirted in 2007, played wide receiver in 2008-2009, and began the 2010 season as a wideout. Midway through the 2010 season, in a game against Kansas, he and incumbent senior QB Jerrod Johnson split time at the quarterback position. Tannehill made the most of his opportunity in that game, going 12-for-15 with three TD passes and zero interceptions. The job became his beginning the following week against Texas Tech, with Johnson relegated to a backup role for the rest of his senior season.

Tannehill enters the 2011 season as the undisputed starter at quarterback for A&M. In his half-season of play in 2010 at QB, he threw for 1,638 yards with a 65% completion rate and 13 TD passes against six interceptions. He has NFL prototype height and, with a strong 2011 season, could end up being drafted by a team wanting him for his quarterback skills. I'd suggest that he has the best opportunity of any of the second-tier or lower draft-eligible quarterbacks to play his way into being a high NFL draft pick in 2012.

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins hopes to build on Michigan State's 2010 success. (Icon SMI)
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State (6'3" 205 lbs.)
It's interesting that both Cousins and Arizona QB Nick Foles are on this list considering that, in 2007, the two of them were on the Spartans roster along with starter Brian Hoyer, now a member of the New England Patriots. With Hoyer holding onto the QB job for 2008, Foles opted to transfer to Arizona while Cousins decided to stay in East Lansing. For Cousins, the desire to stay at Michigan State may have gone beyond the gridiron; he's a pre-med major with a reported aspiration to someday become a surgeon.

Cousins threw for 2,825 yards in 2010 with a 66.9 completion percentage and 20 TDs against 10 interceptions. His strong play at QB last year helped Michigan State post an impressive 11-2 record. The season ended terribly on New Year's Day for the Spartans, with Alabama drubbing Michigan State 49-7. Cousins will have to show that he has bounced back from that and post similar stats from 2010 in 2011, and it wouldn't hurt him to put on 10-15 pounds (of muscle, not table weight) if possible between now and the 2012 NFL Combine to avoid any perception that he's not stout enough to take the beating that NFL quarterbacks face on a weekly basis. The downside to that would be that it might take away from some of his quickness, but durability trumps quickness in the minds of most scouts.

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State (6'4", 225 lbs.)
First things first here: Weeden turns 28 on October 14 of this year. That means that, midway through his rookie NFL season, he'll turn 29. As a means of comparison, he's less than six months younger than Vince Young. Think about that one for a minute or two. The reason he's so old and still in college is because he pursued a baseball career out of high school, with an arm injury finally ending his Major League Baseball dreams.

Weeden threw for 4,277 yards in 2010 with a 66.9 completion percentage and 34 TDs against 13 interceptions while leading Oklahoma State to a 11-2 record. Considering his age, along with the departure of offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen for West Virginia (where he went from coach-in-waiting to head coach for 2011 in a bizarre turn of events), it was surprising to some people that Weeden returned to Stillwater for his redshirt senior season.

One plus for Weeden is that he has one of the top two 2012 draft-eligible wide receivers on his team, redshirt junior Justin Blackmon, who opted to return to Oklahoma State for 2011 instead of heading to the NFL. Another positive is that the offensive line returns five starters from last season. Also, head coach Mike Gundy (of I'm a man, I'm 40 infamy) is back for 2011, and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken (most recently an assistant with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars) has returned for his second stint in Stillwater; he worked as an assistant there under Les Miles from 2002-2004. Monken will double as the team's quarterback coach, and it stands to reason that Monken should help Weeden learn some secrets he picked up in his four years with the Jaguars that might allow Weeden to have a better chance to succeed in the NFL in 2012 and beyond.

Others to watch:

Case Keenum, Houston (6'2", 210 lbs.)
Keenum received an injury redshirt exemption for 2011 from the NCAA; he tore the ACL in his right knee in the third game of the 2010 season as a redshirt senior. Keenum is remarkably accurate; he posted huge stats in 2008 and 2009, with 44 passing TDs in each of those seasons along with 5,000+ passing yard in both years. But his right knee injury, coupled with slightly below-ideal height, will make it very challenging for Keenum to climb the quarterback prospect ladder no matter how well he plays this fall, particularly with critics who say that Houston's system artificially inflates Keenum's numbers.

Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois (6'2", 220 lbs.)
Most casual college football fans have never heard of Harnish, let alone seen him play. But he quietly had a very efficient 2010 season with a 64.7 completion percentage and 21 TDs against 5 interceptions. He lead NIU to a 10-3 record in 2010, including a 40-17 rout of Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. If Harnish can show improvement in 2011, he could be a sleeper prospect who might end up going higher in the 2012 NFL Draft than is expected at this point.

