The way NFL teams played musical chairs with veteran quarterbacks this offseason, the message was pretty clear: The 2013 NFL Draft quarterback class is comparatively unimpressive.
A year after the Indianapolis Colts took Andrew Luck No. 1 overall and the Washington Redskins traded up to take Robert Griffin III at No. 2 – and both led their teams to the playoffs – there aren't any quarterbacks in this year's group generating the same buzz.
In fact, after Seattle's Russell Wilson (a third-round pick) led his team to the playoffs, and Miami's Ryan Tannehill made a strong first impression for the 7-9 Dolphins, it's reasonable to ask whether any of the quarterbacks in this class – led by West Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib and North Carolina State's Mike Glennon – will be able to do the same in 2013.
"There's been a lot of comparisons recently to last year's rookie class and well-deserving. Those guys came right away and played and made their marks, won playoff games," Barkley said. "There's always going to be that comparison, whether it's just or unjust. I don't feel like there's any pressure on my part to live up to them. I know every situation's different. Whatever a player's going into is going to be different than what they went into last year. I don't feel there's any need to live up to what they lived up to. I have my standards, and hopefully those are high enough."
Added Smith: ""Those guys changed expectations for many quarterbacks let alone rookies. Those guys stepped right in, including Russell (Wilson), and were leaders most of all from Day 1. And that's the one thing I took from it. No matter what age difference, where you come from or what pick you are when you're taken for that role as a quarterback in the NFL, you have to lead by example. That's the thing all those guys did. They set the bar very high. I want to be one of those guys that step in and do the same thing."
Smith may be able to do that, but the feeling is that there won't be many others.
"Very few teams are going to look at a quarterback early," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "You have a first-round quarterback in Geno Smith. I've said all along I think he's (worthy of being picked between) 20 to 32, and everybody is kind of saying the same thing.
"I kept asking teams, ‘Is he going to go in the first (round)?' (And they said), ‘Yeah, he's going to go in the top 10.' Well, he's going to go in the top 10, but everybody thinks he (should be going between) 20 to 32. So it's been an interesting dynamic trying to evaluate where he'll project."
The Kansas City Chiefs, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, traded their second-round pick to San Francisco to get Alex Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick who was demoted behind Colin Kaepernick last season, to be their starter.
"I think last year demonstrated that young kids can come in and actually end up starting in the National Football League," said Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, the former Green Bay Packers college scouting director. "Maybe in years past it took two or three years for that individual to be a starter. I think last year's class was a very special class but they showed that they can start and be productive."
Whether this class can do that is anyone's guess, but it's clear that for the first time since 2008, a quarterback won't go No. 1 if the Chiefs stand pat and don't trade down. In the past four years, Georgia's Matthew Stafford went No. 1 to Detroit in 2009, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford went No. 1 to St. Louis in 2010, Auburn's Cam Newton went No. 1 to Carolina in 2011 and Luck went first to Indianapolis last year.
"Their careers are outstanding. The thing that is hard to evaluate, we'll get all the height-weight-speed stuff but the two muscles you evaluate quarterbacks with are brain and your heart," new Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said of this year's group. "(You can't) really get in there and know them until you can get into a huddle-type situation. (But) there are a bunch of guys who I think will be playing for a long time in this class."
Nevertheless, since the Chiefs dealt for Alex Smith, the Oakland Raiders, picking third, traded with Seattle to acquire ex-Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn; the Arizona Cardinals, picking seventh, traded for the Raiders' former starter Carson Palmer; the Buffalo Bills, picking eighth, cast their lot with Kevin Kolb, although Kolb could end up being a placeholder for Barkley, whom the Bills are reportedly enamored with.
The carousel only underscored the importance of a franchise quarterback and the lengths teams will go to when they don't have one.
"I always think to myself, ‘What do people mean when they say franchise (quarterback)? What's the definition of that?'" new Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who coached Nassib at Syracuse, said at the NFL Meetings last month. " I was fortunate to be on a team with Dan Marino. Was Dan a franchise quarterback? And then I was in New Orleans with Drew (Brees). In New York we had Vinny Testaverde and Chad (Pennington). What are they? Are they franchise quarterbacks? I'm only asking. We're going to have somebody back there playing that position for us. I don't know what tag we're going to put on him."
At this point, though, it's hard to envision many of the quarterbacks earning true first-round tags, if not for the position they play. Kiper said he had Barkley as a "late first, early second" pick, Nassib as an "early second," Florida State's E.J. Manuel as "second round, at worst early third," and Glennon and Oklahoma's Landry Jones as "more third round." Not exactly a repeat of 2012.
