SI senior writer Peter King breaks down this year's quartet of potential first-round quarterbacks
When you watch video of the four top quarterbacks in this draft—Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy—you see how much catching up Tebow has to do to be ready to play quarterback in 2011. Notice I didn't say 2010; this has to be a redshirt year for the Florida phenom. But the other three passers are much closer to NFL-ready for 2010.
I broke down video of the four potential first-round QBs last week, each against good defensive pressure. Bradford's deep accuracy shone through. Clausen's a cagey gunslinger. McCoy has a precocious feel for the game, though sometimes you find yourself yelling at the screen, "Get rid of the ball!" Tebow's well-documented mechanical deficiencies were evident, as was the gulf between the system he played in at Florida and what he'll be called on to do in the NFL.
It's possible but not likely that all four will be first-round picks. Bradford and Clausen will be. Tebow and McCoy should be gone by the middle of the second. Here's my analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, and my forecast for their futures.
April 25, 2010
SAM BRADFORD6'4", 236 Oklahoma
In a way, it's hard to judge Bradford because so many of his games were blowouts in 2008, and he threw only 69 passes last season because of his shoulder injuries. The video does reveal that he sometimes got lazy in his mechanics because he had so much time in the pocket. Also, it was maddening to watch Bradford and the other Oklahoma skill players stare at the sideline, play after play, to receive their assignments. The Sooners didn't require Bradford to look at the defense for tendencies or make presnap reads at the line, things he'll have to do on every NFL play.
What's also evident is that Bradford can make the throws he'll have to make to win in the NFL, with a smooth release and a tight spiral. Against Nebraska in 2008, he made a half-dozen NFL-caliber passes in the first 15 minutes as Oklahoma ran up a 35--0 lead. There was a 41-yard strike thrown across his body as he rolled left; a 48-yard TD lofted as Ndamukong Suh raked a hand across his face; a nine-yard bullet TD to tight end Jermaine Gresham, thrown to the only place it could have been caught, with a defender draped over Gresham. What remains to be seen is Bradford's ability to take major punishment. He was kept mostly clean at OU, but his shoulder was injured twice on hard hits. Still, he's worthy of the top pick because you can count on one hand the NFL guys who throw as well to spots 25 yards downfield. Projection: Rams, first round (first overall).
JIMMY CLAUSEN6'2½", 222 Notre Dame
I liked Clausen more than I expected to after watching video of him playing from behind, with torn ligaments in two toes, against USC. Strong arm, quick release; the ball flies off his hand, and he's not afraid to throw a Brett Favre finger-breaker at short range. Against the Trojans he zipped four or five passes into tight coverage, including a whistling 15-yarder to an in-cutting, double-teamed Golden Tate. Clausen also threw a beautiful go-route to Tate for a touchdown, looking off the safety just long enough to free up his receiver.
The Notre Dame junior learned the pro-style offense under Charlie Weis and had more freedom than Bradford to change plays and make adjustments to his protection based on what he saw from the defense. The negatives? Clausen seems frenetic sometimes and needs to be cooler in big moments; he could use some work on touch passes and fades; and he needs to process information a little faster—too many delay-of-game calls last year. He has a chance to be an elite quarterback if a complementary team can be built around him. Projection: Seahawks, first round, 14th overall, though the Bills could make a swoop with the ninth pick—or Seattle could jump earlier, at No. 6.
TIM TEBOW6'2¾", 236 Florida
What other potential first-round quarterback in the last 30 years spent so much of his college career playing option football, taking many of his snaps from the T formation? Watching Tebow, I saw two-sidecar-escort formations, with number 15 simply plowing ahead out of the shotgun or handing it to one of his twin backs. That's 60-year-old football. When Tebow dropped back to throw, he seemed to lock in on his first read and rarely leave him. So while everyone's talking about his new mechanics, he'll still need to learn how to read defenses and go through his receiver progressions. Tebow's field vision isn't good. He should feel the blitz better; too often he abandoned the pocket instead of hanging in and surveying the field. You don't doubt his effort. You just doubt whether three seasons in that offense can be undone in one year. Or two.
So why are so many teams so smitten with him? Because of his impeccable character, his determination to address his NFL shortcomings and his strong arm. Clubs believe they can fix him. But as one NFL tapehead said to me, "If you draft Tim Tebow, you not only have to believe in him, you have to be married to him." Meaning you're going to go through tough times early, and you've got to be patient. He might need two redshirt years in a strong teaching system. Projection: Vikings, first round (30th overall), but the Broncos, Patriots and Eagles lurk.
COLT MCCOY6'1", 216 Texas
He's been compared with Drew Brees so much that it's become hackneyed. Short quarterback, highly decorated college career, selfless leader, remarkably accurate (73.5% over his last two years). One troubling thing: McCoy is so confident in his ability to find an open receiver, and so fearless in the face of a rush, that he takes far too much punishment in the pocket. Nebraska had a good pass rush in the Big 12 title game last season, but nine sacks? Ridiculous. He almost seems too cocky in the pocket, and that can lead him to throw inaccurately under pressure. When he goes to the NFL, it's doubtful he'll have the same protection he had at Texas, and he's going to have to learn to make quicker decisions and throw the ball into the first row of the bleachers instead of taking the sack. Time and again in a tape I viewed—the 2009 thrashing of Missouri—he took the brunt of a rush, moved in and out of trouble and made quick decisions on the run, but he'll face better rushes in the NFL.
McCoy is good on the run, and though he throws three-quarter, bordering on sidearm, on some of his deep balls, it doesn't affect his accuracy. His release is NFL-ready. I understand the concern of some scouts about monster hits limiting his durability, but he seems to be the kind of kid who'll take to coaching and adjust his game. He'd be perfect with a smart grinder like Denver's Josh McDaniels. Projection: Though he's a good fit for the Browns, selecting at 38, he likely will end up with the Broncos five picks later.