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JL's Top 5 Quarterback Prospects

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In the first article, I wrote concerning the top 10 quarterback prospects, I went over what I looked for when rankings these prospects. The attributes were as follows:

1 - Pocket Presence
2 - Arm Talent (Arm strength + accuracy)
3 - Eyes
4 - Extra Dimensions

For an in-depth definition of what I use to define each category, revert back to my first article if need be.

When rankings the actual players 10-through-1, it was no trouble ranking who were the top 2 and who were the bottom 2. As I believe, the top 2 quarterbacks in my rankings are in a tier by themselves. The five prospects in the middle were very close in where I’d consider their draft stock at this very moment. All quarterbacks ranked No. 8 through No. 3, I could see going at any point on Friday. No draft in recent memory has brought more of a mixed bag of evaluations as the 2013 draft has. The uncertainty of who goes where and why they fit there is why I will be glued to the television just like any other fan. Of course, after you read this article though, you won’t be just any other fan.

Onto the rankings:

5. E.J. MANUEL – Florida State

Pros: Right off the bat you’ll hear people say E.J. Manuel is a ‘good athlete.’ Well, they are wrong. He is an elite athlete at the quarterback position. When comparing his escapability and running skills to the other quarterbacks in this class, he is in a league of his own. With Manuel at the helm, you can very easily move the pocket and change his launching point on any given play. Manuel commands more attention every time he runs the zone read play-action just as the Cam Newtons and Colin Kaepernicks of the NFL do today. Being creative in your playcalling and using this guy's full skill set is something every offensive coordinator has to be intrigued by.

Manuel is an instinctive runner with good ability in the open field, but has also shown the capability of throwing the ball with good loft over the flat-footed linebackers after his play action fake. Manuel consistently put very good pace on the long throws to the sideline that he will consistently be asked to make at the next level. He threw it with good timing and had no problem going from one hashmark to the opposite sideline when he stepped into his throw. Furthermore, when he is asked to throw to the sideline, he did a very good job of keeping his eyes down the middle of the field just long enough to never tip his hand to the safety that it really was only a one-man route to the sideline.

Manuel is comfortable moving his eyes around the defense and I believe will get even better at this since he will specialize in the play-action fake. Many times in college, and many times at the next level, he will be asked to run play-action from the shotgun formation. You have to become comfortable keeping your eyes down and bringing them back up to read the secondary. It was obvious Manuel became very adept doing this, his last year for the Seminoles.

Manuel started to show flashes of his ability to throw on the run as well, mainly moving to his right. If this part of his game continues to improve, he would just be that much more dangerous to defend. While in the pocket, Manuel might look a bit unusual in his throwing motion, but I am not too concerned about it because he still keeps the ball high at all times, preserves a good base under him and releases the ball pretty quickly.

Cons: For a guy who is as wonderful an athlete as Manuel is, his inside the pocket mobility is very poor. Manuel hits his back foot in his drop and far too often makes that his launching point as well. Stepping up into the pocket is not something he is very comfortable with. Many times defensive ends pass rushing Manuel take aim at where his drop back will end, and Manuel is still standing there for the taking. Even the slightest of forward movement would buy him another half-second to second of time for the play to development. Additionally, since Manuel isn’t very good at stepping up in the pocket, where do you think he goes when he is pressured? If you answered backwards, you’d be correct. Usually trying to spin out of pressure to try and outrun the defensive ends who were firing up field. Manuel will learn soon enough that sacks for big losses and too many wasted plays will follow him if he doesn’t correct this rather simple error to fix in his game.

The other trait of Manuel’s game that makes me uneasy is his short-to-intermediate ball placement and accuracy. He improved on this in 2012, but was not nearly consistent enough connecting on the easy throws that would allow for his intended targets to gain yards after the catch. When Florida State played a much inferior Wake Forest team in 2012, Manuel was constantly late with his throws and his accuracy was very sporadic.

Overall Outlook: You can watch Manuel on tape and come away with mixed emotions. It is easy to be very impressed one drive and the next drive you might start to question whether or not this guy can even make it in the NFL. The reason I believe he is worth the risk of a selection in Round 2 of this year’s NFL draft is simply due to me feeling the weaknesses in his game are fixable issues. The biggest issue for me is not any easy one to explain on paper. He actually has good feel in the pocket when it comes to sensing pressure around him. The way he deals with that pressure is bothersome, but, again, with practice reps and good coaching, learning to step up into the pocket and getting used to keeping his game literally moving forward is something this explosive athlete can be taught.

