With the variety of spread offenses used in college football, the quarterback position is becoming harder and harder for NFL executives to scout. With an extremely weak class of senior quarterbacks this year, underclassmen have surged to the top of the quarterback rankings. Mike Lombardi, Andrew Brandt and Wes Bunting of the Nationalfootballpost.com break down the top quarterback prospects for the 2009 NFL draft.
1. Matthew Stafford, Georgia SIZE: 6 feet 3, 236 pounds BUZZ: Stafford, a junior, possesses a strong, compact build with the bulk that allows him to take a hit and bounce up after the throw. He's an intelligent leader who does a nice job making all the calls at the line of scrimmage. He has great arm strength and throws a natural, tight spiral. The ball jumps out of his hands, and he has the ability to make all the NFL throws with plenty of zip. He is technically sound and has a high release point with a smooth, compact throwing motion. His footwork and mental clock consistently are in sync as he gets the ball out of his hands on his back step. He has good timing in the short and intermediate passing game. While he's a bit slow to recognize the blitz, he keeps his eyes downfield and can create big plays. He needs to do a better job stepping up in the pocket when he feels pressure from outside. Too often, he will sling the ball while off-balance and fall away from pressure even when he has time to step into throws. His mechanics will get sloppy at times. Stafford does well diagnosing defenses and finding soft spots in zone coverage. But his arm strength is negated on the move, as he lacks the same kind of zip and accuracy when he doesn't set his feet. He struggles when flushed from pocket and asked to make plays on the move.
2. Mark Sanchez, USC SIZE: 6-3/225 BUZZ: He has good size and bulk, but is struggling a bit with a knee injury that has hindered his mobility this season. Sanchez, a junior, is a first-year starter who throws one of the prettiest deep balls we have seen in years. He does a nice job setting his feet and generating power with his lower body, and can consistently uncork 70-yard throws and place them accurately to a receiver in stride. He has excellent touch and accuracy on his downfield passes and does a nice job off play-action finding the biggest play. He has a live arm on all levels and easily will be able to make all the throws with zip at the next level. Sanchez is still a bit slow going through his progressions, and at times, he will hold on to the ball too long. He needs to show more awareness and feel in the pocket, which should improve with more playing time. He will take a hit with pressure in his face, but his throws tend to sail on him. He needs to show better accuracy and touch underneath, as he has a tendency to underthrow balls and not trust his throwing motion. Still, he has all the tools you look for in a quarterback at the next level.
3. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma SIZE: 6-4/218 BUZZ: He is a third-year sophomore. Bradford is a thin-framed quarterback with narrow shoulders and a small lower body, but he isn't afraid to stay in the pocket and take a hit. He throws accurately under pressure and keeps his eyes downfield. He reads defenses quickly and does a nice a job finding the "hot" man underneath. He is smooth and relaxed on play-action fakes and bootlegs, and he gets his feet around and squares his shoulders to consistently throw accurately on the move. He struggles when flushed from the pocket, is slow to escape pressure and doesn't improvise well on his own. He has a nice touch on all levels of the field and throws a nice deep ball. While he's not going to make plays with his feet, he does well stepping up in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield. He doesn't have elite arm strength, and his release will worry some scouts – he has a slight wind-up and a lower-than-ideal release point. Bradford has improved his ability to go through progressions, but he seldom scans the entire field. He seems limited to reading only one side of the field, a flaw that can be hidden in the spread offense but not in the NFL.
4. Colt McCoy, Texas SIZE: 6-3/210 BUZZ: McCoy, a junior, has added a lot of weight and muscle mass to his frame since his freshman season. He is a good athlete with deceptive quickness and agility, and has the ability to escape pressure and make a play with his legs. He carries the ball a bit too low and doesn't have the most compact of throwing motions; he has a bit of a wind up but does have a high release point. He has average arm strength but great touch down the field. McCoy does a nice job staying in the pocket and keeping his head downfield while striding into throws. He still has a tendency to leave the pocket too quickly but has shown a vast improvement since his freshman year. He throws a tight spiral downfield but lacks the zip to throw into tight windows. McCoy depends on his athleticism, accuracy and touch to make plays and has shown steady improvement as a pocket passer.
5. Tim Tebow, Florida SIZE: 6-3, 238 BUZZ: Tebow, a junior, is a physically well-built quarterback with good power in his lower half and bulk in his upper body. He has the power and strength to absorb big hits while driving his legs through contact in the run game. He can make plays with his feet when he breaks containment and does a nice job making the first man miss. Tebow deciphers information quickly and does an excellent job keeping his eyes downfield and making a play out of nothing. He has a strong arm and will have no problems making all the throws at the next level. He has a quick release but gets sloppy with his release point and will drop his elbow level when he is on the move. He struggles with his footwork and doesn't consistently use his legs to stride into throws. He lacks feel and timing in the short passing game and his touch underneath suffers. But he has good zip and accuracy down the field and makes some jaw-dropping throws on the move. At his best when he is asked to use his athletic ability and not be forced to read a defense. He gets locked on to a receiver and doesn't go through his progressions as well once his initial read is covered. Tebow is a bit raw as a passer and needs some pro coaching, but his intangibles and instincts are top-notch and he has all the physical tools to make it. He just needs time to develop and learn the pro game.
