Gruden on 2013 draft QBs: Most impress, but each needs the right scheme

Doug Farrar
April 16, 2013

It's fairly common knowledge that this draft class of quarterbacks hasn't wowed anyone in the same ways Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson did last year. Of course, one of the new kids could pop loose in the right system, but as for now, the results are inconclusive. You can now add the name of former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden to the list of those who aren't quite as ecstatic about these quarterbacks. On the heels of the most recent "Gruden's QB Camp" series, in which he sat down with most of the top draftable quarterbacks, as well as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, Gruden talked quarterbacks with the media.

A few highlights:

On this quarterback class overall: "I think it depends on what kind of system you run. I think, obviously, with the game changing the way it is, the option coming into the NFL, we saw what [Colin] Kaepernick did, Russell Wilson, RG3, you see that going around the league. Chip Kelly coming to the Philadelphia Eagles. If you're in the NFC, the read option, the option itself is a prevalent part of the game. So guys like E.J. Manuel, Ryan Nassib at Syracuse, I think those are the two players in this draft that are equipped to run that style of offense.

"I like Nassib a lot as a sleeper in this draft because he can run the option. He did it at Syracuse. He managed the no‑huddle offense. He has size, athleticism, and he has an NFL pedigree of having played for Doug Marrone. And I like E.J. Manuel, obviously, because of his size and running ability. But outside of that, there are some very good pocket passers, if that's your cup of tea. Guys like Matt Barkley, Landry Jones have hung in the pocket and made a lot of completions during their career. Geno Smith, those three guys in particular throw the ball very well.

"I would say it depends on the kind of offense that you run and what you're looking for. There is a lot of, I think, interesting prospects that can help a team in this draft."

On Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib: "I really like this kid out of Syracuse. I like Ryan Nassib because he's an athletic kid. He's functioned in a couple of different offenses. What they did this year at Syracuse changing their offense two weeks before the regular season says a lot about this kid's ability to adapt, a former 400‑pound bench presser. They were 2‑4 trailing Stony Brook College at halftime, and I thought he was really good at the end of games and helped Syracuse go to a bowl game. I just like his body of work at Syracuse."

"They give him a lot of freedom at Syracuse ‑ reading progressions, changing plays. I think most players that I've been around like playing for a quarterback that knows what he's doing and is in control of the game. That is one thing that impressed me the most about Ryan Nassib. He's already got his degree. He's all business, all the time, I think he's going to know what to do when the game starts. He threw some tight‑window completions, and that's hard to find sometimes in college football. You don't see a lot of really contested, tight‑window throws under duress. I thought Nassib proved that he could make the difficult plays when there wasn't a clean pocket. He didn't have a great supporting cast, no disrespect to Syracuse. But there were times that Nassib had to make something happen for Syracuse to win, and I thought he did that enough to prove that he can do it at the next level."

On West Virginia QB Geno Smith: "Hopefully the thing that came across is West Virginia runs a lot of plays in every game. 85, 95, 105 plays, up‑tempo, no‑huddle, lot of pressure on the quarterback to get every play communicated at warp speed. And he has a number of options even on basic running plays. That's what we tried to show fans on 96 Wanda. Yes, he can hand it. He can also tap it to [Tavon] Austin coming underneath. He has a bubble screen on one side, a quick screen on the other. He has three or four options on every single play. I just think he's exhausted at the end of every Saturday afternoon. They put a lot on the quarterback's plate, and I think it's very underestimated what this kid can do from a football standpoint. He does a lot above the neck as well as making plays with his arm and his mobility.

"I think he's as complete from a versatility standpoint as anyone in this draft. He can run 4.55. I've seen him drive the ball accurately down the field. I've seen him throw the ball with touch and accuracy, make quick decisions, and I've seen him be dominant at times. Obviously, down the stretch I think they got manhandled in a couple of football games. They didn't play well on defense. They got into a situation where they had to score basically every time they had the ball, and that is a hard way to play quarterback. So I credit Geno Smith with not only being productive, but I think his skillset is very versatile, and I think he's going to adapt nicely to any system that you want to run."

