Thursday, March 24, 2005
Scouts high on former SEC QBs
By Len Pasquarelli
Evaluating the quarterback class in the 2005 NFL draft has become a little like watching a NASCAR event, a race in which the leaders have separated themselves from most of the competitors, and the more compelling jockeying for position is deeper in the pack.
Barring an upset, either Aaron Rodgers of the University of California or Utah's Alex Smith will be the first quarterback selected on April 23, and one of the young passers will likely be the top prospect chosen overall. Reading between the lines, it appears that San Francisco 49ers rookie coach Mike Nolan, whose team holds the first choice, is warming to Rodgers, although a lot can change in the next five weeks.
When it comes to the battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot behind Rodgers and Smith, however, the prospects are still "swappin' paint," to use an old racing term. Certainly the competition heated up this week when Auburn's Jason Campbell and David Greene of Georgia auditioned for scouts during their schools' "pro day" sessions.
Neither of the former SEC stars figures to squeeze into the first round, but both likely will be off the board no later than the middle of the second stanza. And right now, with the pecking order still a function of personal preference, the Campbell-Greene competition for the third quarterback slot is about as pitched as the longtime Auburn-Georgia rivalry.
"It's sort of a 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' thing right now," said one personnel chief who attended Campbell's workout on Monday and then Greene's throwing session the following day. "From an athletic standpoint, Campbell is probably the superior guy, but might need a little more hands-on [tutoring]. Greene is probably more polished, but isn't as big or athletic and doesn't have quite as big an arm. But the guy is a winner and you can see that he gets it. Our team likes them both. I don't think you could go wrong with either of them."
Another quarterback who could join the battle for the third perch on the draft totem, Charlie Frye of Akron, had a superb Senior Bowl performance but won't work out for scouts until April 1. Andrew Walter of Arizona State, still rehabilitating from December shoulder surgery, might not be able to throw until next month. And Purdue's Kyle Orton has only minimally recovered from a disastrous 2004 senior season.
Campbell and Greene, on the other hand, have done everything asked of them to this point in the draft analysis process. And both prospects possess strong résumés, with 90 starts between them, and having performed admirably and posting winning records in the SEC crucible.
"Really, the thing that probably bothered me the most," acknowledged Campbell after an excellent Monday workout, "was that I played and won in the toughest conference in the country, led an undefeated team last season, and there were people who still seemed to have questions about me. That's hard to accept. Hopefully, I've addressed whatever their concerns were, and put their doubts to rest. I don't know what more I can do, really."
Truth be told, Campbell, a steady performer his first two seasons but a guy who made a quantum leap in terms of overall grasp of the position in the past two years, has already been a pleasant surprise for scouts. At 6-feet-4 3/4 and 227 pounds, he still moves well, and he posted 40-yard times in the 4.69-4.75 range on Monday and had a vertical jump of 38 inches.
From a demeanor standpoint, Campbell might not appear quite as fiery as Greene, but teammates insist there is a raw emotion simmering not too far below the surface. While he has a yes-sir/no-sir kind of makeup, Campbell is definitely a leader, a bright youngster who overcame the handicap of playing for four different offensive coordinators, and in four disparate systems, over the course of his career.
It was under the tutelage of Al Borges, who installed a West Coast-style offense in '04, that Campbell really blossomed. He completed 69.6 percent of his attempts last season, threw for a career-high 2,700 yards, and registered 20 touchdown passes while throwing just seven interceptions. Even before Borges' arrival, though, Campbell was deceptively accurate, completing more than 60 percent of his passes every season.
A notable statistic: While Campbell isn't considered as accurate or fine-tuned as Greene, his worst season in terms of completion percentage (61.8 in 2003) is better than the best completion mark (60.3 in '03) that the former Georgia star posted as a four-year starter.
On Monday morning, standing at midfield, Campbell lofted several 60-yard bombs while flat-footed, a feat that did not escape the notice of the scouts assembled at Auburn.
"He is a kid whose stock definitely rose [Monday]," saidAtlanta Falcons quarterback coach Mike Johnson.
One day later, throwing into a gusty crosswind that swirled through Athens, Ga., Greene made his case for the No. 3 spot, and also made it well.
||It's sort of a 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' thing right now. From an athletic standpoint, Campbell is probably the superior guy, but might need a little more hands-on (tutoring). Greene is probably more polished, but isn't as big or athletic and doesn't have quite as big an arm.”
||—A personnel chief who attended each of the workouts
Throwing to wide receivers Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown, the latter of whom rates as a first-round possibility, Greene started his workout a bit unevenly. On some of the fine-touch throws, he was a hair off at the outset, but then quickly found a rhythm and began to rifle the ball with great accuracy. Certainly the four-year starter demonstrated that he has more than sufficient arm strength, particularly on the inside throws, for the next level.
More than satisfied with the 4.78 time he posted at the Indianapolis combine last month -- his quickness, or perceived lack thereof, had been one of the major question marks about Greene -- he did not run again. Greene did, though, show good movement on the half-roll and full-rollout drills. And, as usual, he exuded confidence and football savvy.
Notable about Greene is that he finished his estimable career at Georgia as the winningest quarterback in Division I history, a factoid with which the scouts are eminently familiar. He has presence not only in the pocket, but certainly in the huddle as well, and enjoyed the kind of coaching stability Campbell did not have.
There is a calm about Greene that scouts seem to find captivating.
Said one NFC scout, who allowed that his team would like a shot at Greene in the second round: "You feel like, if you put him in a game, he's not going to [embarrass] himself. He has been well-coached and he knows the game. You feel like he's in command."
That sense, that Greene might be more ready to play but that Campbell has the better long-term upside, is one shared by a lot of scouts.
But as far as a discernable consensus on the battle for the No. 3 quarterback slot? Well, pretty much that there is no true consensus at all yet. Of five scouts surveyed over two days, three gave Campbell the edge and two preferred Greene. There are several more laps to be contested, however, and the race likely will remain a close one.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .