The NFL scouting combine starts in full on Thursday, and quarterbacks will be the sideshow rather than the main attraction.
There isn't one quarterback that's exciting anyone, which is pretty unusual. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this week he doesn't think a quarterback will go in the top 20. Doug Farrar of Shutdown Corner had just one quarterback in his first "Big Board" of his top 32 players. Don't forget, this is the same league that is so desperate to find a franchise quarterback teams drafted Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert in the top 12 over the last few years.
"There is just nothing amongst this group of quarterbacks where you can bang the table and say I love this kid, and this is the quarterback of the future for my team," Mayock said.
There was not one 2013 draft eligible quarterback in college football last season who is sure to go in the top half of the first round, and only one quarterback in the draft who finished in the top 10 of the 2012 Heisman Trophy voting – Kansas State's Collin Klein, who isn't a great pro prospect. Three defensive players finished in the top 10 of the voting, even though a defensive player has never won the award.
More than that, there might not be a surefire Andrew Luck-type prospect for the 2014 draft either. So is there a sudden dearth of quarterback talent in college football, at least as it relates to the NFL?
There were only so many Cam Newtons, Lucks, RGIIIs and Russell Wilsons to go around. The well had to run a little dry at some point. There's an argument to be made that the four best rookie NFL quarterback seasons ever happened over the past two years. That couldn't continue forever. West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley are probably the top two quarterbacks in the draft, but they each showed too many flaws last season to be considered in the same class as a Luck or Newton, even if Smith thinks he still should go No. 1 overall.
One issue, not that it's new, is that the best quarterbacks in college now are generally spread/read option/mobile quarterbacks. The quarterbacks that did finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting were Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Kansas State's Klein, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch. Not a prototypical pocket-passing NFL prospect among them. Add in Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who could have also cracked that list, but also operated as a freshman last year in a spread offense. Even with the recent NFL success of dual-threat quarterbacks like Newton, Wilson and Robert Griffin III, they're still tough to evaluate for NFL teams. And Griffin's injury in the playoffs won't be a step forward for the read option movement in the NFL.
Manziel will be a great NFL debate. He is incredibly talented. He can throw the ball very well, and is a tremendous runner obviously. He is also small for the average NFL quarterback (Wilson's success should help him a lot, although Griffin's durability concerns might not) and he doesn't operate in a traditional pro offense. He's a great college player, perhaps one of the best we've ever seen, just not the type we see NFL teams historically fall in love with.
NFLDraftScout.com future draft rankings don't feature a who's who of can't miss quarterback prospects. Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas are the top two for 2014, and neither stands out as a future NFL superstar. In 2015 it's Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (who might be the best pure NFL prospect in college), then Florida State's Clint Trickett (who isn't even sure to start in the fall) and North Carolina State's Pete Thomas (who was uninspiring at Colorado State before he transferred). Manziel, Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Stanford's Kevin Hogan are listed as the top options in the 2016 class. Hogan is another that fits in the prototypical NFL mold. They all also have a lot of time to impress, or regress. If you enjoy projecting players to how they might do in the NFL, who in that previous paragraph would you bang the table for right now?
A lot of college football fans couldn't care less about NFL futures, and that's fine. Manziel, Mariota, Bridgewater, Miller, Lynch and McCarron are going to continue to be great college players no matter what happens to them in the pros. For those who like both levels and follow players throughout their careers, the poor quarterback class at the 2013 draft is a bit of a shock. It also might not be the last time we see that happen.
Quarterbacks can emerge all the time. Griffin wasn't considered an elite draft prospect going into the 2011 season. But it seems we might be in the middle of a down cycle for future NFL quarterback stars in the college game.
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