For some reason, a lot of people seem interested in the quarterback class of 2012. This could be because, barring an investment in a free agent like Manning or Flynn, our QBOTF is coming from this class. Or it could be because we're terrified of viciously throwing a mostly empty bottle of whisky through the television during the draft over the Seahawks' persistent failure to draft a competent quarterback. Again. Wait, what? Just me? Let's move on.
For my own reference and amusement, I've been assembling a list of the prominent prospects coming out this year, along with their most recent annual stat line and a few short notes on each player. On the outside chance any of the rest of you might be interested in something like that, you'll find it below.
College quarterbacks are getting better. (We know that Pete Carroll agrees with this thinking to some degree) A quick look at the class of 2011 tells us that despite strong doubts, many of them are more - and more quickly - prepared for the NFL than we imagined. Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, and to a lesser degree Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, have each enjoyed some measure of success, and we have yet to see extended looks at Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Mallett. Blaine Gabbert has been poor with a terrible supporting cast, but has also shown flashes, and has at least a little time to develop.
More than that, though, look at the total picture and see how many teams are really unhappy with their quarterback situation. The notion that "Good quarterbacks are in heavy demand" gets thrown around a lot, but I'd argue that sentiment is overstated. Miami, Washington, and Seattle, along with maybe Cleveland, Denver, and Arizona, are just about the only teams we can definitively say are unhappy with their quarterback situations.
Everyone else has a prospect in development they feel good about, or a starter they're happy with. (Indianapolis is a special case, especially after the recent and public breakup between Irsay and Peyton, but as they have a choice between Luck and Manning, we can hardly call them quarterback-needy) This isn't to say ANY team might not draft a quarterback - Rodgers is the classic example. The point is that average quarterback play today is objectively better than average quarterback play even three or four years ago, and the group of teams able to contend for a title may be widening in the modern era. A 'golden era' of quarterback play, if it's not too corny for you.
Add the guys coming out this year to the mix, and there's little doubt we'll be closer to that situation.
Robert Griffin III (6'2 / 220 / 4293yds / 72.4% / 10.68YPA / 37TD / 6INT): Right now, a number of commentators on talk radio and the ESPN debate mouthpiece are trying to be controversial by arguing that Griffin is a better prospect than Luck. The sad thing is, this idea deserves more than attention-grabbing arguments from The Worldwide Leader.
On the field, Griffin is a truly unique combination of poise, accuracy, strength, athleticism, and good decision-making. Trying to compare him to any quarterback ever to play in the NFL is a fool's errand - we've never seen anyone like him. Off the field, Griffin is even more impressive: remarkably intelligent, a clear leader, respected and venerated by his coaches and peers.
There's a reason Griffin has exploded among scouts this year, a reason he took the nation by storm and won the Heisman, and a reason any team should be glad to have him. If you've ever seen Griffin in a radio or tv interview, you know that from a personality and charismatic standpoint he's one of the most impressive football players we've ever seen. This is a guy you want as the face of your franchise, a leader for the next fifteen years. More importantly, because of draft positioning and the potential trade avenue, Griffin will probably go to a team that has more talent around him than Luck will, leading to the strong possibility that he has a better career than Luck, especially at first.
Matt Barkley (6'2 / 220 / 3528yds / 69.1% / 7.91YPA / 39TD / 7INT): ...Just kidding. Sorry about that.
Ryan Tannehill (6'4 / 222 / 3744yds / 61.6% / 7.05YPA / 29TD / 15INT): Tannehill's stock has been the subject of extreme dissension and scrutiny over the last few months. First pegged as the likely #5 quarterback behind Luck, Barkley, Jones, and Griffin, Tannehill eventually slipped out of the first round due to a poor senior season. And now that Barkley and Jones are out of the picture, surprise! Everyone likes him a little bit more again. Yet there remains significant disagreement over whether Tannehill is worth a pick where he is likely go to - the upper half of the first round.
The real truth is that it's convenient how quickly people have forgotten this guy's background; Tannehill was a pure receiver during his first two years at Texas A&M, a 6'4-222 juggernaut with good speed. His conversion to quarterback has produced impressive results given the situation, and there can be little doubt that he'll continue to develop to some degree. That said, Tannehill is not ready to walk onto an NFL team and start next year. More than any player on this list, he would seem to need time.
