At the NFL scouting combine in February, two men badly in need of
a quarterback, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick and
Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, bumped
into each other outside the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Bengals
have the first pick in the 2003 draft, and it has been expected
all along that they will take a passer. "Don't sweat it, Bob,"
Billick said. "No matter which guy you take, it's 50-50 you'll be
right--or wrong." ¬∂ Recent history confirms that for every Peyton
Manning, there's a Ryan Leaf. Five years after Manning and Leaf
were drafted one-two, respectively, their careers are a testament
to why the draft, particularly the selection of quarterbacks, is a crapshoot: Manning has laid the foundation for a Hall of Fame career, while Leaf will forever be the mayor of Bustville.
At least three quarterbacks, and perhaps as many as five, will be
drafted in the first round this Saturday. Cincinnati was already
negotiating with USC signal-caller Carson Palmer last week,
offering him $15 million in guaranteed money, Bengals sources
say, on the condition that he agrees to a predraft contract,
while Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Cal's Kyle Boller are almost
certain to be among the first 15 selections as well.
Yet every member of this quarterback class of 2003 is flawed to
the point that none can be labeled can't-miss. Before his
Heisman-winning senior season, Palmer had been a marginal pro
prospect for three-plus years. (He played three games as a
sophomore in 1999 before being redshirted because of a broken
collarbone.) Leftwich's lower left leg was fractured in each of
the past two seasons. Boller completed fewer than 50% of his
throws in each of his first three seasons. The other two
quarterbacks who could be drafted near the end of the first
round, Texas' Chris Simms (can't win the big games) and Florida's
Rex Grossman (at 6'1", too short), also have stigmas to overcome.
"I don't fear the flaws a player might have," new Cincinnati
coach Marvin Lewis said last Thursday. "That's because I don't
think there's ever been a slam-dunk player in any draft. Every
one of them has to be coached. But I'm not wary of the pick, I'm
"Every guy presents some real risk," Billick said last month,
after watching tape of those five passers. "Beauty's in the eye
of the beholder this year."
In addition to Billick, SI asked three quarterback
authorities--former San Diego Chargers coach Don Coryell, San
Francisco 49ers coach-turned-consultant Bill Walsh and former
Bengals and New York Jets passer Boomer Esiason--to study videos
of the five prospects. Each panelist viewed the same collection
of 50 or so snaps for each quarterback, shown from sideline and
end-zone angles. The analysis by Coryell, who developed Hall of
Famer Dan Fouts, was particularly enlightening because he was
seeing the college players for the first time and so was free of
preconceptions. Here's how our panelists evaluated each
OVERVIEW It was clear after watching about 15 plays from last
year's game at Stanford that the 6'5", 232-pound Palmer was in
sync with his receivers. He threw a well-targeted ball, often
before his receivers came out of their cuts. Billick said, "He
throws not where the receiver is, but where he's going to be,
which you have to do every play in the NFL." Coryell added, "I
love the way he drops back, gets the ball off quickly and throws
it where only his guy can catch it. This is NFL quarterbacking."
Palmer was deft at throwing the ball on the run, even when going
to his left. However Walsh said, "He's accurate, but he can't
avoid the rush like Montana. You can see he's been schooled on
his footwork, which he'd better be, because he has no natural
quickness. Excellent touch, strong-enough arm, quick delivery."
Esiason liked how Palmer "feels the blitz, never panics and makes
CONSENSUS Finally showing all of his tools in 2002, Palmer is the
most polished and accurate of the five prospects. But that
doesn't mean he should play right away. Palmer should be
meticulously prepped, the way the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee
Titans) handled 1995 first-round choice Steve McNair, who didn't
play regularly until late in his second season. The question is
whether the Bengals can be that patient. Cincinnati, after all,
has gone 12 years without a playoff appearance and hasn't had a
winning season since 1990.
OVERVIEW "God!" Coryell gushed watching the 6'5", 248-pound
Leftwich in last year's game against Virginia Tech. "How do they
grow 'em so big? We didn't have offensive linemen this size."
Esiason put it best after seeing Leftwich make big throws under a
heavy rush, "Commanding presence. Love his arm. He'll stand in
there against anybody. He must be a great leader." Walsh was
watching Leftwich tape for the first time and didn't like the
preponderance of snaps out of the shotgun. "If he's working out
of the shotgun so much, my guess is his fundamentals will be
awful," Walsh said. "How will he bridge the gap in the NFL? Some
teams won't play from the shotgun at all." A couple of times
Leftwich drilled the ball too hard at close range for his
receiver to handle. "He'll have to learn touch," said Billick.