The strengths in Manuel’s game are rare. Manuel really does have a big time arm, and with that arm he still has the skill to control the ball enough to take some steam off throws when he needs to. I have seen him at one point or another make every type of throw it will take to be a successful starter at the next level. Offensive coordinators and general managers around the league are looking at the effect the athletic quarterback has had on today’s game and they will imagine what it would be like to run a similar offense. There is only one guy available in the draft this year that can offer that level of dynamic creativity, and that’s Manuel.

4. MATT BARKLEY – Southern Cal

Pros:  Matt Barkley has a ton of experience in a pro-type system. He has been trained to get the ball out early with good mechanics. He is a student of the game and you can tell both in interviews and on the football field he is a very smart player. A large amount of the offensive responsibility was put on his shoulders during pre-snap situations. When I watch him, I am seeing a quarterback that looks like he belongs in the NFL. When he is throwing in a rhythm, he looks the part of a solid NFL starter.

Anyone that says Barkley doesn’t have the arm strength when stepping into this throwing motion, hasn’t watched Matt Barkley much. When his feet are set, he shows time-and-time again that he can throw into tight windows and often makes throws that have become rare at the college level. Throwing the ball deep, accurately, is one of Barkley’s biggest strengths. He is not afraid to attack deep down the field and shows a great amount of trust in his receivers to make plays for him. Throwing the sideline route with a pace that will be effective at the NFL level is no issue for Barkley, either.

In 2011, I saw a player who had quicker feet than in 2012. While not an extremely mobile quarterback, he did do well at making the first defender flying at him miss, ever so slightly, to buy himself a little extra time. With a little work, he can improve his ability to throw on the run to a pretty effective level as long as he is moving to his right.

Cons: The real reason you keep hearing everybody say Barkley’s arm is not strong enough - when his feet are not set, or when he has to speed up his mechanics, the ball loses all pace to it. Barkley will not be the type of quarterback to carry a team with a poor offensive line. He needs to have his feet set and be throwing in a rhythm if he is going to throw a pass with any velocity of more than 20 yards.

The part of Barkley’s game that was most disappointing to me was his eyes. For a guy who started four years in high school and four years at USC, you’d expect to see him be in complete command of the offense after the ball was snapped. That was not the case. Even as a senior, the play calls were rather vanilla a high percentage of the time. A ton of his stats came from three-step drops when throwing to premier college receivers, Marquise Lee and Robert Woods. What if he didn’t have these two studs at his disposal? Would the production have even been that impressive?

Whenever I saw Barkley moved his eyes from one target to the next, I saw a player who was a bit uncomfortable in doing so. So much so, it often led to him speeding up his throwing motion, causing several errant or very poor throws. In a game against Utah in 2011, he looked to his left and with plenty of time in a clean pocket, came back all the way to his right - without reading where the corner was sitting, rips a ball on the backside curl route. Problem was, the corner was sitting on it and made the easy interception. Far too many bad things are happening when Barkley is forced to move his eyes around.

Overall Outlook: Matt Barkley was one of the more difficult prospects to rank. While not blessed with incredible arm talent, does make a lot of throws I would consider NFL type throws. In fact, the only reason he is ranked this high on my list, was simply the volume of throws I was impressed with by when throwing from a clean pocket. He even makes some throws that some quarterbacks playing on Sundays can’t make. His accuracy when throwing on time is not a problem, whatsoever, and with his very good mind for the game, I expect him to be a second round choice.

Be careful though with high expectations out of the gate for Barkley. I am not seeing a player who can come in right away and be a difference maker. If he was asked to play in 2013, it better be in a West Coast offense that can allow him to make quick decisions. If the Southern Cal coaching staff wasn’t asking Barkley to run a very complicated offense, I can only assume they didn’t because they realized his physical limitations. Those limitations being: his under-developed ability to successfully go through his progressions and his lack of arm strength when trying to make throws outside the play’s design. While some quarterbacks are comfortable throwing from different platforms and can still complete passes throwing off their back foot, I don’t believe Barkley will ever be that guy. Right now, he is a guy who should be taking a sack instead of throwing any type of pass out of the rhythm. His upside is limited for this very reason.

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