The 2013 draft class has been described as a group devoid of star power at the quarterback position. In fact, cynics have suggested that none of the quarterbacks in this year's class will be able to match the immediate impact and production of recent rookie signal-callers Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.
However, I would contend that the landscape of the NFL is changing, with more offensive coordinators willing to adapt their respective systems to fit the talents of their quarterbacks. Consequently, young QBs are thriving immediately and guiding their respective teams back into contention.
Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL Draft and evaluating the potential of the top quarterbacks in the class, I thought it would be a good time to play QB matchmaker. With scheme fit and coaching philosophy at the core of each decision, here is my take on the ideal situations for five top quarterback prospects in the 2013 class.
Just to reiterate: This is not a mock draft, but an exercise in matching teams with quarterbacks who best suit their scheme and situation.
State of the position: The Chiefs haven't invested a first-round pick in a quarterback since the team selected Todd Blackledge with the seventh overall pick in the 1983 draft. In fact, Kansas City has only drafted a quarterback in the first three rounds three times in nearly three decades (Mike Elkins, second round in 1989; Matt Blundin, second round in 1992; Brodie Croyle, third round in 2006). The lack of a franchise quarterback has kept the team from consistently contending for the AFC crown. Matt Cassel has failed to live up to expectations as a marquee trade acquisition from the New England Patriots. Granted, Cassel led to the Chiefs to an AFC West title in 2010 and earned a Pro Bowl berth while tossing 27 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. But he has not played at a high level over the past two seasons. Cassel owns a 16:21 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span, contributing greatly to the Chiefs' 9-23 record since 2011.
Why it would work: The Chiefs hiring of Andy Reid was partially due to his success grooming quarterbacks during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid helped Donovan McNabb become a six-time Pro Bowler during his time as the team's franchise quarterback, but also helped A.J. Feeley, Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick enjoy success during their respective stints as the Eagles' starting QB. Reid prefers an athletic playmaker at the position with the agility to elude the pass rush, but someone who also possesses the arm talent to defeat opponents with pinpoint passes. Smith is a standout pocket passer with excellent arm strength. He has the capacity to make pinpoint throws with zip and velocity, while also showing superb touch on anticipatory throws. Although Smith experienced some struggles down the stretch with his pocket awareness as a senior at West Virginia, he is a perfect fit in Reid's version of the West Coast offense that features a mixture of intermediate and movement-based passes.
State of the position: The Jets presumed they had acquired their franchise quarterback in the 2009 draft when the team moved up to select Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick. The results were outstanding early on, when Sanchez helped guide the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in his first two seasons. Since that point, though, Sanchez has struggled mightily in directing the Jets' offense, constantly committing turnovers that put the team in tough situations. Sanchez has also disappointed in a leadership sense, and the team questions if he can lead the Jets back to the ranks of the elite in the AFC. With Marty Mornhinweg assuming controls as the offensive coordinator, the Jets are hoping to rehabilitate Sanchez or find a new franchise quarterback to build around.
Why it would work:Jets fans might cringe at the notion of bringing in another USC quarterback, but Barkley's game is drastically different than Sanchez's. He enters the NFL with a wealth of experience following 47 career starts as a Trojan, which has prepared him for the rigors of directing a pro offense from the line of scrimmage. In addition, he has played in a West Coast system that features similar verbiage and concepts as the scheme employed by Mornhinweg. While the windy conditions of MetLife Stadium will test Barkley's arm strength, he showed the capacity to play well in that exact environment during a 2012 contest against Syracuse (finishing 23-for-30 for 187 yards with six touchdowns). The Jets' leaky offensive line will also pose a challenge, but Barkley's high football IQ and outstanding awareness should enable him to win the pre-snap battle, reducing the necessity of athleticism and movement skills. Given the fact that Mornhinweg successfully crafted winning game plans for Kolb, Vick and rookie Nick Foles during his tenure with the Eagles, it would not come as a surprise to see Barkley enjoy success in New York.
State of the position: The Cardinals emerged as surprising contenders in the NFC behind the stellar play of Kurt Warner in 2008 and '09. The two-time NFL MVP led the franchise to Super Bowl XLIII, while directing a high-octane attack that terrorized opponents through the air. Ken Whisenhunt attempted to keep the momentum going following Warner's retirement, but failed miserably when Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer failed to bring stability to the position. Kolb, in particular, was expected to rejuvenate the hopes of the franchise after being acquired in a high-profile trade with the Eagles and signing a monster contract. However, injuries and suspect performances have led the Cardinals to explore other options behind a new head coach (Bruce Arians).
