2013 NFL Draft Rankings: Quarterbacks

The Franchise Quarterback. It’s what every team is in search of on draft day. Teams spend millions of dollars on scouts, travel, and new methods to find this ever elusive creature. If a team has a franchise QB, they will forever gloat to those that don’t. If a team doesn’t have a franchise QB, they spend every waking second thinking about it. It consumes them.

A good quarterback can hide nearly every flaw a team has (see Peyton Manning in Indy) or can exacerbate every problem a team has (Kansas City in 2012). Careers are made or broken on finding a franchise QB — everyone from the General Manager who drafts him or the head coach who gets to reap the benefits of having a capable field general or who has to hide him somewhere within the scheme. Because of this, drafting a quarterback is not a decision to be taken lightly.

For every person, the term franchise quarterback takes on different qualities. Because of this, there is also a vast variance in terms of who evaluators believe to be that mythical creature that can lead them to the promised land.

Looking at the 2013 NFL Draft, is there a franchise quarterback in the mix? That’s what every team, and really every fan, is asking. Opinions have varied greatly on every quarterback. There really is no common consensus. The only slight consensus is that Geno Smith is the best QB in this draft class…but not even everyone can agree on that.

I spent the last 24 hours pouring through film on eight of the most highly discussed QBs in this year’s draft. I had studied the film on all of them before. I then had a slight change in philosophy and wanted to re-watch all of them. What ensued was a complete re-organization of how I viewed this list of quarterbacks.

Before I get into the breakdowns and rankings, here’s a little on how I came to this order…

My job as an evaluator isn’t to evaluate a player’s statistical success in college. My job is to evaluate the overall skill set of each player and then translate that from the college game to the NFL game. There are certain skills that I look for in a quarterback that correlate closely to his ability to succeed in the NFL. I hone in and evaluate each skill individually and then take the sum of those skills and add them up. The higher a player grades, the more the chance he has for success.

But there is one thing I can’t account for: the human element. This can consist of “heart,” competitiveness, desire, will to win, ability to learn, coachabilty, attitude, character, or dedication. There’s a lot here that I simply don’t know. All I have is the film in front of me and then I have to infer the rest from there. I can read the news clippings and listen to the interviews to take it deeper and get a better feel for each prospect, but without my own conversation with him I will never really feel comfortable discussing his “intangibles” as so many do. So I rely mostly on film and pure intuition. Scientific, I know.

With these rankings, I’m considering a few different dynamics and integrating them together to create a whole. I’m looking at physical talents, football intelligence, and the combination of these which leads to the ability to process all information and execute quickly.

Without knowing what teams each of these players will go to, I have no idea of predicting how they grow and mature. Some will function better in one scheme or coach and not another. There should be a major significance placed on the landing spot of each prospect, in my opinion.

So all I can really do is tell you what I see and why I think one prospect has a better chance at being successful in the NFL and another one doesn’t. Just because one player has a higher “ceiling” doesn’t mean I believe that he makes it there. It’s more about predicting future success based on the skills evidenced on film.

I’ve said this on Twitter, but it deserves mentioning here, as well. This quarterback class can best be summed up as, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What is going to separate each of these prospects for the person evaluating them is going to be the traits that person believes to be fixable. If an evaluator/scout believes that increasing efficiency in progression reading is easily fixable, he’ll favor the guy who has all of the talents but lacks slightly in that category. For me, I believe there are slight mechanical fixes that can help a quarterback become more consistent with his accuracy. You’ll see that with my number one ranked QB.

So let’s dig in…

2013 NFL Draft Class: Quarterback (QB) Rankings

1. Tyler Bray – University of Tennessee – Mid to Late 1st Round grade

Let me be clear. This is NOT where I would take Tyler Bray. Part of the draft process is knowing when you can get certain players you target. Bray should be available in the 2nd round, but his physical talents scream 1st round. This is actually part of the reason I like Bray. He has incredible talent that could be had later on past some of the other QBs in this draft. The value of being able to take a guy like Bray in the 2nd or 3rd round can’t be overlooked.