6. Josh Freeman, Kansas State SIZE: 6-6/250 BUZZ: Freeman, a junior, is a big, thick-framed quarterback with good bulk and power in his upper and lower body. He is a natural athlete who is comfortable on the perimeter and does a nice job looking over the offensive line and scanning the field. Possesses a strong arm and can make all the necessary throws in the NFL with good zip. He has the ability to fit the ball into tight windows over the middle and thread the needle between coverage. He has surprisingly good timing and touch in the short and intermediate passing game. He's most comfortable in the shotgun, where he makes a lot of pre-snap reads; he still needs to develop from under center and work on his footwork during his drop. His big frame and long strides allow him to get away from center quickly and start scanning the field. Freeman has massive hands and a fluid and quick release. He needs to show better touch and accuracy on deep balls. Freeman trusts his arm a bit too much at times (a problem of many strong-armed quarterbacks) and doesn't always set his feet. He will throw off-balance while on the move and balls tend to sail on him, especially down the middle of the field.
7. Cullen Harper, Clemson SIZE: 6-3/220 BUZZ: Harper, a senior, is a smooth, athletic quarterback with decent height and overall build for the position. He has a strong arm from the pocket, with good zip and accuracy on throws outside the hash marks. He has a slight wind-up in his motion when he is trying to get the ball downfield, but on short timing routes, Harper has a nice compact delivery. Makes quick decisions in the pocket and has nice timing and accuracy on underneath routes. He shows good pocket awareness and can buy time with pressure in his face; he remains comfortable and will keep his eyes downfield looking for a big play. Harper does have a tendency to try to do too much and will force the ball into coverage. At times, his footwork gets sloppy, especially on short throws to the outside as he has a tendency to miss high. He has struggled behind a young offensive line this season and needs to do a better job reading the blitz and getting rid of the ball quicker.
8. Chase Daniel, Missouri SIZE: 6-0/224 BUZZ: Daniel, a senior, is a quick, short shotgun quarterback who is able to hide his lack of height by taking the majority of snaps from the gun. But he does have a high release point and rarely gets balls batted down at the line. He has a short, compact throwing motion and does a good job getting the ball out of his hand quickly. He is accurate and has good timing on short and intermediate throws. While he has excellent touch downfield, he lacks great zip deep and will struggle making all the throws in the NFL. Daniel's arm strength is only adequate and he can struggle finding throwing windows inside the pocket. He is at his best when he breaks containment and gets outside the pocket. A better athlete than he is given credit for, he can make plays with his feet. He has done a better job this season going through his progressions and not locking on to targets. He will need to play in a West Coast-style offense to hide his lack of arm strength, but you hate to count out a guy with his intangibles and completive spirit.
9. Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State SIZE: 6-2/205 BUZZ: Carpenter is a senior, and his frame might be a bit questionable. His lower, sidearm delivery does little to help his cause. But he does do a nice job in the pocket side stepping away from pressure and finding windows. He doesn't consistently throw with his lower half and makes too many off-balance throws when he steps up in the pocket. He needs to do a better job collecting himself and setting his feet; when he doesn't, the ball seems to sail, especially down the middle of the field. He has polished footwork from the snap and gets his feet around on timing routes. Carpenter is an instinctive decision-maker from the pocket and throws a tight, catchable ball underneath. He has a compact release and the ball really gets out of his hand quickly. He has good accuracy on short- and medium-range passes when he is asked to throw on time. He has the ability to get the ball downfield, but that isn't a strong point of his game. He has average arm strength and is best-suited for a West Coast offense. Carpenter is competitive and can be tough on himself. This isn't a bad trait, but he sometimes dwells on a bad play for too long.
10. Hunter Cantwell, Louisville SIZE: 6-4/232 BUZZ: Cantwell, a senior, has no problem seeing over the line of scrimmage and finding throwing lanes even with pressure in his face. He possesses massive hands that can really grip and spin a football. He has NFL-caliber arm strength, but he needs to learn to pass with a little more touch and poise underneath. He has good timing and an understanding of route combinations, but has a tendency to fire passes that are often too hot for receivers. He is as tough as they come when asked to stand in the pocket and deliver a throw. Cantwell is a natural thrower who has a quick, compact release and looks natural throwing the ball; he makes every throw look effortless. At this point, Cantwell just needs to gain some much-needed experience after backing up Brian Brohm the past three seasons, but he has all the tools you look for and already has shown consistent improvement during the first half of the season.
Nationalfootballpost.com is a new football insider Web site featuring Andrew Brandt, the vice president of the Green Bay Packers for the past nine years, and Michael Lombardi, who has worked in NFL front offices for 22 years - including nine years with Cleveland and eight with Oakland.