With the 2013 NFL Draft set for April 25-27 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NFL.com draft analyst Josh Norris is identifying the top prospects available at every position. Today, he presents an overview of the best quarterbacks. For a complete list of the rest of the positions, click here.
Let me start by saying these quarterback rankings are not reactionary. I've felt the same way about the top four since the end of the 2012 season, with Tyler Wilson holding on to his No. 1 spot since last summer's evaluations. I know the Arkansas product is not a popular choice when it comes to picking the best quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft class. However, as we've seen in every single draft, prospects who are selected later than others can often emerge as better players.
I believe the paramount trait a quarterback must possess is an ability to make things happen in the face of pressure and in confined space. Turn on any tape of Wilson and you'll see him take a pounding from opposing pass rushers, get up and move on to the next play. That is not to say that Wilson was prone to taking sacks; quite the contrary. However, he will take a hit to ensure his receiver has enough time to create a sliver of separation. There were also plenty of instances in which Wilson bought himself time and tested vertically after scanning the field for open targets. Such aggressiveness and toughness -- important factors when looking for a quality starter -- are uncommon among quarterback prospects.
Wilson is not perfect. He's been known to have footwork issues, force passes to a single target (Cobi Hamilton in 2012) or loft attempts to receivers in double coverage. But considering his ability to change throwing platforms, recognize open receivers, accurately distribute the ball and take punishment in the pocket, I have Wilson atop my list.
I like Geno Smith as a prospect quite a bit, as you can see from his ranking here. However, he is not quite the complete package he has been made out to be. There are things I like when watching Smith in the pocket, but too often, he looks slow in his reads after locking on to an initial target. He also has a tendency to hop in his drops and drift from pressure, though these issues likely won't doom him, since he did not flash them in every game. Of course, this ranking has nothing to do with Smith off the field; it's only about things he can do to improve on it.
1. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: I don't expect Wilson to be among the top quarterbacks selected in April's draft, but he can be successful wherever he lands, thanks to his willingness to stick to the pocket and test vertically. There are some placement issues, but those can be fixed with improved footwork. Projection: Third round
2. Geno Smith, West Virginia: Some might call the offense Smith ran in college a gimmick. Rather than worry about that, I would isolate the throws and reads he made, as well as the poise he displayed, and consider how that all projects to the NFL. Smith did switch offenses prior to his junior season, shifting to one that focused on a smaller number of plays run in a variety of ways or sets to beat defenses. Projection: First round
3. Zac Dysert, Miami (Ohio): Dysert, who is perhaps another surprise at No. 3, has so many great qualities as a passer. Poor offensive-line talent forced him to play in a four- or five-wide quick-read offense in 2012, but he still showed excellent pocket movement and vertical placement, along with an ability to throw on the run. Projection: Third round
4. Mike Glennon, N.C. State: The longer Glennon holds the ball, the more concerned I get. He has plenty of accuracy and velocity to be successful if he lands in an offense that allows him to hit a first read after planting his back foot off of a three- or five-step drop. But as he has shown, when he's pressured on the interior, things break down quickly. Projection: Second round
5. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: There's a lot to like about Nassib, namely his willingness to work through reads and decisively fire passes to his receivers. Though he is mobile, his pocket movement is frenetic and could put him in bad spots. Projection: Second round
6. Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley, who might make more pre-snap reads than any other quarterback in this class, will have to rely on rhythm, timing and placement to win. Though the longtime Trojan starter has struggled to buy time against pressure, he has shown nice touch when hitting receivers downfield. Projection: Second round
7. EJ Manuel, Florida State: Many love Manuel's tools, most notably a compact release and the mobility he showed when things broke down. However, against pressure, Manuel tended to fall off his throws or make very poor decisions. In that regard, there are some similarities between Manuel and Blaine Gabbert. Projection: Second round
Follow Josh Norris on Twitter @JoshNorris.