Dominique Davis, East Carolina (6'3", 215 lbs.)
Davis initially played at Boston College before academic problems forced him out in June 2009 after his redshirt sophomore season. He spent a year at Fort Scott Community College, leading them to the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association championship game. He joined ECU in 2010 and, as the team's starting QB, he posted a 64.5 completion percentage for the pass-happy Pirates. In his first year in purple, Davis threw for 3,967 yards with a 37 TD/16 INT ratio. With a full off-season to further learn the ECU offense, Davis is a relative unknown who could potentially have a breakout 2011 season.

Kellen Moore, Boise State (6'0", 190 lbs.)
Boise State has been one of the feel-good stories in I-A/FBS football in the past decade, with the team posting all kinds of shocking wins, everything from beating Oklahoma (with Adrian Peterson) in their classic Fiesta Bowl matchup in January 2007 to sweeping Oregon in a home-and-home series in 2008 and 2009. Moore is a remarkably accurate quarterback, and he's coming off a 2010 season where he had an almost unheard of 71.3% completion rate. Combined over the past two seasons, Moore has thrown for 74 TDs against 9 interceptions, which is an insane ratio. Unfortunately for Moore, his below-average size (by NFL QB standards) gives him a rather firm ceiling as far as his NFL Draft projection goes.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin (5'11", 190 lbs.)
Wilson was a rare college football "free agent" thanks to the NCAA rule that allows players who redshirted and graduated in four years to go elsewhere to play with their final year of eligibility without sitting out a season, so long as if they transfer to a university with a graduate school program that their original school doesn't have. Auburn made a strong run at Wilson, but he ended up with the Badgers, whose pro-style offensive will allow Wilson to show off his talents in a system that is more similar to what many NFL teams run than what Auburn has in place. Being 5'11" is a huge challenge for Wilson to overcome looking forward to the NFL, as is the sub-par completion percentage he had at NC State, where he never cracked the 60% completion mark in any season there.

B.J. Coleman, Tennessee-Chattanooga (6'5", 220 lbs.)
A transfer from the University of Tennessee (in Knoxville), Coleman has prototype NFL QB size, but his completion percentage at UTC has been poor (56.6% in 2009 and 56.2% in 2010). Even if Coleman shows improvement with his completion percentage in 2011, he will be picked apart by those who point out that having a sub-57% completion rate on the I-AA/FCS level does not bode well for a player hoping to land a job in the NFL. Coleman will have a chance to show his skills against a fantastic defense when UTC opens the 2011 season at Nebraska, and a strong showing there would go a long way to helping quiet some of his critics.

Aaron Corp, Richmond (6'3", 200 lbs.)
Corp looked like the presumptive heir apparent to Mark Sanchez at USC for the 2009 season after Sanchez opted to go to the NFL rather than return for a redshirt senior season at USC. You might recall the press conference Sanchez held where he announced that he was going pro and the unprofessional hissy fit that Carroll threw in front of the cameras, despite the fact that Sanchez graduated on time and had no academic reason to return to USC. Unfortunately for Corp, he fractured his left fibula in August 2009, allowing Matt Barkley to take over as the starter. Corp subsequently struggled in fill-in work as a backup, and with Barkley taking over the starting quarterback role for the Trojans, Corp left USC in January 2010 and transferred to Richmond. Coincidentally, his move came just days before Carroll skipped town to take the head coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks.

The 2010 season was not kind to Corp, who played in just five games for Richmond (with a pathetic 54.5 completion percentage) before suffering a season-ending injury to his left knee against New Hampshire. I'd expand upon what that injury is, but details about what exactly he did to it evaded even my superior internet sleuthing skills.

Corp is the longest shot on this list to do anything of note in the NFL. Sometime life's not fair, and the injury bug can be cruel. But when you consider that Corp threw three TDs against four interceptions and took *seven* sacks in his limited action for Richmond in 2010, the odds are stacked as strongly against him as they are for anyone on this list.

I'd almost exclude Corp from this list, but if he has a breakout 2011 season he will get looks from NFL scouts, even if it's just as a free agent signing. Corp should have a chance to show if he still has the ability that prompted USC to sign him out of high school (and if he can remain healthy) when he and his Richmond teammates take on Duke in the season-opener on September 3.


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