In the last two editions of the NFL Draft, and in many previous years, quarterbacks were hot commodities for teams picking at the beginning of first round. In 2011, the Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton with the first pick, and in 2012, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went 1-2 to the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, respectively. In fact, six quarterbacks were taken in the first 10 picks of the last two drafts combined.
This year's quarterback class, however, doesn't have the same sort of shine. Few signal-callers are even being considered as first-round selections, and it's possible that just one will go off the board in the first 32 picks. To many scouts and analysts, most of the quarterbacks in this year's draft aren't ready to adapt to the higher level of competition in the NFL, something that is absolutely necessary for success under center.
"The speed of the game, No. 1, you never know how a player is going to adapt to the speed of the game," analyst and former head coach Jon Gruden said on a teleconference Monday. "Windows, we talked about earlier, are so much tighter. Red zone, third-down passing is so much more difficult. How much they can handle right away. Some of these quarterbacks struggle with adapting to a new system -- from the snap count to the terminology to the audible system. Some guys struggle significantly when they don't get their reps they're accustomed to getting in college. I think those are the big things, certainly, that are the hardest things for a young quarterback."
Right now, it appears that nearly every quarterback available has had his share of struggles. All four analysts participating in CBS Sports's latest mock draft view West Virginia's Geno Smith as the only QB that will be taken in the first round. Smith was spectacular at West Virginia, and he looks like the most well-rounded prospect this year.
"I think he's as complete, from a versatility standpoint, as there is anyone in this draft," Gruden said. "He can run 4.55. I've seen him drive the ball accurately down the field. I've seen him throw the ball with touch and accuracy, make quick decisions, and I've seen him be dominant at times.
"I credit Geno Smith with not only being productive, but I think his skill set is very versatile. I think he's going to adapt nicely to any system you want to run."
While Smith may be the only clear-cut first-rounder, he isn't Gruden's favorite quarterback available. If he were given the task of selecting a young QB, Gruden would take Syracuse's Ryan Nassib.
"I selfishly really like this kid at Syracuse, I've said it a couple of times,'' said Gruden. "He's a nuisance runner, I think he can scramble for first downs, if you want to run the read-option, I think he could execute those plays, I really think he's sharp mentally, he's a guy that's been trained by (former Syracuse and current Bills head coach) Doug Marrone, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. He's been in a really ambitious offensive scheme, taking care of the ball, he's tough, durable. I like his upside.''
NFL offenses are pretty diverse in this day and age, with some teams opting for the read-option attack, while others are sticking with the traditional pro set. A versatile player like Florida State's E.J. Manuel could be a intriguing option for a team willing to develop a young QB. He has the unique attribute of being comfortable in both systems.
"I like E.J. a lot because I think you could call just about any scheme you want to call, Gruden said. "I've seen him run the direct quarterback runs. He's a presence inside the 10-yard line, much like Cam Newton at Carolina is. I've seen him run various option plays, and we know that's certainly a major point of emphasis in the NFL right now. I know he can bring a lot to the table from an athletic standpoint.
"I think he can improve as a passer, he can improve his protection awareness and understanding. I don't think he's anywhere near to a finished product, but I do think he has a big upside. I think he has a tremendous skill set that allows him to do a lot of different things."
In addition to discussing Smith and Manuel, Gruden mentioned several other quarterbacks and their specific attributes.
On USC's Matt Barkley
"I think Barkley's going to be a starter in the league at some point. Obviously he's coming off an injury. I think he's done an excellent job rehabbing that. I saw him make all the throws personally with my own two eyes. I think Matt is going to have to function as a pocket passer. I don't think he's going to be a scrambling, option-style quarterback."
On Tennessee's Tyler Bray
"I just think this kid has a rare ability to throw a football, and a lot of what he did at Tennessee, I think, is overshadowed with their won-loss record.
"I just think there's a lot of refinement that has to take place. He's got to learn how to manage the situation better, he's got to deliver at crunch time, he's got to polish his game, he's got to do better in terms of handling pressure. He's not a mobile quarterback. He's got to know where his hot receivers are, he's got to know what audible to get to. I think his preparation needs to increase so he can be all that he can be."
On Oklahoma's Landry Jones
"Well, he had a great sophomore year. I don't remember many sophomore quarterbacks in college football doing what he did. I mean, he was unbelievable. But you have a man at 6'4, he's thrown for 16,000 yards, he's won a lot of games, but he did not have his best year. The Kansas State game -- disappointing. Certainly the bowl game against Texas A&M -- you're disappointed, you expect so much more. But production, his personal traits -- we all know he wants to be a minister, a preacher; he's married -- solid off the field, those are things that I like. I think when he's in rhythm and he has protection, he's very, very good."
On Arkansas's Tyler Wilson
"I like Tyler Wilson because he's tough, No. 1, and I saw him playing as an All-SEC quarterback two years ago playing for Petrino ... I think losing Petrino the way they lost him, losing his offensive coordinator, losing three very good receivers and then having the injury early in the season against Monroe could have derailed Tyler Wilson. And I credit him for kind of holding the Razorbacks together in a lot of adversity. This was not his best campaign, there's no question about it, but he's tough, he has some functional mobility in the pocket, he's sharp and I think he's got some real leadership traits that are going to work for him at the next level. He can help somebody. He needs to get with the right coach in the right system, no question."
"Well, I like the fact that he's a four-year starter and he has tremendous production. I've seen him intercept passes, I've seen him make all kinds of different tackles. ... He can play in a 3-4 scheme, he can play in a 4-3 scheme, he never comes off the field -- I really like that about him. I've also seen him be the quarterback of a pretty doggone good defense. They only gave up about 10 points a game. ... I think he's got a real good football aptitude. He plays faster, I think, than people give him credit. I really think he's an instinctive, high-effort, well-coached inside linebacker. He's got to prove he can play on every down, there's no question about that, but I'm really confident he can do it.
"I know the type of everyday leader he has been, his impact on the campus with the student body with everybody that's come in contact with him has been tremendous. I thought Derek Brooks came in and spent an hour or two with him and made some very good points to him about what he's going to go up against in -- when he goes into a new locker room, being self-deprecating, learning to laugh a little bit at yourself. I think he's turned the page, he's trying to move on. Hopefully, people will give him that opportunity."
On the Chiefs taking a left tackle
"If you're looking for a left tackle this year, you're a lucky guy, because I think there's three of them, to be honest with you. I really like this Lane Johnson -- no one talks about him, incredible story of versatility and athleticism. He's only played one year on the left side, but 6'6, 300-plus pounds, he can run, do all the things you're looking for athletically.
"Reliable, athletic, consistent, Joeckel would be a guy I would take, and if they took Fisher from Central Michigan, I wouldn't second guess them because this is an athletic, big left tackle that's very versatile. He played right tackle, he's played guard. He did a heck of a job in the Senior Bowl. Those three left tackles are outstanding; I think Joeckel, to me, is No. 1 because of where he comes from and what his body of work looks like at the highest of levels. Fisher is certainly a close second if you ask me."
The Chiefs have also been linked to Pac-12 pass rusher Dion Jordan, but the latest reports have Andy Reid's new team itching to move out of the top spot in the draft. That proposition is more difficult this year than usual precisely because of a quarterback class with so many question marks.