NFL Prospects: Quarterbacks

LSU's Russell at the top of the list

April 20, 2007

By Rob Rang

Special to CSTV.com from NFLDraftScout.com

 

The 2007 NFL Draft features a pair of passers almost certain to be among the first five players selected.

 

The ultra-talented JaMarcus Russell (LSU, 6-foot-5, 265) has a throwing arm as strong as any quarterback, including those earning NFL paychecks. And ultra-productive Brady Quinn (Notre Dame), the more accurate and experienced of this duo, has honed his craft at the knee of Irish head coach Charlie Weis.

 

While Russell and Quinn are clearly the cream of the 2007 quarterback class, scouts have quietly grown intrigued with the value expected to be available in the second, third and fourth rounds.

 

An in-depth look at the best quarterbacks available:

 

 

QUARTERBACKS:

   1. JaMarcus Russell, LSU, 6-6, 265, JR:

 

Labeled a "once-in-a-decade" talent by some veteran scouts and compared to anyone from Daunte Culpepper to John Elway, Russell is in many ways the physical prototype of today's NFL quarterback. Capable of throwing the ball 50 yards with a flick of his wrist, and 80 when he really unloads, it is widely believed that Russell's throwing arm is stronger than that of any quarterback -- in the NFL or otherwise. Russell is far from just a long ball specialist. Former LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher created an offense that relied on timing and precision passing more than it depended on Russell's ability to fling it deep.  

 

Russell started 30 games and threw for 6,625 yards, 52 touchdowns and 21 interceptions for the Tigers. Known earlier in his career as a passer who would trust his arm and receivers too much, thus forcing throws into coverage, Russell made huge strides in 2006. His improved understanding of defenses, patience and willingness to check down to outlet receivers resulted in career-best totals for passing yards (3,129) and touchdowns (28) and only eight interceptions. At his size, Russell has surprisingly quick feet and is mobile in the pocket. Perhaps Russell's most underappreciated aspect is game management. Classified by some as a spectacular athlete, Russell rallied his team to victory in the fourth quarter or overtime in eight of his 25 career wins.

 

   2. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame, 6-4, 232, SR:

 

Scouts are tantalized by Russell's upside, but Quinn could be the safer pick. Viewed by some as a product of Weis' system, Quinn actually compiled the finest sophomore season in Notre Dame's storied history with 2,586 passing yards and 17 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions) the year before Weis arrived in South Bend. Since adapting to Weis' offense, Quinn's numbers skyrocketed. Over the past two seasons, he rewrote the Irish record books, throwing for a combined 7,345 yards and a TD-to-INT ratio of 69-14.

 

Quinn has ideal size for the position and the arm strength to make any throw. He is generally among the most accurate passers in this class, though he is prone to bouts of inconsistency. Quinn has never missed a game due to injury despite starting 46 games behind an offensive line that was exposed when pitted against elite talent. The repeated knock on Quinn is his lack of success in the biggest of games at Notre Dame. When protected, Quinn was effective, generating 29 wins as Notre Dame's starter, tied for the most in school history. He is more athletic than given credit for, running faster (4.73) and proving stronger (24 reps) than any of the other top-rated quarterbacks.

 

   3. Drew Stanton, Michigan State, 6-3, 226, SR:

 

A few weeks into the 2006 season, Stanton appeared on the verge of competing with Quinn as the nation's top senior passing prospect. Blessed with good size and rare mobility, Stanton led Michigan State to a 3-0 record and had thrown for 677 yards and a 6-2 TD-to-INT ratio while gaining 193 yards and three touchdowns rushing. A porous offensive line led to numerous injuries, and too many drops from a young receiving corps lowered Stanton's production. Stanton threw for 1,807 yards and only 12 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. In 2005, Stanton had 3,077 passing yards and 22 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

 

While it wouldn't be fair to pin his senior struggles on Stanton alone, scouts are concerned that too often he played with a "deer in the headlights" demeanor. That lack of control resulted in poor decisions and losses mounted. Stanton helped boost his stock with a solid performance at the Senior Bowl. He is as naturally gifted as any quarterback in this class with the exception of Russell, and NFL quarterback coaches see a great deal of untapped potential.

