Even in the early stages of preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft, a quarterback battle is waging. In contrast to last year’s draft, where there was only two quarterbacks selected in the first round, there appear to be three players vying for the number one spot. After showing tremendous progress in his first year under Steve Sarkisian at Washington, Jake Locker was already slated as the number one quarterback, and likely the first pick of the 2011 draft before play even started this season. However, a combination of disappointing play by Locker and the continuing emergence of Andrew Luck and Ryan Mallett have sprung a debate.
Locker brings incredible athleticism, as well as prototypical size and ability to the table. At 6’3” 226, Locker is rumored to run a 40-yard-dash time in a staggering 4.5 seconds. Adding to his athletic prowess, Locker was drafted in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels, and signed a 6-year contract. However, Locker is more than just an athlete. He has demonstrated excellent arm strength, as well as improving mechanics and accuracy.
On the other hand, Locker has made some poor decisions and needs some refinement mentally. Many believe that upon being drafted, he will need a couple of years to sit behind a veteran quarterback before being ready to start. And though his accuracy has improved, it is not elite, and far from the level of Sam Bradford’s in 2009.
Stanford’s Andrew Luck showed some promising signs as a RS Freshman, but was not unanimously viewed as an elite prospect. Many were concerned as to how well he would play without Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart at running back. Through the early part of the 2010 season, Luck has gone so far to exceed the hype. His accuracy is better than anyone expected, and his mechanics have obviously been refined under Jim Harbaugh. Luck’s arm strength is rare for someone with such good accuracy and decision making, and is among the best in college football. At 6’4” 235, Luck has perfect size to play the position. As well as having a nearly perfect physical profile for a quarterback, he also has elite intangibles and academics. Luck is blessed with terrific bloodlines; his dad Oliver played quarterback for the Houston Oilers.
It is difficult to find weaknesses in Luck’s game. One of the few things that could hurt him is his lack of experience. Underclassmen at quarterback are typically frowned upon by NFL teams. Others are somewhat concerned about the situation Luck has at Stanford. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is widely respected as an offensive guru, and the talent surrounding Luck is excellent. However, many other quarterbacks have had similar advantages, and they were still considered elite prospects. Also, as a RS Sophomore, it is far from a guarantee that Luck will declare for the draft. The uncertainty regarding a lockout only makes it less likely. However, if it is all but set in stone that he will be a top 5 pick, the Cardinal will likely declare.
Ryan Mallett has possibly the best physical tools for a quarterback since JaMarcus Russell. The Arkansas quarterback stands in at 6’7” 240 and arguably has the strongest arm in football. Under Bobby Petrinio, Mallett has put up incredible numbers. Mallett originally played at Michigan, but transferred when Rich Rodriguez set to institute his spread offense. Since joining Arkansas, the gunslinger has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger due to his size and arm strength. There is no doubt that Mallett has the potential to be the best passer in the game, but he does need some work.
In Bobby Petrino’s offensive scheme, high completion percentages are expected. The scheme is also famous for making average quarterback prospects, such as Brian Brohm, seem elite. However, Mallett has not put up elite completion percentages, and his accuracy is suspect. When watching Mallett play, he will make several staggering throws that only a few players could make. But then he will also miss on a few easy passes that a high schooler could complete. The young quarterback has to become more consistent, or else he will be compared to the always frustrating Derek Anderson, instead of Roethlisberger. Also, there are murmurings of character concerns surrounding Mallett, and his intangibles are far from elite.
All three of the mentioned quarterbacks have been mentioned as an option to be the 1st pick of the 2011 draft. Opinions on them vary from sure top 5 pick, to late 1st rounder. After being considered the likely 1st overall pick, Locker has dropped a bit among draft experts. After an especially awful performance against Nebraska, Luck has almost unanimously passed him. It is easy to find weaknesses in Locker’s game, while it is hard to find something that isn’t a strength in Luck’s. Then there is the wildcard in Ryan Mallett. Mallett’s potential is mind blowing, but he is raw and needs work. However, his upside will likely make him a high pick. As of this point, it is difficult not to have Andrew Luck as the top draft eligible signal caller. Locker appears to be second for the moment, but a few more awful games could cause him to freefall. By the time the draft rolls around, it would not be surprising to see the quarterback class compared to that of 2004, when Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all went in the top 11 picks. Only time will tell if the class of 2011 will be as successful.