"But he can throw with as much heat as anyone has in a long
CONSENSUS Leftwich is a lumbering yet courageous player with a
special arm. Coryell would have loved to build an offense around
him. Leftwich says several doctors at the combine gave him a
clean bill of health, but those leg fractures are sure to give
some teams pause. Don't expect him to get past Billick with the
10th pick, though. A source close to the Ravens said last Friday
that the team would snap up Leftwich if he slipped that far.
OVERVIEW He's easily the best athlete of the five, with a 4.60 in
the 40. "To be honest, I didn't give a damn about my quarterback
running, and I don't think I would today," said Coryell. "I want
my quarterback to be in the pocket. We never timed Dan Fouts in
the 40." But Boller's speed can clearly be an asset. Against a
nimble Air Force defense last season he repeatedly moved away
from pressure easily and threw the ball accurately. Fearless when
he did stay in the pocket, Boller stood his ground on three plays
in which he was a millisecond from getting clobbered. "It's
amazing to watch his development," said Walsh. "He's still not as
accurate as Palmer or Leftwich, but he moves decisively and
quickly. I really like his touch."
CONSENSUS Yes, Boller had a 47.8% career completion rate even
after new Cal coach Jeff Tedford overhauled his mechanics before
last season (Boller went on to complete 53.4% of his throws as a
senior), but playing with a poor supporting cast for four years
had something to do with that. "Kyle got the crap beat out of him
at Cal," said former Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson, now
coach of the 49ers. "We hit him so hard and so often I don't know
how he survived. But then I watched his pro workout [in March],
and it might have been the best quarterback workout I've ever
seen." The ultimate gamble in this draft would be to use a high
pick on Boller. A team might be getting a Brett Favre-caliber
passer, or it might get another Heath Shuler.
OVERVIEW One play on the tapes stood out: Deep in Miami territory
last season, Grossman set up to throw a crossing route, locked
onto his wideout and, though four defenders had the receiver
blanketed, forced the throw. The interception was returned 97
yards for a touchdown, and the momentum turned against Florida.
Esiason said, "He looked nervous." Coryell added, "He's got to
learn that the second-best play in the passing game is an
incompletion. You never, never gamble like that." Walsh was
concerned as well, saying, "I'd be wary of what I was getting. He
makes some disastrous decisions." On the plus side, Grossman
compensated for his lack of size with good mechanics. He averaged
31 passes a game at Florida, a big number for a collegian, and
completed 61.1% of them.
CONSENSUS Grossman is intriguing but has too much gunslinger in
him, and his arm strength is average. "I don't think he's a
first-rounder," said Esiason. Then again, he has a lot of
experience, including two years of coaching from Steve Spurrier.
A team drafting late in the first round, such as the Pittsburgh
Steelers (picking 27th) or the Green Bay Packers (29), will be
hard-pressed to pass him by.
OVERVIEW The biggest weakness the panelists saw was ball
location: Rarely did they see Simms throw a pass that his
receiver caught in perfect stride. "Most every throw is a little
off," said Coryell, watching the 2001 debacle against Oklahoma,
in which Simms was intercepted four times. "Look at that--on the
guy's rear so he has to come back for it. Not good." Walsh called
Simms "sort of a Ken Stabler-type thrower. He looks big enough,
like he'd have a better arm. He looks strictly like a touch
passer and throws sort of a passive ball." But Esiason and Walsh
noted how much weight was on this kid's shoulders. Not only is he
the son of former Super Bowl champion quarterback Phil Simms, but
Chris was also USA Today's 1998 National Offensive Player of the
Year as a high school senior and was expected to lead Texas to a
national title. Esiason reviewed a play against Oklahoma in which
Simms threw an interception, then got leveled by a vicious block
far from the ball. "There was not a more marked man in college
football," Esiason said, "and I think Chris handled it
beautifully on and off the field."
CONSENSUS He'll probably go high in the second round. Though
Simms has good mechanics and moves comfortably in the pocket, the
panel thought he was not well coached at Texas. "I'd handle Chris
the way the Jets handled Chad Pennington," Esiason said of New
York's letting Pennington watch and learn for two years. "Both
are smart, gutty kids. Chris needs to settle down in a good
teaching environment." No one knows what to make of Simms's
handful of god-awful performances in big games--no touchdown
passes, 12 interceptions and an 0-4 record against teams ranked
in the Top 10--but it's certainly not comforting.
The bet here is that these five quarterbacks will be among the
top 40 draft picks, which would make this the third time in the
past 20 years that at least five passers were selected that high.
