To an NFL fan, there's nothing more exciting—or terrifying—than his or her team drafting a quarterback in the top two rounds. With that kind of pick value (and money) committed to the most important position on the team, not only is the franchise committed to that player for at least the next two seasons, it is not committed to anyone else.
Unlike other positions, there's no question that a quarterback's film is the most important metric. Height, weight, 40-yard dash time and bench press don't mean anything if the quarterback can play—or if he can't.
For each of the quarterbacks with strong bids to go in the first round or two, let's see what the tape reveals. What did they do in college that shows why they'll succeed in the NFL—or why they might not?
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has a rare blend of size (6'2", 218 pounds), speed (4.59 40-yard dash time) and athleticism. As I've written before, people look skin-deep and stereotype Smith as an "athletic quarterback," but that's not him.
For starters, Smith has the arm talent to make every NFL throw. Check out this beautiful seam pass that travels over 50 yards in the air and drops right in his target's breadbasket:
Smith's sloppy footwork hindered his ability to throw accurate deep balls. Often, his deep ball flutters and dips well short of the target, forcing his receivers to frantically adjust and re-adjust as the ball comes down. This is something he'll have to work on in the NFL.
Smith knows his greatest gift is not his size, speed or arm, but his short- and medium-range accuracy. He uses his athletic gifts to escape the rush, then pass. Being able to deliver an accurate, catchable ball is everything in the NFL, and Smith can do it.
Here's a great example:
West Virginia is up by three on Maryland, just before halftime. Driving down the field, Smith took this 1st-and-10 from a shotgun snap, with a slot receiver in motion to create a trips left.
What Smith did looks unspectacular, but look again.
The Maryland defense is in a 3-4 alignment with the left outside linebacker and right inside linebacker showing blitz. At the snap, both step in and then backpedal as the right slot cornerback blitzes instead:
The split end's go route was supposed to clear the cornerback out, and the slot receiver's slant was supposed to do the same for his man. This would open up the motioned-over receiver underneath.
However, the cornerback plays with ridiculous cushion and pedals deeper, as the safety passes the slot receiver off to the dropping-back linebacker:
The designed route package hasn't worked, and nobody's open. Smith reads this, resets and uses all his height to throw the 10-yard comeback on the other side of the field over two jumping defenders:
The ball is well placed despite the pressure, and it is caught just shy of the sticks.
Those knocking Smith as a "gimmick" or system quarterback aren't seeing how well he finds the open man and delivers the ball. He's not just executing an offense too smart to fail, he's playing football at a high level.
These are the kind of plays that quality NFL quarterbacks routinely make—and also-rans routinely don't.
Matt Barkley both benefits from and is hurt by his impeccable résumé. Like Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer before him, Barkley was a sought-after quarterback recruit from a big-time California high school and chose USC.
Like those three, Barkley was groomed by excellent coaches with NFL experience and surrounded with NFL-caliber talent.
Unfortunately, given the professional struggles of Leinart (who even attended the same high school, Mater Dei, as Barkley) and Sanchez, it's hard not to project similar faults onto Barkley.
In the NFL, Leinart was unwilling to do anything but hit his checkdown receiver, and Sanchez appears to be unable to do anything. That's not Barkley.
Barkley is a polished passer who tries to take care of the football—and yes, with playmakers like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee on the field, often he throws short and leans on them to make the play. However, Barkley also has the arm and confidence to rip off throws like this:
Barkley's decision-making, though, leaves a little to be desired. When under pressure, he can be overconfident in either his arm or his receivers. Sometimes he makes mistakes that are hard to understand.
Check out this pass against Oregon, in the fourth quarter, as Barkley and USC are trying to keep pace in a shootout:
Watch Barkley's helmet. He seems to have found a hole in the defense, but despite staring down the spot he never sees his intended receiver stumble. At the moment Barkley decides to fire, receiver Robert Woods is actually on all fours:
Barkley has the talent to develop into a quality NFL starter, but the question remains whether he can consistently elevate his teammates—and eliminate game-ending misfires like this one.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has been the subject of whispers throughout the draft cycle, that his draft "stock" among a few NFL teams could be well above the second-day consensus. This was confirmed by ESPN's Chris Mortensen, when he tweeted that there's a "growing belief" Nassib has been earmarked by the Buffalo Bills for the No. 8 overall pick:
It's easy to connect the dots here: Nassib played at Syracuse, and the Bills just hired former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone to skipper their team. Is Nassib really that kind of quarterback?
The 6'2", 227-pounder plays even bigger than he is with a strong frame and a quick, over-the-top release that's hard to bat down.
Nassib can pick apart defenses at short range, but it's an open question as to whether he can consistently beat teams deep.
Unlike Smith, Barkley or Tennessee's Tyler Bray, Nassib didn't play with first-round NFL wide receivers, so they didn't make Nassib look good as often as those quarterbacks' receivers did for their passers.
As Gil Brandt of NFL.com pointed out, Nassib has huge, 10.5-inch hands. He has a strong grip on the ball, which gives him excellent ball security in cold or inclement weather.
He also uses the pump fake to near perfection, as shown on this play:
On a 2nd-and-7 play against Missouri, Nassib knows his slot receiver is supposed to run a slant behind the nickel linebacker, while the split end does a double move and goes vertical:
After the snap, the linebacker moves to cover the slant, and the nickel corner has enough cushion to make a play on either receiver. Nassib pump-fakes on the split end's first move, causing both the linebacker and nickel corner to jump:
This draws both way out of the play, leaving the slot receiver wide open across the middle. Nassib leads his target perfectly, hitting him in stride and letting him turn upfield for more yardage:
Marrone, who made a name for himself as Sean Payton's offensive coordinator in New Orleans, builds his offense around these kinds of throws. If Nassib is the next Drew Brees, reaching for him at No. 8 overall—instead of hoping he falls to No. 41—may be a savvy pick after all.
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is Matt Miller's sixth-ranked quarterback prospect. With outstanding 6'6" height and a cannon arm, Bray has the raw physical tools of a fantastic NFL quarterback. The argument for Bray's potential is this play:
If your team has a line that can protect Bray long enough for him to throw and receivers who can get behind a defense, Bray can get them the ball in stride.
The argument against Bray is almost everything else. His poor footwork leads to chronic inaccuracy, and when combined with questionable decision-making, his arm talent often seems wasted.
Let's look at this 2nd-and-5 play against North Carolina State:
The slot receiver will run a four-yard out to the right sideline, while the split end outside of him will run a deep comeback.
The defense is showing a Cover 1 look, with four cornerbacks playing man (or matchup zone) and one safety playing deep "center field." The middle linebacker is playing a short zone in the middle, and the outside linebacker is showing blitz on the strong side.
As the split end and slot receiver make their breaks, both get open:
The red circles here show the "windows" into which Bray has to throw. If he leads the slot receiver toward the sideline, it's an easy first down. If Bray leads the split end toward the wide-open middle of the field, it's a very long gainer:
Instead, Bray throws far behind the comeback route, wrong-footing his receiver and allowing the shallow corner to nearly make a play on the ball.
It's hard to see here, but Bray tends to square his body to his target and step sideways; this is the mechanical flaw that haunted Joey Harrington in the NFL.
Bray needs extensive patience and coaching if his raw tools are to be sculpted into a productive NFL quarterback.