Working alphabetically, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma will start us off. The 2008 Heisman Award winner, owner of two extremely impressive seasons (2007 and 2008… 2009 didn’t get off to a good start) for the high-powered Oklahoma offense. Bradford has the least amount of experience in the group, and arguably the best results. Bradford has excellent height, good mobility, good pocket awareness, superb short accuracy, ability to make touch throws, an arm that can flash power, and a pretty deep ball. Those are all valuable skills that are almost a requirement to play QB in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Bradford has some big problems he’ll need to correct. He is a mechanical mess. His release is quick, but the ball leaves closer to sidearm than over-the-top. He throws off his back foot a fair bit (sadly, not as often as the following QBs), with poor balance, and almost never strides into his throws. If he fixed his mechanical issues, he would be the owner of a pretty strong arm. Like the other top QBs, he played out of an offense that limits his reads and responsibilities (he does show the ability to locate secondary and tertiary receivers). He does have more experience dropping back, but there will be an adjustment in the NFL. He also has a thin frame that could struggle to hand punishment at the NFL level. All in all, he enters 2009 as the top QB on this list, but somewhat by default.
Colt McCoy of Texas could make a convincing case that he deserved to have won the Heisman and play for the National Championship last year. He is as well positioned as anyone in the country to win the Heisman this year. McCoy is an accurate passer with the legs to move the chains when the defense forgets about him. He has a quick release on his short tosses. He has shown the ability to get the ball downfield on occasion, though with a significant wind-up.
Unfortunately, that was really all the good I saw from McCoy. In general, his arm is weak and his short passes lack zip after about 12 yards. He makes more throws within 5 yards of the LOS than Bradford and Tebow combined. He’s probably not a good enough scrambler to run consistently against NFL defenses. He throws off his back foot far too often, though he’s less of a mechanical wreck than Bradford or Tebow. He is probably 6’2 210 and honestly looks smaller than that, but he has done a good job getting bigger since he arrived at UT. He played out of a wacky offense that makes very few NFL throws, and I doubt his ability to make them. Dropping back could present some problems for McCoy. Right now, I’m not sure I’d take McCoy before the 6th round – his potential is fairly low due to lack of amazing physical gifts, and he has a lot of work to do to reach that low ceiling.
Tim Tebow of Florida might get the most press, and has an impressive resume. In 2006, he won a National Championship as a part-time QB. In 2007, he won the Heisman as the 1-man team for Florida. In 2008, he won another National Championship and made arguably the most famous speech of the 2008 college football season. The lefty QB is a tantalizing mix of size and speed, with a strong arm to boot. He could go down as the most successful college quarterback ever. He has shown pretty good accuracy and runs hard. He has made big progress in every year (he was a far better QB in 2008 than 2007, despite the lower personal statistics), and appears to be one of the more determined players in his draft class.
Unfortunately for him, Tebow is also a mechanical mess. He has a very long release, though the ball leaves his hand at a high point. His arm strength is hurt when he doesn’t stride into his throws, which is far too often. He isn’t as fast as some people seem to think, though he will be able to buy time, pick up 1st downs, and run QB sneaks. His offense has little in common with an NFL offense, and he has a lot of work before he is even ready to take the field. His reads are 1, 2, and run, and sometimes the second target doesn’t get much more than a cursory glance. He plays on the most talented team in the country, so there are some concerns about what his team does to make him look good. With that slow release, he’ll probably never fit into a timing offense, but he could still have a future as a successful starting QB in a downfield passing attack… 3+ years from the 2010 draft. Tebow has more potential than Bradford or McCoy, but he is also the least ready for the NFL. Personally, my own draft philosophy says projects with high potential are 4th round picks at best, but some teams are willing to gamble a lot earlier.
None of these guys look like players who could start for Seattle from Day 1. Bradford is the guy I’d take earliest, but there are a lot of concerns with his game. Tebow is the guy I’d take as a project (if Seattle plans to ditch the WCO entirely), but there are a lot of mechanical issues with him. And McCoy is the guy I’d spend a 6th round pick on in the hope he develops into Jeff Garcia before his rookie contract ends – not terribly likely, to be honest.
These QBs have had big success at big programs, but none of them are terribly appealing NFL prospects at this point in time. If Bradford goes from a mechanical mess to pretty good, he’ll probably be deserving to go #1, but it isn’t easy to change the way you throw when you’ve been throwing one way since puberty.
I haven’t had the chance to look at QBs like Jevan Snead (Ole Miss) or Tony Pike (Cincinnati), but they are definitely worth paying attention to and might end up as the best QBs in this class.