Two quarterbacks were inexorably intertwined in the 2009 NFL draft class, partially because their differing skill sets made for compelling comparisons. There was Georgia's Matthew Stafford(notes), with a rocket arm that allowed him to make any throw. And there was USC's Mark Sanchez(notes), whose impressive intangibles and experience in a pro-style offense tended to override any questions about his ability to get the ball downfield consistently.
This draft class brings us a similar duo in Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen. Bradford is the guy with the outstanding arm; Clausen is more NFL-ready out of the chute – at least that's what we generally hear. How do they match up? Let's see what the game tape tells us:
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
Pros: Bradford has the kind of long accuracy that can predetermine a franchise quarterback. Though he operated heavily out of the shotgun at Oklahoma, he was far from just another dink-and-dunk spread offense guy – his ability to hit receivers with perfect timing on 30- and 40-yard go routes with throws that arced just over coverage is a sight to behold. Extremely valuable ability to cover half a field with minimal effort, meaning that he doesn't have to force deep throws. Bradford has a tight, compact throwing motion, and he has no real technical release issues, except for a tendency to throw from a sidearm angle at times. Not a real speed merchant on the run, but has the ability to roll left or right and throw accurately downfield while in motion. Has a very well-developed sense of timing on varied routes – he knows when to get air underneath the ball and when to zing it into tight spaces. Tough player who leads by example; his offseason work ethic paid off at the NFL scouting combine when he showed up at 236 pounds. Teams were visibly impressed with his progress. Outstanding private workout on the 29th may have cemented his status as the first overall pick.
Pros: Clausen is excellent at reading pressure, rolling out of the pocket, and making throws on the run. He will drop back and step up out of pressure and has a real feel for this. Played in a pro-style offense under Charlie Weis, so he won't need to adjust to play action and taking snaps under center as typical spread offense quarterbacks would. Good timing on short and intermediate routes, especially with receiver Golden Tate – you can see the results of the work these two have put in together. Clausen is very assured in his footwork in seven-step drops. He will quickly go from the drop into an ideal throwing position and move his body forward with the ball. He is mobile in the pocket and will take off for a first down or touchdown if the opportunity is there, but he doesn’t seem to bail out to that option too quickly. His training in a pro system is obvious in many ways. Fiery and emotional leader that teammates really seem to get behind. Played through a toe injury most of the 2009 season without complaint. Did not throw at the combine or at Notre Dame's pro day while recovering from turf toe; will throw for the NFL on April 9.
Cons: Bradford suffered two different shoulder injuries in 2009 behind an offensive line short four starters from the 2008 version, which was the best in college football. Subsequently, there are unanswered questions about his ability to maintain productivity under constant pressure, which he'll likely face in the NFL as a top draft pick with a bad offensive line. Bradford's college offense had him going quickly to his first read and he will have to learn better how to pick up footsteps behind him. Durability concerns may linger, but he's put on 15 pounds of lean muscle in the offseason.
Cons: Clausen's mechanics have him telegraphing throws at times – he'll need to get over that in the pros. Tends to set his feet and lead coverage to his primary read without looking off defenders. Easy to tell that he struggles on deep throws; he will heave and push the ball and will frequently put too much air under the throw. Benefited from Tate's ability to jump up in coverage and will need that kind of receiver at the next level if he is to throw downfield, because the timing really isn't there. Receivers often have to come back to this deep passes, and he puts receivers in over-coverage situations because of the lag in timing.
Conclusion: From the simple three-step out route to the repeatable deep seam throw, Bradford has the strength to spot the ball wherever he wants it, and the intelligence and accuracy to make it count. He completed 67.6 percent of his collegiate passes, and given the number of downfield throws in that equation, the importance of that number can't be overstated. Drew Brees(notes) just won a Super Bowl with a reconstructed shoulder – Bradford's a long way away from that (especially if he goes to the Rams), but he's looking more and more like a sure thing after a private workout for NFL coaches and personnel men in which he completed 62 of 63 passes to all distances. He is probably scheme-transcendent, though an offense dialed up to be efficient out of the shotgun formation would be his best bet.
Conclusion: An excellent fit for a West Coast Offense, Clausen does not have a skill set that transcends all schemes. He's good on short-to-medium throws, and has an innate sense of where his receivers are in zones, but the team that expects him to have a reliable deep ball is in for a disappointment. Clausen is doing his best to deal with the longtime questions about his maturity and ability to lead under pressure. Most teammates will vouch for him. Overall, while there is a real value to a quarterback well-versed in a pro-style offense, it's a factor that may cause Clausen to be rated higher on some draft boards than he should be.
Doug Farrar is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports' Shutdown Corner