Tyler Bray has intoxicating physical talents. He has a howitzer for an arm with decent accuracy. When throws are off target, 90% of the time it’s because Bray “steps in the bucket” – meaning he steps left of his target which opens his hips causing his upper body, shoulder, and arm to lag behind in the kinetic chain. This leaves his hand slightly under the ball causing it to sail or go right of the target. When Bray steps directly toward his intended target the ball ends up on point and with good ball placement. This is the reason why Bray is better throwing to his left than to his right. Bray’s feet tell the story.

Tyler certainly isn’t athletic by any stretch of the imagination. He can get a few yards here and there but running isn’t a positive for him. In the pocket however, Bray understands the nuances of sliding away from pressure or taking a half-step forward to make a defender fly by. He drifts a little much for my liking but he does try to reset his feet when possible to make a throw. He can throw on the run if necessary but it’s not something he does a lot.

Bray can make all the throws and adjust his velocity and trajectory to do so. Tyler is fairly anticipatory in his reads but even when he isn’t he has the arm strength to make up for it. He’s confident in his arm and will put the ball in tight windows. Bray is overconfident at times and needs a coach to reign him in. He definitely has a gunslinger mentality. He has some Jay Cutler in his game, where he’ll make a throw that seems impossible but he drills it on the hands of a receiver.

One of the knocks on Bray is his lack of success with what is viewed as a really great group of receivers. The film actually tells a different story. Bray was often let down by his receivers through poor routes that were rounded off or drifted upfield, as well as a ton of drops on throws that were on point. Bray’s receivers were physically talented but unpolished and it showed often, even when Bray was perfect in his execution and delivery.

Bray could use some refinement in his presnap reads. It seems he simply doesn’t care and only keys after the snap to make his reads. I think this could make a major improvement in his decision making. He holds the ball low at times in the pocket but can get it up to throwing position in a hurry. Bray’s mechanics get sloppy as the pocket tightens but he has the arm strength and height to adjust. He needs only a little functional space to make the necessary throws. Bray will need a good center, especially early in his career, that can make the protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

Tyler Bray’s biggest concerns are all off the field. Is he Nuke Laloosh (“Million dollar arm with a five cent head”) or is he simply the victim of poor circumstances? I don’t know. I do know there was a ton of turmoil surrounding Bray and his final 3 years of college. There were multiple coaching changes and scheme changes that didn’t benefit him. Then again, I can’t make excuses for a player not progressing as he should have either. Bray needs better coaching in how he throws sideline routes and he has no earthly idea how to throw a back-shoulder pass or an endzone fade. That is also another key that tells me he either wasn’t well coached or he didn’t take to the coaching well.

Final Verdict:

Tyler Bray is immensely talented. He has absolutely every necessary element to his game to succeed in the NFL. How Bray responds to criticism, coaching, and adversity will tell the tale of his career. I want him to get pissed off when he’s drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round and want to prove that he deserved to go higher — much like Brady and Rodgers have. I want to see Bray go to a team that will let him sit behind a star veteran and learn the ropes. Taking Bray in the 2nd or 3rd round will hold off pressure on the staff to play him earlier than he is ready for.

 

2. Ryan Nassib – Syracuse – Mid 2nd Round grade

Ryan Nassib is a guy I had a positive change after going back through the film. While I like Nassib for a lot of reasons, he has one major flaw in his game that scares me at the NFL level.

Nassib is decisive with the football. He will make throws into tight windows and isn’t afraid to throw the ball into windows before the receiver gets there. He’s strong in his anticipation and delivery. Nassib throws with good zip on short to intermediate routes. The zip doesn’t translate on the longer throws as the ball seems to die towards the end due to a glitch in Nassib’s mechanics. Nassib also throws a rainbow for a deep ball. He will have to correct that or NFL safeties will eat him alive. He could use some refinement in all of his ball trajectories.

Nassib is athletic with a good, consistent motion. He has a solid over the top motion and snaps through the motion so the ball comes out hot and on a line. Ryan is smart in his reads and understands route concepts vs. different coverages. I like his decisiveness and ability to get through multiple reads.

Nassib panics at times with pressure. His athleticism allows him to move away from pressure when he sees it. Nassib actually has a tendency to drift into pressure which is a very bad habit. His accuracy can be erratic due to his wide base and jumpy pocket movement.

