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Quarterbacks worth coveting
During his 18 seasons as a coach in NFL, Jon Gruden’s fingerprints were all over some of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, some who were just fortunate to be playing the game at the next level and a variety of passers who fit somewhere in between.
From Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre; to Chris Simms, Ty Detmer and Brad Johnson; to Don Majkowski, Mark Brunell and Jeff Garcia, Gruden saw them all during his stints as a quality control coach (for the 49ers in 1990), offensive assistant and wide receivers coach (for the Packers from 1992-94), offensive coordinator (for the Eagles from 1995-97) and head coach (for the Raiders from 1998-2001 and then the Buccaneers from 2002-08).
Gruden is now in his fourth year as an analyst for ESPN, and doing his “Gruden’s QB Camp” where he sits down annually with the top passers in the draft class.
So, who better to discuss the position as teams prepare for the April 26-28 NFL Draft? And that’s exactly what Gruden did during a conference-call interview on Wednesday.
|2012 NFL DRAFT|
This is the second in a series of articles previewing the three-day NFL Draft. Today: The quarterbacks. Tomorrow: The running backs. Previously: The Seahawks take on the draft, through the eyes of GM John Schneider.
Seahawks Draft party: Thursday, April 26, CenturyLink Field Event Center, 4 p.m.
“There are criteria, I think, that most general managers, most head coaches, most quarterback coaches have always looked for,” Gruden said. “Winning is No. 1. At No. 2, you look at durability. No. 3 is playing experience.
“Those are very important things to study, and you want a quarterback that has won, that’s been durable and productive. Those are the things everybody is looking for.”
Everyone is looking at QB position this year because Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are expected to be the top two picks – Luck by the Indianapolis Colts, who “earned” the first pick overall; Griffin by the Washington Redskins, who traded into the second spot that had been held by the St. Louis Rams.
Asked what separates the two, Gruden said, “I don’t know why we have to pick one or the other. It’s strawberry or vanilla. You like both kinds. These two kids sat on the podium together at the Heisman Trophy (presentation event) and we all knew it was going to be Luck or Griffin. That’s how close it was. Everybody expected Luck, and if you didn’t expect Luck you expected Griffin. Or vice versa. It’s the same way in this draft.
“The Redskins and the Colts are real lucky, if you ask me, because they’re looking for quarterbacks and it just so happens that in this draft there are two great proven commodities at that position.”
While quarterbacks have been the top pick the past three years, and in nine of the past 11 drafts, the last time QBs went 1-2 was in 1999 – when the Cleveland Browns made Tim Couch the No. 1 pick, Donovan McNabb went to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 2 and Akili Smith was selected No. 3 by the Cincinnati Bengals.
The year before, Peyton Manning was the first pick overall by the Colts and Ryan Leaf went No. 2 to the San Diego Chargers.
That, as much as any else, explains the trepidation that can come with taking a quarterback that high. While Manning has been a Hall of Fame “hit” and McNabb was a productive starter, Couch, Smith and Leaf were definite “misses” and never came close to playing to their draft status.
“The draft is an imperfect science,” Gruden said. “Just because you get drafted doesn’t mean you become a really good pro player. A lot of players are getting drafted, let’s be honest, on their measureables.”
With that said, here’s a look at some of the other QBs in this draft class – through the eyes of Gruden, who ranks Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in his “next tier”; and also offers his impressions of Arizona’s Nick Foles, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Boise State’s Kellen Moore:
Ryan Tannehill, who also played wide receiver before switching back to QB – “Let’s not forget, he didn’t just play wide receiver at Texas A&M, he started at wide receiver. He had over 200 yards receiving in one game against Kansas State. He’s an outstanding athlete. And he’s also been tutored by an NFL coach in Mike Sherman. So when you do watch Tannehill, every time you watch him you’re seeing an outstanding athlete who’s been tutored by an excellent offensive coach in an outstanding system. That I like. So the arrow is going up on Tannehill.”
