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NFC West draft watch: Quarterbacks

11/27/2009

Two weeks have passed since Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. shared insights on offensive linemen who might appeal to NFC West teams in the 2010 NFL draft.

Steve and I changed the subject to quarterbacks in our latest conversation.

The 49ers, Seahawks and Rams currently hold five first-round selections. All three could be in the market for quarterbacks of the future.

Mike Sando: Are there any quarterbacks worth taking at the top of the draft?

Steve Muench: Personally, coming into the season, Sam Bradford looked like that guy, no question. Now there are other concerns with the injury and also that he did not look as dominant even before the injury because he didn’t have the strong supporting cast -- which, fair or unfair, is going to hurt him. They looked at times like they were playing intramural teams in 2008. I am still very high on Bradford because he made throws under pressure in the national championship game and against Texas that made me feel this is a kid who can get it done.

The issues -- how good was the supporting cast -- are overrated for me. I have seen him make throws where he is popped in the mouth and he has all the tools to do it. Teams need to check out the shoulder. In terms of skill set, he doesn’t have a rocket of an arm. He can make all the throws. The thing I like is how smart he is. They did spread the field a lot. That helped him a lot to create matchups, but when he drops back and he makes reads, he rarely makes mistakes.

Mike Sando: And yet Jake Locker is the name we're hearing most at the top of the QB draft class. I know Scouts Inc. has Locker first, Bradford second and Jimmy Clausen third among college QB prospects. Then we have Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow.

Steve Muench: Talent-wise, there is no one with Locker's talent in the draft. He is remarkable. Very mobile, very strong arm. He made some strides under Steve Sarkisian. I personally believe he would benefit as a football player from going back to Washington for another year, but that probably will not happen. They are talking about redoing the early picks and the pay grade. I think you will see a lot of kids come out. This will be a heavy junior class this year. This is a kid who could go really high, top-five pick, maybe. Potential-wise, I see it. He will develop into reading defenses and those things. He’s not in the same category as Bradford in terms of reading defenses, his ability to adjust and see what they are doing and get the ball to the open man. Locker has a stronger arm than Bradford. Sometimes he puts a little too much faith in it. He will learn to temper it a little bit.

Mike Sando: The Rams are running a fairly pure version of the West Coast offense, with an emphasis on the ground game. Which of these quarterbacks would fit that type of system?

Steve Muench: All of our top three and McCoy could fit. I would go in order of Locker, Bradford, McCoy and then Clausen. Clausen could do it, but McCoy has better mobility. In that system, you need a little bit more of a mobile quarterback.

Mike Sando: The 49ers are hoping Alex Smith takes hold of the job. If he does not, they could seemingly use a quarterback to fit with a power-oriented system.

Steve Muench: A guy I think is interesting who was not on the radar much was Bill Stull out of Pitt. One of the things we like about him is they run a pro-style offense. He already has that experience. You can throw around potential as much as you want. A guy like JaMarcus Russell has endless potential. We are not seeing him come close to realizing it. Stull has a much lower ceiling in terms of potential. Has all the skills you need, but he does not have elite arm strength. When you see JaMarcus Russell throw a ball, it is awe-inspiring. But he does not run the offense, make sound adjustments and those things. We feel Stull has steadily improved in all those areas. The way you talk about the 49ers with a power offense, play-action, pro-style, I think he is a perfect fit for that. That is what Pitt does. That is what their offense is now. That would be a very good transition for him. We have him in the early fourth, late third and he could be moving up still.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks still have Matt Hasselbeck, but he will not play forever.

Steve Muench: Locker would be a fit if they are drafting that early. Also, in the later rounds, the kid who replaced Pat White at West Virginia, Jarrett Brown. His numbers haven't been great this year. He is very raw with lots of upside. He is a middle-rounds guy, maybe fifth round.

Mike Sando: You mentioned McCoy and Tebow earlier. What is the breakdown on those guys?

Steve Muench: Those two guys to me, they are excellent college football players. It’s important people understand the difference, though. They do not necessarily translate to the NFL as well. The big issue for both is the system they play in. The big concern with McCoy to me, he has a strong arm but he doesn't show touch and accuracy on his downfield throws. He is a great athlete. Both are team leaders. McCoy is a great leader, very accurate.

Tebow may be the best college football player of all time. I would not want to talk poorly of the guy. Great college quarterback, great team leader, very tough, great runner, but I have more concerns about him than I do positives to say. Everything from his release to his accuracy. He has great arm strength, but when you see a quarterback dropping the ball down to their hip in his throwing motion, that is scary. Go back and break down how many passes are shovel passes, screen passes, or him rolling to the side with one or two options and then you run. Comparing him to Ben Roethlisberger would be a big mistake. The only thing I see similar is they both hold onto the ball forever. Also the way he runs. Tough, strong kid. But the truth is, he runs high. Every once in a while he will take a big pop. Those hits will add up over time, especially in the NFL.

Mike Sando: We haven't addressed Clausen much yet.

Steve Muench: Clausen might be the one who is the most NFL-ready. I don’t think he has Locker’s upside. Who is the best decision-maker? I would go Bradford, Clausen, Locker. Notre Dame has not had a great year this year, but Jimmy Clausen has played very well. Would you like him to make that throw against USC to win it? Yeah, that would have been great. But you see other games where he shows.

There are some head-scratchers. He has been the pretty boy, prima donna. I think he is hurt in the public eye by that. He is not as good as everyone thought. He is not the best quarterback who has ever put on the cleats, but he is a very talented NFL prospect who is going to have a great NFL career. He is not nearly as mobile as locker, but like Bradford, he can sidestep pressure in the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and find the open guy. That is not surprising. Say what you want about Charlie Weis as head coach, but he does a good job with quarterbacks in those areas.

Ranking the college QB prospects

The chart shows the 10 highest-ranked quarterback prospects for 2010, courtesy of Scouts Inc.