After the Cleveland Browns unceremoniously cut loose the last two starting quarterbacks and replaced them with an aging starter and a career backup, it is pretty obvious that the team will be selecting a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
In fact, as hinted during a Mike Holmgren/Eric Mangini press conference a month ago, it is entirely possible that they draft two quarterbacks to groom for the future—one close to NFL-ready and another as a project to stash on the practice roster.
That has been a staple of the “Holmgren Philosophy” for years.
Thus, it is time to break down the list of eligible quarterbacks who may soon call Cleveland home.
While I make no predictions as to which direction Mr. Holmgren is going to go—or in what round the team may pull the trigger—I do want to offer a crash course into the strengths and weaknesses of each.
1. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
You can argue with me until you are blue in the face, but you will not ever get me to back off my opinion that Bradford is best quarterback in the 2010 draft.
That is, unless someone hands me his medical chart that indicates he will not recover from his shoulder surgery. Unfortunately, I do not work in the NFL offices where that information is readily available.
Assuming that the countless number of doctors working for NFL teams have given him the thumbs-up, Bradford has everything you are looking for in an NFL quarterback.
He has terrific size at 6’4” and 235 pounds. He also shows very good athletic ability for such a big kid.
While he doesn’t possess the rifle of a Jay Cutler, he has very good arm strength—strong enough to fit the ball in tight spaces and make all the intermediate-to-long throws.
Additionally, he has touch on short passes, as Oklahoma throws a lot of screen passes as part of its primary “run” offense. Those abilities make him an attractive candidate to run a West Coast-style system.
Bradford throws a tight spiral, hits receivers in their stride, and gets the ball out quickly in his release. Those traits, along with his ability to hit receivers near the sidelines, allow him to create open spaces in the defense.
He is also a very cerebral quarterback (as evidenced by his 36 score on the Wonderlic Test—the highest score among the top quarterbacks in a landslide) and is smart enough to freeze safeties and linebackers by looking off his primary target.
Bradford possesses a quiet confidence and never seems to get rattled. Even in the national championship game against Florida two years ago, he maintained his composure in the face of unrelenting pressure from the Florida defense.
Had Bradford chosen to enter the draft in 2009, he would have been the No. 1 pick ahead of Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Instead, an injury because of a porous offensive line at Oklahoma has caused some to drop his stock.
Final Call: Ceiling: Peyton Manning, Floor: Eli.
Bradford is as close to Peyton Manning in intelligence, size, arm strength, and demeanor as there has been in quite a few drafts. He is the unquestioned leader in the 2010 quarterback class and has the potential to be an upper-tier NFL quarterback.
2. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
Clausen may be getting unfairly labeled in Cleveland with comparisons to Brady Quinn because of his Notre Dame ties.
However, the two could not be more different in terms of personality.
Clausen has a much more fiery temperament—perhaps abrasive to some. But no one can question his toughness if you have watched even a few series of his college career.
He has adequate NFL size—6’2” or 6’3” depending upon whom you ask—and slightly above-average arm strength.
In fact, he has a tendency to try to throw the ball too hard on short to medium-range routes—which sometimes has an effect on his accuracy.
When he calmly delivers the ball in the pocket, he makes all the throws. If he winds up trying to throw the ball through a wall, his mechanics fail and his ball floats.
What intrigues scouts is his solid footwork, blazing fast release, and football intelligence.
The latter was born from having private quarterbacks coaches since he was a young boy—Browns quarterback Brian Sipe as his high school coach, and two older brothers who were Division I college quarterbacks. That was before tutoring from well-respected offensive mind Charlie Weis in college.
He does have a tendency to lock on his receivers—which may be because he his primary option at Notre Dame (Golden Tate) was such a remarkable athlete that he knew Tate could bail him out.
Some may question his ability to “win,” having played quarterback at a tradition-rich program with a very poor winning percentage during his tenure. Others would argue that his play kept his team in games against superior opponents.