Last week Boller was rattling off a list of what he believes are
his assets: attitude, arm strength, mechanics and
competitiveness. "And," he added, "football's all I have. I don't
have a wife. I don't have a girlfriend. I'm married to football."
It's a risky relationship, indeed, for a quarterback entering the
Based on the players penciled in as starters and backups as of
Sunday, SI ranked the 32 teams from the richest to the neediest
at quarterback, and suggested what each club should do between
the draft and the start of training camp to strengthen the most
important position in the game.
BACKUPS A.J. Feeley, Koy Detmer
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Trade Detmer, bump No. 4 Tim Hasselbeck up
to third string
THE SKINNY McNabb's the league's most versatile QB, and Feeley
showed last year that he can run coach Andy Reid's offense;
Philly doesn't need four passers.
BACKUPS Steve Beuerlein, Jarious Jackson
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY After giving up on Brian Griese, coach Mike Shanahan
made his big move in March, when he signed the talented but
erratic free agent Plummer.
BACKUPS Alex Van Pelt, Travis Brown
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Mount Union's Rob Adamson
THE SKINNY The coaching staff loves Van Pelt, and Adamson (25-0
as a Division III starter) might be the best long-term project in
BACKUPS Marc Bulger, Scott Covington
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Iowa State's Seneca Wallace
THE SKINNY Now that it knows Bulger can play, St. Louis could
draft Wallace as a multipurpose threat--like Antwaan Randle
El--in, say, the sixth round.
BACKUPS Vinny Testaverde, Todd Husak
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Washington State's Jason Gesser
THE SKINNY Pennington looks like the real deal, and though
Gesser (6' 1/2") is smallish, he's a good, mobile prospect to
slide in behind Testaverde.
BACKUPS Doug Johnson, Kurt Kittner
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Sign free agent Kent Graham
THE SKINNY Johnson has shown promise in limited duty, but Atlanta
would be wise to have an old hand like Graham in reserve.
BACKUPS Mike McMahon, Ty Detmer
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY This appears to be about the only position that ain't
broke in Detroit; club president Matt Millen shouldn't tinker.
BACKUPS Brock Huard, Jim Druckenmiller
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Trade for the Eagles' Koy Detmer
THE SKINNY Manning has started 80 games in a row, but he's not
made of steel; the emergence of A.J. Feeley in Philly makes
BACKUPS Tony Banks, Mike Quinn
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Trade for the Panthers' Chris Weinke
THE SKINNY Carr should drive the Houston offense for years;
Weinke is no Joe Montana, but at least he's better than the
BACKUPS Jesse Palmer, Jason Garrett
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY Collins has found a home; since the start of the 2000
season, he has passed for 11,447 yards, 56 more than Brett
BACKUPS Todd Bouman, J.T. O'Sullivan
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO: Stand pat
THE SKINNY Acquired from the Vikings, Bouman is the most
underrated backup in the league; someday he'll play in the Pro
BACKUPS Damon Huard, Rohan Davey
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY The coaches like Davey, a Daunte Culpepper clone, so
much that they want to try to run him into the game for Brady in
BACKUPS Trent Dilfer, Jeff Kelly
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY Benched early last season, Hasselbeck returned to
throw for more yards than anyone else over the final six games.
BACKUPS Shane Matthews, Jim Miller
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY Sure, Johnson is coming off a Super Bowl season, but
the two veterans were brought in this winter because his
durability is a concern.
BACKUPS Tim Rattay, Brandon Doman
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Eastern Washington's Josh Blankenship
THE SKINNY: Consultant Bill Walsh is looking to bring in a new
passer, and the accurate Blankenship has the tools to run the
West Coast offense.
BACKUPS David Garrard, Quinn Gray
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Marshall's Byron Leftwich
THE SKINNY Though finding a quarterback is not the most pressing
need, the opportunity to get Leftwich in the first round is too
good to pass up.
BACKUPS Doug Pederson, Craig Nall
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Texas' Chris Simms
THE SKINNY: No one knows how much longer Favre will play, so
Green Bay should start grooming a successor in the strong-armed
BACKUPS Marques Tuiasosopo, Rick Mirer
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft struggling Yankees minor leaguer Drew
THE SKINNY: It's a long shot, but why not get the rights to the
former Michigan star? If he has another long year on the diamond,
maybe he'll give football a try.
