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First look: Quarterbacks

By Gil Brandt

Special to NFL.com


(Dec. 22, 2003) -- It starts when they hunch down and take the snap from center. From there, they could hand it off or throw a quick pass, or they could read the defense and throw based on what they see -- so long as they don't get sacked first.

Sounds sort of simple, doesn't it? But if you think this is all a quarterback does, you're wrong. They have to know every play in the playbook, having to execute every play properly. One bad pass, and the opponent takes the pass away and runs it for a touchdown. Of course, one great play, and it could mean the Super Bowl. And then when they're off the field, they are normally the most recognized player on the team -- the one that takes the most criticism and receives the most praise.

You can imagine how tough it must be to be a quarterback. Now think about being the guy trying to find a great quarterback.

The evolution of quarterbacks is very hard for scouts and coaches to grade. Not all top-rated and top-drafted quarterbacks are great ones. Look no further than the last five quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl. Brad Johnson was picked in the ninth round by Minnesota and was on Washington before joining Tampa Bay. Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round by New England. Kurt Warner was an undrafted free agent who stepped into St. Louis' starting lineup after an injury to their starter ( Trent Green, an eighth-round pick). Trent Dilfer was a first-round pick by Tampa Bay but was waived and signed by Baltimore. John Elway was a first-round pick and as you know became Denver's darling.

But perhaps the best example can be seen after reviewing the first few picks of the 1998 and 1999 NFL Drafts. In '98, the Colts, with pick No. 1, selected Peyton Manning while the Chargers selected Ryan Leaf. Manning is headed to the Pro Bowl again; Leaf is out of football. In 1999, two of the five quarterbacks selected in the first 12 picks are out of football (Akili Smith, Cade McNown). By the way, Leaf, Smith and McNown received just under $30 million in signing bonuses.

What to look for

To summarize, the most important quality is to pass exceptionally well. An NFL quarterback needs to be able to throw accurately both long and short, and he also has to have a quick delivery (Dan Marino had to have the fastest "gun" ever). He should also be a leader on and off the field, intelligent and show poise. Straight-away speed and running ability are not as important.

Defenses play many coverages and blitzing is much more common now than it ever was before. Being able to recognize what is taking place is paramount. On that same note, mental toughness is also a must.

Quick hits

In the last 10 drafts, 18 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round, including four first overall. The 1996 NFL Draft is the only one in the last 10 not to have a quarterback selected in the first round ( Tony Banks was the first passer taken, with the 42nd overall pick by St. Louis).

High school and college teams are passing more than ever before. What that does is help develop more quarterbacks for the NFL. NFL Europe has also helped with the development of quarterbacks. Players such as Warner, Jon Kitna and Brad Johnson all spent time across the pond and it helped them develop their skills. Because of the success of the NFL Europe program, the Cowboys are sending both of their backup quarterbacks -- Chad Hutchinson and Tony Romo sits to pee -- to Europe this spring.

Since 1970, 11 quarterbacks have been selected No. 1 overall in the draft. Of the 11, four have won Super Bowls. They are: Terry Bradshaw (Steelers), Jim Plunkett (Raiders), John Elway (Broncos) and Troy Aikman (Cowboys).

There may be an interesting wrinkle in this year's draft. Last year, the Houston Texans drafted Drew Henson with a pick in Round 6. If he does not sign a contract before the start of next year's draft, he will be eligible for the 2004 NFL Draft and will again be one of the top 10 quarterbacks selected. In college, Henson played well and lots of NFL personnel wanted to see him play pro football, but he chose baseball instead, spending a few seasons in the New York Yankees' minor league system.

Here are your assignments:

Adam Hall, No. 14, San Diego State, 6-2 1/8, 215

Hall attended Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, the same school as Drew Brees. Started at the University of Texas with Chris Simms but transferred after the 1999 season. Plays a lot in a spread offense and has started the past two years. He may lack arm strength but does throw a very catchable ball.

Robert Kent, No. 1, Jackson State, 6-4 ¼, 206

Kent has started since the third game of 2000. Has a strong arm with very good speed and quickness but needs to improve his accuracy. Somewhat of a project player but has the tools you look for. Has not played against top competition.

Jonathan Paul (J.P.) Losman, No. 7, Tulane, 6-2 ½, 212

Originally started at UCLA in 1999 but left after three practice sessions and transferred to Tulane. When he arrived, he played shortstop on the baseball team. Played behind Patrick Ramsey in 2000 and 2001 and then started once he left (two years as the starter). He has a very quick release and he's mobile with excellent arm strength and good accuracy. He did not play as well in 2003 as he did in 2002 because of a poor offensive line.

Eli Manning, No. 10, Mississippi, 6-4 1/8, 218

This is the younger brother of Peyton Manning and the son of Archie Manning. Believe it or not, he has better arm strength than his brother when he came out of college in 1998. Manning has very good athletic ability, can slide in the pocket and has a well-proportioned body. Played great in 2003 with a very average offensive line. Well-liked by players and has good leadership skills.

Jon Navarre, No. 16, Michigan, 6-5 ¾, 235

Was a quarterback and defensive end in high school in Cudahy, Wisc. Coming out, not many teams thought he could play quarterback and talked to him about playing defense. Michigan took him up on offense. A drop-back passer with a very strong arm, Navarre has started for three years with good success.

Cody Pickett, No. 3, Washington, 6-3 5/8, 220

Mr. Pickett is a rodeo fan -- he qualified for the National Rodeo Finals in 1997 and 1998. Has been a three-year starter for the Huskies. Passed for 4,458 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2002. Throws a very tight spiral but not a lot of deep passes. Has some running ability, which is good for the quarterback draw. Not as good this year as he was in 2002.

Philip Rivers, No. 17, North Carolina State, 6-4 7/8, 225

Rivers has started every game for four years for the Wolfpack. Has an unorthodox side-arm delivery. Completed just 53 percent of his passes as a freshman and improved to 62 percent in 2002. Not real fast but feels pressure and can slide. Coached by Norm Chow his first year at N.C. State, currently the offensive coordinator at USC. His father was a high school coach.

Ben Roethlisberger, No. 7, Miami (Ohio), 6-5, 240

Redshirted in 2000, Roethlisberger is leaving school after three seasons. He is a very good athlete for his size -- for example, he played point guard in high school. Didn't even play quarterback in high school until his senior year! Has a strong arm with good accuracy and a quick delivery. Reminds you of John Elway the way he moves around.

Matt Schaub, No. 7, Virginia, 6-5 ¼, 244

A West Coast offense player, Schaub has very good accuracy and better than average touch. He also makes good decisions and will put the ball in position for his receiver to catch and run with it. Had a shoulder injury and missed some games early this year. Had 28 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions in 2002. Completed 288 of 418 passes in 2002 (68.9 percent). He's a well-coached hard worker.

Jeff Smoker, No. 9, Michigan State, 6-2 7/8, 215

Started three games as a true freshman in 2000. Smoker was suspended for the last five games of 2002 for personal reasons. This young man has a slender build with decent arm strength. Present head coach John L. Smith's system is a very quarterback-friendly system.

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