The way Ryan Nassib moves in the pocket is the most concerning part of his game. It’s concerning enough that I considered dropping him 2-3 rounds in my grades. Nassib doesn’t just step in the pocket, he jumps. This erratic and inconsistent jumping motion really concerns me because he covers a lot of ground with each jump. He moves in large increments which leads to a multitude of other problems. In the NFL, the pocket is tighter and there is less functional space for a QB to work. Moving in large increments is often detrimental to a QB because it moves him squarely into the face of pressure. Nassib gets clocked by defenders more than a few times in the pocket because he hops up and the  defender then has a free shot to which Nassib can’t protect himself against. Ryan also loses accuracy because of this movement because it often leaves him off balance with an unstable base. Without his base, Nassib’s motion and accuracy suffer.

Final Verdict:

I have Ryan Nassib so high because I put significant value is his ability to make reads, go through his progression, be decisive with the football, and be fairly accurate with it. He absolutely, unconditionally, must be tamed within the pocket. If he can learn to keep that pocket movement to a minimum, he could make a solid NFL quarterback. If he doesn’t tame that movement, he’ll end up injured more than he is active. He also needs to reign in that rainbow of a deep ball. With the right coaches, Nassib could be an above average starter in the NFL but he is far from a sure thing.

 

3. Geno Smith – West Virginia – Early-Mid 2nd Round grade

This is another ranking that seems out of place with the general groupthink assessment of these quarterbacks. I had Geno Smith as my top quarterback in this class until I had a change of philosophy that shifted towards a greater emphasis on anticipation and it’s relation to arm strength. Geno struggles with anticipation but that also made me realize that I didn’t give him enough credit for his arm strength.

Geno is superbly accurate with the football. Even when his ball placement didn’t seem on point, I actually noticed that it was typically in the best place for the receiver to catch the ball without getting drilled by a defender. To me, it looks like when the ball placement is off for Geno on short to intermediate routes, it’s because he’s adjusted it to fit the window or putting it away from the defender. I don’t see inconsistency in accuracy like I’ve seen others note. He throws a solid deep ball and gets some good revolutions on the ball to help it come out clean. Geno is also an incredible athlete but tends to shy away from using his legs as much as he should. He’s not shy in the pocket but sometimes I think he hangs on to the rock for a little too long before deciding to run or throw it away. He has solid pocket presence that allows him to move around freely and keep his head up.

My major concerns with Geno Smith are his ability to come off his first read and his ability to get through progressions with the necessary quickness. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell put it in a way that I liked a lot: “He has slow eyes.” Meaning that Geno stuck to his first read a little longer than he should before coming off to his 2nd read. That continues through each read. He’s just a little slow to get through each step in the progression.

Geno also lacks the anticipation that I want from a top level quarterback. He has enough arm strength to get the ball in windows even without anticipation. Geno gets lazy with his mechanics at times in the pocket. He can throw from many different platforms and still remain accurate which will help him in a more confined pocket in the NFL. He’s another guy that needs to learn to throw the sideline routes. I’d also like to see Geno trust his arm a little more. He has to see a receiver open before he pulls the trigger and that costs him. I would even like to see him throw a couple more 50/50 balls and let his receivers go up and get it (even though I know Austin/Bailey aren’t that type of WR). It’s something he’ll have to learn to do in the NFL.

Final Verdict:

Geno Smith became prominent in draft talk because of the gaudy numbers he put up in a loaded WVU offense. But to me, statistics don’t matter. I’ll always send you back to Colt Brennan if you start reciting stats. I love Geno’s potential to be a high-level NFL quarterback but right now I feel that his ability to read defenses and speed up his mental process on the field is detrimental. There are certain traits that I think are easier to fix than others. The ability to process information surely and swiftly is something that I am not confident can be taught and learned quickly. And if quarterbacks in the league don’t produce early, they don’t often get long to change people’s minds. Alex Smith is the exception that proves the rule. If I knew that anticipation and read diagnosis were easily improved, I’d throw Geno right at the top of this list and claim him as the next Colin Kaepernick, but that’s something I simply don’t see from him. It drops him from a Top 10 QB to an early-to-mid 3rd round grade. It’s that important to me.