Final Call: Philip Rivers attitude, Kyle Orton arm
Clausen has been well-schooled as a quarterback at every level and has just enough arm strength. Drafting him at No. 7 in this draft is probably too high, as he is not the kind of quarterback who will make players around him better. But with the right talent around him, he should turn in a solid NFL career as a starter. While Quinn was the better college player at Notre Dame, Clausen is a better pro prospect.
3. Colt McCoy, Texas
I am personally higher on McCoy than a lot of others for three big reasons:
1. McCoy is, pure and simple, a winner. His 45 wins and three Bowl victories at the University of Texas are Division I records. He also won a state title in high school and was 34-2 overall as a starter.
2. McCoy is a ridiculously accurate passer. His completion percentages were an off-the-charts 68.2 percent, 65.1 percent, 76.7 percent, and 70.6 percent in his four years as a starter.
3. McCoy is a super athlete. In addition to starring as a quarterback in high school, he was a four-year starter in basketball (All-State as a junior) and a three-time regional qualifier in track (110m hurdles and mile).
Aside from not winning a Heisman Trophy, this kid wins at virtually everything he does. What’s remarkable, despite all that he has accomplished thus far, is that his teammates would run through a wall for him.
The knock on him is that he is only 6’1”—although he does have a solid build—and he does not possess a rocket for an arm. While he throws with velocity on short to medium-range routes, he does not always throw tight spirals when throwing the ball down the field.
He hits receivers in their breaks, allowing them to run with the ball after the catch. But he does have a tendency to throw behind receivers on longer passes.
Even though he has the ability to tuck the ball and run, he will survey the field first before he makes a break for it. He also possesses very “quiet feet,” meaning he will stand tall in the pocket and not get rattled by a pass rush.
Final Call: The next Drew Brees.
I believe Colt McCoy has the ability to surprise a lot of people. His lack of size has dropped him to the second round, where he is a steal. McCoy won against every level of competition he has been up against, and he puts up consistently high numbers doing it.
4. Tony Pike, Cincinnati
Interest from scouts rose as Pike led an improbable University of Cincinnati run near the top of the national rankings. Interest from scouts started to wane when they saw the gangly 6’6” quarterback with his shirt off.
Clearly, Pike is going to have to pack a few pounds on to that wiry frame before he is ready to take the poundings delivered at the NFL level. However, as the old adage goes, “you can’t teach size.”
You also can’t teach toughness—and Pike has it. As a junior, he missed only two games after fracturing his left forearm and played with an arm held together by a plate and six screws.
Although not blessed with a Howitzer, Pike has better arm strength than he is given credit for.
He has a smooth, effortless throwing motion and shows above-average accuracy on short and intermediate routes. He also throws a nice, tight spiral on deep passes.
Although he has pretty good footwork in his drop, he can get rattled by pressure and leave the pocket too early.
He only had 19 starts as a college player. Because of that, the game has not yet “slowed down” for him in terms of reading defenses.
Because the NFL game is even faster, he will need time to develop.
Final Call: Chad Henne—in a couple of years.
Pike is a project who is not ready to start right away. There are those who believe that Pike’s numbers were bloated by the spread system he operated under Chip Kelly in college. Others believe he is a raw prospect with untapped potential. While Pike is by no means a sure thing, I believe he has the potential to be the second- or third-best quarterback in this draft.
5. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan
With all due respect to Tim Tebow, Mr. LeFevour is the best dual-threat quarterback in this draft. He and Vince Young are the only college quarterbacks in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a single season.
LeFevour finished his career as arguably the most prolific passer in the history of the Mid-American Conference—a conference, I might add, that has had its share of successful NFL passers.
At 6’3” and 230 pounds, LeFevour has adequate NFL size. He has also put up monstrous statistics in college.
The question marks on him relate to the competition he has competed against, the strength of his arm, and whether or not he is just a system quarterback.
LeFevour acquitted himself quite well against better competition during Senior Bowl week. In fact, he was named the North squad’s MVP.
That performance increased his stock with NFL decision-makers, but the fact remains that LeFevour still does not possess a particularly strong arm outside of 15 yards. Specifically, LeFevour throws a lot of floaters on deep out routes—an alarm bell to me.
