In light of recent discussions we've been having around these parts - namely, the future of the Buffalo Bills' quarterback position - we thought it'd be an opportune week to provide a slight tweak to our regular Thursday scouting piece. Rather than simply talking about the week in college football, talking up (or talking down) prospects, or ranking players at positions as we've done in the past, we thought this week would be ideal to apply this type of post to the Bills.
Yesterday, we discussed the fact that Trent Edwards probably won't be realizing his full potential as a pro quarterback in a Bills uniform. It also isn't a lock that the Bills will look to the 2010 NFL Draft for a replacement should it come to that. With that in mind, we took a look not only at the top collegiate quarterbacks playing right now, but the list of current pro quarterbacks scheduled to hit free agency in 2010, as well.
The result of that effort is this post - a look at our top ten quarterback prospects for the Bills to peruse through should they be seeking a new starting quarterback this coming March. Please note that, in true 'beauty lies in the eye of the bolder' fashion, we're not actually campaigning for the Bills to go out and get any of these players. Not yet, anyway. This is merely a ranking of quarterbacks that might be available next spring - and for those who might not, we'll discuss those options briefly as well. It's all after the jump.
1. Jake Locker, Washington Huskies (JR)
As each day passes, Locker creeps closer to becoming the consensus top quarterback prospect in the nation. At the very least, he's viewed by NFL personnel men league-wide as the quarterback with the best mix of skills available as it presently stands. Locker's stats aren't great, but numbers never tell the whole story, anyway. He's only 21 years old, so he's got some maturing to do - and truth be told, he'd be best served by finishing out his career at UW. Given the Sam Bradford Factor, however, that's looking less likely to happen by the day.
Locker's got an NFL body, an NFL arm, and plenty of hard-to-spot qualities such as leadership, pocket awareness, creativity and a short learning curve. Those last traits are why he's so high on scouts' boards right now. It would be risky for an NFL team without an established offensive line and a patient front office and fan base to install him as an immediate starter, but there's little question that as far as college quarterbacks go, Locker is the closest thing to a sure bet that you can currently find. (Which obviously doesn't make him a sure bet at all, but that's beside the point.) Unfortunately, in order to acquire him, a team would probably need the No. 1 overall pick.
2. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (JR)
We like Clausen for a few reasons. First and foremost, he's having a terrific junior season, and he's putting up big numbers and playing clutch football against some really solid opponents. We also like the fact that he's overcome some seriously ridiculous expectations as a highly-touted recruit and is performing well in his third year under Charlie Weis. If you play clutch football in the face of high expectations at a big-time school, you're going to impress a lot of people - and Clausen has definitely done that this year. People will nit-pick his Philip Rivers-like throwing motion, but forget about that - Clausen is a legitimate NFL talent with a bright future.
3. Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins (UFA)
First off - the shoulder. Despite early reports that his third shoulder injury could jeopardize his career, Pennington's season-ending surgery actually revealed minimal damage to the rotator cuff that he's had repaired twice previously in his career. As it stands right now, Pennington is expected to be cleared to resume throwing this winter. If he decides to continue playing - and if he's healthy, why wouldn't he? - he'll be an unrestricted free agent, as he signed a two-year deal with Miami back in August of 2008. Pennington obviously has limitations to his game, but if a new coach doesn't want to install a rookie and wants to win right away, Pennington absolutely still has the leadership and game management skills to get the job done, even at age 34 (in June of 2010). If Buffalo is looking for a veteran stopgap to provide some influence for a young guy - even Trent Edwards! - Pennington is a perfect fit.
4. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma Sooners (JR)
Yes, his shoulder injury is a concern, but it's not a major one. He did, after all, return to the Oklahoma lineup briefly, and even upon exiting once again, it was revealed that the injury had not worsened. That's the good news. Bradford has clearly enjoyed an illustrious and highly productive career at Oklahoma, but entering his junior campaign, many scouts wondered aloud if he'd be able to thrive behind a re-tooled Sooners offensive line. The obvious answer to that question is 'no.' Bradford also needs to learn to play under center, but no one questions his accuracy and strong decision-making. He's got the tools to be an excellent pro quarterback, but right now, the questions surrounding Bradford are slightly bigger than those surrounding Locker and Clausen.
5. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas Razorbacks (SO)
Yes, he's only a sophomore. No, he's not anywhere near being ready to take over an NFL franchise - heck, he hasn't even turned Arkansas into a serious contender in the SEC yet. Yes, he would be extremely intelligent to stay in school, particularly considering the fact that if he waits even a single year, he has No. 1 pick potential. But in terms of college quarterbacks, no single prospects oozes as much jaw-dropping potential as the 6'7", 238-pound sophomore with the strongest arm in the nation. He has tremendous strides that need to be achieved in areas such as leadership, poise (especially on the road), and accuracy. But you can bet large sums of dinero that NFL scouts have noticed this kid's raw talent. He has first-round potential this year, and if he stays in school to learn for one more year (or two) under Bobby Petrino, he might just be considered the "next great thing" at the position in 2011 or 2012.
6. Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins (UFA)
The Redskins are a mess, and very little of it is Campbell's fault. The guy has absolutely no support from his organization - they recruited Brett Favre and Mark Sanchez heavily, after all, even with Campbell still on the roster - and his coaches have gone through more coordinators than even Buffalo has. Through it all, he's managed to put up at least respectable career numbers (60.7% completions, 8,723 yards, 43 TD, 40 INT, 81.2 QB rating). He'll only turn 28 this December. He's got an immense amount of untapped potential. Time is running short on some potentially lucky team's ability to tap into that potential, but a change of scenery could do the embattled Campbell a world of good.
7. Christian Ponder, Florida State Seminoles (JR)
No college quarterback has made greater gains this season than Ponder, a junior enjoying a fantastic season at Florida State. He's not the ideal prospect - though he's a great athlete with a good arm, he lacks prototypical NFL size - but even considering that fact, Ponder has legitimate 2010 NFL Draft prospects given how excellent he's been this season. You'll find more talented players and you'll find guys with better intangibles, but Ponder gets the job done. It'll be interesting to see how his '09 season concludes - if he keeps up his red-hot streak, he could solidify himself as a first-round pick next April.
8. Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos (UFA)
Orton has established himself as the ultimate game manager in the NFL. He's got massive limitations and will never put up big numbers, but he's still found a way to start his career with a 27-13 record. He's listed as a free agent at the moment, but considering Denver's season, if they keep winning, there's only a minimal chance that he'd hit the open market. Josh McDaniels likes him, and if Denver isn't in a position to bring in a quarterback more to McDaniels' liking, they definitely won't let Orton walk.
9. Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings (UFA)
He was drafted too early in 2006, and though that isn't an indictment of him as a player, it helps explain some of the expectations he's failed to meet in Minnesota. Jackson has, however, proven himself capable of playing at high levels, as he guided the Vikings to a playoff appearance in 2008 while throwing 9 TD to just 2 INT as a part-time starter. He's only marginally accurate and still has massive inconsistency issues to work through, but he's a phenomenal athlete that can hurt you with his legs, and his arm is pristine. With Brett Favre only in the first of a two-year deal and Sage Rosenfels in tow, it's not inconceivable that the Vikings let Jackson walk. He'll be 27 next April.
10. Jevan Snead, Mississippi Rebels (JR)
Snead makes this list based on his NFL measurables and rocket arm alone, because to say that he's been crushed by massive pre-season expectations this year is an understatement. Snead is having an awful junior year at Ole Miss. The hype was well-founded - Snead threw 26 touchdowns and 13 picks as a redshirt sophomore in the SEC - but he's shown highly questionable decision-making skills in a junior campaign that has seen him throw another 13 picks already (to 15 touchdowns) while completing just 51.5% of his passes. He'd be insane to enter the 2010 NFL Draft, and he probably won't. But if he does, teams will absolutely look at him as early as the second round based on his talent level alone.
In addition, these players and/or quarterback situations are worth closely monitoring. As it stands right now, none of these players will be available via the Draft or free agency next off-season, but the chance exists that one or all will be released or traded.
Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles. McNabb seems as if he's constantly on the cusp of being moved, and Kolb put up gaudy statistics in brief appearances earlier this season while McNabb was injured. Andy Reid's a bold guy. If he decides to stick with McNabb for the remainder of the latter's career, Kolb is tasty trade bait; it works in reverse if Reid decides it's Kolb time in Philly.
Kerry Collins and Vince Young, Tennessee Titans. It's not likely that Young leaves Tennessee any time soon considering owner Bud Adams' affinity for him, but if Young continues to play well during the remainder of the '09 season, Collins - a wily veteran who wasn't at all pleased by the decision to bench him in favor of Young - might be on his way out of town. He, too, would make a nice veteran stopgap for a younger player, but as of right now, he's under contract for 2010.
Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals. Warner signed a two-year deal this past off-season and is likely to wrap up his career in Arizona at the conclusion of the 2010 season. If he decides to retire a year early, Leinart takes over the reigns. But Leinart isn't a player that Ken Whisenhunt acquired, and if Warner sticks around beyond '09 and Whisenhunt sees a young guy he likes better, Leinart could be on the move.
Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams. He's been terrible in St. Louis for a few seasons now, but he can't accept all of the blame for that, given the Rams' inability to get players to protect him. It'll be really hard for the Rams to part ways for him, considering his cap hits from 2010 through 2013 equal $46 million, but if he does leave St. Louis, he, too, has the look of a passable stopgap option.
Brady Quinn, Cleveland Browns. Cleveland is a mess, and even though Eric Mangini didn't fall in love with Quinn immediately, it's unlikely a new regime will. He does have some talent, but some personality quirks have turned some heads over the past couple of years as well. Still, in the way of young signal-callers with some untapped potential, Quinn is at least worth discussing, isn't he?
That's the list, folks. It's up to you to formulate opinions (or just share the ones you've already formulated) on whether or not any of these names are more desirable than Trent Edwards'.