On USC QB Matt Barkley: "I think Barkley's going to be a starter in the league at some point. Obviously, he's coming off an injury. He's done an excellent job rehabbing that. I saw him make all the throws personally with my own two eyes. Other than that, he's going to have to function as a pocket passer. I don't think he's going to be a scrambling, option‑style quarterback, obviously. I think he's going to be a guy that relies on his system, complete execution around him. I think his supporting cast is going to be important to him. But I've seen Matt Barkley throw the ball extremely well and in tight windows, and he's done it for four years. What I love about Barkley is his experience, not only at USC, but he's also started for four years in high school at a pretty doggone good high school program at Mater Dei. So, you're getting a kid that can function in the pocket with great anticipation and accuracy. I think he has enough arm strength to be a very, very good at throwing the ball down the field."

On Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson: "I like Tyler Wilson because he's tough, number one. I saw him as an All SEC quarterback two years ago playing for [Bobby] Petrino. And Petrino, I think is one of the more respected X-and-O football quarterback men in the business. I saw Tyler play extremely well taking Arkansas to a Cotton Bowl. I think losing Coach Petrino the way they lost him, losing his offensive coordinator, losing three very good receivers and having the injury early in the season against [Louisiana] Monroe derailed Tyler Wilson. I credit him for trying to hold the Razorbacks together and a lot of adversity. This was not his best campaign, no question about it. But he's tough. He has some functional mobility in the pocket. He's sharp, and I think he's got some real leadership traits that are going to work for him at the next level. He's going to help somebody. He needs to get with the right coach and the right system, no question."

On Florida State QB E.J. Manuel: "I like E.J. a lot because I think you can call just about any scheme you want to call. I've seen him run the direct quarterback runs. He's a presence inside the 10‑yard line, much like Cam Newton in Carolina is. I've seen him run various option plays, and we know that's certainly a major point of emphasis in the NFL right now. I know he can bring a lot to the table from an athletic standpoint. He's a really fun kid to be around. The players like him. He helped the Seminoles win 12 games and an Orange Bowl. I think he can improve as a passer. I think he can improve his protection awareness and understanding. I don't think he's anywhere near to a finished product, but I do think he has a big upside. He has a tremendous skillset that allows him to do a lot of different things. If you're with a creative offensive coach, look out. He could be a good player."

On Tennessee QB Tyler Bray: "I just think this kid has a rare ability to throw the football, and a lot of what he did at Tennessee, I think, is overshadowed with their win‑loss record. They scored 35 points in Columbia. They scored 44 points in Athens. They scored 48 points against Missouri in losses. So moving the football was not a problem at Tennessee. I just think there is a lot of refinement that needs to take place. He's got to learn how to manage some situations better. He's got to deliver at crunch time. He's got to polish his game. He's got to do better in terms of handling pressure. He's not a mobile quarterback. He's got to know where his hot receivers are. He's got to know what audible to get to. I think his preparation needs to increase so he can be all that he can be. But when it comes to pure talent throwing the football, there is one thing Tyler Bray can do as anyone in this draft. That's what he can do now. He can really throw it."

On Oklahoma QB Landry Jones: He had a great sophomore year. You have him in at 6'4", he's thrown for 16,000 yards; he's won a lot of games. But he did not have his best year. The Kansas State game disappointing. Certainly the bowl game against Texas A&M, you're disappointed. You expect so much more.

"I think when he's in rhythm and has protection, he's very, very good. I think when he gets knocked off the spot or he's under duress, I think he took a step back this year. But remember Oklahoma didn't have a tight end much this year. In the past they had a tight end, a strong running game, and a better play‑action passing system. Obviously, with the injuries they had at the tight end position, they were more wide open, and that puts a lot of pressure on your quarterback. They didn't run the ball particularly well or often, and they were a tad bit one dimensional. But I like Landry Jones. I think if you're looking for a quarterback that's proven he can take care of the football, make a variety of throws and be reliable person on and off the field, I think Landry Jones might be for you."