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Franchise QB not easy to find in 2010

We're just a day or two shy of being exactly one month away from the 2010 NFL Draft, which will kick off Thursday evening, April 22. When the draft gets underway, we know that the Buffalo Bills - barring an unexpected personnel move to take care of one of their biggest issues - will have four critical need areas to address. Those positions are well-known to this fan base: left tackle, nose tackle, outside linebacker (a.k.a. pass rusher) and quarterback.

They say that the golden rule of the NFL Draft is that unless you already employ a "franchise quarterback," you don't pass on a guy that could become that type of player. Picking at No. 9 overall, it's not clear whether or not the Bills will even get the opportunity to make that critical decision. A weak quarterback class doesn't help matters. We do know one thing, however: this franchise isn't going to take big steps forward until that franchise quarterback is discovered. Whether or not that player is available via the draft this year is one of many interesting questions to ponder over the next month.

After the jump, I'm going to share my thoughts on the 2010 quarterback class. There are three players that I believe fit the "franchise quarterback" mold, though each prospect will need varying degrees of time and patience to reach that level. We'll also talk about every quarterback that I consider worthy of a draft pick - and in a weak year, that discussion won't take up a lot of your time.

I said that I thought three guys have a good chance to become quality NFL starters. These three names probably won't surprise you.

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. For a rookie prospect that really doesn't come in with as much experience as NFL talent evaluators would like, Bradford's football IQ and accuracy are still considered borderline elite. He's got good character, a good work ethic, and is the type of guy that, at his peak, other NFL players will follow. But it'd be hard for any QB to be the face of the franchise dealing with injuries, and that's the big sticking point on Bradford. I wouldn't call him injury prone, but that shoulder injury of his is tricky, and even though he weighed in at 236 at the Combine, I'm not sure he's got the build to take a beating and get back up consistently at the NFL level. From an on-field standpoint, there's a lot to like about Bradford. Those question marks are legitimate, though - he's nothing close to resembling a slam dunk as a prospect. He's a top-of-the-first-round talent to be sure, though.

Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame. If there's one quarterback available this year that I believe has the necessary experience and physical skill set to start from day one, it's Clausen. It's just too bad that there isn't one single quarterback out of this top three that I think is less ready to assume the starting job than Clausen. Physically, he's slightly above average - in arm strength, accuracy (which isn't great on deep balls), pocket presence and all the rest. Clausen's been highly touted since high school, and as such, I'm not certain I'd be comfortable handing him anything, particularly a starting job. Still, there's a lot to like about Clausen - particularly his overall polish - and he's definitely worth taking near the top of the first round. There is a slight boom-or-bust factor here, though.

Tim Tebow, Florida. I get that even mentioning his name is asking for an incredibly controversial comments section, but count me amongst those who think Tebow has a chance - note that I'm not promising anything - to become an NFL starter. I think he's at least a year away, maybe two, and should be buried on the depth chart as such until he proves behind the scenes that he can grasp a full NFL playbook and be mechanically sound. All of that fluff, though - leadership, intangibles, football IQ, work ethic, competitive streak - it's not fluff, folks. It's incredibly important when NFL scouts evaluate a player, and in those departments, Tebow is aces. There's no getting around that. I am a sucker for competitors at the quarterback position - you'll be hard-pressed to find many of those in the NFL these days - and I think Tebow has enough natural physical talent to eventually overcome his technical shortcomings. I look at him as a third-round prospect because of the dubious amount of polish his game needs, but would not be surprised if he went very highly in the second round.

Beyond those three players, there are certainly interesting prospects, but I wouldn't give any of them better than a 25% chance of becoming a dependable NFL starter. Mississippi's Jevan Snead and Fordham's John Skelton have excellent physical gifts, and would be worthy projects in the fourth round. West Virginia's Jarrett Brown and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour each lack something - with Brown, it's experience, while with LeFevour, it's physical tools - but there's enough intrigue and promise there that I'd consider either in the fifth round. There are some intriguing late-round prospects, as well, including Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton, Northwestern's Mike Kafka, Troy's Levi Brown, Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson and Penn State's Daryll Clark. All have intriguing physical or intangible attributes, but none of these guys are anything worth getting excited over.

I'm certain there are players that you've noticed are absent from the discussion; rest assured that I have not forgotten anyone, and if a name doesn't appear here, it's with good reason. At least to me.

That's it. Those are the three guys that I'm drafting with the idea of them eventually being my starting quarterback. Should Buffalo have the opportunity to draft any of them in their designed round (first for Bradford and Clausen, third for Tebow), I think they'd be foolish to pass. Heck, part of me - the "fan desperate for a solution to the QB problem that's plagued this franchise for over half of my life" part of me - wouldn't mind seeing Buffalo take any three of those guys at any point in the draft.

But three isn't a very big number, and because of the watered-down nature of the league, these are three players that should be in high demand come draft day. That'll make Buffalo's job of finally solving their QB issue even tougher come the weekend of April 22.