With only three or four stars—Troy Aikman of the Cowboys, Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots, Brett Favre of the Packers and maybe Rick Mirer of the Seahawks—to be found among the Generation X quarterbacks in the NFL, at least half the teams in the league are looking to land a young passer who will lead them to long-term success. That's why on Sunday so many NFL coaches, scouts and front-office types sat wide-eyed through the scouting combine in Indianapolis's RCA Dome, judging the quarterback depth of the 1995 draft class.
After the beauty pageant ended, this much was certain: This year's quarterback crop might approach the famed class of 1983 in quantity—six passers went in the first round that year—but it won't come close in quality. Although as many as six quarterbacks could be among the top-40 picks of the April draft, there's not a surefire star—as John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino were 12 years ago—in the lot.
"I didn't see an Aikman or a Marino out there, but I think there might be some guys in the second round who could develop into good players and have good pro careers," said Giant general manager George Young.
Even that would be a boon to the NFL. Only three of the dozen quarterbacks taken in the first round in the '90s—Bledsoe, Mirer and the Falcons' Jeff George—have developed into really effective pro passers. Here, in likely order of selection, is an early evaluation of the five quarterbacks who, two months before the NFL draft, look like first-round picks:
1. Steve McNair, 6'1½", 205, Alcorn State. Representatives of the Oilers and Bengals, who will pick third and fifth, respectively, watched his workout most keenly, and they must have been pleased with what they saw. "I didn't make a bad throw out there," McNair said after only one of his passes in a scripted drill fell incomplete. Both his velocity and touch looked good. McNair has a gun for an arm and legs like Steve Young, but he might need two or three years to mature into a good pro after having played at a small college.
2. Kerry Collins, 6'5", 228, Penn State. He'll soon spend a week with the quarterback doctor, former 49er coach Bill Walsh, to work on erasing a hitch in his delivery. When asked about his tendency to turn his hand for a split second at the height of his delivery, slowing the release of the ball ever so slightly, Collins rolls his eyes. "I came out of nowhere to be the Number 1 quarterback prospect at the Senior Bowl, so I guess people had to find an imperfection," he said last Saturday. "No one's ever said anything to me about it before. I've always thrown this way." Maybe so, but pro cornerbacks are so much more advanced than college defenders that they might capitalize on that delay in his release. Nevertheless, Collins will be a top-15 pick.
3. Chad May, 6'1½", 225, Kansas State. He had a bad weekend. During his physical exam last Saturday, May told doctors about some chronic instability in his left shoulder, and so they pulled and poked his right arm to see whether that shoulder might be loose, too. "I should never have told them," May said. "They yanked my right arm so much they hurt it." Not seriously, but enough to cause him to throw poorly on Sunday; he left the RCA Dome with the right shoulder iced. On top of all that, May came across as too cocky, telling one NFL coach he should be the first quarterback picked. "If I'm not," May said, "it's your mistake."
4. John Walsh, 6'4", 215, BYU. There's always skepticism about passing numbers in the Western Athletic Conference, and Walsh is a question mark all the more because he's coming out of school a year early. He's another quarterback who will be tutored by Bill Walsh, in particular to develop more mobility in the pocket. He didn't throw on Sunday on the advice of his agent.
5. Rob Johnson, 6'4", 220, USC. "I just can't wait to be an NFL player," says Johnson, whose effervescence helped him in face-to-face interviews with NFL personnel in Indianapolis. "I don't care who takes me. If there was an NFL team in Russia, I'd go there and I'd love it." Johnson ran the Trojans' pro-style offense, but he wasn't as productive as some scouts thought he would be. Still, he has an adequate arm and good field sense, and he should move up the draft list into late first-round turf if he shows well in private workouts for NFL teams.
Coaches also saw much to like about Georgia's Eric Zeier and Alabama's Jay Barker, one of whom—or maybe both—should be drafted by the middle of the second round.
On the rise: Scouts fell in love with Boston College pass rusher Mike Mamula, who surprised them when he came out early and then had a four-sack performance against Kansas State in the Aloha Bowl. The 6'5", 242-pound Mamula ran the 40 in 4.6 seconds, cleared 38 inches in the vertical leap and bench-pressed 225 pounds 30 times. How impressive are those figures? Well, most wide receivers can't jump that high, and most offensive linemen aren't able to bench-press so much weight that many times. Mamula vaulted from being perhaps a third-round draft pick to possibly going in the middle of the first round.
On the decline: Ohio State tackle Korey Stringer might have eaten himself out of the first round. He showed up weighing 345 pounds, about 30 over his playing weight, and refused to take the weightlifting test.
The free-agent signing period begins on Friday, and with wideout Sterling Sharpe sidelined for at least all of next season following neck surgery, the Packers will go hot after Falcon free-agent receiver Andre Rison. Also, the Packers will probably take one team out of the market for a young quarterback by trading Mark Brunch, 24, a well-regarded lefthanded passer, for a low first-or second-round pick.
The End Zone
The Giants traditionally give the most arduous mental-aptitude test at the combine, and one question on their exam this year—which had 462 questions—left Florida defensive end Kevin Carter shaking his head. "I couldn't believe it," said Carter. "They asked, 'True or false: I would like to do the work of a dressmaker.' " For the record, Carter's answer was: false.