The proliferation of spread offenses in college football, and the hurry-up style that frequently accompanies them, have made the position an especially difficult one to evaluate for NFL scouts, coaches and general managers. So much so, in fact, that Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman doesn't believe the real evaluation begins until a quarterback has made it to the pros.
"Nobody can really figure out [if they can thrive in an NFL offense] until you get your hands on them, 'cause they're not being trained to do that," Roman told NFL.com's Mike Silver, who wrote an extensive feature on the challenges of the position. "They're being trained to win the next game in college so the college coach can keep his job."
Some of the key differences between a typical college spread attack and NFL offenses: The no-huddle pace, the play signaled in by a coach from the sideline, and the absence of what NFL scouts often refer to as "full-field reads." College quarterbacks are often coached for "half-field reads" for which they don't have to survey the entire defense to make a decision with the ball.
Roman is far from alone in his sentiment.
Last year, Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable criticized the evolution of college offenses as well, though Cable took it a step further in suggesting that quarterbacks aren't the only ones suffering in the pro transition. Linemen and running backs, Cable said, are also entering the NFL less prepared.
"... the college game's so different than the pro game. The coverage is different; there's so much more multiplicity of defenses, and you have to read coverages instantly," Roman said. "Some of these spread systems that teams are running [in college] don't work on an NFL field with NFL players and NFL hashmarks. And the windows are so much tighter."
While the quarterback transition from college to the NFL might be getting increasingly difficult, the need for a quality quarterback in the NFL nonetheless compels clubs to invest high draft choices in passers from spread systems. It didn't stop the Denver Broncos from making a first-round pick of Paxton Lynch this year, nor the Tennessee Titans from selecting Marcus Mariota No. 2 overall out of Oregon in 2015, or the Cleveland Browns with Johnny Manziel in 2014.
Bottom line: The learning curve is getting steeper. And by extension, so is the draft risk NFL clubs must be willing to take.