Why it would work: Arians is regarded as one of the top quarterback gurus in the NFL following his work with Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Couch and Peyton Manning. He guided the first three to the best seasons of their respective careers by putting together offenses that accentuated their strengths as players. Although Arians is noted for his love of the long ball, which exposes quarterbacks to more hits in the pocket, he has shown the capacity to utilize the short and intermediate passing game to take advantage of an opponent's coverage on the perimeter. Arians' versatile approach to play calling allows young quarterbacks to enjoy immediate success under his watch. With Glennon in the fold, Arians would have the strong-armed passer that he prefers in the lineup. The N.C. State star has displayed the ability to make every throw in the book with exceptional zip and velocity. Although he certainly is not an athletic playmaker from the pocket like Roethlisberger and Luck, the fact that Arians was able to build an explosive offense behind a classic drop-back passer like Couch suggests he could craft an offense to suit Glennon's game. In addition, the presence of a big-time playmaker like Larry Fitzgerald would give Glennon as dominant No. 1 receiver to target routinely in the passing game.
State of the position: The Bills' quarterback position has been a revolving door since Jim Kelly retired in 1997. The franchise has unsuccessfully attempted to fill the position through the draft and free agency. Most recently, the team cast its lot behind Ryan Fitzpatrick after he supplanted Trent Edwards and briefly sparked Buffalo's dormant offense. However, Fitzpatrick struggled to sustain his stellar play. He led the NFL in interceptions in 2011, and his scattershot performance from the pocket derailed the Bills' playoff hopes in 2012. With general manager Buddy Nix already on record saying the team needs to find a franchise quarterback, the time is now for the Bills to find their signal-caller of the future.
Why it would work: Doug Marrone took over as head coach earlier this month and immediately hired Nathaniel Hackett as his offensive coordinator. The duo discussed the possibility of utilizing the K-Gun offense that terrorized Bills opponents throughout the 1990s with its frenetic pace. While the obvious prospect to the direct the offense would appear to be Marrone's quarterback at Syracuse, Ryan Nassib, the ultra-talented Wilson possesses the arm strength, anticipation and football IQ to thrive in an up-tempo attack. Furthermore, Wilson's experience and production under the tutelage of Bobby Petrino suggest that he is capable of directing an offense that relies on checks and adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Looking at the Bills' offensive scheme based on film study of the Orange, Wilson certainly has the ability to make the quick-rhythm throws that are a staple of the scheme. He also possesses enough athleticism to maneuver within the pocket and make accurate throws under duress. Although Wilson will need to rein in some of his gunslinger ways, the fact that he shows the courage to make risky throws is an asset in an offense predicated on timing and rhythm. Factoring in his experience dealing with adversity during his final season at Arkansas, it would be hard to find a quarterback better equipped to deal with the daunting challenge in Buffalo.
State of the position: The Eagles' quarterback situation is in flux with Michael Vick scheduled to receive an enormous bonus payment and salary -- if he isn't released -- despite diminishing returns over the past few seasons. Complicating matters is the fact that his replacement, Foles, doesn't appear to be an ideal fit in Chip Kelly's spread offense. Although Kelly has suggested that he will tailor his system to fit the talents of the Eagles' personnel, it is hard to imagine the offensive mastermind deviating away from the high-energy, zone-read offense that took college football by storm. Given that premise, the Eagles need to find a young, athletic quarterback with the capacity to drive the offense as a dual-threat playmaker.
Why it would work: Manuel is the premier athletic quarterback in the 2013 draft class. He possesses the size, arm talent and movement skills that coaches covet in dual-threat playmakers. As a senior at Florida State, he passed for 3,392 yards, rushed for 310 and totaled 27 combined touchdowns. Most importantly, Manuel guided the Seminoles to a conference title and BCS bowl win on the strength of his athleticism and playmaking ability. Manuel enters the NFL with invaluable experience directing a pro-style offense that also featured elements of the zone-read. From making calls and adjustments at the line of scrimmage to reading defenders on zone-option plays, Manuel is familiar with key elements of Kelly's system, putting him well ahead of the competition in the 2013 class. In addition, he is a capable runner with the ability to thrive on predetermined quarterback runs or movement passes. Looking at the diverse nature of the Oregon Ducks' offense under Kelly, Manuel's skills and playmaking ability would appear to be an ideal fit in Philadelphia. In fact, it is quite possible that Manuel could give the Eagles a Cam Newton-like playmaker and rival the impact/production of RG3 in Kelly's unique system.