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2013 NFL Draft: QB demand boosts stock of Geno Smith, others

The Kansas City Chiefs' offseason was only a day old. Owner Clark Hunt had just fired his coach, Romeo Crennel, and was still four days away from whacking his general manager, Scott Pioli.

And as we talked, even in a league where deception is sometimes considered as essential as breathing, the executive was clear: Amending the team's quarterback situation was going to be priority No. 1.

"Clearly, a position we have to be better at is quarterback," Hunt told me. "That's not a knock on the guys that were here; there were a lot of things that went into poor play at the quarterback position, other than just the individuals. But we have to be better at that position if we want to compete."

Since then, Hunt hired coach Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey, and those two have been armed with, among other things, the top overall selection in April's draft to start fixing what went wrong with the previous regime.

So the Chiefs' top need is at quarterback, and their top resource for addressing that problem is the first pick.

But in this situation, one plus one doesn't necessarily equal two, because the operative figure might actually be zero -- as in the number of draft-eligible quarterbacks who, at this point, appear worth taking with the No. 1 selection.

"The class as a whole is very average," one AFC personnel exec said. "But if you don't have one, you're looking for one -- always. Are there potential starters? Yes. But there's no clear-cut, first-day, walk-in-the-door franchise player. For all these guys, there'll have to be a maturation process. Now, some may walk into a situation where they need to start. But this class doesn't have a ready-made starter."

And that puts quarterback-needy teams in a sticky spot.

The consensus among a handful of evaluators polled over the weekend is that West Virginia's Geno Smith is the lone player widely viewed in college scouting circles as a "starter." That doesn't mean others can't or won't start; Smith is just the one looked at with some certainty in that regard.

On balance, most teams are likely to place a low first-round/high second-round grade on Smith, but thanks to the paucity of prospects at the position, he'll probably get pushed up the board. Because that's the way it works.

"Geno, if he goes in the top 10, he's not gonna be graded the same as the guys that go around him," an AFC college scouting director said. "But he's a first-round quarterback. He's gonna get a low '1' or a second-round grade. The problem, then, is you might have a guy after him who's a backup going in the first round. Geno goes, and after that, you're gonna have someone who feels like they have to do something."

That "something" sometimes winds up being a monumental, franchise-altering mistake.

The past two years can provide perspective. Most feel that the class of 2012 was close to being drafted properly -- Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III belonged at the top, and while Ryan Tannehill (No. 8 overall) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22) might have been slight reaches, their draft spots weren't considered crazy.

It was a different story in 2011, when quarterbacks Jake Locker (drafted No. 8 overall), Blaine Gabbert (No. 10) and Christian Ponder (No. 12) went much higher than most had them graded. All three provide examples of the pitfalls of the process. In the cases of Locker and Ponder, clubs fell in love with the people. With regard to Gabbert, it was the skills. In all three instances, people inside an organization believed so strongly in one side of a prospect that they resolved to work around, or even fix, the deficiencies.

"We have them graded on traits and skills," one AFC college scout said. "Then they go to all-star games, and a player can really help himself there. Colin Kaepernick goes to the Senior Bowl, has a phenomenal week, coaches get to see him throw next to other quarterbacks, and say, 'God, he can spin it.' ... Then there's the interview process. You talk X's and O's, become comfortable with their personality, leadership traits; you talk schematics. Coaches get comfortable. They'll say, 'Wow, he's football smart.' "

According to the scout, "The interview process can help quarterbacks more than any other position."

And so, as we move forward, the perception of this class will change; guys with 30 or 40 college games on tape will suddenly rise and fall in the mind of the public.

The cannon on N.C. State's Mike Glennon will likely lure some into believing he's another Joe Flacco. Likewise, taped images of the trouble Oklahoma's Landry Jones had taking hits will probably fade as his physical ability is showcased, with him in shorts and without a pass rush bearing down.

Meanwhile, USC's Matt Barkley, who elicited wildly varying assessments from these evaluators, is such a fantastic leader and dynamic personality that he's sure to win some over in the interview room. The AFC college scouting director, though, compared Barkley physically to former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, while one NFC GM said that if Barkley ends up in the right system -- probably a West Coast-style offense -- there's "a side to me that says he winds up being the best."

Then there's Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, called the sleeper of the class by three of the people I talked to. The AFC scout lauded Wilson for his incredible toughness and for sticking out a horrific situation in Fayetteville this year. "He's the toughest quarterback I've seen," the scout said. "Anyone else would've tapped out." Which makes it easier to forget he was the sixth-rated quarterback in the SEC.

So what's the real danger here for teams? Making sure they're not creating something that doesn't exist.

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"They touch the ball on every single offensive snap," the NFC GM said. "Obviously, they're valuable. It's the most important position; that's why they get pushed up, that concept of supply and demand. You get into economics, there's a limited supply. What you can't do, when you're looking for one, is listen to the noise, and what people might say the day of (the draft) or the day after."

In the next breath, the GM added, "You also can't get cute and say, 'Let's see where the world sees him valued at.' "

That is to say, if you like a guy, it's best not to roll the dice and wait. If you have the 10th pick and can't count on the quarterback still being there at No. 42, you might just pull the trigger.

To be sure, this is a complex issue. The NFC GM pointed out that, with offenses creatively playing to their strengths, Flacco and Kaepernick were able to knock off Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, respectively, in the AFC and NFC Championship Games, serving as shining examples that there's more than one route to the promised land.

It's also clear that, as the AFC personnel exec said, teams without a quarterback can be consumed by the search for one.

And it's just as apparent that one such team, Kansas City, is now on the clock.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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