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2015 NFL Draft: Quarterback class a bad one

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The Sports Xchange

When somebody says the quarterback class for the 2015 NFL Draft is bad, believe it.

Despite the usual chatter about the top two prospects at that special position, there is not one quarterback prospect in this draft who appears to be a sure thing.

Behind a crescendo of hype and hyperbole, Florida State’s Jameis Winston emerged as the accepted favorite to be the No. 1 quarterback and first player chosen when the draft begins April 30 in Chicago.

His claim to the honor rides largely on a prolific career in which he won a National Championship and Heisman Trophy in the 2013 season and despite a conspicuous falloff in efficiency last season.

Oregon’s athletic Marcus Mariota, winner of last season’s Heisman Trophy, is ranked No. 2 by NFLDraftScout.com that lists only five quarterbacks among the top 100 players in the draft.

Winston maintains his top ranking despite off-field issues that put a target on his back before being drafted into an NFL that is becoming ever more vigilant against social improprieties, as defined by commissioner Roger Goodell.

But not only has Winston said all the right things in preparation for this draft, he also has experience in a pro-style attack and knows how to do things like call plays in the huddle, take the snap directly from the center and drop back before passing.

As familiar as that sounds to NFL fans, it is unlike the college experience of several other quarterback prospects in this draft, including Mariota, who was the triggerman in an up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense.

The third quarterback on most lists is UCLA’s athletic Brett Hundley, but he is not expected to be drafted until the second round and some teams favor other flavors, like Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, as the next best behind Winston and Mariota.

Here is a closer look at the top quarterbacks in the NFL’s 2015 draft (position rating/overall rating. Player, college, height, weight, 40-yard time, projected round. *=underclassman):

(Data legend: 40-yard time listed on each player’s initial line is best Indianapolis combine time, whether by hand held or electronic method.In “Measuring up” segments, Four-digits for height = first digit is feet, next two are inches and last digit is eighths of an inch. Weight is in pounds. Arm, hand and wingspan are in inches. Combine times (40, 20, 10) are those that are announced, usually the best electronic time. VJ=vertical jump, result in inches; BJ=broad jump, results in feet-inches; SS=short shuttle, result in seconds; 3C=3cone, result in seconds; BP=bench press, results are repetitions with 225 pounds.)

1. *Jameis Winston, Florida State, 6-4, 231, 4.91, 1

–Downhill into NFL?: This big, tough, strong-armed quarterback displayed enough physical ability as a freshman in 2013 to win a national championship, a Heisman Trophy and rave notices from scouts on his pro potential. Despite a drop-off in efficiency in the 2014 season, he opted to enter the draft. To hear them rave, NFL scouts seem certain he has great potential, although they note he has trouble deciphering underneath coverage and there was an increase his TD-INT ratio from 40/10 in 2013 to 25/18 last season. They seem to dismiss his conspicuous lack of elite athletic ability, which was quantified with his lackluster combine workout. Of more concern is the league’s rapidly evolving personal conduct policy and commissioner Roger Goodell’s shoot, ready, aim approach to punitive judgment. So Winston’s personal life is more important than his marvelous on-field abilities. For teams wondering if he can be the face of a franchise, the looming concern is if that same face may also pose for a police mug shot. Winston’s history includes a controversial sexual assault claim, multiple charges of petty theft and a bizarre incident in which he shouted obnoxious vulgarities from atop a table at FSU’s student union. Winston has a natural, take-charge swagger and the self-confidence to succeed in the NFL on the field — if he can avoid trouble off of it.

–Measuring Up: Ht, Wt: 6036, 231; Arm: 32 inches; Hand: 09 3/8 inches; Wingspan: 78 3/4 inches; Combine — 40-YD: 4.97 seconds; 10-YD: 1.74; 20-YD: 2.89; VJ: 28 1/2; BJ: 08-7; SS: 4.36; 3C: 7.16. Pro Day — positional drills only.

–Notable quote: “My actions. I have to do everything by my actions. It’s not time to explain about what I’m going through but when I do get to a city and a team I plan on getting involved in the community and create an image, a positive image, and put everything else behind me.” == Winston at the combine, when asked how he intends to earn trust in light of his troubled past.

–Frankly: With all due respect, and heartfelt wishes that Winston does well in everything he does, I’m just not convinced he is the best quarterback in this draft, let alone No. 1 overall, where we have him rated at NFLDraftScout.com. Back at ya next week with a personal top 100.

