When Hog Heaven was hosted by MVN, I used to produce a functional system of ranking draft prospects that was used network-wide, primarily as a resource that bloggers could link to when touting one prospect or degrading another.
That, along with the statistics I use, are pretty much the extent of my credibility for ranking quarterbacks. People will listen to me if I’m right. People will not listen to me if I’m wrong. My rankings will vary from the Kiper’s and McShay’s of the world for that reason.
I also get the opportunity to adjust the rankings specific to the Redskins situation. This might make a difference at the top of this list. The strongest prospect at the quarterback position in the draft might be Jimmy Clausen, who has 34 college starts and a 62.5% completion percentage. But when you evaluate guys who might succeed in the Redskins system, those aren’t universally successful numbers, and Mike Shanahan’s system values mobility and accuracy. Jimmy Clausen’s 6.72% sack rate is also troubling for me. When evaluating a guy who projects as a higher varient Patrick Ramsey or Jason Campbell, you don’t want to degrade the prospect, but rather suggest that until the team changes the way it does business, they have limited use for a guy whose development curve resembles the last two guys who have failed to develop.
Anyway, I’ll rank, then you can complain, and I’ll try to defend myself.
1. Colt McCoy, Texas
I can break it down 100 different ways, make spreadsheets, sort data, flip the spreadsheets upside down (9s become 6s), and I can’t make McCoy and Sam Bradford look like appreciably different players. They are both first round talents. Bradford’s arm is better, but McCoy’ isn’t bad. McCoy threw a lot of passes these last two seasons, and his team kept winning games.
A good comparable for him would be Chad Pennington, the #20 pick in the 2000 draft. Pennington might not have gone that high if there had been stronger quarterback prospects in that draft, like there are in this one, and he might have been pushed to the second round. That wouldn’t change the fact that Pennington has had one of the better careers in the history of the position (Pennington, the career completion percentage leader in the NFL, sits at 28th on a list of all-time quarterbacks im putting together).
Like with Bradford (and Pennington), durability is a concern with McCoy, but he didn’t miss but one start at Texas (Kansas State, as a Freshman). Particularly with McCoy, above all others, it’s Mike Shanahan’s system that will allow Colt McCoy to make plays down the field by getting him outside the pocket at cutting the field in half, defining throws on those deep crossing routes and comeback staples.
McCoy’s biggest weakness, particularly when it comes to using a top 20 pick on him, is that if you change the system to a system that isn’t timing based, you may have to replace him. Which puts you right back at this spot in three or four seasons, if Kyle Shanahan takes a head coaching job elsewhere.
2. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
I have Bradford at second on this list, and he’s lower than McCoy for a single reason. Colt McCoy has 53 college starts. Sam Bradford has 31 college starts. Both players have started in a national championship game, although neither really boosted their stock in one. Both players have rare accuracy throwing the football, and they can both make a play with their legs.
Bradford is a little better at downfield route combinations from the pocket than Colt McCoy is. If McCoy is a Chad Pennington type, Bradford’s best comparable would have to be Houston’s Matt Schaub. One of the reasons I feel that the Redskins will take Sam Bradford if he is available is because of Mike Shanahan’s son, Kyle, at the offensive coordinator position. Kyle spent last season calling plays that made Matt Schaub the NFL’s leading passer. Under the Shanahan’s there’s little doubt that Sam Bradford could become a 4,000 yard passer for the Redskins.
But lets go one step further with the Schaub analogy. Let’s say that we could predict ahead of time that Bradford was an identical prospect to Schaub. Is that the kind of player you would draft at the 4th overall pick? On one hand, you’re getting a top ten quarterback in this system four years down the road. On the other hand, you might be able to generate more immediate dividends by addressing a real issue at No. 4 overall, and taking McCoy in the second round. After all, Pennington had more career value at age 29 than Schaub did, but despite adding great age 30 and age 32 seasons, it looks like Schaub has a chance to finish out his career with better seasons than injury riddled Pennington.