BACKUP Billy Volek
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury
THE SKINNY The release of Neil O'Donnell makes depth a concern,
and it's hard to overlook Kingsbury's 12,054 passing yards and 95
BACKUPS Gus Frerotte, Shaun Hill
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Grand Valley State's Curt Anes
THE SKINNY Yes, Anes played in Division II, but check out his
stats over the last two seasons: 96 touchdown passes and only
BACKUPS Todd Collins, Jonathan Quinn
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Sign free agent Neil O'Donnell
THE SKINNY Does coach Dick Vermeil really want to begin a
December playoff push knowing he could be one snap from calling
BACKUPS Doug Flutie, Seth Burford
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Eastern Illinois's Tony Romo
THE SKINNY The confident, strong-armed Romo would be decent
long-term insurance for Brees, who was shaky late in 2002.
BACKUPS Tim Couch, Josh Booty
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Miami's Ken Dorsey
THE SKINNY Adding Dorsey would allow Cleveland to trade Couch,
who struggled with the burden of leading an expansion team, while
he still has value.
BACKUPS Charlie Batch, Tim Levcik
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Louisville's Dave Ragone
THE SKINNY By the time Pittsburgh gets its shot at a quarterback
near the end of Round 2, Ragone will be the best available passer
left on the board.
BACKUPS Ray Lucas, Sage Rosenfels
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Sign Fox analyst Troy Aikman
THE SKINNY A team that's loaded almost everywhere else should
take a shot at luring a proven winner like Aikman out of
BACKUPS Rob Johnson, Danny Wuerffel
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Stand pat
THE SKINNY Second-year man Ramsey better pan out, because the
indecisive Johnson, a free-agent pickup, may drive coach Steve
BACKUPS Henry Burris, Chris Chandler
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Florida's Rex Grossman
THE SKINNY Stewart was brought in to mind the store; lack of
size will hurt the 6'1" Grossman, but he's too good to pass up
early in the second round.
BACKUPS Rodney Peete, Chris Weinke
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Trade Weinke--for whatever they can get
THE SKINNY Delhomme, who was one of the hottest free agents on
the market, will be a pleasant surprise; No. 3 backup Randy
Fasani could be too.
BACKUPS Akili Smith, Joe Germaine
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft USC's Carson Palmer
THE SKINNY After Cincinnati top 10 picks David Klingler (1992)
and Smith ('99) flopped, will Palmer finally be the charm for the
BACKUPS Josh McCown, Preston Parsons
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Boston College's Brian St. Pierre
THE SKINNY Arizona signed the free agent Blake, but the team has
big expectations for McCown, who will get a shot this year or
BACKUP Anthony Wright
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Draft Cal's Kyle Boller
THE SKINNY The Ravens have all but decided not to pick Boller at
No. 10, which might turn out to be a huge mistake. Pick the kid.
He's an unpolished gamer.
BACKUPS Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner
WHAT THEY SHOULD DO Sign free-agent-to-be Brian Griese
Sometimes a quarterback treasure is buried in the late rounds.
This may be one of those drafts
In 21 months quarterback Tom Brady went from a sixth-round draft
choice to Super Bowl MVP for the New England Patriots. It would
be folly to predict who the next Brady will be, but this
quarterback-deep draft has a bunch of prospects who, as
late-round picks or even undrafted free agents, could get a shot
in training camps this summer. Here are three in particular to
ROB ADAMSON, 6'3", 215, MOUNT UNION COLLEGE Not invited to
participate in the NFL scouting combine in February, he showed up
outside the RCA Dome in Indianapolis anyway and met as many NFL
people as he could. Scouts like his toughness and fluid motion. A
career 69.2% passer with 55 touchdown passes and 15
interceptions, Adamson led the Raiders to two Division III
national championships. He might be worth a practice-squad spot
and would be well served by playing a season in NFL Europe.
BRIAN ST. PIERRE, 6'3", 218, BOSTON COLLEGE His career stats
don't blow anyone away--56.9% completion rate, 48 touchdowns, 32
interceptions--but don't be fooled. He may have had better
mechanics than either of his predecessors, Matt and Tim
Hasselbeck, had as collegians. Though the Eagles expected more
from him in his senior season, St. Pierre showed good field
presence, if only an average arm. He's a strong leader and,
besides, BC quarterbacks, like Doug Flutie and Matt Hasselbeck,
have fared well as NFL long shots.
CURT ANES, 6'1", 219, GRAND VALLEY STATE His lack of height and
the level of competition he faced in Division II are concerns, as
is his average arm strength, but he did complete 68.2% of his
attempts over the last two seasons. Plus his
mechanics--especially his release--are excellent. And how can a
guy who threw only nine interceptions in 702 attempts as a junior
and senior not get a serious look from a quarterback-needy NFL