The Draft's Top QB?

All the tape has been analyzed, the draft boards have been finalized, workouts completed, teams' medical staffs have weighed in, coaches and scouts opinions, as the late Jim Finks would say, have been duly noted. Scout.com NFL Expert Tom Marino gives us his thoughts on the NFL Draft this year. And he starts with the quarterbacks.

So who will be this year's surprises? What player will impact quickly like Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper did? And then again, which players will become the next Tim Couch, Rick Mirer, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, and Andre Ware of 2007 -- players overrated by both league scouts and coaches and over-hyped by the media?

With all the attention given to athletes, in both their public and private lives, by their adoring fans and an ever-expanding media, it is virtually impossible for a player today to figuratively fly under the radar.

Today, professional clubs make huge financial investments in relatively unproven and untested athletes, and the last thing they want is for one of these players to embarrass the city, the fans, or the franchise alike.

Okay, that being said, sit back and let's see if we can uncover the next offensive find (Marques Colston) in this year's player draft.

At the outset, I see no John Elway, Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning in this year's quarterback group. And although that fact will probably not come as a shock to most of the informed readers of Scout.com, my next statement might well cause some upheaval from the masses.

Based on my exposure and instincts, if I had to make the most important personnel decision one can make (choosing a quarterback), my pick would not include either the names of JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn, but rather Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards.

Let me give you my rationale for making this surprising decision. In the five years that he attended Stanford, Edwards had virtually no supporting cast. Playing in the highly competitive Pac-10 Conference, a league that during this same time frame arguably produced two mythical National Champions at USC, I would go as far as to say that none of Stanford's offensive personnel other then Edwards could have started at or competed for playing time at either Notre Dame or LSU.

In 2006, the 1-and-11 Stanford squad lost both of their starting receivers early in the season to injuries, and the Cardinal had virtually no running game (367 attempts for 781 yards and a 2.1 yard-per-carry average) to complement the offense.

At the scouting combine in Indianapolis, a respected veteran AFC scout--when discussing Edwards--candidly stated to me that even with one of the top offensive line coaches in the game today (Tom Freeman), Stanford would have had a difficult time winning with that group at a Division II level.

During his injury-plagued career, Edwards was sacked an amazing 84 times, but never so much as uttered a single disparaging word against a teammate and/or the program. Talk about the Christians and the Lions, eight of Stanford's 12 opponents this season went to bowl games at the conclusion of the 2006 season.

As a professional scout, I have to tell you that I absolutely love Edwards' makeup and overall playing demeanor (similar to that of Marc Bulger), his understanding of the game and tenacity. I truly believe if Trent can stay healthy, play in the right system, and have just an adequate surrounding cast, he has a chance to become a truly outstanding professional quarterback (a difference maker).

Over the past 35 years of evaluating college football players, I have seen few signal callers that I've liked more then Trent Edwards. He can make all the required throws (out, comeback, dig, and nine route), he's poised, bright, has excellent throwing mechanics, courage under fire, pocket presence, and most importantly, he gets the ball out extremely quick.

It's almost frightening to think what a Mike Martz could do with a player of this caliber in his offensive system. Yeah, how about drafting Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson on their first selection and Edwards in round two? Just think about that for a moment; Trent Edwards in the foreseeable future throwing to the likes of Calvin Johnson and arguably the NFL's best current receiver in Roy Williams. Talk about the greatest show on turf -- that scenario would give the Lions a combination that could be flat-out lethal.

On the negative side of the ledger, due to team circumstances, over the past two seasons I think Trent tried to make plays when things just weren't there and forced the ball some into narrow windows. I also felt he had a tendency to stand a tad too erect in the pocket, but overall I saw few things that I didn't like about the Cardinal's best QB prospect since the great John Elway.

I would love to now tell you that football legends like Bill Walsh or John Madden were the first people to give me a heads-up on this talented player, but the truth of the matter is that while attending East-West Shrine Game practices back in January of 2002, one of pro football's top talent scouts, (Tennessee Titans) Phil Neri, and I received our first introduction to Edwards at about 2:00 AM from one Joesph Morelli.

A former football standout for the now defunct program at Santa Clara U, this "loveable character" was then and is today the proprietor of one of the top eating and fun places in the country, Campo di Bocce in Los Gatos, Calif. Yeah, sometimes scouts get their information from some very unusual sources.

Another QB of note is the University of Houston's Kevin Kolb. Kevin first caught my eye as a freshman versus Hawaii. We (the Rams personnel department) happened to be watching a senior receiver that we ultimately signed, but I couldn't take my eyes off this 18-year-old freshman Kolb and have followed his progress closely since that day.

I generally don't like QBs who make virtually all of their throws from the gun, and seldom go down the field with the football, but I have always liked Kolb's makeup and his ability to spin the football. I didn't think he looked particularly comfortable in Senior Bowl workouts, but I believe in the right setting he too has a chance to become something special.

I also sensed and liked the fact that he had a little of what I call athletic arrogance (an important intangible at the QB position). He is confident and believes he can and will get it done with the game on the line.

I've been wrong before, but I've got to tell you, I have some real concern regarding Brady Quinn's arm strength and throwing accuracy. I also saw a very different player when he was put into an adverse situation, something Edwards dealt with on a weekly basis throughout his entire playing career. I'm not saying he is a Couch, Mirer, Leaf, Smith, McNown, Ware, or Walsh (the list goes on and on), but I just don't see the high ceiling that many of the scouts and draft prognosticators have forecasted for this player.

Nobody can deny that JaMarcus Russell possesses some extraordinary physical tools, but I have some concerns about his conditioning (he's been as high as 300 lbs).

Over the past two seasons, Russell has successfully made yards with his feet outside of the pocket at the college level by breaking secured tackles. Let me first say, this big oak tree is not going make a living doing this as a pro. Exposing his body will shorten his career. And believe me when I tell you he's going to find that people in the NFL don't often miss or bounce off when they zero in on a QB.

As the first selection in the draft, Russell will be expected to start immediately, but like all of his counterparts, it will take time to properly school and prepare him for the rigors of professional ball and rushing him could prove fatal to both his psyche and health.

Russell has a very strong arm, (although no stronger than a Jay Cutler, Kyle Boller or Micahel Vick), but the name of game in professional football is accuracy and decision making, and neither of the two aforementioned signal-callers are the equal to Edwards in either of these critical skill areas.

Tomorrow I will break down the rest of the skill players on offense as I break down the receivers and the "pick to click" at the running back position.

Scout.com Quarterback Rankings

Tom Marino is a veteran of 35 years in the player personnel field, most recently with the St. Louis Rams. He has worked in three professional leagues (NFL, USFL, and WFL), and among his many accomplishments, is credited with the discovery of Eric Swann, the first non-collegiate player since 1946 to be selected in the first round of the NFL college draft.


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