QBs likely to dominate early in NFL draft

As fortune would have it, the Indianapolis Colts may not have a choice but to take Andrew Luck and hold onto him if the NFL draft goes as some executives and scouts suggest it will. A group of six NFL personnel said the 2012 draft could feature a record number of quarterbacks selected in the top three rounds if all of the college juniors who are expected to declare for the draft do so. That includes likely top pick Luck of Stanford, Robert Griffin III of Baylor, Matt Barkley of USC and Landry Jones of Oklahoma.

Robert Griffin III
(Getty Images)

Pass heavy draft

Here’s a look at the top 10 passers who are expected to go in the NFL draft in April. All 10 have been rated as high as possible third-round picks by at least one of six NFL personnel men who were surveyed. At no point since 1970 have more than seven quarterbacks been selected in the top three rounds:

1. Andrew Luck, Stanford – He’s a no-brainer as the top pick of the draft. He probably would have gone No. 1 last year if he had come out then.

2. Matt Barkley, USC – Actually put up better numbers than Luck against the same opponents. That is mitigated by the amount of talent he has around him.

3. Robert Griffin III, Baylor – Extraordinarily bright and a gifted athlete who can throw and run. He’s considered a mini-Cam Newton, with an emphasis on mini.

4. Landry Jones, Oklahoma – He’s going to wow people with his arm strength and he has had two excellent seasons. But there have been some bad decisions in games.

5. Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M – His size and running ability will be tempting for teams drafting at the bottom of the first round. However, he threw nine interceptions in three big games (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas).

6. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State – He can throw all day long. The problem is that he’s long in the tooth at 28. Little growth potential.

7. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State – Put up solid, if unspectacular numbers, but is considered a better talent than the stats represent.

8. Nick Foles, Arizona – Had to put up big numbers because the Wildcats’ D was awful.

9. Ryan Lindley, San Diego State – Had a mediocre season (completed only 52 percent), but many people see the size (6-4, 230) and dream.

10. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin – Like Case Keenum at Houston, Wilson put up really good numbers. The problem is both of them are small. Wilson will be lucky to measure 5-foot-11.

Luck has said he will come out, but Barkley, Griffin and Jones haven’t stated their intentions. Assuming all of them indeed skip school, there figures to be an overall run on passers unlike anything the league has seen in the top three rounds. Four of the six personnel men said eight to 10 quarterbacks could go in the first three rounds.

While the 1983 draft featured six quarterbacks, including Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, selected in the first round, no other quarterbacks were selected until the fifth round. Since the NFL merger in 1970, the highest number of quarterbacks to go in the first three rounds is seven. It has happened five times, including the 2011 draft (In 1989, two of the quarterbacks were taken in the supplemental draft).

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Aside from the aforementioned four quarterbacks, Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, Nick Foles of Arizona, Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, Ryan Lindley of San Diego State and Russell Wilson of Wisconsin could be gone in the top three rounds.

Weeden could drift because of his age (he’s 28), Wilson because of his size (he’s expected to measure less than 6-foot) and Lindley because of inconsistent play. But it’s also not a stretch to think they could be selected. In addition, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel would be in that group, but he’s not expected to come out.

“I think you’ll see five go in the first round, and you could see nine or 10 go in the first three rounds,” one NFC executive said. “It’s a really good group of quarterbacks.”

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That makes one wonder if the 0-12 Colts, which have a two-game lead over the rest of the league for the top pick, can parlay that selection into a treasure trove of picks to help rebuild an aging roster around quarterback Peyton Manning, if that’s the direction the Colts choose.

To all six personnel men, Luck fits the category of a quarterback worth giving up a lot for.

“Luck is the safest player in the draft since Peyton came out,” an AFC executive said. “He looks like Peyton, he handles himself like Peyton and with the exception of the fact that he probably runs faster than Peyton, he’s the same athlete. I think there’s going to be a little discussion about Barkley if he declares, but Luck has all the things you’re looking for.”

Or as another AFC scout said, “There’s nothing Luck doesn’t do well. … Yeah, I heard what [former NFL quarterback Phil] Simms said after his arm strength. Whatever, it’s good enough. We said the same thing when we compared Ryan Leaf to Peyton Manning. Leaf had the arm strength, but what did it matter? Manning could make all the throws and he was the smartest guy out there. Looking, you realize how important the whole package is.”

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All six personnel men, including three from teams with well-established quarterbacks, said the depth could get in the way of a trade for the Colts.

“The stuff you see out there about giving up three first-round picks for Luck is kind of absurd. Could it happen? Sure. But if you do that, what do you have left to build with around the guy? The only way you do that is if you’re set at every other position, and that’s just not realistic,” an NFC scout said.

Said an AFC executive: “To me, there’s a big drop from Luck to the rest of the group, even Barkley. But that’s because Luck is way up at the top. It’s not because the other guys can’t play. To me, if you’re sitting at [No.] 4 or 5 in the draft, I think you play it cool. Really, you could end up waiting until the second round and get a really good one, and we all know how few guarantees there are at that position.”

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