I know that statement will take many by surprise, considering the endless hype and speculation surrounding West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley, but there is a growing sentiment in the NFL scouting community that the N.C. State star could be the crown jewel of this year's quarterback class.
I had heard about Glennon's ascension up draft boards across the league over the past few weeks, but it wasn't until I made a trip to North Carolina to study him in person on Saturday that I could see what all the commotion was about. Glennon's masterful performance in a 43-35 loss to North Carolina made the visit well worth the trouble.
(Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah discuss the top quarterback prospects in the latest NFL Draft Tracker podcast.)
Glennon completed 29 of his 52 passes for 467 yards, throwing five touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers might not be impressive at first glance, but when one considers the 10 passes dropped by Wolfpack receivers, it becomes clear that the stat sheet wasn't indicative of Glennon's efficient play from the pocket. Glennon connected on 20 of his first 29 passes and finished the night with five completions of 30-plus yards. Most impressively, he hit 10 different receivers and showed his capacity to make every throw in the book from the pocket.
Charting Glennon's throws, I noticed that while he worked every area of the field, he was particularly effective in the 10- to 15-yard void between the hashes, repeatedly hitting receivers on the move on an assortment of crossing routes and square-ins over the middle. Although the over/under read is a fairly simple one, the fact that Glennon wasn't afraid to throw between linebackers speaks volumes about his anticipation and awareness.
I noticed three additional aspects of Glennon's game that will stand out when NFL scouts pop in the tape:
1. Arm talent. Glennon is one of the most impressive throwers in college football. He has rare arm strength, and his ability to make all of the throws to every area of the field with zip and velocity makes him an ideal fit for most traditional pro-style systems. While watching him work against the Tar Heels, I was blown away by the pace of his balls. Glennon unleashes laser-like tosses on out-breaking routes; he will not have any issues throwing the deep comeback to the far side of the field from the pocket. When given the opportunity to attack down the field on vertical routes, Glennon displayed excellent accuracy and touch. He routinely dropped the ball in over the receiver's proper shoulder, and he rarely forced his receivers to alter their stride. This will certainly catch the attention of scouts and coaches who favor offensive systems built on the vertical passing game; it could be what separates Glennon from the other prospects leading up to the draft.
2. Pocket presence. Glennon is not an athletic playmaker, and he can't defeat defenses with his feet. He can, however, punish opponents with his precise passing skills. When given ample time to throw from a clean pocket, Glennon looked like a potential Pro Bowl-caliber player, delivering pinpoint throws to his intended targets and displaying the kind of consistent placement one would expect from an elite signal-caller. His accuracy and ball placement, in fact, ranked as definite bright spots in his overall performance. Though he showed outstanding poise against pressure, he simply lacked the elusiveness to avoid multiple rushers in the pocket, taking five sacks that a better athlete might have avoided. To succeed against blitz-heavy tactics as a pro, he'll need to develop a top-notch feel for deciphering coverage, particularly blitz pressure, and utilize hot reads/sight adjustments to exploit the defense's vulnerabilities. Glennon certainly appears to have the football IQ necessary for grasping and executing that concept after spending four years playing within a pro-style system at N.C. State, but he'll need additional coaching and repetitions to master the nuances of the tactic.
3. Leadership. One of the traits most coveted by scouts and coaches searching for a franchise quarterback is leadership ability. Elite quarterbacks must be able to inspire confidence in their teammates with their poise and performance under pressure. They must also outwork everyone in the building, putting in the time to master the nuances of the offense. Glennon exhibited all of those qualities with his strong performance against the Tar Heels. He rallied the Wolfpack back from an 18-point deficit, making a host of big plays to energize his sideline. Most importantly, he didn't give up on his teammates despite the countless miscues and blunders they made in the passing game. He kept his body language positive and his interactions in the huddle encouraging. Though N.C. State lost, Glennon showed all of the intangible qualities one looks for in a quarterback, likely boosting his value in the minds of evaluators.
Glennon is currently a borderline first-round pick on draft boards across the NFL, but the buzz circulating in the scouting community leads me to believe he'll make a dramatic jump up the charts as the evaluation process continues. At this stage of his development, Glennon reminds me of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. I can see a team falling in love with his talent when he works out in front of scouts at all-star games and other pre-draft workouts. With at least four more games to showcase his immense talent and potential, Glennon is definitely a prospect to watch over the next few months.