 

   4. Trent Edwards, Stanford, 6-4, 231, SR:

 

Entering the 2006 season, there wasn't a quarterback in the country getting less national fanfare relative to the amount of NFL attention he was receiving than Edwards. After signing with Stanford as one of the elite recruits in the country, Edwards struggled through his first two seasons, throwing more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (13). Things came together for Edwards as a junior, when he not only threw for career-high 1,934 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he was also named team MVP.

 

Scouts attending Stanford's spring practices predicted a breakout senior season for Edwards that would rival those put up by former Pac-10 quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Joey Harrington, Jack Thompson and Dan Fouts. Just as in every other year of his career, injuries robbed Edwards of that opportunity. Due to a right foot fracture, he played just the first six games of the 2006 season, finishing with 1,027 passing yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

 

   5. John Beck, BYU, 6-2, 215, SR:

 

Due to an LDS Mission served while at BYU, Beck will turn 26 years before he puts on an NFL uniform, a big reason few expect him to get legitimate consideration from NFL teams until the third round. Most likely, it will be a full round later before he's actually drafted.

 

At that point, Beck could prove to be one of the steals of the draft. The two most important characteristics for a quarterback are not size and arm strength, but leadership and accuracy, two of Beck's greatest attributes. His size, arm strength and mobility are all better than advertised. The MWC Offensive Player of the Year, Beck ranked second in the nation with a 169.05 passer efficiency rating last season. He completed 147 of 289 passes (69.3 percent), but surpassed his previous season total of 3,709 yards with 3,885 -- with 41 fewer pass completions. Beck had 32 touchdowns with only eight interceptions and ran for six scores.

 

He started 38 games during his BYU career and gained 11,021 yards, completing 885 of 1,418 passes (62.4 percent) with 79 touchdowns and 34 interceptions.

 

   6. Troy Smith, Ohio State, 6-0, 225, SR: 

 

Winning the Heisman Trophy is a praiseworthy achievement, but the award means little in the minds of NFL scouts. After signing with Ohio State as an "athlete" and earning only enough recognition to warrant the Buckeyes' last offered scholarship in their 2002 class, Smith developed into a legitimate NFL-caliber passer. In addition to winning the Heisman, Smith was the recipient of the Davey O'Brien Award and was named Walter Camp National Player of the Year in 2006. The Big Ten Conference Player of the Year connected on 203 of 311 passes (65.3 percent) for 2,542 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions.

 

For his career, Smith passed for 5,720 yards, 54 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He collected 1,168 yards with 14 scores on 293 carries (4.0-yard average) and gained 83 yards on five kickoff returns (16.6-yard average). Until Ohio State's disastrous performance in the BCS National Championship game, Smith's stock had been soaring. Though he lacks prototype height, his vision, mobility and strong, surprisingly accurate arm allow him to effectively pass to all levels of the field. Size and early off-field issues are concerns for scouts, but Smith's development as a field general is impressive.

 

   7. Kevin Kolb, Houston, 6-3, 218, SR:

 

If statistics were the only measuring stick, Kolb would rank among the elite talents in this draft. He signed with Houston as one of the nation's most highly regarded prep prospects and started the opening game of his true freshman season. He never relinquished control of the offense at UH, and the 50-game starter left with virtually every passing record in the Houston and Conference USA books.

 

Kolb connected on 964 of 1,565 passes (61.6 percent) for 12,964 yards, 85 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. A better athlete than many realize, Kolb was also a force as a runner, gaining 751 yards with 21 scores over his career.

Kolb possesses the arm strength and accuracy to be successful at the NFL level. Of concern is that Kolb, who followed his high school head coach, Art Briles, to Houston, has been labeled by some as a system quarterback. He attempted to disprove that notion by attending the Senior Bowl and did help his cause, but he also struggled enough to validate the opinion that he'll need time to adjust to a new scheme.

