Heading into the 2012 NFL draft it was an easy call. The consensus was there were two quarterbacks at the top of the draft with other first round considerations to follow. There were also attractive day two options that were stacked relatively the same by a good number of NFL clubs. In this year’s draft pool consensus is a term that simply does not apply.
“Last year it was easy for an evaluation,” said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. “Automatically you put Andrew Luck and RG III up there. Then you looked at the rest. This year I don’t have any quarterback in my top 25 and I don’t think Todd McShay does either, or if he does it’s right around 25 with Geno Smith. So we’re talking about a top 25 and it’s just a tough evaluation to determine which quarterbacks in this draft if any will be great starting quarterbacks.”
The main reason why is the majority of quarterbacks that were expected to raise their game another notch in their senior seasons instead did the exact opposite. USC’s Matt Barkley is a prime example.
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“Right now you’re looking at late first, early second (round) for him,” said Kiper on a national conference call this week. “The year didn’t go the way USC wanted it to go. They started the year number one in August and he was number one on my big board. But they lost four games with Barkley at quarterback and they lost a couple of more when he was hurt. He didn’t have a signature win all year.
“They dropped down in the rankings from number one and he did too. He lost his left tackle Matt Kalil to the Vikings. His starting center was out hurt and that affected pressure up the middle in the pocket so it was a combination of factors that led to him not playing as well as he did last year. He threw more interceptions and dealt with more pressure and mobility is not his forte.”
Kiper is convinced had Barkley come out last year early he’d have gone fourth overall to Cleveland ahead of Ryan Tannehill, who went eighth overall to Miami.
As much misfortune as Barkley had in 2012, he wasn’t alone at the quarterback position.
“Geno Smith started out great and with Barkley struggling you thought you could lock Smith in, but then Smith has a disappointing second half of the season. So there are issues with the kind of starting quarterback he could be,” said Kiper. “Then you have (N.C. State’s Mike) Glennon and he was hot for a while even with a subpar supporting cast, but didn’t have a great bowl game and didn’t have a wow you over Senior Bowl week.”
Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson suffered due to circumstance with his head coach Bob Petrino dismissed among a host of lineup changes on offense.
“With Wilson things didn’t fall into place at Arkansas,” said Kiper. “You had three receivers move on via graduation, the coach, his tight end got hurt. All of that affected Wilson.
“It’s like the wheels came off for all the quarterbacks at some point in the year. It didn’t allow them to maximize their ability and that’s why the teams right now are in the predicament they are trying to figure this whole quarterback thing out and not overdraft or push a guy up when he’s not deserving.”
All the struggles of these other quarterbacks are part of the reason why Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib’s stock has been pointing up. He was one of the few signal callers that improved on his junior statistics.
Bills GM Buddy Nix has watched quarterbacks come off the board a round earlier than expected in most cases the past couple of years. He’s come to accept the fact that if you’re in the market for a quarterback in the draft you may have to take one a round early to ensure that you get him. But with a muddled crop of signal callers that approach becomes more challenging. Nix sounds fully aware of that fact.
“Quarterbacks are so scarce in this league that folks take them early and I think sometimes you’ve got to be willing to do that,” said Nix back in December. “I know we’ve discussed the quarterback many times. The fans are so eager for us to make something happen and they’re not any more eager than I am. They got the idea I think that we were automatically going to draft a quarterback in the first round. That’s not necessarily true.
“We’re going to always stay with the integrity of the board. We’re going to try to find a quarterback. If one is there and he’s rated at the right spot we’re going to take him wherever that is. I don’t want people to expect that no matter who is there in the first round we’re going to take a quarterback because that’s not true. We’ll still take the best player.”
With the Bills first pick at eighth overall Kiper doesn’t see a quarterback being taken by anyone in that range of round one.
“Matt Barkley is a guy that goes late first early second,” he said. “Geno Smith some think top 10 and it’s possible. I just think he’s going to go between 20 and 32. We’ll see how it plays out. Mike Glennon from N.C. State I thought could be in the mid-first round range, but he had his struggles with a weak supporting cast. Glennon is a guy that could still emerge as a late one, early two, but that’s it.”
Kiper believes one of the clubs in need of a quarterback that has an early pick like Arizona or Buffalo will more likely make a move into the bottom of round one to take a quarterback rather than use their pick at the top of the draft to select one. That’s where the draftnik sees Barkley and Smith being taken.
“I’d say if a team trades into the late first that’s the way Barkley could come off the board by a trade back into the late first, but more than likely second round,” he said. “However, if he has a good pro day somebody could jump back into that late first and grab him.”
Tyler Wilson was seen as a mid-second to early third round choice by Kiper.
With the NFL Combine next week some might think it’s an opportunity for these quarterbacks to boost their stock, but as Kiper sees it that’s a tough ask.
“The Combine is rough on quarterbacks because you’re with new receivers, it’s a pressure packed environment. You have meetings, interviews, a lot of poking and prodding. A lot of pressure. It’s not an optimum venue,” he said. “For me the pro day is the critical part for quarterbacks.”
And if anyone is hoping there’s a third round prospect like Russell Wilson in this year’s crop of quarterbacks don’t hold your breath.
“Wilson was a once in a lifetime player,” said Kiper. “How many 5’10” quarterbacks were great in the NFL? Fran Tarkenton had a great career. You catch lightning in a bottle there. If he was 6’2” he’d have been the first pick overall maybe ahead of Andrew Luck. His character on a scale of one to 10 people said was a 20. He wouldn’t have lasted past the fourth pick to Cleveland last year if he was taller.
“Russell Wilson, you’re not going to find him every year, or every 20 years. A 5’10” quarterback that can play at that level you just don’t find them. You can count them on two fingers. Don’t try to find that guy he’s not there this year. It’s just not there. The third round is where Wilson went off the board. That’s not going to happen.”
There are some mid-round options that have drawn some interest like Miami-Ohio’s Zac Dysert and Duke’s Sean Renfree, but if team is looking for a ‘step right in’ rookie starter for 2013 the so called draft experts don’t see many sure things.