While the 2013 NFL draft will be defined by the success of men who protect and chase quarterbacks, there remains a huge question over where the top half-dozen passers will go.
No team defines that quandary more than the Buffalo Bills, who multiple NFL sources continued to disagree about in the hours leading up to the draft. Five NFL team executives gave varying answers on who the quarterback-desperate Bills will select.
"Trade down to right spot for [Geno] Smith," one exec wrote via text message.
"They want [Ryan] Nassib," another said.
"Hearing [Matt] Barkley in Buffalo," another exec said.
That exchange of messages defined the confusion over what is clearly the most compelling position in the NFL. Yet for all the need, few executives have a clear handle on where they will be taken.
"It's all over the map," Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said Monday. "You hear teams talk about trading back or up for certain guys, especially trading back because I think pretty much everybody agrees that the top 10 is a stretch this year.
"But that's dangerous. You can end up getting cute with it and not get the guy you want. Sometimes it's just best to take the guy you like when you can and not worry about it."
In that case, some team such as Buffalo, the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders or even the New York Jets could be tempted to take a quarterback among the top nine selections. Most people believe the only passer even close to being worthy of that selection is Smith of West Virginia. However, projecting Smith that high is a problem because of his fumbling woes (32 in the past two seasons).
But Smith could also easily fall into the 20s of the first round, if not lower, because all of the teams currently between No. 10 (Tennessee with Jake Locker) and No. 32 (Baltimore with Joe Flacco) have young quarterbacks they drafted recently or established starters. That's why many team executives are thinking there could be a series of trades where quarterback-needy teams jockey for position to grab the passer they need somewhere between No. 20 and No. 50 overall.
Smith is an example of that, as is Barkley of USC, who many analysts project to be a second-round pick. One executive said Thursday that he doesn't buy that.
"The kid has too much going for him to drop that far," the executive said. "I know nobody in that spot right now [the late part of the first round] needs him, but somebody is going to make a move for him."
Barkley gets high marks from executives for his work ethic, intelligence, accuracy and leadership, but his average-at-best arm generates plenty of criticism. Likewise, Nassib, E.J. Manuel, Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon all have supporters and detractors.
"Each of those guys has something you like, like Glennon's arm or Nassib's athletic ability," one scout said. "Then they have one thing that makes you say, 'Man, I'm not sure he can overcome that.' "
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