Path To '12 Draft: Quarterback Chatter

NFL insider Len Pasquarelli has plenty of tasty morsels about the draft from his Friday notes package. Plus, a look back at the 3-4 outside linebacker class that the Packers ignored in April.

The decision on Thursday by Southern Cal's Matt Barkley might limit to two, Luck and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, the number of quarterbacks chosen in the top 10 in the 2012 draft. But there are some talent evaluators awaiting the decision of Oklahoma's Landry Jones, and contending he might yet be a top 10 possibility.

"Barkley was pretty definite (as a top 10 pick), right there with Griffin, believe me, but don't count out Landry if he is available," one NFC personnel director, whose team has already put a lot of time and effort into assessing possible quarterback prospects, told The Sports Xchange. "He could be a real wild card."

His postseason awards aside, there remain some questions about Griffin, especially concerning his height and stature, and even the scouts who saw him in person this year are a little anxious about how he will measure at the Scouting Combine. Most scouts, despite the hype, had Griffin and Barkley about even. And while there have been plenty of reports that some teams might favor Griffin over Luck at this fairly early point of the process, that didn't seem to be the sentiment we perceived.

Some more draft chatter:

— Underclass prospects, like Jones, have until Jan. 15 to apply for draft entry. A couple more quarterback items: Virtually every scout to whom The Tip Sheet spoke this week had four underclass players — Luck, Barkley, Griffin, and Jones — as their top four signal-caller prospects. The consensus top non-underclass quarterback is probably Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, and scouts project him to be about a third- or fourth-round choice at this point. Of the 16 quarterbacks chosen in the first round since 2006, half were players who used all their college eligibility.

But there were zero senior quarterbacks chosen in the first round in 2009 — when Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman were the picks — and it could happen again.

— As noted here in the past, many scouts seem to be curious about Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, even if he's only 5-feet-11 or so. If Wilson commits full-time to football over baseball, as he has suggested he will do, he could surprise some people with the level of interest in him. It's early, as noted, but a couple seniors who have garnered solid media attention, Case Keenum of Houston and Boise State's Kellen Moore, appear to have low middle- to late-round grades.

— Both players figure to return to their respective campuses for 2012, but some scouts find it interesting that quarterbacks Aaron Murray of Georgia and Denard Robinson of Michigan have petitioned the NFL's underclass advisor committee for assessments of their draft value. Despite his ability to scramble, Murray is regarded more as a pocket passer. Robinson, the theory goes, is a little intrigued by the move by a few teams to incorporate a "spread" package into their offensive repertoires.

Colts out of Luck?

So, what did the Colts' comeback victory over Houston on Thursday night mean to the 2012 draft order? Nothing yet, but things could get interesting in the final two weeks, with Minnesota and St. Louis each having just two wins.

In the tiebreaker for the No. 1 overall pick, and probably the right to select Luck, the Colts lead, by virtue of a worst opponents' cumulative record. Indianapolis opponents for the year are 120-106. The Vikings' foes are 127-97, and the Rams' are 132-92. So, unless the Colts win their finale is at Jacksonville on New Year's Day, it might be difficult for either Minnesota or St. Louis to "catch" them for the top overall choice.

Then again, should the Colts win at the Jaguars, and the Vikings and Rams lose each of their final two games — the Rams finish at Pittsburgh and at home to San Francisco, and Minnesota concludes the season at Washington and hosting Chicago — then Indianapolis wouldn't have the top selection.

If either Minnesota or St. Louis ends up with the No. 1 choice, they could face interesting decisions. The Rams are invested in Sam Bradford. The Vikings seem to like Christian Ponder. Either team could consider USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, or dangle the choice for trade offers. The odds are that Luck ends up in Indy, where he could apprentice for a couple seasons if Peyton Manning is healthy, but it's not a done deal yet.

Looking back: On the edge

Heading into the 2011 draft, the lottery was regarded by scouts as a very good year for "edge" players — ends in both the 4-3 and 3-4 and outside 'backers who could rush the quarterback. And it's proven to be just that.

There are 11 rookie ends/linebackers with five or more sacks, led by San Francisco situational rush linebacker Aldon Smith (13 sacks) and Denver strong-side linebacker Von Mller (11.5). But there are very good 3-4 outside guys like Ryan Kerrigan of Washington, Baltimore's Pernell McPhee, Brooks Reed of Houston and Sam Acho of Arizona. Kerrigan, who many talent evaluators projected as a potential five-technique player, has been a real surprise with his athleticism, complementing Brian Orakpo very nicely for the Redskins. J.J. Watt has been excellent as a five-technique end for the Texans. And defenders like 4-3 end Jabaal Sheard in Cleveland, Tampa Bay's Adrian Clayborn (4-3), Robert Quinn in St. Louis (4-3), and Marcell Dareus in Buffalo (has played both end and tackle in the Bills' varied fronts) have excelled as well. All in all, a very good year for living on the edge.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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