Brandon Weeden, who is 28 because he played minor league baseball – “I love Brandon Weeden. If you want a quarterback that’s tough as hell, that’s a winner. Remember, Weeden already beat Nick Foles in a bowl game two years ago; he beat Robert Griffin 59-24; he beat Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl; he beat Landry Jones; he beat Tannehill. I like Weeden, as you can tell. … I think the Oklahoma State Cowboys have the most unique offense in college football. They do some wicked things to defenses with the no-huddle tempo. At the end of the day, if you counted the Top 20 throws that Andrew Luck made, the Top 20 throws that Robert Griffin made, the Top 20 throws that Tannehill made, Weeden, Kellen Moore, you walk away and you say, ‘Brandon Weeden makes the most difficult throws in college football.’ It’s a pleasure watching Weeden throw the football. The only downside in Weeden right now is his age. I think he’s the same age I am – 48-years old.”
Kirk Cousins, who Gruden also spent time with while covering the Outback Bowl – “What you’re getting is a three-time team captain at Michigan State. So that tells you what type of leader he is. He does have, I think, NFL prototype size (6-2, 209). He’s in a very good offense at Michigan State. They ask him to do a lot of different things. He’s under the center. He’s in the shotgun. There’s a two-back attack. There’s a no-back attack. And quietly Michigan State has become one of the premier programs in college football. They’re the winningest team in the Big 10 over the last three years. So you’re getting a winner. I see him going in the second round and I think he’s got a very bright future in the NFL because he’s all business all the time. He’s a meticulous preparation freak.”
Russell Wilson, who is 5 feet 11 – “That is the issue with Russell Wilson. That might be the reason that he’s not picked in the first couple rounds. The only issue with Russell Wilson is his height. He’s got tremendous mobility. I’ve got him at 4.50 (seconds) in the 40. He’s mastered two different offensive systems. When do any of us remember a kid transferring from NC State to Wisconsin in July and breaking every Wisconsin Badger record? … This is a tremendous kid. His intangibles are off the charts. He walks into Wisconsin and he’s a team captain. We all know what a great athlete he is. He was a high draft choice in baseball. The only issue here is height. So he’s got a lot of questions to answer. There are not a lot of quarterbacks under 6 feet that are playing in the NFL today. Or have played the game, period.”
Nick Foles, who played on a 4-8 team last season – “As a captain of the Arizona Wildcats, obviously Nick Foles went through a lot this year. He did not have the supporting cast that some of these other quarterbacks had. No disrespect to anybody, but he got hit a lot. One of the few Pac-10 or Pac-12 quarterbacks to ever throw for over 10,000 yards. Tough, pocket passer. … NFL size (6-5, 244). He’s accurate. He’s just been hit a lot. So he’s going to have to get in a system that he can develop in.”
Brock Osweiler, who is 6-7 – “He’s just a kid. He’s only really played 15 starts at the college level. It was a difficult season at Arizona State. He’s playing in an offense where he’s basically a read/option-style quarterback. You never see a lot of pure drops. But what you do know is you have an intelligent, 6-foot-7 quarterback that can make a lot of throws. He’s tough. He’s smart. And he really wants to be great. I do like Osweiler. I see him going someplace as a future quarterback.”
Kellen Moore, who won 50 games – “The statistics are marvelous. The system of football at Boise is very demanding. They shift more than any team in the country, maybe other than Stanford. The volume of different running plays, passing plays, formations, it’s incredible. They do more than a lot of NFL teams. Kellen Moore is a coach. He could probably be an offensive coordinator for a lot of teams. I mean this guy knows the game inside and out. He’s the ringleader of the Boise State Broncos. His poise, his anticipation, his accuracy is outstanding. Is he big enough? Does he have enough arm? And can he get away from pressure well enough? Those are the challenges ahead for Kellen Moore. But what a quarterback. What a game-day clutch performer he is.”
As Gruden put it, “This class of quarterbacks, every one of these young men has unique traits.”