INDIANAPOLIS – Every first-round quarterback has had the images burned into his retinas over the last few years: the elite of their brotherhood, forced to sit painfully idle as their draft status slowly crumbles like the Parthenon.
First it was the slide of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Then came Matt Leinart's mini-tumble in 2006. And finally, Brady Quinn's free fall in 2007. The trend has set up this April's draft with a predictable question: Who will be the player fighting to hang onto the ledge, scrambling to keep himself from the ranks of the infamous?
Already there is a frontrunner: Louisville's Brian Brohm.
Despite putting up a remarkable career with the Cardinals over the last four years, the whispers already have started in the personnel ranks about Brohm. Considered a possible top-five pick at the beginning of his senior season, there are those in the NFL who now think he could fall as low as several selections into the second round – which has made him the poster child for the player with the most at stake over the next several months.
"There's nothing really to be worried about," Brohm said this week, when pressed about the trend of first-round quarterbacks unexpectedly slinking their way down draft boards. "I'm just going to go out there and perform. Wherever that puts me in the draft, that puts me. So I'm not going to worry about it. I'm not going to get stressed out about it. I'm just going to go out there and show what I've got."
Arguably no quarterback at this year's combine has as much to gain – or lose – as Brohm, who returned to Louisville for his senior season expecting to solidify himself as the best quarterback in this draft. But with the departure of offensive guru Bobby Petrino to the Atlanta Falcons, the Cardinals were a mediocre 6-6 and Brohm faltered against a few quality opponents, planting a seed of doubt despite putting stellar senior numbers (30 touchdown passes, 4,024 yards and a 65-percent completion rate).
"There were some hiccups when he saw two defenses with speed late in the year (road losses to West Virginia and South Florida)," said an NFC scout familiar with Brohm's body of work. "In fairness, (Louisville) wasn't as talented, but it's a plus when a guy elevates himself in those situations. It's a conversation you always have. And Brohm struggled a little."
And now you hear some of the harbingers that have preceded previous draft slides of players like Leinart (10th overall in 2006), Rodgers (24th overall in 2005) and Quinn (22nd last year). Whether it's poor mobility (Leinart), a mechanical throwing motion (Rodgers) or the lack of an "elite" arm (Quinn), teams are only beginning to peer for cracks in Brohm's game.
And it's beginning to have an eerily familiar feel to it, hearkening back to Rodgers' slip in the final days before the 2005 draft. Roundly considered neck-and-neck with Alex Smith in the race for the No. 1 overall pick, Rodgers suffered a precipitous drop to the 24th spot in the draft. But unlike Rodgers, there remains a possibility that Brohm could fall out of the first round altogether.
"We didn't expect that to happen (with Rodgers), but there are a lot of factors that go into something like that," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "You kind of got the feeling about two weeks before the draft that he could fall a bit, just from some of the things you were hearing. Some of it is teams seeing things they don't like. Some of it is whether the player fits your system. And I think some of it comes from some teams just deciding that they are dedicated to another position in the first round."
Despite the lack of need at quarterback, Thompson said he eagerly is anticipating the workout of this class of signal callers. The pecking order of the group largely is up in the air beyond Boston College's Matt Ryan, who is expected to go in the draft's top three – or at very worst, slide no further than the Baltimore Ravens at No. 8 overall. But beyond that, Brohm is expected to find himself jockeying with two other passers for the right to be the second quarterback taken: Michigan's Chad Henne and Delaware's Joe Flacco.
All three have good size, ranging from the prototypical (Brohm at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and Henne at 6-3, 228) to Flacco's towering stature (6-6, 236). All have average mobility, while Flacco's arm strength is considered superior to the good-but-not-elite throwing strength of Brohm and Henne. And all three of them – much like Ryan – had bouts of inconsistency against the best teams on their schedule.
Added up, it means teams will be putting a great deal of stock in the workouts of the Brohm, Henne and Flacco.
"The kid from Delaware (Flacco), there is a lot of potential," Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think the kid out of Michigan (Henne), had he stayed healthy, he's right there with that group. We have to sort them all out. To stand here today and say this guy is going to go here and that guy is going to go there, I don't know. I can't tell.
"There could be a lot of lead changes throughout the group, so to speak. It all depends on the next two months and how these kids do, how they handle this weekend, how they handle their workouts, there's a lot of closely watched guys who could separate themselves one way or another."
But it is Brohm who dramatically could alter the landscape. A sampling of six NFL scouts and front office personnel told Yahoo! Sports that Brohm projects anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second, depending on his workouts and interviews in the coming weeks. But another factor that could keep Brohm in the top half of the first round is the 2009 draft, which is expected to be thin on elite quarterbacks.
A team like Baltimore could look at Brohm as the most consistent and gifted quarterback that will be available to them in the next two drafts, putting a premium on getting a young quarterback and starting the process of grooming him. And in that same vein, a team could sell Brohm's struggles as a positive.
"You can overevaluate things sometimes," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said. "Sometimes it shows you something about a guy when he's had to go through tough times. That reveals something. You don't want a guy who has had things go his way all the time."
And that's precisely what Brohm's camp is using as a selling point from his senior season. Not only did he go back to college when he didn't have to, but he showed he could maintain a high level of play with a new coaching staff and the thinning of the talent around him.
"I learned about dealing with adversity," Brohm said. "I went through a lot of struggling times, dealing with a coaching change. I learned how to operate in a new system and learn a new system quickly and be pretty successful and comfortable in that system. Just dealing with those struggles that I hadn't had to deal with before. I've been on successful teams my whole career. I never had to go through a tough season like that, so just going through those struggles is something that, at one point in time, whether you like it or not, it's going to happen in the NFL."
Adversity is just as common among quarterbacks in the NFL draft, too. Brohm has two months to figure that out. How he handles it could be the difference between pushing himself back to the top of the draft or becoming the latest highly touted quarterback to tumble before he takes his first professional snap.
- Brian Brohm