"You're coming off a phenomenal year of quarterbacks, one that doesn't come around very often," new Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "But I would tell you that there are some good players in there."
NFL DRAFT 2013: QUARTERBACKS
BEST OF THE BEST
1. Geno Smith, West Virginia (6-foot-2 3/8, 218 pounds, 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash): Completed 369 of 518 passes last season for 4,205 yards with 42 touchdowns with only six interceptions. … Had a 26-13 record as a starter in 39 career starts. … Has strong, accurate arm and very good mobility while also showing excellent durability and the ability to play through injuries.
BEST OF THE REST
2. Matt Barkley, USC (6-2 1/8, 227, 4.95): Completed 246 of 387 passes for 3,273 yards with 36 TDs and 15 INTs last season. … Four-year starter with 34-13 record. … Strong, natural leader with very good intangibles and intelligence. … Lacks great mobility.
3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (6-2 1/8, 227, 5.02): Completed 294 of 471 passes for 3,749 yards with 26 TDs and 10 INTs last season. … Had 21-17 career record in 38 starts. … Of those 21 victories, nine were come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins. … Confident, mature player with the ability to handle pressure. … Not very elusive.
4. Mike Glennon, North Carolina State (6-7 1/8, 225, 4.98): Completed 330 of 564 passes for 4,031 yards with 31 TDs and 17 INTs last season. …Was 15-11 in just 26 career starts after Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin. … Unusual height allows him to see the field extremely well and played in pro-style offense. …
5. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6-4 1/8, 225, 5.09): Completed 367 of 555 passes for 4,267 yards with 30 TDs and 11 INTs last season. … Had 39-11 career record in 50 starts. … Has excellent size, a strong arm and was very productive as four-year starter. … Played in spread system and worked primarily from the pocket.
OTHERS TO WATCH
E.J. Manuel, Florida State; Tyler Wilson, Arkansas; Zac Dysert, Miami (Ohio); Tyler Bray, Tennessee.
"I think there's always something to prove. I think you're always looking for ways to better yourself. At this point in my career, there's definitely things I can improve on. There's always something to improve. It seems right now that I'm kind of working my way up as opposed to already being on the top, which is a position – I've been in both cases before. There's always something to prove, and I'm out to prove something." – Barkley, on those who doubt him despite his collegiate success.
Position analysis: Much of the offseason has been spent discussing when the Packers will make 29-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers the highest paid player in the game. It's of course a matter of when, not if, and as Rodgers goes, so go the Packers. He is a franchise quarterback that every team craves, and in a quarterback-driven league, he's not a luxury, he's a necessity if the Packers are to remain perennial Super Bowl contenders. Rodgers wasn't as statistically dominant as he was when he won the NFL MVP in 2011, but his quarterback rating was still the NFL's best (108.0); he threw 39 touchdown passes; his interceptions went up to eight (but his interception rate was still only 1.4 percent); he still finished with 4,295 passing yards (eighth in the NFL). According to quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, Rodgers "may have been more valuable this year than he was last year."
Although Rodgers hasn't missed a game because of injury since suffering his second concussion of the year late in the 2010 season, there's still reason for concern for his safety, as he took an NFL-high 51 last season. (Since taking over as the starter, Rodgers has absorbed 202 sacks in five seasons, most in the NFL over that time.) Behind Rodgers is Graham Harrell, who was handed the No. 2 job in training camp last year and ended the preseason with a terrific game against the Kansas City Chiefs (13 of 15, 223 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, maximum passer rating of 158.3). But his first three exhibition showings ranged from poor to pedestrian (32 of 63 for 261 yards with one TD and two INTs for a passer rating of 53.7). Harrell figures to face some competition from B.J. Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick a year ago who even McAdoo admits is an unknown.
Draft strategy: After using their first six selections on defensive players last year, Coleman was one of two offensive players taken and was the Packers' last pick (No. 243 overall). He was the 10th of 11 quarterbacks drafted last year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers take a flier on another late-round QB this time around. Unless he's sold on Coleman, general manager Ted Thompson could take another developmental QB for coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and McAdoo. In the last 21 drafts, the Packers have taken 13 QBs: Ty Detmer (1992), Mark Brunell (1993), Jay Barker (1995), Kyle Wachholtz (1996), Ronnie McAda (1997), Matt Hasselbeck (1998), Aaron Brooks (1999), Craig Nall (2002), Rodgers (2005), Ingle Martin (2006), Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn (2008) and Coleman.
NEXT: Running backs.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today" on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.