This is the age of the young quarterback. Buoyed by the draft class of 2012, we have a surplus of promising young signal-callers. Around The League and "NFL Total Access" will count down the top 10 quarterbacks 25 or under during the next two weeks.
No. 10: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Why he's here
Freeman feels older. He started 56 games over four seasons, but he's actually younger than Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton. Unlike the rest of our top 10 list, Freeman's future as a "franchise quarterback" is openly up for debate. At least in Tampa.
Coach Greg Schiano doesn't seem fully sold on Freeman, yet the Buccaneers also know how talented he is. Freeman's arm compares with just about any quarterback in the NFL. He's not afraid to throw the ball into tight windows, and he stands tall in the pocket against pressure.
Freeman's mobility in the pocket isn't talked about often, but it really stood out on tape. It's hard to teach a quarterback how to naturally avoid pressure and slide in the pocket. Tom Brady -- not known for his foot speed -- is one of the greatest ever at this skill. Freeman is very good at creating space and not getting bothered by defenders around him.
Few players throw a prettier pass than Freeman when it all works out. Just see the pass below: That's 55 yards in the air, dropped in the bucket.
Freeman has the ability to get on serious rolls, but the streakiness has a price ...
Why he's not higher
Freeman can be a different player from quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game. Even his seasons have played out that way. A typically tough rookie season was followed up by 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 2010. A disastrous 2011 campaign mostly turned around last year with 4,065 yards in 16 starts.
Too often the Buccaneers dialed up the right play, got the coverage they were hoping for and the play wasn't made. Routine throws were missed. Red zone tosses often didn't give the receiver a chance. Freeman's accuracy came and went, and I didn't see Freeman anticipate or go to his second read enough.
Occasionally, Freeman didn't see the open man, but it's been more common to see him just a beat late on a throw like on the play below. Often, the timing was just off. Freeman sometimes would think a receiver was going to sit down on a route, but a miscommunication happened.
This sort of play happened again and again on tape, with receivers and Freeman trying to figure out afterwards what went wrong. A similar miscommunication happened later in this game against the Redskins during a two-point conversation. This happened a lot with Mike Williams. The Bucs lost the game by two points. That's your margin for error in NFL.
It's a make-or-break year in Tampa for Freeman. He's entering a contract year, and there are questions regarding whether Schiano loves Freeman's leadership style. In a worst case scenario, Freeman could be replaced as a starter during this season by rookie Mike Glennon. That would sink Freeman's free agency value, but this is a league where Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn just found starting opportunities. Freeman has shown he is better than plenty of NFL starters and would be in demand.
Freeman must eliminate the routine misses like the one below, but he's already put out enough quality film to be a starter in the NFL for a long time.
Freeman's five-year ceiling
A winning 2013 season might lead to a long-term contract in Tampa, where there are ingredients for success. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams form one of the best vertical duos in the league; Freeman's big arm fits their skills well. Doug Martin is a complete running back, and Tampa has invested plenty in a solid offensive line.
Freeman's first-round talent has shown up in his four NFL seasons. He owns every tool you look for in a quarterback; he just hasn't shown the ability to do it consistently. He's shown enough that there's hope Freeman can be a top-10 NFL quarterback for a team that regularly contends for the playoffs and Super Bowl. He has that type of skill set. (Check out Freeman standing tall against pressure to delver a beautiful touchdown to Jackson.)
Freeman sometimes has been compared to Ben Roethlisberger because of his body type, but his career is more likely to resemble that of Carson Palmer. Freeman has enough talent to wow you for a play or a week or even a month, but he leaves you wanting more.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.