2/2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, 6-4, 222, 4.43, 1

–Flyin’ Hawaiian: Mariota was masterful in Oregon’s run-option, spread offense, which accentuated his raw athletic abilities to run and throw, often at the same time. Even conceding that his arm strength is NFL caliber (not counting a current shoulder problem), Mariota’s evaluations are burdened by a stark lack of success by similarly gifted quarterbacks who rewrote college record books, but were unable to transfer that talent to the pro game. The most consistently effective quarterbacks in the NFL include Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and even Andrew Luck — none of whom graduated from a primarily run/option college offense. Those college stars are still inconsistent or unfulfilled promises in the NFL — Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, maybe Cam Newton, and the most infamous example, Tim Tebow. Like Mariota, each of these spread products, save Kaepernick, won a Heisman Trophy. But that obviously doesn’t pave the road to NFL success. Like them, Mariota’s has not proven he can process the game, go through his progressions, from within the pocket. Add the word “yet” and that is why some team will make him a high pick after being enamored with his impressive athleticism and spotless personal demeanor. And there is this — Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly recruited and coached Mariota at Oregon and brought his college-based concepts to the NFL.

— Measuring up: Ht, Wt: 6036, 222; Arm: 32; Hand: 9-7/8; Wingspan: 76 3/8; Combine — 40-YD: 4.52;10-YD: 1.57; 20-YD: 2.62; VJ: 36; BJ: 10-1; SS: 4.11; 3C: 6.87.

–Notable quote: For us it’s going to be huddling, I haven’t huddled in a while. That will be one thing. It seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing. There’s other things as well. Three-, five-, seven-step drops under center. That’s all stuff I’ve been able to work on the last month. It’s been good. I’ve been able to work with Kevin O’Connell and Philip Rivers has come in and worked with us as well” — Mariota at combine when asked how he was preparing for move to the NFL.

–Frankly: Here’s a great athlete with all the measurables to be a success at any level even if he were a tailback in the old single wing offense, as was Billy Kilmer at UCLA before being drafted in the first round by the 49ers in 1961. See? None of this is new, just different. But regardless of how the offense lines up, the concern about soft-spoken, easy-going Mariota is his ability to be an assertive leader among men, a problem Kilmer never had.

3/54. Brett Hundley, UCLA, 6-3, 226, 4.60, 2

–The Other quarterback: In a draft that some believe is the worst in years at quarterback, Hundley is the “other” guy when discussions begin, and often end, with opinions on Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Regardless, Hundley is a big, athletic, dual-threat quarterback who was a recruiting coup by the Bruins after he earned a five-star rating at Chandler High School (Arizona) with 2,348 yards and 20 touchdowns passing and 856 yards with nine more touchdowns rushing. After redshirting in 2011, Hundley looked like all that as he threw for a UCLA record 3,740 yards with 29 touchdowns against only nine interceptions as the Bruins finished atop the Pac 12 South. Hundley finished his career with 11,713 yards passing, 75 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Despite the statistical success, scouts feel he has not improved in college and still lacks poise in the pocket. Those same scouts watched San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggle in 2014 for the same reason, which further hurt Hundley’s draft stock.

–Measuring up: Ht, wt: 6032, 226; Arm: 32 1/8; Hand: 10 1/2; Wingspan: 78 1/4. Combine — 40-YD: 4.63; 10-YD: 1.62; 20-YD: 2.72; VJ: 36; BJ: 10-0; SS: 3.98; 3C: 6.93.

–Notable quote: “I think overall quarterback, on and off the field, being able to lead a team and make most of his opportunity. I think one thing I do every day is work hard. If you tell me I can’t do something I’m going to prove you wrong and do it. So hard work, and just leadership.” — Hundley at the combine, when asked what he brings to the table.

Frankly: He can run and throw and was able to ring up a lot of yards in college, but Hundley rarely looked smooth and natural, especially in the pocket, where he seemed impatient and all too ready to run. He sometimes over-strides while passing, making his release point much lower and usually guides the ball from that stance, which means a slow release that invites an alert NFL defender to jump the route. He has ability, but is a project.

