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QB class of 2009 will have a hard time matching last year's group

INDIANAPOLIS -- Desperate for a quarterback? Then this probably isn't the draft for you.

The buzz at the position begins and ends with two names: Matthew Stafford of Georgia and Mark Sanchez of USC.

One of them could very well end up as the top overall pick, because the Detroit Lions, who own the choice, need a quarterback. Here's the catch: The Lions need a franchise quarterback for the future; they have a short-term answer in veteran Daunte Culpepper.

But if any team is considering Stafford or Sanchez as an answer for the present, the common opinion from NFL talent evaluators is this: Don't, because you're likely to be disappointed.

The biggest knock on both of them is that they're juniors who probably needed another year of collegiate competition to further develop their passing skills.

Consider this comment, from a general manager who requested anonymity, about the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Stafford: "I think this kid needs to mature quite a bit more. I think whoever gets him is going to have to work with that and be patient with that."

Of course, patience is hard to come by when a player is the first pick of the draft, or a top-10 choice, and is paid millions of dollars simply for signing his name on a contract. It's even harder when two rookie quarterbacks selected in the first round in 2008, Matt Ryan (by Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (by Baltimore), had outstanding rookie seasons. Owners of the teams that draft quarterbacks in Round 1 this year are likely to expect the same results.

NFL scouts and coaches like Stafford's exceptionally strong arm, although he did not put it on display during combine drills. He's waiting to do that during his pro-day workout at Georgia on March 19. Yet, they are not comfortable with the inconsistency he displayed throughout his collegiate career.

The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Sanchez was only a one-year starter at USC, so his limited body of work is a concern. He did throw during the combine. Although he did not wow anyone with his arm strength, he was solid enough to likely maintain his standing as one of the two best quarterbacks in the draft.

Generally speaking, there is no expectation that Stafford, Sanchez or any other quarterback in the draft will have anything approaching the success Ryan and Flacco enjoyed as rookies. Granted, what Ryan and Flacco did was rare, but at least there was a sense they were better prepared for the NFL because they had remained in school for their full eligibility.

"When you talk about the complexities of NFL defenses versus collegiate defenses, that's something they've got to get accustomed to," Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "Outside of the technical stuff -- drops and those types of things -- that's probably the biggest adjustment that those guys have to make, which, in turn, is the biggest predictor that you have to be able to assess."

Stafford is philosophical about the challenge that he will face to see the field as a rookie.

"If they don't feel that I'm ready to go, and I have to sit behind a veteran for a while and maybe learn some of the things that I need to learn, then that's fine," Stafford said. "But I'm going to make it as hard as I can on coaches to try to keep me off the field. I've always been one to want to get in there and play as soon as I'm ready. That's my plan going in to wherever I play."

After Stafford and Sanchez, the decline in quality among quarterbacks in the draft is considerable. Josh Freeman of Kansas State is widely regarded as the third-best player at the position, but most talent evaluators view him as someone who could be selected in the second round or lower.

Pat White of West Virginia is intriguing. At 6-foot and 197 pounds, he hardly has ideal size, but he is exceptionally fast. During combine workouts, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and threw the ball well.

Another interesting quarterback prospect is Nate Davis from Ball State. He has good size (6-foot-1 and 226 pounds), a rocket arm and the ability to move well in the pocket to avoid pressure. He set school records for touchdown passes (74), passing yards (9,233), attempts (1,124), and completions (678).

"Everybody has the two, three, four names up top," San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan said. "But there are going to be one or two guys taken in the mid rounds or late rounds who end up being good NFL quarterbacks, and those are the ones you can't lose sight of, either."

Still, the Quarterback Class of '09 will be defined by whether any rookie can start and succeed in their first year. Ryan and Flacco have placed a great deal of pressure on the teams that draft quarterbacks this year. They've also put added pressure on Stafford and Sanchez, presuming they're selected in the top half of the first round.

"Certainly if they go high enough, there's going to be some pressure," Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis said. "But they're used to playing in the limelight, and they'll react accordingly."

The question is, are they fully prepared to perform at a high level?

Scouts and coaches understand that the players who declare for the draft as juniors do so because there is the potential to receive more money than they would if they waited another season. Certainly, they'll receive it sooner.

However, many talent-evaluators believe the quarterbacks who enter the draft early are being short-sighted. The quick cash grab could prevent them from having a longer career and earning far more money.

"If there's one position to stay in (college for an extra year), it's quarterback," said a GM who requested anonymity. "Just take out the Lloyd's of London (insurance policy), $5 million or whatever is necessary (to protect against the possibility of injury) because I just think there's so much more you can learn in a year of maturing and working."

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