 

4. Zac Dysert – Miami (OH) – Late 2nd Round grade

Zac Dysert may be a lesser known to those who don’t follow the draft process closely. Dysert played in the MAC and had a fairly unspectacular season in terms of success and statistics. However, this doesn’t mean that Dysert isn’t an NFL quality quarterback. In fact, I would say that Zac Dysert is the most NFL ready QB in this class. He might be the only prospect that could start early in the season and I could be comfortable with the result.

Dysert got very little help in 2012 from his offensive teammates. His offensive line was terrible enough that the coaching staff would scheme moving pockets to give Dysert more time to throw. His receivers weren’t much better as they seemed to have a serious case of butter-fingers.

Zac was decisive in his pre & post-snap reads. He got the ball out quickly, on time, and accurately. There were times when Dysert seemed to get anxious and didn’t trust himself with easy throws and would pull back a bit and would cause the ball to be wildly inaccurate. For the most part, Dysert was impressively accurate with good ball placement. His arm strength leaves a lot to be desired. He isn’t weak armed but his limitations will show at times.

Dysert’s biggest asset is his brain. He’s smart and he processes information quickly. He understands the nuances of the QB position (like pulling his non-throwing hand off the ball to make a DB bite) and uses it to his advantage. He’s confident in his arm and shows phenomenal anticipation. His anticipation skills make up for any perceived lack of arm strength. He can also throw on the run when necessary to both his right and left.

Like Bray, Dysert needs to step on target to make sure he’s totally accurate. Dysert has good size and will hang in the pocket when necessary. With a terrible OL, I can’t blame him for dropping his eyes at times but it’s still something he needs to fix. Dysert doesn’t have a good enough arm to not reset his feet whenever absolutely possible.

Final Verdict:

Zac Dysert showed a lot more positive mental aspects to his game than any other QB in this class. His anticipation is incredible and he trusts his arm to make the correct throw. He’s accurate for the most part but has occasional errant throws that seem to come from nowhere. I had a late 2nd round/early 3rd round grade on Andy Dalton and I think Dysert has a good chance to be better than that.

 

5. Mike Glennon – North Carolina State - Mid 3rd Round grade

Mike Glennon is tall and lanky and could benefit from a few added pounds. He’s not an athlete by any definition but he can get a few yards here and there if the play breaks down and he has an open lane. He displays a decent, not great, arm and his deep ball is solid but inaccurate. He can change trajectories to fire it in deep or lay it over the shoulder of the wide receiver. He is one of the few guys in this class that has demonstrated he can make a solid back shoulder throw. Glennon is an all or nothing guy when it comes to throw selection – he’s either chucking it deep or checking it down to a crossing route. I’m not sure if it’s him or the offense that’s designed that way, but boy, he throws a ton of checkdowns.

Glennon has a bit of a loop in his arm motion. Mike can use zip on the ball to compensate at the next level but will need to become more comfortable in the pocket. He gets happy feet at times, which added to his propensity to checkdown too early, tells me that he has an antsy mind – and a QB clock that runs on double time. He also throws off his back foot way too much. Glennon’s accuracy is pretty inconsistent and depending on the game you watch, it can vary pretty greatly. He is good at leading receivers on underneath crossing routes but is slightly scattershot beyond that. Accuracy isn’t bad but it isn’t good either. Glennon’s offensive line certainly didn’t do him any favors but I saw Mike falling back in the face of pressure way to many times. Want to see him stand in and take the shot a little more to prove his toughness.

I think Glennon anticipates just ok, but the loop in his motion causes a bit of a delay which causes the ball to end up a tick later than it should. Mike’s decision making can be brutal at times as well. He can make a “wow” throw in both the good and bad sense of the word. More bad than good, however. The longer he held onto the ball though, the more worried I became. I also thought Glennon showed a lack of situational awareness but throwing dump offs to tightly covered backs on 3rd-and-6 or 3rd-and-8 knowing they wouldn’t make it to the sticks. Even threw short on a 4th-and-15 once.

Final Verdict:

A big arm doesn’t cure all. Mike Glennon has a lot of developing to do as a quarterback. He got away with a lot of poor throws in college due to his arm and larger windows but Glennon certainly is not ready for the NFL yet. He’ll need to toughen up in the pocket, slow down his inner clock (which could happen playing behind a real offensive line), and learn to stick with his progression a little longer. His mechanics should get cleaned up a little but that loop in his arm motion is a hard thing to fix. He has a high upside but he also has a low downside due to poor decision making. How effortlessly he makes some beautiful throws is something that is intriguing but not enough for me to use a super-valuable 1st or 2nd rounder on him.