However, if the difference between Bradford and McCoy is that ultimately, Bradford has the better projection for seasons after 2015, is that enough net present value to justify taking Bradford 20-30 picks ahead of McCoy? Because my rankings system grades prospects only on their value to the contract they will sign for being drafted, that’s a question that you have to decide for themselves. We have a pair of guys who can be 3,500-4,000 yard passers from 2011-2014. After that, McCoy might have maxed out his value while Bradford can excel with the more talent you give him. The question is: is the use of the 4th overall pick now worth the potential upside in 2015? And it’s a yes or no, not a maybe.
Bradford is very, very overvalued nationally. But that doesn’t mean he’s not the best quarterback in this class. It just means that it’s closer at the top of the class than a lot of people really think.
3. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
I feel pretty confident in saying that Clausen will not be a player under serious consideration for the Redskins at No. 4, but if he gets by Denver at No. 11, he could freefall to a point where the Redskins could make a play on him by trading up back into the first round. And so it’s critical to make a determination whether this team will be better off in the long run with Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy as the QB of the future. The Redskins might have a shot at either.
It’s a different argument once the Redskins have grabbed a franchise tackle at No. 4. At this point, the argument that the Redskins have absoutely nothing to work with for the rookie will be mostly bunk. With Russ Okung (or Anthony Davis) anchoring the left side of the line, it makes sense for the Redskins to try to get someone in there to develop a relationship with those receivers. With Jason Campbell still on the roster for at least one more year, there’s actually a good argument to drafting Clausen late in the first round if he falls there. Clausen is more similar to Campbell than to any other QB in the NFL based on college stats (other similar QBs include Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers). All of these quarterbacks fall heavily on the McNabb side of the Cutler-McNabb interception to sack “bad result” continuum.
Clausen is very short and lacks a refined sense of the pocket, which are weaknesses he shares with McCoy. His release is long, in that it takes him a long time from decision to release, but it’s fundamentally sound. He will protect the football in the pocket. He generally makes good decisions down the field. And ultimately, Clausen’s success or failure in the NFL will be determined by whether or not his team puts a lot of talent around him. If they take Okung AND Clausen this year, the Redskins might want to consider taking an elite receiver in the 2011 draft. When you look at Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, these are not guys who will help turn Jimmy Clausen into a pro bowl quarterback. Dez Bryant or even Golden Tate…those guys might.
4. Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State
I have a second round grade on Zac Robinson. A lot of his strengths, though, would be limited in the Mike Shanahan offensive system. Robinson is strong in this draft class for a very quick release, phenominal pocket presence, and excellent downfield passing ability. He had the opportunity to play games on film without the benefit of all-world receiver Dez Bryant, and the OSU offense did not lose it’s downfield element. Robinson is quite accurate downfield. He is neither a better, nor a worse prospect than Jason Campbell was coming out of Auburn, but he has pretty much the opposite skill set.
Robinson is mobile, but he’s not as accurate outside of the pocket. His NFL comparable from the last few years would be someone like a Matt Ryan. Obviously, Ryan came with a level of accomplishment that Robinson does not come with, which is why one was the 3rd overall pick and the other is a mid-round draft projection. Robinson is a guy with very limited weaknesses, and should play well in a pro-style offense. He lacks rare skills or great fan fare, but what skills he does have are franchise quarterback caliber. He’s a gunslinger who might turn the ball over, but hey, you’ve got a better chance of getting the next Favre here than with Bradford or Clausen.
5. Dan Lefevour, Central Michigan
I’ve seen the Pennington comparable used before for Dan Lefevour, but the guy I think he compares best to in the last few drafts would have to be Brady Quinn. Lefevour is not a naturally accurate passer, and his 66.7% completion percentage is largely a function of playing against MAC defenses in a superior offense. His college production, however, is undeniable. Lefevour is a vertical passer with mobility and a good sense of a professional pocket for a spread quarterback. And when you’re talking about the safest picks in this QB class, Lefevour received my lowest (best) “Varience” calculation, which measures his value in terms of consistent production from year to year. He improved from his freshman year to his sophomore year, then leveled off and was pretty much a machine from that point out.
Quinn’s struggles with the Browns suggest that taking a guy in the first round and then not giving him any help will not offer Lefevour a chance to be successful, but if a team like the Giants wants a backup to Eli Manning, Lefevour would be a great pick in the third round.
