The biggest game-changer, so to speak, for an unsuccessful franchise can be a superstar quarterback. When the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan, their offense took flight. When the Ravens turned their offense over to Joe Flacco, they realized that the Baltimore football team could score more points per game than that city’s baseball team (although the Orioles score runs, not points).
Some NFL teams need franchise quarterbacks badly. The Redskins, Rams, Dolphins and 49ers, among others, have big question marks behind center. But help may not be on the way.
This year’s college draft class does not appear to have any surefire superstars like Eli Manning, Matt Ryan or Matthew Stafford. There are a bunch of guys who could become good players, but none who stand out as future bona fide superstars. Here’s a brief list of signal-callers in different categories.
Sam Bradford of Oklahoma has now sustained two devastating shoulder injuries during the course of this season. His arm strength and ability to withstand the pounding NFL quarterbacks endure week in and week out will be the subject of much debate. Bradford may have had a ton of success last season, but this season he has pro scouts questioning his future in football.
Cincinnati’s Tony Pike re-injured his left arm this past weekend. After putting up great numbers for the first part of the season, Pike seemed well on his way to improving his draft stock and quelling doubts about his health. But after the plate in his arm moved following a bone-crunching hit this week, Pike’s ability to play in the NFL is now in doubt as well.
Jevan Snead of Ole Miss might have the best array of skills of any college quarterback. He sometimes makes dazzlingly accurate passes into tight windows. He throws the deep ball well. But he also makes poor decisions and chucks up far too many interceptions. The mystery of Jevan Snead lies in determining whether his physical skills will allow him to be a great pro quarterback or whether his mental flaws will hold him back and turn him into a Ryan Leaf-type player. Perhaps the biggest red flag surrounding Snead was his comment after Ole Miss lost a crucial game and dropped in the rankings. Snead commented that he was happy the pressure was off his team and himself. If I’m drafting a franchise quarterback, I want him looking forward to big games in pressure situations, not dreading them.
University of Washington’s Jake Locker is an athlete. The 6’3”, 225-pound gunslinger was drafted in the 10th round of this year’s MLB entry draft by the Los Angeles Angels. And he’s one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the NCAA. But he plays in the Pac-10, which is a conference that is more offensively talented than defensively stacked (USC being the exception). Without the constant competition from top defenses that SEC quarterbacks or most Big XII quarterbacks face, it is much more difficult to judge how Locker would adjust to the speed of the NFL game and the many looks NFL defensive coordinators will throw at him. Locker is someone teams will draft for his potential, but that “p word” can be dangerous. Just look at JaMarcus Russell.
Colt McCoy of the University of Texas is a four-year starter who really knows the game of football. He has put up great numbers and seems to have total control of Texas’s offense. There is no doubting this senior’s leadership abilities and ability to play football. But some question his arm strength, and whether his 6’2”, 210-pound listing is generous. While he’s an accurate and experienced passer, the question becomes whether McCoy is the next in a line of great college quarterbacks who didn’t have the “stuff” to become a pro, or whether he becomes the next Drew Brees.
Tim Tebow of the University of Florida is the most intriguing “quarterback” in this year’s draft. Tebow has won two national championships and will likely hold the SEC career rushing touchdowns record by the time he finishes playing (and he’s a quarterback, not a running back). He’s won a Heisman Trophy. He’s passed for 74 touchdowns. He’s also a model citizen off the field. But his somewhat herky-jerky delivery and a seeming lack of pace on his throws has some professional teams considering whether Tebow might make a better tight end than a quarterback at the next level.
There is, therefore, no surefire savior for the team with the No. 1 pick this year. No quarterback has proven he is ready to answer all doubters and lead an NFL team to victory. No quarterback from a powerhouse school in a major conference has stepped up to show that they can hang with tough defenses week in and week out.
Except this guy at Notre Dame named Jimmy Clausen. Draft-eligible after this year, Clausen put up 27 points against USC and 30-plus against Michigan, Michigan State and Washington. While he does not yet have the signature win on his résumé to prove he is a winner, Clausen certainly has the arm strength and numbers to hint that he might end up being the best quarterback of this year. Without another top-notch defense on Notre Dame’s schedule this year, Clausen will have high expectations but a lot of questions as he enters the NFL.
The cellar dwellers had better take a close look at Clausen, and some of these other passers, because their dice roll on any of these seven quarterbacks could mean the difference between two Homer Simpson exclamations: “woohoo” and “d’oh!”
Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.
Correction: October 21, 2009
The original version of this column misstated Tony Pike’s injury, which is to his left arm, not his shoulder.