How second-tier QBs look for Titans, Jags
March, 1, 2011
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
US PresswireFlorida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton are part of a list of "second-tier" quarterbacks for the 2011 NFL draft.Perhaps Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert falls to No. 8 and the Titans are in love with him. Perhaps Washington’s Jake Locker is attractive to the Jaguars at No. 16.
Or perhaps the two AFC South teams shopping for a quarterback believe the gap between those guys and signal-callers they can find later isn’t so big and they decide to wait.
Coming out of the scouting combine and seeing all the players who look to be more of a sure thing than the top quarterbacks, right now I endorse the waiting plan.
Presumably, that takes Auburn’s Cam Newton, Gabbert, Locker and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett out of the picture for Tennessee and Jacksonville.
Who does that leave?
“I think it’s a good group, by numbers,” Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said. “I think there are a number of guys who will develop into eventual starters. They certainly may not be Day 1, they may not go in the first round. But there are a number of guys that can develop because they do have NFL skills sets, they’re just maybe not as ready-made right now.
“To me, no matter where you take the player, it’s a developmental position. I mean, they’ve got to know what they’ve got to do, what the 10 other guys on offense around them have got to do and then they have to know what a defense is trying to do to them. Sometimes a guy’s got to play by default. Sam Bradford was a great exception. But guys typically don’t play that well coming in.
“Usually, no matter where you’d take a quarterback, you’d like the luxury of working him into it. If it’s his first year, then it’s his first year, but hopefully not early in his first year. Usually it's that second, third year when that player emerges. You’ve got to get him on the job for his on-the-job training.”
So what might the Titans, who’ve currently only got a third-string quarterback in Rusty Smith, do with the 39th and 77th overall picks? And what if a developmental quarterback remains in play for Jacksonville, which has David Garrard and Luke McCown in place, at No. 49 and 80?
I spent time in Indianapolis trying to sort out the second tier of quarterbacks, which several people in the know indicate right now is comprised of another four-pack: Florida State’s Christian Ponder, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi.
Let’s look at those four more closely and see if we can’t begin to work toward some matchmaking.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc: “The best fit for Jacksonville is Ponder in my opinion. Kaepernick is interesting here and he'd be a good pick with Garrard still on the roster, but the reality is there could be a coaching change at the end of the year and that will set him back. Ponder is more NFL-ready and he has the mobility to be effective in that scheme."
Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout: “He doesn’t have great arm strength, but he’s very accurate short and intermediate so he’s an ideal fit in a West Coast offense.”
Ponder: “I really think I’m the whole package at quarterback. I have great accuracy and can make all the throws. Intelligence is a huge advantage for me, being able to comprehend offenses and defenses. We ran a complex offense at Florida State and I think it will carry over well to the NFL. I’m athletic enough to move in the pocket and make plays with my feet.”
Muench: “The best fit for Tennessee depends on whether or not they can re-sign Kerry Collins [or, I’d interject, sign or trade for a veteran the Titans like better than Collins] and feel comfortable going with him for another year. If they can and are, Kaepernick is arguably the best pick. He is a hard worker with a great blend of size, mobility and arm strength, but he is raw. He needs to work on his footwork, release and progressions.”
Rang: “Kaepernick is the most physically gifted of the second-tier quarterbacks but he also has the longest way to go. He has great size, he has an absolute rocket for an arm, all of those types of things. But he has to make that transition from the pistol offense in college. He was a high school baseball player, and he still throws it like a pitcher. There is some real technical work you’ve got to do with him.”
Kaepernick: “I don’t think our [Nevada] offense will directly translate, but I think we do a bunch of things as progressions, protections that are similar to [what] NFL teams do and we just call them something different. I think picking up on terminology will be a big thing for me, learning what those mean as opposed to what we call things.”
Muench: “If Collins [or a veteran] isn't an option, then the Titans need someone who is ready to step in earlier. Dalton makes the most sense in that scenario. He's a sound decision-maker and we're confident in his ability to transition to a pro style offense. I also think he's got enough arm strength and touch to find [Kenny] Britt downfield.”
Rang: “Dalton, like Ponder, is more of a West Coast offense guy, a guy who’s going to beat you with his mind, with that short to medium range accuracy, with good mobility, things like that.”
Dalton: “It just depends on the situation and the team you go to and their QB situation. Some guys, it doesn't take long to step in and be the guy. Others, they have time to sit back and watch a little bit. You see what Aaron Rodgers did this year, he sat out for a while and sat behind Brett Favre and he's done an outstanding job once his time came. There are obviously different situations depending on the team and the QB situations.”
Rang: "I’m not quite as high on him as the other three, but I know some clubs that think he is a legitimate second- or third-round pick. He has a little bit of a stronger arm than Ponder. His best assets are size and an over-the-top release that can hit down the seams. If you support him with a strong running game, an I-formation kind of offense, then he can attack over the top that way."
Stanzi on Iowa’s offense under Kirk Ferentz: “The way he has his offense set up is very similar to how some other (NFL) teams do it. We’re under center a lot. It’s a lot of two-back sets, a tight end, a lot of traditional pro-style stuff that we do at Iowa. All that definitely gets you more familiar than a spread quarterback would be or someone who hasn’t had that. It doesn’t mean you’re better at it. It just means you’ve had more experience at it.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay:“I think Kaepernick would be a good fit for both those teams, a bigger quarterback who can deliver the ball down the field. I don’t know that Christian Ponder or Ricky Stanzi would be great fits for either of those teams because I don’t know if they have the arm strength to make the throws necessary in those systems. Dalton is a little bit better than Stanzi in terms of arm strength.”
Rang: ”I think Kaepernick and Stanzi make a little bit more sense for Tennessee. Ponder and Dalton make a little bit more sense for the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
Me: Muench, McShay and Rang watch prospects for a living, I try to catch up during draft season. So my opinions will grow stronger in time. If there isn't a home run to be hit in the first round when the Titans and Jaguars are on the clock -- and the possibilities look more like stand-up doubles at this point -- then I'd wait and look to this foursome. I'll be interested to talk to scouts and hear pro day reviews of them in the coming weeks.