 

6. Tyler Wilson – Arkansas – Mid to Late 3rd Round grade

Tyler Wilson is a tough guy to nail down. His 2011 and 2012 seasons are like watching two different prospects. He also tends to be inconsistent from game to game to me. A lot of evaluators have attributed both Wilson’s decline in 2012 and his inconsistencies to his awful offensive line. Wilson’s best quality is most certainly his toughness and his leadership abilities. But so was Tim Tebow’s. (Not comparing the two players, just saying it doesn’t win you ballgames in the NFL)

Wilson is tough as nails. He’ll stare down the gun barrel, take the shot, and hop right back up. He did tend to get nervous and jittery in the pocket, and while I can’t blame him because he was behind an atrocious line, I also can’t say he’ll get drafted to a team with a great o-line either. If he learns the nuances of pocket movement (a side step or a half step up rather than a full on run when danger approaches) then I think he’ll begin to feel much more comfortable. Wilson has good size and solid athleticism. He isn’t a running quarterback but can escape, evade, and even get a first down or two when they’re there.

Tyler makes solid reads and can hit open receivers but where Mike Glennon was “slightly scattershot,” I saw Wilson as much more scattershot. He was erratic to me and had poor ball placement – again, something that could be attributed to constant pressure but I saw it in 2011 as well when he had much better talent in front of him. Wilson holds the ball a little low but gets it cocked and ready to throw quickly. He seems to hold the ball a little too long when not being pressured. Also makes too many “What the heck?” throws.

Wilson is a guy who lacks anticipation and must see a receiver open before he can pull the trigger. Maybe hurrying himself because of this could contribute to erratic accuracy. I also have concerns about Wilson’s arm strength. It’s not weak but there are times when Wilson must really strain to get the necessary velocity and depth on longer throws over the middle and down the field. In the NFL, this may mean he becomes limited as a thrower. Wilson’s ball also flutters a lot which is indicative of him gripping the ball too tight (he has small hands) and it gets worse on deep balls. I noticed he throws behind his receivers fairly often. That only stands to get worse when he goes to the next level and the speed increases.

Final Verdict:

There is a lot I like about Tyler Wilson. Toughness and leadership are fantastic qualities to have as a quarterback…as long as he displays the other characteristics to be able to be successful at the position as well. I think Wilson is physically limited at times. There are a lot of things I like about Wilson over Glennon, but the scattershot accuracy and ball placement are weighted heavily for me. I think Wilson needs a coach to reign him in as he tried to do too much in 2012 at Arkansas. Wilson showed the ability to carry a team on his shoulders at times but I don’t think it’s something you would want to ask of him often. Wilson could possibly be cleaned up and ready in the NFL fairly quickly if he finds himself behind a good offensive line and a good coach who will clean up some fairly shoddy lower body mechanics. It could make a huge impact on his ability to read defense and help him put the ball on the money more often. I think it would take a perfect situation for Wilson to be ready to play this year. For now, he could serve as a backup as a high upside quarterback.

 

7. Matt Barkley – USC – Early 4th Round grade

Oh, Matt Barkley. What to make of you. Physically you’re limited. You’re crafty in the pocket, smart, and superbly accurate but the eye-popping talent just isn’t there. Should we trust your head and believe you can lead a team in the same sense that Chad Pennington did? Or do we look at the below average arm and inability to really zip it into a closing window and say, “Since you can’t pass, we’ll pass.” Teams will likely be very split on Barkley. Some will have him ranked highly (think bottom 1st, top 2nd round) and some will have him ranked lower (4th/5th rounds). I highly doubt that there’s a team that believes Barkley is a top 20 pick.

The first thing we should address: Matt Barkley’s arm probably isn’t as bad as you think if you’ve listened to the talking heads on network shows. He is limited by arm strength, no doubt. But he also has enough there to make a good throw into the seam with the safeties closing. That’s an important throw to be able to make. But I also don’t think Barkley can consistently make that deep out to the open side of the field without getting picked off in the NFL. On top of a below average arm, Barkley only has mediocre anticipation. This exacerbates the arm strength issue (which is why I think everyone thinks his arm is so bad). Barkley did drop a dime to Marqise Lee that went 57 yards in the air vs. Oregon.

