A youth movement is afoot in the National Football League: Ten of the league's 32 teams are starting first- or second-year players at the game's most important position.
Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts), Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) and Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) have excelled as rookies, while Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins) and Brandon Weeden (Cleveland Browns) have displayed flashes of talent despite struggling at times. Meanwhile, Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals) continue to build on very good 2011 rookie campaigns, while Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans), Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings) are still looking to make their marks in 2012.
So, what does all this young talent at quarterback mean for signal-callers in the 2013 NFL Draft class?
There are a lot of strong passers in college football right now. USC's Matt Barkley had a rough outing against Stanford last week, but he still has the overall package teams look for in an NFL starter. Geno Smith is coming on strong in his senior season at West Virginia. Tough gunslinger Tyler Wilson (Arkansas) is expected to be fine despite taking a head shot in the Razorbacks' shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe earlier this month.
Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Zac Dysert (Miami of Ohio), E.J. Manuel (Florida State) are all senior leaders, while a few underclassmen have played well enough to attract notice from NFL scouts, should they choose to leave school after this season.
The bad news for these promising prospects is that there likely won't be a whole lot of quarterbacks taken in the first round, thanks to all of the young passers already trying to make a name for themselves in the league. An examination of NFL rosters revealed only three or four teams poised to select a quarterback early -- at least as of today.
The good news? A few perennial playoff contenders will likely be in the position to pick up a young, promising prospect in the second or third round -- something the Denver Broncos (with Brock Osweiler), Philadelphia Eagles (Nick Foles) and New England Patriots (Ryan Mallett) have done in the last two drafts.
So although the NFL quarterback logjam might cause some of the stud college passers to be picked a bit later than they'd like next April, they'll find a home eventually -- and maybe realize better team success than their higher-picked competitors early in their careers.
Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb and John Skelton might battle for the starting job all through the 2012 season, and that could be an indication that neither will be tabbed as the Cardinals' future leader when all is said and done. Skelton, now fighting an ankle injury, does have good size and a strong arm, but he hasn't fully proven himself yet. Kolb's issues with pocket poise have been well-documented, and his 15-for-27, 140-yard effort in the team's surprising win over the New England Patriots on Sunday did not exactly lock down the starting spot. Arizona also has Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round pick from the 2012 draft, but he's not likely to become the franchise player. Would the Cards take Matt Barkley despite the issues they had with former USC Trojan Matt Leinart?
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Kansas City Chiefs: In the first half of the Chiefs' season-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Cassel looked like he was about to turn the corner as a next-level starting quarterback. Since then, however, he has put forth the kind of up-and-down performance the team has seen in the past. The well-travelled Brady Quinn and 2011 fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi don't look like future starters, so finding a difference maker in April makes sense, even if he sits behind Cassel for a year before taking the offensive reins.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are still paying for current starter Carson Palmer, as the Cincinnati Bengals own Oakland's second-round pick in the 2013 draft. Palmer put up 373 passing yards in the team's Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, but only completed half of his 48 passes. Considering Palmer turns 33 years old this December and is due $13 million in 2013, it wouldn't be a surprise if general manager Reggie McKenzie (who was still in Green Bay when the Palmer trade was made last year) wanted to set the ship in a new direction at season's end. And without a second-round pick, McKenzie might need to find that future signal-caller in the first round. Terrelle Pryor could throw a wrench into this plan if he plays well in any action he sees in 2012, but for now I'm assuming the former supplemental draft pick will play more of a Joe Webb athletic-backup role in the future.
Second- and third-round possibilities
Buffalo Bills: Ryan Fitzpatrick played well enough to beat the mediocre Chiefs on Sunday (10-19, 178 yards, 2 TDs), but really hasn't been able to advance from solid backup/spot starter to playoff-caliber signal-caller. He was prematurely rewarded with a long-term contract in October 2011, but that $10 million signing bonus is what economists call a "sunk cost" -- money that can't be regained, and thus shouldn't drive future decisions. The Bills might decide to cut their losses with Fitzpatrick before he claims a $3 million roster bonus next offseason, thereby becoming buyers in the first-round quarterback market. The other option would be to hold on to Fitzpatrick and use a second-round pick to at least improve the level of competition at the position.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Charlie Batch/Byron Leftwich backup options behind Ben Roethlisberger (who is already in his ninth season) are less than ideal, especially given the offensive line's inadequate pass protection and those nagging injuries that tend to take Big Ben out of a game or more each year. General manager Kevin Colbert is known for his ability to find value throughout the draft, so it seems probable that a signal-caller will fall into his lap in Round 2 or 3 -- maybe even another Miami of Ohio product in Dysert?
Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler's a free agent after 2013. He certainly has one of the top arms in the NFL, but how long will the Bears continue to hope his inconsistent play can lead them to a championship? And even if he is "the guy" for the foreseeable future, it's no sure thing that Jason Campbell will be an efficient backup. General manager Phil Emery isn't likely to use a first-round pick at the position, and he doesn't have a third-round pick, either, which was sent to Miami in the Brandon Marshall trade. But if Emery thinks there's great value in a falling quarterback prospect in the second round, or if he can trade into the third round from either the second or the fourth, Emery could pick up a young gun.
Baltimore Ravens: Even if the Ravens sign free-agent-to-be Joe Flacco to a big contract -- maybe after a rough negotiation process, if they place the franchise tag on him -- they'll want to address their backup situation. Tyrod Taylor had some up-and-down performances in the preseason, completing 51.7 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and one interception. He will encounter some competition in camp next summer, via a veteran or a young rookie picked in Rounds 2-4.
Jacksonville Jaguars: It's not unprecedented for a team to select a quarterback in the first three rounds of a draft within two years of using a previous first-round pick at the position. The San Diego Chargers swapped Eli Manning for Philip Rivers in the early stages of the 2004 NFL Draft, then made Charlie Whitehurst their third-round pick in 2006. The Seattle Seahawks once picked two first-round passers in three years (Dan McGwire in 1991, Rick Mirer in 1993). And Redskins coach Mike Shanahan drafted former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins at the top of the fourth round just two DAYS after making RG3 the second overall pick. If Gabbert can't rally the team during the course of this season, and if the team doesn't see Chad Henne as a significant upgrade, general manager Gene Smith won't hesitate to go after an intriguing quarterback prospect in the third round. The position's just too important to let it slide for the sake of pride.