SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Labor and Agents

Weak class won’t keep QBs out of first round

Need more proof that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league? Look no further than the coming NFL draft.

There is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this year’s class, and the quarterback group is rated as one of the poorest in memory. Regardless, look for many teams to use their first-round picks on much lower-rated quarterbacks because of the success of last year’s draft class and the pressure to win immediately.

Football talent experts, including former general managers, cite the success of Luck and Griffin, who were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 by the Colts and Redskins, respectively, as well as Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round last year by the Seahawks, as driving the mindset in an uncertain draft class.

“The fact that Russell Wilson can do what he did as a third-round pick and then a first-year starter — that changes the landscape for every team in the league,” said Phil Savage, former general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who is now executive director of the Senior Bowl.

At the same time, Savage and other former general managers cite the increased pressure on general managers and head coaches to win, as evidenced by the record number of firings of head coaches and general managers after this year’s regular season.

“There is no longer a five-year plan for NFL teams,” said Michael Lombardi, NFL Network analyst who served in an executive personnel position for a number of clubs, including the Oakland Raiders. “If you don’t win and produce and get your team better in the first couple of seasons, there are going to be changes.”

And the quickest way to win is by landing a quarterback, and most personnel executives say the best way to do that is through the draft, not free agency. Multiple agents said there is only one franchise quarterback who will be an unrestricted free agent in March — the Ravens’ Joe Flacco — and they expect that team to either re-sign him or franchise tag him.

Heading into the 2013 NFL draft, Lombardi estimates there are at least six clubs looking for a franchise quarterback. “There are more teams that need quarterbacks than there are quarterbacks,” he said.

But finding such talent through the draft may be difficult, as this year’s class has been disparaged as the worst in years and talent experts are divided on which of a group of four to six quarterbacks may be the best.

Gil Brandt, former head of personnel for the Dallas Cowboys who writes for NFL.com and decides which players the league invites to New York for the draft every April, says that USC’s Matt Barkley, N.C. State’s Mike Glennon, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson have a chance to be a first-round pick. But he adds that Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib are possibilities as well.

“I don’t think it’s like last year, but there are some talented quarterbacks out there,” Brandt said.

Brandt doesn’t think a quarterback will be taken No. 1 overall, but he does think that up to three quarterbacks may be selected in the first round.

Some of the agents who represent the quarterback draft prospects, including CAA Sports agent Ben Dogra, who represents Barkley, and Select Sports agent Jeff Nalley, who represents Smith, expect multiple quarterbacks to be taken in the first round.

It may not be surprising that agents who represent quarterbacks feel that way. But club personnel executives, including two recently fired NFL general managers, agreed with that assessment. “The expectations and the pressure is much higher,” said one former general manager. “[Quarterbacks] will go higher.”

A second general manager, who was also recently fired, said quarterbacks are ready to play and win in the NFL coming out of college rather than taking two or more years to develop, which automatically drives up their value. “The league is changing very fast,” this ex-general manager said.

A number of public draft prognosticators have recently moved quarterbacks up in their mock drafts, including CBS Sports senior draft analyst Rob Rang, who had two quarterbacks ranked as first-rounders in late 2012 and now has four projected to go in the first round. The biggest reason is because of the overhaul at clubs around the league.

“New regimes like to bring in quarterbacks,” Rang said. “The quarterback class is not very good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that teams are not going to take quarterbacks.”




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