Pickings look slim for this year’s crop of quarterbacks
The Kansas City Star
Posted on Tue, Jan. 20, 2009

MOBILE, Ala. | Scott Pioli earned a reputation while with the Patriots as being able to mine a talented quarterback from the depths of the draft. The Chiefs general manager might need that ability if his new team is to find its future starting quarterback this year.

That, plus a lot of luck. Plenty of questions surround the top available quarterbacks, Matt Stafford of Georgia and Mark Sanchez of USC. Depth of this season’s class is also lacking in what could be the worst crop of quarterbacks to come along in years.

“It’s a terrible group outside of those top two guys and even they aren’t sure things,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “The senior group is awful.”

Stafford and Sanchez declared for the draft with college eligibility remaining, so they weren’t candidates to play in the Senior Bowl. The participating quarterbacks include lower-round prospects like Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell, Sam Houston State’s Rhett Bomar and Clemson’s Cullen Harper.

Bomar, once the starter at Oklahoma before transferring, helped himself with a couple of strong practices this week.

The Chiefs’ chances of finally getting their franchise quarterback were set back when Sam Bradford, the Heisman Trophy winner, announced last week he would return to Oklahoma for his junior season.

“This quarterback draft would look so much better if Bradford had come out,” said Matt Miller, who runs a draft Web site at New Era Scouting. “There are some people who think he’s too small or that he’s been too protected by that all-world offensive line they have at Oklahoma. So there is some argument there with him. But it’s hard to argue what he’s done. He’s a winner and that’s ultimately what everybody is looking for in a quarterback.

“He would have been the No. 1 overall pick if he had come out.”

Instead, Bradford goes into a deep quarterback pool that next year will include Texas’ Colt McCoy and Florida’s Tim Tebow.

“You hate to tell people to wait for next year but that draft is going to be loaded at quarterback,” Miller said. “That’s going to be one interesting quarterback draft.”

The Chiefs and other teams are left to sift through this year’s prospects. Stafford and Sanchez have ability but don’t seem to excite scouts as Bradford would have and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan did last year.

“Neither of these guys are as good as Bradford or McCoy,” said the personnel director for one NFL team. “Neither of these guys are as good as Matt Ryan.”

Stafford was an inconsistent player in college. He has the edge at this early point in draft preparations over Sanchez, but the Chiefs might not get a shot at him.

Detroit, coming off the NFL’s first 0-16 season, could take Stafford with the first pick. St. Louis picks second and probably won’t be looking for a quarterback.

If not, the Chiefs would have a decision regarding Sanchez.

“The Chiefs will have to at least look closely at Sanchez with that third pick if they’ve decided they won’t stick with Tyler Thigpen,” Kiper said. “Sanchez only (started) for one year but he’s got the size and throws accurately on the move. He’s a real smart kid, a quick learner.”

Other early draft entrants include Josh Freeman of Grandview and Kansas State and Nate Davis of Ball State. Freeman in particular has the size and arm strength to climb on draft charts if he shows well at next month’s scouting combine and his subsequent workouts.

“Freeman is erratic,” Kiper said. “There were some games where he looked deserving of being a top-five pick. There were some games where he looked deserving of being a fifth-round pick. He just doesn’t put it together at times.”

Operating out of Texas Tech’s spread offensive system, Harrell put up huge passing numbers. He threw for at least 5,000 yards and 45 touchdowns and completed better than 70 percent of his pass attempts in each of his two final collegiate seasons.

Recent Texas Tech quarterbacks had similar stats but haven’t made it in the NFL.

“I’m trying to break some of the stereotypes of the Texas Tech quarterback,” Harrell said. “I have to show I can take some snaps from center and I can drop back and be an effective quarterback.

“As far as reading defenses and things like that, I don’t feel it’s too big of a difference. Going to a pro-style offense will take some adjusting but I’ll be able to do it.”

The Chiefs will no doubt give Harrell and the others a look. While Pioli was with New England, the Patriots found Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft and Matt Cassel in the seventh round in 2005.

The Patriots selected five quarterbacks in nine drafts run by Pioli and coach Bill Belichick. They never drafted one above the third round, but never needed a quarterback as the Chiefs need one now.

Belichick and Pioli inherited Drew Bledsoe, a former overall No. 1 pick. Brady emerged as a star in his second NFL season.

This year’s quarterback class could test Pioli’s ability to find a late-round quarterback if the Chiefs go that route.

“Scott’s had great fortune finding quarterbacks late in the draft,” Kiper said. “But good luck if you want to find one of those guys this year.”