The other negative following him is a tendency to lock on to his primary receiver, and he will try to force balls in if his main target is not open.
Final Call: Not yet ready for prime time.
LeFevour can one day develop into a below-average starter or an above-average backup. But I am not as sold on him as a future franchise quarterback as others. To be fair, he has not had the same advantages in terms of being “coached up” as other players at big-time college programs. But his arm—or lack thereof—scares me.
6. Tim Tebow, Florida
Tebow is perhaps the biggest boom-or-bust quarterback prospect in this draft.
There is no doubt that he is in the discussion for one of the all-time great college football players. But the question is, can his skills translate to the NFL?
There is some talk that Tebow is the “perfect Wildcat quarterback,” but that is just not the case. He is not especially fast, and he will not be running over 250-pound linebackers with a license to kill like he ran over 210-pound linebackers just trying to get their college degrees.
His throwing mechanics and footwork are an absolute disaster. He ran an offense in college that never required him to make any reads, and he has a tendency to make wobbly throws.
Because he drops his arm and winds up to throw, defensive backs in the NFL can read and react, while pass rushers can strip him of the ball.
On the other hand, he does have a powerful arm, outstanding size and strength, and a rare will-to-win.
Despite his delivery, Tebow can make every throw—with zip.
It will be interesting to see how his “rah-rah” attitude plays with professional athletes, but it certainly worked at the college level.
Final Call: Buyer beware.
There is absolutely no one to compare him to—for better or worse. The only way he succeeds as a quarterback in the pros is if he finds the right coach with the right system. Whoever drafts him is going to have to be patient, as there is a lot of work to do.
Some believe that he is such a competitor that there is nothing he cannot do. Others believe that no coach can work out all those kinks. Until proven otherwise, I am in that latter category.
There are a number of college quarterbacks who will get looks as lower-round picks or undrafted free agents.
Some are pretenders who might serve as backups and collect a paycheck for a couple of years.
Others, while unheralded, have the physical tools necessary to play at the next level but may take some time to develop.
Below is a list of the latter category.
John Skelton, Fordham
Skelton entered college as a one-star recruit in a 6'5", 200-pound frame. He left college as a 6'6", 258-pound monster with a cannon for an arm.
Because he has not played against top-notch competition, no one truly knows how good he can be.
Some compare him to Joe Flacco, but others tag him with the dreaded “Derek Anderson clone.”
One thing we do know: He was smart enough to go to Fordham—and he has the physical tools for someone to take a flier on him.
Jevan Snead , Mississippi
Snead transferred out of Texas after losing the starting quarterback battle to Colt McCoy.
He possesses an All-Pro arm, but a suspect head. He has some flaws in his mechanics, which some scouts believe are correctable.
While there is potential here, the big question is whether anyone can get to it.
Mike Kafka, Northwestern
Kafka is a very intelligent kid with outstanding athleticism. He does, however, have questions about his arm.
He held his own playing against superior opponents with inferior teammates. He has limited upside, but he could turn into a great game manager for a team with top-flight skill position players.
Jonathon Crompton, Tennessee
Crompton is a real late bloomer who really had only one solid season at Tennessee.
He has a strong, albeit inaccurate arm, along with a quick release. Crompton might be worth the gamble late in the draft for a team willing to wait for his football IQ to catch up with his physical tools.
Sean Canfield, Oregon State
Canfield suffered a torn Labrum that caused him to miss the 2008 season. He came back with a vengeance in 2009 and was the Pac-10 First-Team quarterback (over more hyped quarterbacks such as Jeremiah Masoli, Jake Locker, Matt Barkley, and Andrew Luck).
He possesses excellent size (6'4", 223 pounds), accuracy, and plenty of arm strength. Canfield is a traditional drop-back passer who has experience in a pro-style offense.
In 2009, he had a remarkable 18:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone.
He struggled early in his college career and had some weight/maturity issues, but he seemed to put it all together in his senior year.