The difference between 2011 and 2012 for Barkley was his offensive line. In 2011 he had a lot more room to step up and into his throws meaning he could get the necessary zip on the ball a lot more than in 2012 when he had more bodies around him and the ball just didn’t quite make it there as well. He needs to load (nearly crow-hop) and step into throws to really get the zip and distance that I would like to see. Coupled with his pedestrian anticipation, his arm strength really becomes a poignant concern for me. I believe that the synergy of these qualities must meet a certain level to be successful in the NFL. If arm strength is lacking then the prospect must have increased anticipation to absolve the lack zip on the ball. If anticipation is lacking, then the player needs to have the necessary arm strength to compensate for the decision being made late. I don’t believe the sum of Barkley’s arm strength and anticipation add up to the necessary level to be successful in the NFL — right now at least. I’ve seen player’s increase arm strength and/or anticipatory recognition once they make it into the NFL, so it’s possible Barkley can still get there.

Barkley is helped by his football intelligence and his impeccable accuracy even with defenders in his chip strap. Matt has fantastic pocket presence and makes the most out of subtle pocket movements. Defenders rarely get a clean shot as Barkley can slide out of the way while maintaining good balance and keeping his eyes on his target. He is very good at throwing his receivers open in both zone and tight man coverage. He will get away with some throws that he shouldn’t because of his ball placement abilities.

Matt shows the ability to read through a progression, albeit fairly slowly. He can manipulate the safeties with his eyes and come back to his primary target and deliver the ball on the money. One major concern I have about Barkley is how much he relies on his presnap reads. He’s very good at diagnosing a defense in the presnap phase but after the snap he is slow to come off his first read because he trusts that presnap read so much. He can also be baited into poor decisions because of this. Showing one defense at the line and then falling into a different one causes major issues for Barkley. He’ll need to learn that skill or he’ll get eaten alive in the NFL.

Final Verdict:

Matt Barkley is an interesting case for my new philosophy of the relationship between arm strength and anticipation and the level necessary to be successful in the NFL. I think he’ll need to improve on either or both to make a consistently successful NFL quarterback. He may be able to skate by early on his intelligence and accuracy. If somehow Barkley can find a way to really jack up his arm strength and maintain his accuracy, he could be incredibly successful. I want to see him get through his reads a little more efficiently but his pocket presence will allow him a little extra time to make decisions in the pocket. Overall, I would consider Barkley just on the good side of a developmental QB simply because I’m not sure that his necessary traits add up to be a sustainable quarterback right now.

 

8. EJ Manuel – Florida State – Late 5th-6th Round grade

EJ Manuel is going to be an interesting case study for me over the next year or two. The evaluations are all over the place for EJ but there is an large contingent that believes he is more of a “tools” guy. To a lesser degree, some draft evaluators believe that EJ Manuel could be the next Colin Kaepernick type of quarterback. I evaluated Manuel early on and I came away impressed with his athleticism but not his ability to play from the pocket. Then at the Senior Bowl, I remember one team executive making the remark, “Someone is going to overdraft this guy. He’s not an NFL quarterback but someone is going to believe that he is.” This sums up my thoughts on Manuel, as well.

Manuel looks the part. He’s tall and well built. He has a strong arm and can sling the ball all over the yard. His athleticism is phenomenal and he’s fantastic in running the speed option and the read option. He has some major physical tools to work with.

Where Manuel falls short is in pretty much everything else for me. Manuel is highly inconsistent with his accuracy. Really, his accuracy is downright poor on anything over 15 yards. He was a master of the short passes and screen game and that helped his completion percentage. He’s not efficient in reads. He’s slow to get through a couple of progressions and often ends up making poor decisions and throwing into traffic. Manuel crumbles when the pocket around him disintegrates. He becomes anxious and pulls the ball down too quickly.

Final Verdict

If not for Manuel’s athleticism, I don’t think he’d have a shot at being an NFL QB. But as it is, he can be a project for a team that wants to try to make him into a read option QB. He should be drafted on tools alone, not as a Cam Newton type of QB that should come in and start early.

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