WORD ON THE STREET
Fans of the Pac-12 will take umbrage with this assessment, but some NFL evaluators believe Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins are the best one-two receiving punch in college football. One high-ranking AFC East scout raved about the duo's "explosiveness," talking about how their respective games complement each other. He was impressed with Hopkins' combination of size, speed and hands, and lauded Watkins' home-run ability. When asked to rank the two, the scout favored Watkins for his big-play ability, but also said he believes Hopkins has all of the tools to be an effective playmaker at the next level. It must be noted that this conversation did occur hours before USC's Marqise Lee posted 345 receiving yards and two scores against Arizona. But I think it still speaks volumes about how some NFL scouts view the Clemson duo when compared to other dynamic tandems around the country.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones is regarded as the top pass rusher in college football by many evaluators, and he certainly cemented that sentiment with his dominant performance against Florida. Jones finished Saturday with 13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles, displaying a relentless motor that overwhelms blockers on the edge. For the second straight year, Jones single-handedly dominated the Gators as a disruptive pass rusher (he recorded four sacks against them in 2011) and provided NFL evaluators with a glimpse of his potential as a future pro.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Bernard has blossomed into one of college football's most explosive multi-purpose threats this season. He has amassed 1,249 total yards from scrimmage with 13 combined scores over seven games, adding 249 yards and two touchdowns on 12 punt returns. While those numbers are certainly impressive, it was his sensational showing against N.C. State that will have NFL evaluators salivating over his potential as a dynamic weapon at the next level. Bernard rushed for 135 yards on 23 attempts with two touchdowns and added 95 receiving yards on eight catches. Most impressively, he returned a punt 74 yards for a game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining while nursing a bum ankle. Given the changing job description of the NFL running back, Bernard's ability to contribute as a versatile playmaker makes him an attractive prospect.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
It's time to recognize Lee as the best receiver in the Pac-12. The sensational sophomore has been a dominant playmaker for the Trojans since his arrival last year, and few defenders can match his unique combination of speed, athleticism and burst. This was apparent during Lee's 16-catch, 345-yard performance against Arizona on Saturday. He repeatedly ran past Wildcat defenders on vertical routes and also displayed the ability to turn short passes into big gains. Lee converted a simple square-in route into a 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown, then repeated the feat later in the game, grabbing a slant and avoiding multiple defenders on the way to a 44-yard score. Most importantly, both plays occurred on third down, showcasing Lee's ability to deliver key plays in pivotal moments.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Celebrated as college football's most explosive playmaker prior to the season, Watkins had been relatively quiet for the Tigers through the first half of 2012. After missing three games due to a suspension and illness, he entered Saturday's matchup with just 24 receptions for 202 yards in four games, having looked nothing like the dynamic pass catcher who torched the ACC for 1,219 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season. However, that all changed with his eight-catch, 202-yard performance against Wake Forest. Watkins blew past the Demon Deacons on an assortment of vertical routes that showcased his remarkable speed and burst. Watkins also flashed his exceptional running skills on a 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown, eluding three defenders in a tight area down the sideline. It's only right that Watkins should finally make an appearance on this list after topping the 100-yard mark for the first time this season.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are back on top of the SEC East, but Murray's suspect performance against Florida nearly cost them a shot at the crown. Murray connected on just 12 of 24 passes for 150 yards, tossing one touchdown and three interceptions. Although Murray put the game away with a 45-yard touchdown to Malcolm Mitchell in the fourth quarter, he'd been largely ineffective to that point, keeping the Bulldogs from seizing control in the early goings.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Mannion admirably returned to the Beavers' starting lineup after missing two games with a knee injury, but he failed to bring his "A" game with him. The sophomore tossed four interceptions in a 20-17 loss to Washington, and failed to make critical, drive-sustaining plays with the game on the line. Although Mannion completed 18 of 34 passes for 221 yards with one touchdown, he looked hesitant and uncertain in the pocket, and made errant throws to open receivers down the field. Mannion's inconsistent play kept the Beavers from generating an offensive rhythm against the Huskies; their first loss of the season should fall squarely on the quarterback's shoulders.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Vernon had just 12 receiving yards on three receptions and was a non-factor in Duke's 48-7 loss to Florida State on Saturday. The limited production was a surprising development for a player who'd entered the game on the verge of eclipsing the ACC record for career receiving yards (Florida State's Peter Warrick amassed 3,517 yards between 1996 and 1999) while pacing the Blue Devils with 51 receptions for 749 yards this season. Against the Seminoles, however, Vernon was unable to break the conference record, failing to get open consistently or make a significant impact on the game despite being the focal point of the Blue Devils' passing attack.