The team willing to take that chance and be patient may find themselves with an amazingly talented player, or they may find that Tannehill never reaches the ceiling they hope. It's also possible Tannehill goes the way of a Josh Cribbs, Antwaan Randle-El, or Michael Robinson, finding another role in the NFL. As with the other quarterbacks on this list, only time will tell (in this case it may just take more than others).
Brandon Weeden (6'4 / 218 / 4727yds / 72.3% / 8.38YPA / 37TD / 13INT): Do me a favor and hold off on the Chris Weinke comparisons. This guy is special, and the fact that he's 28 should be an advantage, not a disadvantage. He might be the single most pro-ready quarterback in this entire draft. During the Fiesta Bowl, Weeden hung in against Luck and matched him throw for throw, eventually winning the game.
Yes, Weeden had Justin Blackmon - which definitely helps. But this only takes so much away from Weeden; Griffin has perhaps an even better receiver to throw to, no doubt helping his case to be a high draft pick, and we certainly don't penalize him for that. This guy has the look of a less creepy Ben Roethlisberger - a tall, very strong player who is difficult to bring down and has a good-enough arm. Weeden is a strong prospect with tremendous potential, who may unfortunately lack the mobility Carroll envisions in his offense.
Austin Davis (6'2 / 221 / 3496yds / 60.2% / 7.36YPA / 30TD / 11INT): Can you say underrated? Players from Conference USA don't usually get much national attention (although this is a guy that has been touted by Rob Staton over at Seahawks Draft Blog all year). As a graduate of a C-USA school, I have been in a position to catch the occasional C-USA game. If Aaron Rodgers is the prototype for a quarterback in 2012, Austin Davis is the first person to come out since Rodgers who closely approximates that mold.
His height, strength, mobility, and accuracy evoke instant visual and statistical comparisons to Rodgers. (This isn't to say Davis is anywhere close to Rodgers' talent level today, merely that they seem similar from a technique standpoint) His improvement over the last two years is impressive, and he has been the only driving force on a fantastic season for an otherwise unremarkable team. Davis is young (22), and could easily sit for a year or two and improve even more.
This kid could also explode during draft season to become that come-from-nowhere late first or early second round pick (though it's looking more and more like Osweiler will fit that bill); with bench time, he could go even further. Moreover, he fits exactly what the seahawks want to do. His mobility and accuracy make him a great fit for Pete Carroll's style, and there is no quarterback in this draft that intrigues me as much as Austin Davis, period.
Chandler Harnish (6'2 / 221 / 3216yds / 61.7% / 8.38YPA / 28TD / 6INT): An underrated four-year prospect out of Northern Illinois who will rise some as the draft gets closer, and like Davis, has been mentioned by Rob Stanton, who has posted some tape on Harnish. Harnish has been efficient and productive in a system with few weapons, albeit against second-tier competition.
This is hardly a mark against him; Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, and Joe Flacco are among the many recent examples of a small-school quarterback rising during draft season and making an early impact in the NFL. Harnish is among the most well-rounded prospects on this list, who is efficient in most facets of his game but has few "wow" moments. On the other hand, this seems to fit extremely well with what Pete Carroll seems to have in mind for a quarterback - an efficient game-manager who makes few mistakes and keeps the chains moving. Harnish is another interesting one to watch this draft season.
Kellen Moore (5'11.5 / 185 / 3800yds / 74.3% / 8.66YPA / 43TD / 9INT): Although listed at 6'1, realistically, Kellen Moore is probably no better than 5'11.5 / 185. People take shots at his arm and stature, comparing him to Chad Pennington on a good day, more Cade McNown upside than Drew Brees upside. Only time will tell how that plays out. However, for a so-called noodle-armed passer, Moore has more YPA than Barkley or Tannehill, on par with Luck.