6. Tony Pike, Cincinnati
Pike’s projection ranges anywhere from Joe Flacco to Tom Brady. With that said, keep in mind that a Brady projection would imply a 6th round pick with the skills to be an elite player, but who needs a significant amount of development in a very short amount of time to have any shot at realizing that potential. Brady was a super bowl winner at age 24, Pike will be a 23 year old rookie. That’s not very much time to develop enough sense of an NFL playbook to be playable within a year. Brady did it, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to be done again.
Flacco on the other hand is a better projection. If you have to play Pike right away, and he can be a downfield passer who completes 62% of his passes for more than 7 yards per attempt, that’s a fringe franchise quarterback. Which is where Pike projects at: third round, and the first two or three years of his career will be particularly critical. If he’s not a markedly better NFL QB by 2012, he’s probably a career backup.
7. Tim Tebow, Florida
Tebow’s going to be heavily criticized no matter where he goes in his career, but what you’re essentially dealing with here is a guy who is virtually guarenteed to enjoy one of the weirdest career paths in NFL history. There’s a good chance that Tebow will start and finish his career at quarterback, but I get the feeling that eventually, someone is going to try him at another position to get him on the field and jump start ticket sales.
As such, there are few Tebow comparables in NFL history, but I offer you up one really, really good one: Daunte Culpepper. Culpepper has essentially had two different NFL careers, neatly separated by a gruesome knee injury that may not have had anything to do with his decline as a player. Culpepper played five seasons with Randy Moss on the outside for him, started 73 games, made three pro bowls, threw 129 TDs and 74 INTs (including a 18-23 season), had a QB rating above 95.0 3 times, and might have been the NFLs best QB over that timeframe. In 5 seasons since, Culpepper has throw 20 TDs, 32 INTs, and has never had a QB rating over 78.0, starting just 24 games.
The only way that this applies to Tebow’s career is that he can both bust, and make a pro bowl, and hardly anyone would be surprised (or wrong). As a ridiculously high-effiency college player, Tebow’s efficiency will translate to the next level if coaches embraces principles of the spread offense as well as give him the superior talent advantage he enjoyed at Florida.
In other words, build a winning team, and Tebow will seem right at home, without missing a beat. Bring him to a loser, and the flaws will be amplified.
8. Mike Kafka, Northwestern
This is higher than I would normally rank a player with 637 career passing attempts, and more career INTs than TDs, but Kafka played in a terrible offensive environment (the Big Ten) on a terrible offensive team (the NU Wildcats), and managed to win 11 of his 19 starts while posting a bunch of 300 yard passing games throwing to receivers who are either at NU on academic scolarships, or lost their QB battles to Kafka, but can still catch passes from him as a consolation.
Kafka was a pro-style QB executing a college offense and playing through injury because he was just so much better than anyone else that Northwestern had. And he was instrumental in an upset of the 9-0 Iowa Hawkeyes. He somehow managed to complete 64% of his college passes, and his obscenely low TD rate (3.0%) would look a lot better if we were allowed to count Kafka rushing TDs. The guy can flat out produce, and should have a longer run in the NFL than his predecessor at NU, Brett Basenez.
9. Jarrett Brown, West Virginia
For a quarterback who spent his first four seasons waiting behind Pat White for an opportunity to play, Jarrett Brown is a guy who can really throw the football. He’s not a great prospect, but down at the bottom end of the fourth round where Brown is projected to go, I think you’d be better off with his arm as a developmental project and backup QB than you would with Jevan Snead. Brown has mechanical flaws when he has to reset, and you will have to iron out his footwork to get him to the next level, but Brown comes equipped with all the NFL tools.
10. Max Hall, BYU
Hall’s numbers are a lot better than John Beck’s numbers were coming out of BYU three years ago, but BYU is a powerhouse in the mountain west, and Hall spent two years throwing to Austin Collie, among others.
Hall is a higher efficiency player than Beck, but he also throws more questionable passes. He’s still going to be hurt by Beck being overdrafted by the Dolphins in 2007, as he’s looking at a 5th or 6th round selection. As far as the Shanahan offense goes, Hall could be an intriging look that late in the draft. He lacks the phyisical tools of a Jevan Snead-type, but he’s both quicker and more accurate with his decisions, and is a Senior with 39 career starts compared to a Junior with 27 career starts. The safe conclusion: Hall is better.