4/89. Bryce Petty, Baylor, 6-3, 230, 4.81, 3

–Grin and Bear it: If nothing else, Petty should be appreciated for his patience, or dogged persistence after playing for two high schools, then gray-shirting, red-shirting and clip-board holding behind Robert Griffin the third. Finally, Petty got his chance in 2013 and completed250 of 403 passes for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions in Baylor’s wide open offense. He also rushed for 14 touchdowns and was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. Last season, missed the second game with a back injury that hampered him pretty much all season, although he did throw for 3,855 yards, 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Petty’s passing efficiency rating of 166.03 established the school record. Although he did play in an up-tempo, spread offense, Petty looked confident in the pocket, held his ground when necessary and at times showed he can be patient in finding an alternative receiver. His release looks three-quarters side arm, but he makes it appear natural and gets rid of the ball quickly. Like two quarterbacks rated ahead of him, Petty must prove he can transfer his abilities from his up-tempo, one-read college offense to a more demanding and sophisticated NFL system. He spoke about his experience in a pro system at the Senior Bowl as if it were a trip to another planet.

–Measuring up: Ht., wt.: 6027, 230; Arm: 31 7/8; Hand: 10; Wingspan: 77 3/8. Combine — 40-YD: 4.87; 10-YD: 1.67; 20-YD: 2.81; VJ: 34; BJ: 10-1; SS: 4.13; 3C: 6.91.

–Notable quote: “Yeah. We were in the spread but at the same time I feel like I am a pocket passer. I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket. That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that and the fact that I want to play within the pocket and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that.” — Petty at the combine, when asked about transitioning to an NFL offense.

–Frankly: Petty may be the surprise of this quarterback class. If he gets to a team that gives him time to develop skills that were overlooked or not used in the Baylor system, Petty may develop into a productive NFL quarterback.

5/100. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State, 6-2, 213, 4.75, 3-4

–Long, painful road: Grayson took difficult and painful path to recognition as a college quarterback. His best college offer out of Heritage High School in Vancouver was to play safety for nearby Washington State. Instead, Grayson set his sights on Colorado State. He gray-shirted in 2010, entered CSU in 2011 and finally started three games near the end of the season. An energized Grayson began 2012 starting the first four games, but broke his clavicle and sat out the rest of the season, which created an emotional challenge because he didn’t want to be around the team if he wasn’t playing. A rejuvenated and determined, Grayson came on strong the last two years, throwing for 3,696 yards 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2013, then demanding attention last year with 4,006 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Petty’s biggest plus, especially in this draft, is that he not only played in a pro-type system, but he improved remarkably year over year, although the team did migrate to a spread formation in 2014. After making a physical and emotional comeback from the broken clavicle, he developed a more resilient attitude that serves well at quarterback.

–Measuring up: Ht, wt: 6024, 213; Arm: 30; Hand: 10; Wingspan: 75 1/4. Combine — Did not work out, injured hamstring. March 11 pro day — 40-YD: 4.58; 10-YD: 1.59; 20-YD: 2.68; VJ: 34; BJ: 10-1

–Notable quote “We were pro style, we became a little bit more spread my senior year. That was partly personnel, partly coach Baldwin getting to install his offense a little bit more. But we were basically as much pro style as you could get my sophomore, junior years and as I said, transitioned a little more spread my senior year.” — Grayson at combine, explain his background in a pro-style offense.

–Frankly: Grayson wanted to play in the NFL since he was five years old and, despite a lack of impressive athletic ability and size he somehow made it here to the brink of that dream. Go ahead, you tell Grayson he is not good enough. He’s heard it all before.

Also:

6/140. Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 6-6, 229, 5.06, 4-5

7/205. Brandon Bridge, South Alabama, 6-4, 229, 4.65, 6

8/219. Connor Halliday, Washington State, 6-3, 204, 4.87, 6-7

9/239. Cody Fajardo, Nevada, 6-1, 223, 4.53, 7

10/259. Shane Carden, East Carolina, 6-2, 218, 4.90, 7-FA

11/273. Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana, 6-2, 211, 4.79, 7-FA

12/291. Hutson Mason, Georgia, 6-2, 212, 4.83, 7-FA

13/303. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State, 6-2, 202, 4.58, 7-FA

14/318. Chris Bonner, Colorado State-Pueblo, 6-6, 231, 5.12, 7-FA

15/359. Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion, 6-0, 214, 4.62,

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his 50th year covering football and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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