He has demonstrated all-world accuracy and pocket awareness over a span of four years, and has improved over time. He is acknowledged as a disciplined and dedicated student of the game who puts football first. Yet he is viewed by many as a project, and for that reason may be available in later rounds. These facts in combination make Moore an extremely attractive low-risk prospect in my eyes; many will disagree. But scouting quarterbacks is a funny business. Moore may well be a bust in the NFL, but if the whole thing is that he's got this one fatal flaw that will doom his career (measureables), and it turns out he can overcome it, he's going to be a phenomenon at the next level.
Nick Foles (6'5 / 240 / 4334 / 69.1% / 7.74 YPA / 28TD / 14INT): The love-him-or-hate-him prospect of the year. While several professional scouts have criticized his performance over the course of a year in which Arizona went 4-8, Foles cannot shoulder the entire blame for that failure.
He has the size to impress most scouts, but his lack of mobility is definitely a red flag with respect to the Seahawks' desired offensive scheme. Ultimately, Foles is a prospect that some team may take a chance on based on his look as opposed to his production; such a decision would be uncharacteristic for the Seahawks FO based on recent history.
Kirk Cousins (6'3 / 205 / 3316yds / 63.7% / 7.9YPA / 25TD / 10 INT): With reporters dropping hints all week that Cousins was the most impressive quarterback at the senior bowl practices, his stock has clearly been on the rise. Cousins is the sort of passer who looks good from most angles, with a solid combination of arm strength, size, and production. However, Cousins will not knock your socks off. His repoitoire screams "Good - not great."
He is less mobile than Davis or Harnish, has less arm strength than Tannehill or Osweiler, and is less accurate than Moore or Weeden. Yet Cousins' solid skillset might end up making him more than the sum of his parts. Suffice it to say, Cousins is someone it's easy to go either way on. If the Seahawks draft him, it's easy to be optimistic about his positives, but if they pass, it's just as easy to understand why.
Russell Wilson (5'11 / 201 / 3175yds / 72.8% / 10.28YPA / 33TD / 4INT): Three interceptions in thirteen games over the course of the regular season (another in a loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl). I don't care who you are, that's impressive, and it's guaranteed that Schneider and Carroll have noticed. And doing it while throwing for 72.5% and 10.14 yards per attempt (both better than Luck) with 2879 yards and 31 touchdowns?
This guy is a hallmark of production. Did I mention he's also rushed for 5 touchdowns? You probably know the story on Russell Wilson. Wilson graduated from NC State in three years and took advantage of a limited exception in NCAA rules, allowing a first-year graduate student with one year of eligibility remaining to play football after enrolling in a graduate program not available at his undergraduate institution. Wilson's smarts and athleticism will bring him into this conversation at the highest levels despite his height, which like Kellen Moore's, is limited (5'11"). This may matter less for an athletic prospect like Wilson, who has been playing in the Colorado Rockies' minor league system. Having succeeded in two different programs and systems so quickly is strong evidence that he can learn a new one pretty fast.
Several other quarterbacks have, and will continue to, merit mention and consideration from draftniks leading up to April. There are some interesting project quarterbacks on this list, but in my opinion none of them are worth serious consideration at this time.
Brock Osweiler (6'8 / 240 / 4036yds / 63.2% / 7.82YPA / 26TD / 13INT): Brock Osweiler is a huge, system oriented, one-year-starter for an Arizona State team that went 6-7 and is coming into the draft off a five game losing streak. Based on his measureables and his arm strength, he will be a figure in scouting conversations in the upcoming months, and for that reason only he deserves a mention here.
Osweiler is the type of developmental prospect with tremendous potential that interests NFL front offices. Osweiler is also the type of player who has recently been drafted between the late first and third rounds a la Flacco, Freeman, Kolb, and Mallett, with the hope that he developes into the whole package. More than most players on this list, he represents a calculated investment that has a lot of potential to go up - or down. It bears mentioning that Carroll and Schneider have shied away from drafting a player with a similar - and superior - skillset already (Mallett), and they may do so again.
Personally, I don't think Osweiler has shown enough production or talent over a consistent period of time to merit consideration high in the draft, but his measureables will keep him in the conversation and will certainly get him drafted higher than some of the people above him on this list. He may turn into a starter at the next level, but he's probably not the 2012 starter that the Seahawks should be looking for at this time.