John Elway, Denver Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
INDIANAPOLIS - The 16 quarterbacks who have arrived here for the NFL scouting combine literally can't escape the comparisons to last year's star-studded class.
It was here, at Lucas Oil Stadium, that Andrew Luck, last year's No. 1 overall pick, took a two-win Indianapolis Colts team and turned it into a playoff squad. The second pick, Robert Griffin III, did the same for the Washington Redskins, as did Seattle Seahawks third-rounder Russell Wilson.
Giant pictures of Luck cover the walls inside a stadium concourse that has been transformed into the news media center for the combine, where a new group of quarterback prospects - players like Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Geno Smith and Collin Klein - face repeated questions about the perceived weakness of their class as a whole.
"Maybe there is no Luck or RGIII, but there are quite a few talented quarterbacks that did good things in college," Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib said Friday. "It's really who is going to separate themselves here or on the pro day or in the interviews. I just hope that at the end of the day I've put myself in the best position to hopefully get put ahead of some of these guys. That's what we're all striving for."
The proving process began for several prospects at the Senior Bowl last month, but it is accelerated here in the high-pressure, non-stop job interview that includes physical drills, formal sit-downs with club executives, aptitude tests and medical examinations. It likely will take significant effort, tremendous workouts and strong interviews here or at a pro day to persuade quarterback-needy teams to draft one in the first round.
John Elway, the Denver Broncos executive vice president and Hall of Fame quarterback, isn't scouting passers this year, so perhaps that puts him in a better position to judge the 2013 class. Elway views no one player who is certain to make a similar impact as a rookie as Luck, Griffin or Wilson did. Other 2012 draft picks who started as rookies include Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins.
"There were two or three guys that came in and made a huge impact. And now you look at it, and there's not one guy that's jumping out at everybody at that position," Elway said Friday. "It's hit or miss with who is coming out."
Elway and the Broncos didn't want to miss. After luring free agent quarterback Peyton Manning to Denver last March, the Broncos used a second-round pick on Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler. Had Osweiler decided to stay in school for his senior year in 2012, it is possible he would be in the conversation to be the top quarterback in this draft.
"I didn't want to be in that position. With Brock coming in, and where we got him, we think we can train him so when Peyton decides to hang 'em up, we can continue to play at the level we're at now," Elway said.
Andy Reid is now in charge of the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the teams most in need of a quarterback. The Chiefs own the No. 1 overall pick, and Reid and his staff are spending plenty of time studying the quarterbacks to see if any are worth taking above a blue-chip offensive lineman like Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel or maybe a pass rusher.
"You're coming off a phenomenal year of quarterbacks, one that doesn't come around very often. But I would tell you that there are some good players in there, yes," said Reid, who drafted - and started - Foles last year with the Philadelphia Eagles.
This year's prospects are used to being "beaten up," said quarterbacks guru George Whitfield, Jr., who has tutored Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Luck. Such disrespect could lead to better-than-expected performances when quarterbacks are put through their throwing drills Sunday.
"This group will have an opportunity to show that. They haven't gotten there yet. They haven't the great big, hallmark moments," Whitfield said. "These guys have battled. They're tough. They've been hit in the mouth enough. I like this class. I know a lot of people poke holes in them. We'll know in at least two years from now."
Barkley is prepared for the comparisons, "whether it's just or unjust," he said. He could have left Southern California a year ago. Had he not been injured as a senior, he might be a lock as a top-10 pick now. But Barkley said he's better prepared for the NFL now than he was in 2012, and his experience as a four-year starter is one of the reasons why he believes he is the best quarterback in this draft.
"I don't feel like there is any pressure on my part to live up to them, I know every situation is different," Barkley said. "I guess time will tell how they pan out."
With the bar set so high by their predecessors, these quarterbacks might not have much time to work with.
(Article written by Lindsay Jones of USA Today Sports)
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