Tuesday March 16th, 2010

I learned the hard way last year that predicting NFL success for a college star isn't so easy. After all, I'm the guy who wrote this about Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith:

Guess what will happen when Smith gets on the field? He's going to maul people, because that's all he does.

What I meant to say was this: Smith is going to hold out, work out on his own and get made fun of by his future Bengals teammates on HBO's Hard Knocks, finally show up out of shape, fracture his foot and play six games before undergoing season-ending surgery.

If it's that tough with an offensive tackle, imagine how difficult it is to predict success for a quarterback. Malcolm Gladwell got it right in his brilliant New Yorker piece that followed a scout wrestling with the NFL potential of Chase Daniel. For quarterbacks and schoolteachers, Gladwell concluded, there is no way to gauge whether they'll succeed at the professional level until they actually attempt to perform at the professional level.

Still, it's the job of scouts, writers and talking heads to analyze every throw a star quarterback makes between the end of his college career and draft day. Which brings us to Tim Tebow.

The former Florida quarterback has been the subject of intense debate on television and in print. Depending on who is talking/writing, Tebow either is a future NFL starting quarterback or an H-back waiting to happen. He didn't throw at the combine because he had to revamp his throwing motion. Wednesday, Tebow will unveil his new motion at his pro day in Gainesville.

We'll be there to chronicle every completion, but this next little exercise should put all that analysis in the proper perspective. Today, we're going to play the quarterback draft match game. Read the quote and try to fill in the blank with the quarterback from the list below. And just to make things more difficult, some quarterbacks will be used more than once.

A. JaMarcus Russell B. John Elway C. Peyton Manning D. Dan Marino E. Ryan Leaf F. Michael Vick G. Tom Brady H. Drew Brees I. Brian Griese

1. "________ has got all the tools and as good an arm as anybody. But he's too up and down, and the inconsistency of the team was reflected in him." --An unnamed NFC general manager to The New York Times

2. "I was shockingly impressed with ________. He is very poised and makes good decisions. He may not have a great arm, but he has smooth mechanics and throws easily catchable passes. He is not the type of guy who is gonna get scared and force passes across the middle." --Former NFL scout Russ Lande to a newspaper, the identity of which would give away the quarterback's identity.

3. "I can't remember being in such awe of a quarterback in my decade of attending combines and pro days." --ESPN's Todd McShay

4. "______ is just different. He has the touch, the feel, the accuracy, all the intangibles you look for in a quarterback. Maybe it's because his father is a coach. [He] just seems to understand football more than any quarterback I've ever seen in college." --Unnamed scout to The New York Times

5. "______ is the product of the system. Is he better than Cade McNown? Yeah, but I'm not sold on him." --An unnamed scout to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

6. "Remember this: late third-round pick 1979, Joe Montana; late third-round pick [late-90s year], _______. --SI.com's own Peter King

7. Ominous note on ________: This gentleman completed just 177 passes at the collegiate level, versus 1,003 completions for Drew Brees. Because [he] threw so little, he didn't have the chance to expose his weaknesses, which somehow makes him more desirable. If the first pick, [he] is expected to command a $15 million bonus. That's $84,746 per college completion! --Gregg Easterbrook in Slate

8. "________ is going to immediately energize that fanbase, that football team -- on the practice field, in that locker room. Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that's certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league. ...You're talking about a 2-3 year period once he's under center. Look out because the skill level that he has is certainly John Elway-like." --ESPN's Mel Kiper

9. "The knock on _______ is his body build. He's too skinny." --The late Joel Buchsbaum (one of the original draft analysts) to The Detroit News

10. (Two-parter) Give me the linebacker-sized ____________, who at 6-5, 238 pounds is more rugged, less susceptible to injury than the 6-5, 222-pound ________. [Quarterback A] is a better athlete, stronger of arm and more fiery than [quarterback B]. To those who point out that he's also rawer, I say: So what? No quarterback does squat until he's been in the league at least three years. And to scouts cautioning that [quarterback A] is a "free spirit," spare me. You had the same line on Brett Favre. --SI's own Austin Murphy

1. If you agree with this GM, then you probably would have passed on the quarterback. Indeed, 26 NFL GMs passed on Dan Marino in the 1983 draft.

2. Not many people agreed with Lande, which is why Tom Brady lasted until the sixth round. The paper, by the way, was The Michigan Daily, the student paper at Michigan.

3. In McShay's defense, that's pretty much what everyone said after JaMarcus Russell's pro day. Whoops.

4. This scout absolutely nailed John Elway in his evaluation.

5. This scout, meanwhile, completely whiffed on Drew Brees.

6. The man whose Web traffic pays my salary got a little carried away in a 1998 interview. Brian Griese had a nice career, but it didn't approach Montana's.

7. The Tuesday Morning Quarterback author offered a dire warning to anyone thinking of choosing Michael Vick. The Falcons traded for the right to pick him anyway, and the Chargers wound up with Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson in the same draft.

8. ESPN's Kiper, who is correct more often than he is wrong, drank the same Kool-Aid as everyone else regarding JaMarcus Russell in 2008.

9. Buchsbaum's statement represents the near-consensus opinion on Tom Brady in 2000.

10. Murphy tackled the debate that raged in 1998. Unfortunately, he endorsed Ryan Leaf (quarterback A) over Peyton Manning (quarterback B).

So how did you do? If you guessed six or more quarterbacks correctly, then you're probably just as qualified as anyone else to predict whether a great college quarterback will succeed in the NFL. I'll see you in Gainesville on Wednesday, and we can dissect Tebow's throwing motion like the experts we are.

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