 

   8. Isaiah Stanback, Washington, 6-3, 216, SR:

 

Much like Smith, scouts are intrigued by the significant development Stanback showed throughout his career. Stanback, who saw time at receiver as a freshman and sophomore, made significant strides as a passer each of the past three seasons. A multi-sport athlete, Stanback was drafted in the 45th round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles despite not playing the sport since high school. He also ran track for Washington, posting a 10.48-second time in the 100-meter dash, among the fastest in university history.

 

After having thrown for 2,136 yards and nine touchdowns (compared to six interceptions) in his first season as the Huskies' starter, Stanback's production rose dramatically as a senior. A severe Lisfranc sprain suffered midway through last season has tempered the enthusiasm of scouts somewhat, but Stanback threw for 1,325 yards and 10 touchdowns (against only three interceptions) in only seven starts.

 

His lack of consistent accuracy and footwork is a concern for scouts, but he is a project worth developing considering his size, mobility and strong arm. Many teams are equally excited about his potential as a receiver, though he hasn't played the position in more than three years. Recovery from the Lisfranc injury eliminated any chance that Stanback would work out for scouts before the draft, but he is expected to be 100 percent before the start of his first training camp.

 

   9. Jared Zabransky, Boise State, 6-2, 219, SR:

 

A terrific run at Boise State, combined with Zabransky's rare overall athleticism, make him an intriguing late-round possibility. Though he lacks the prototype arm strength and the consistent accuracy and decision-making scouts prefer, it's hard to argue with Zabransky's success on the blue field of Boise.

 

For many, Zabransky's career at Boise State can be summarized with the Broncos' thrilling upset of Oklahoma in January's Fiesta Bowl. In reality, Zabransky started 38 times at Boise State, completing 610 of 980 passes (62.2 percent) for 8,256 yards, 58 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. Though he played only quarterback for the Broncos, some feel he's a better fit at running back, receiver or safety based on his athleticism. Zabransky, who finished first among quarterbacks with a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and a 35 1/2-inch vertical at the Scouting Combine, amassed 863 yards with 31 scores on 351 carries (2.5-yard average) and caught two passes for five yards.

 

   10. Tyler Palko, Pittsburgh, 6-2, 215, SR:

 

What Palko lacks in size and consistency he makes up for with moxie and passion for the game. Known as a "try-hard guy" by some, Palko has the blend of skills to surprise at the next level if placed in a system that utilizes his strengths. He has enough arm strength to make all of the throws and, when firing with rhythm, has the accuracy to succeed.

 

Unfortunately, Palko tends to fluctuate between hot and cold. A marginal performance throughout Senior Bowl week didn't alleviate concerns about his consistency. While Palko may struggle with play-to-play consistency, his body of work for Pittsburgh earned him at least a late-round shot. His numbers -- 8,343 yards passing, 66 touchdown passes and only 25 interceptions -- are impressive. Palko started 35 consecutive contests and was a three-time team captain.

 

Other Potential Impact Quarterbacks:

   -- Jordan Palmer, UTEP, 6-6, 231, SR: Younger brother of Carson Palmer, Jordan has the strong arm and leadership of his Pro Bowl sibling, but lacks the accuracy and decision-making.

   -- Chris Leak, Florida, 6-0, 209, SR: Winning a national title doesn't hold much weight with scouts, who see an undersized, weak-armed prospect.

   -- Jeff Rowe, Nevada, 6-5, 226, SR: Great size, has the required arm and showed enough improvement throughout his career to deserve a late-round pick.

   -- Zac Taylor, Nebraska, 6-3, 216, SR: Taylor doesn't fit every scheme, but his improvement over the past two years in the West Coast offense is sure to interest some teams in the late rounds.

   -- Toby Korrodi, Central Missouri State, 6-4, 234, SR: Immobile, but possesses a rocket arm. Korrodi helped himself at the Scouting Combine, throwing the ball with greater velocity (63 mph) than any other quarterback tested there.

 

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Email him at rrang@nfldraftscout.com.