A lot has been made of the top two choices in this year’s NFL Draft but when you look at the Super Bowl Champs over the last decade, you realize great teams are built in the later rounds and depth is as important in today’s NFL as it has ever been.
Looking past Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, their doesn’t look like a guaranteed NFL starter remaining in the quarterback class. That doesn’t mean there won’t be one, we’ll just have to dig a little deeper.
Brandon Weeden’s numbers can ride against anybody -past or present- in the college game. But Weeden will be 29 years old when the season starts which limits his ceiling and overall projectability. Sure, Weeden looks nice when you compare him to Brock Osweiler, but he won’t be competing against that level of competition during his first NFL training camp. Forget about Kellen Moore, I don’t think Weeden would win a quarterback battle with Matt Moore. And at his age, I’m not sure there is too much to get excited about in terms of what he’s going to give you in years 2-5 of his rookie deal. He will come at a cheap price and I would love him as a third string guy on my favorite team -the New York Giants- but I’m not ready to predict that he’ll have a better career than the other appropriate-aged college arms. In Cleveland, the Browns will give him every chance to fail.
You can scratch Brock Osweiler off my list too. After watching him get put through the ringer on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp, his manuerisms and answers screamed “phony!” to me. The “Rah, Rah” cheerleader-style guy doesn’t work in the NFL and I’m not impressed if you love the game of football. You’re supposed to be a leader of men and it’s already assumed that you have passion for the game if a general manager is going to risk his career for you and sign you to a multi-million dollar contract. His act might have worked over at The Library or Axis/Radius -ASU bars where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting two dozen coeds you’d love to go home with- but count me out as a buyer in Osweiler’s stock.
Ryan Tannehill is certainly a prospect with enough projectability and athleticism to make the sourest of GMs salivate but I wasn’t floored by his decision making at Texas A&M, where he was surroudned by a group of talented football players yet failed to leave his mark -in terms of wins- on the Big 12. Tannehill will receive something Boise State’s Kellen Moore, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins would die for, and that’s a legitimate SHOT. The Dolphins took Tannehill with the 8th pick in this Draft and it’s almost a guarnatee that they’ll hand him the reins immediately.
Speaking of Kirk Cousins, I think he’s the sleeper in this year’s class. Most of the time we’re lucky if two quarterbacks from any given class become productive players in The League but sometimes we have to travel deeper into a class in order to find the gem. Cousins arrived at Michigan State and,after redshirting in 2007, spent his frshman season studying behind Brian Hoyer, who is now a hot commodity in New England. The following year -as a sophomore- he was in a heated competition with Keith Nichol but Cousins won out and made Nichol one of his favorite targets during the next three seasons. There was never any rift between the two, which speaks volumes to Cousins character. There aren’t many 3-year captains in college football, let alone at the QB position in the Big Ten, but Cousins earned that distinction by leading his team on and off the field.
Cousins physical attributes are nothing to scoff at either. He didn’t play in the best conditions as a quarterback in the midwest and having enough arm to cut through the wind at different Big Ten stadiums was a must. Although he only won five games as a sophomore in 2009, he showed signs of maturity well beyond his years. After losing three straight games to Central Michigan, Notre Dame and Wisconsin, Cousins settled the ship and went 15-21 for 152 yards to go along with 75 yards rushing in a 26-20 OT win against rival Michigan. The performance obviously flipped the switch for young Cousins and he would go on to win 22 combined games over the course of the next two season.
Cousins has great size, solid athleticism, is a natural leader with pinpoint accuracy. In a conference that mainly revolved around great rushing attacks, Cousins helped BJ Cunningham become the best wide receiver in the history of the program. In back-to-back-to-back wins against Ohioo State, Wisconsin and Michigan, he completed 55-of-87 passes for 660 yards with 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Without a great running game, opposing defenses centered their gameplans around Cousins without much success. Even in his worse game statistically -MSU’s Bowl Game against the University of Georgia- Cousins came through in the clutch.
Down 16-0 at halftime, it looked like MIchigan State would be added to the long list of Big Ten teams that got handled by the mediocre SEC squads in bowl games. Slowly but surely, Cousins narrowed the gap and put the Spartans in a position to win late in the game. Then came the crowning moment of his college career.
Having made some truly horrendous throws throughout the game, there couldn’t have been a ton of confidence in Cousins with under two minutes to play. But Cousins put together a legendary 10-play, 85-yard drive at the end of regulation to tie the score at 27 and put the game into overtime. Michigan State went on to win 33-30 and break a 5-game Bowl losing streak. (Of course, we had the Spartans getting points and cashed in on Cousins’ career finale!)
Russell Wilson and Moore each did everything humanly possible during their individual college careers to leave lasting impressions on NFL general managers. Genetics are the only thing holding them back. They both measured in right around 6-feet with solid frames but it will take an extraordinary set of circumstances if either are going to see playing time over the next few years. Both are expecting to be late round projects and some QB coach will have the pleasure of mentoring them but neither will make an instant impact.
Arizona’s Nick Foles was one of the better college quarterbacks in college football over the last two seasons and has prototypical size for a signal caller at the next level. He also has elite arm strength and above average accuracy. He didn’t lead the Wildcats to many big wins over the course of his career and their Swiss-cheese defensive unit was one of the reason Foles was allowed to chuck the ball all over the field. He threw 42 or more passes in ten of Arizona’s 12 games in 2011 after averaging 47.5 attempts in his final eight contests in 2010.
Despite the loss of his head coach midway through his senior season, Zona’s horrendous 4-8 record shouldn’t fall directly on Foles’ shoulders. The Wildcats allowed an average of 42.5 points per game in their losses and their schedule wasn’t exactly filled with offensive juggernauts either. Foles’ ability to make something out of nothing kept the Wildcats from going winless in 2011. Simply surviving his senior season and his patience with the program are accomplishments in their own right.
Foles will probably go in the middle rounds to a team looking to add depth to their roster but shoudl eventually work his way into a battle before his career is over. Ultimately he’ll work his way into a starting role with a team that has already figured it out defensively and is looking for a stable poresence under center.
The 2012 Quarterback Class is heavy at the top but the likes of Cousins and Foles will ultimately set them apart when we look back and decide where they stand amongst other great classes ten years. While Tannehill and Weeden will have more of an instant impact -negatively or positively- over the next few years, look for Cousins and Foles to reap the benefits down the road.