This year's quarterbacks in the NFL draft have little in common, as each possesses different traits that attract the attention of scouts. It is a top-heavy group with a pair of prospects battling to be taken among the top 10 picks and three to five players fighting to be selected by the end of the draft's first day.
The evaluation of a quarterback starts with watching or looking for consistency in a number of areas: setup, footwork, throwing motion, accuracy and then competitiveness and intangibles.
A quick release is an ideal trait in today's NFL game, since teams are rushing the passer with much more frequency, but the one characteristic that cannot be pinpointed in game film or a scouting report is the potential to be the future leader of a franchise.
Quarterback is the primary position on the football field that gets people promoted or fired. However, the more position coaches or offensive coordinators a quarterback goes through, the longer it actually will take for him to develop.
It's a delicate process of finding not only the best player but also the most ideal fit for a team, as some players simply do not fit into a franchise's balance or chemistry.
Overall, this is a good but not great group with JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn leading the way. That next tier could either be full of potential starters down the road or just role-player types that have had solid college careers but will lack a certain element to become productive NFL passers.
1. JaMarcus Russell, LSU. He became the headliner of this QB class thanks to his fine performances down the stretch of his junior campaign, finishing the season with 28 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. He also raised his completion percentage to 67.8 percent while making a large number of big plays.
Russell has the keen ability to keep his eyes focused downfield, in the pocket and out on the move, and he throws the ball fluidly and with terrific velocity on all his passes. Most quarterbacks his size (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) have more of a windup, but he has a quick release and his ball soars down the field on vertical routes. He is able to shrug off pass rushers and would-be tacklers, but he's not a scrambler by any means. He will hold the ball too long at times and has taken a few big hits that have led to injuries (separated left shoulder, right wrist).
Russell can be raw at times and go back to being more of a thrower than technically sound passer, and when that happens, he is open to sacks, turnovers and poor reads. Still, such instances seemed to occur with far less regularity this past season, giving most teams the belief that he can take over an offense similar to the way Vince Young did with the Titans.
Russell, who has big hands, should be an impressive all-around athlete at the NFL scouting combine since he has shed a few pounds while working out with a QB coach on positional drills. He will not last past the first three picks of the draft.
2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame. If there is such a thing as overexposure when it comes to a prospect, then Quinn is suffering from it right now. The preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy is now being deemed by some evaluators as a mid-first round pick. That clearly will not occur, but the story makes for good headlines.
He has a quick release, enough arm strength to make all the throws and very good poise in the pocket. His two-year run under the guidance of Charlie Weis will also work well in his favor. Quinn is a very good athlete for the position and will pass the eye test as well as anyone at the combine.
His lack of success against top-rated teams or defenses has raised some concern, but he also proved his smarts and toughness throughout his career. He will force some throws at times rather than taking a sack or waiting for the next down, but he also stands tall and sets up quickly, getting the ball out with good authority. Still, some of his downfield throws seemed to wobble a little more than desired.
Should Quinn slide even past the first few picks, a team will trade up for his services as he brings toughness, intangibles and a winning attitude.
3. Trent Edwards, Stanford. He's an interesting prospect to evaluate because you can go so many ways with his grade. His injury history has some teams concerned; others see a big, potentially physical pocket passer that could develop into a solid starting quarterback in the next few years.
A former highly touted prep prospect that suffered through injuries, inconsistent line play and average weapons during his college career, Edwards has gone through a strenuous rehabilitation and workout regiment to get his foot back to full strength after playing just seven games this past season. He has also taken the time to increase his conditioning while adding weight-room strength (he's currently hitting mid-20s in 225-pound repetitions on the bench press).
Edwards has a strong arm, very good accuracy from the pocket and the ability to progress through his reads if given the proper protection. He throws a very catchable ball, too. His game breaks down some when he is forced to move or roll out, he does not always get his feet set and he fails to keep his eyes focused downfield, which has led to turnovers. A little fumble prone earlier in his career, Edwards must learn to get the ball out quicker or throw the ball away rather than taking so many sacks.
He has an ideal body type at 225 to 230 pounds, and he's a very bright kid who will absorb playbooks quickly and can still improve his pre-snap reads. His final draft status will be based on his ability to complete a full workout for scouts and prove his injuries are behind him.
Teams with an aging veteran or the hope of developing a pocket passer over the next two to three years should take a hard look at Edwards. He has all the tools to start in the league and you will not have to spend a first-round pick to select him.
4. Kevin Kolb, Houston. The biggest question surrounding him is whether he is just another system quarterback or a future NFL starter. The system QB label has become an issue because his college team's terminology and play calling were based around concepts and ideas that won't translate to success at the next level.
He took the majority of his snaps from the shotgun, so his footwork needs some refinement, but he has quick feet and gets to his spots in fine order. He also has good size and shows more elusiveness than pure athleticism when he has to pull the ball down and run.
Kolb has not been responsible for reading the entire field, so how quickly teams feel he can become adept at going through his progressions will be the deciding factor on how high he is ranked on draft boards. He has a good enough arm to make all the throws, even on the move, but the ball does not jump out of his hand. He will also carry the ball low at times, causing him to have a bit of a windup.
Teams would like to see him come to the combine with better development in his physique, which lacked definition at the Senior Bowl. He had a smaller lower frame than desired for the position, too. But I like his accuracy on the short-to-intermediate routes, and he puts good touch on his fade routes. He will stand tall in the pocket and step into his throws most of the time.
Kolb helped turn the Cougars around during his four-year career, so he brings some good intangibles to the table. Recently married, he's the type of well-committed kid that will take the pro game seriously. He offers a solid second-round option for a team that could not trade up for Russell or Quinn.
5. Drew Stanton, Michigan State. A sporadic past two years has caused scouts to have various opinions on the future of a quarterback that possesses very good natural ability and ideal toughness for the position. This past season, Stanton started out strong once again, faltered some in the middle and then became more of a cautious passer than outgoing gunslinger.
He has the ability to roll out of the pocket and make all the throws, but he got hesitant at times, not trusting his arm and decision-making skills and reverting to bad habits that led to turnovers and some close, hard-fought losses. He also took some serious beatings in games, which caused him to fight through a number of nicks and bruises. To his credit, he remained on the field most of the time.
Stanton is a good athlete that should run in the 4.7 range in the 40, and that speed helps him escape the pocket and keep the play live. He has good arm strength on deep routes, but he holds the ball too long and puts too much air under the ball, floating some throws up for grabs. His mistakes seem to come in bunches as he had a few Jake Plummer-type games during his career, but his accuracy is fine as long as he steps into his throws. He can get antsy feet when pressure gets in his face. Most of the time, though, he is able to find a check-down route or escape thanks to his foot speed.
The second group of QBs in this year's draft has a varied skill level, but Stanton's upside supersedes the others. That should help get him selected between Rounds 2 and 3.