A quarterback prospect who answers all the prayers of the franchise will not be easy to find for the Buffalo Bills in April’s NFL Draft.
There are no college prospects this season who are as highly rated as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in last year’s draft. The depth of the 2013 QB class doesn’t look great, either.
“You gotta dig this year,” said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix. “I think that might be to our advantage. We’ll do that. I know we’ll be thorough about it.”
“It’s not like last year when you knew who was one and two, no matter what,” Nix said. “And then the year before, it was [No. 1 pick] Cam [Newton]. We’re gonna have to do a really good job of evaluating.”
The Bills are eager to find a young quarterback who could develop into a franchise player. The struggles of starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to be a consistent winner enhance the Bills’ need. The contracts of backup quarterbacks Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson both run out after this season.
The complication for the Bills is 2013 is not the “Year of the Quarterback.”
There are only two draft-eligible quarterbacks who are widely acknowledged as first-round prospects at this early stage of the evaluation process. They are West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Southern California’s Matt Barkley.
Even those two don’t make all draft gurus giddy with excitement.
“Right now there’s not a quarterback worth taking No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 5 or even No. 10,” said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper on a national conference call this week. “That’s just the way it is.”
Kiper’s opinion, however, may change by the spring. Few were talking about Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill as a top first-round prospect at this time last season, and he went eighth overall to Miami. Ditto for Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder the year before. Gabbert went 10th to Jacksonville; Ponder 12th to Minnesota.
Quarterbacks usually rise up the draft boards. It would not be a surprise if both Smith and Barkley went in the top 10 of the draft.
Who knows where the Bills (4-6) will be picking? There are numerous teams that might need a quarterback that could be drafting ahead of Buffalo, including Kansas City (1-8), Jacksonville (1-8), the New York Jets (3-6) and Arizona (4-5).
Nix says there easily could be a worthy prospect available to the Bills, even if it does not happen in the first round.
“There may be a great one there,” Nix said. “But you’ve got to do your work to identify him.”
“The Senior Bowl is going to be so important for those guys,” Kiper said of the prospects after Smith and Barkley. “Tyler Wilson out of Arkansas could be a second-round guy. Mike Glennon out of N.C. State has had some good games and some so-so games. He could be in that discussion. Tall, good pocket passer.”
Smith, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, entered Saturday with 31 touchdowns and three interceptions and is passing for 337 yards a game. He’s a pocket passer with good arm strength. He has decent mobility. Playing exclusively in a spread-out, shotgun offense, he has some mechanics issues to sort out.
“Smith has had ball security problems,” Kiper said. “Now the defense is horrible at West Virginia so that puts a lot of pressure on Smith. So you take that into consideration. He’s not a runner or a scrambler, he’s a pocket guy, a cerebral guy.”
Barkley, 6-2 and 230, is a polished product who will wind up with 48 career starts by the end of this season. He had 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year. He entered Saturday’s game with 26 TDs and 12 INTs. USC, a preseason No. 1, has disappointed this year.
“The only question with Barkley,” says Kiper, “is that he doesn’t have the great physical ability. ... There are questions about the arm strength.”
Here are four other prospects to watch the rest of the college season who could be second-day draftees or who could even move into the first round with strong offseasons:
• Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: Wilson had a great first season as starter in 2011, passing for 280 yards a game with 24 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, the Razorbacks’ program has imploded since coach Bobby Petrino was fired last spring. After going 11-2 last year, Arkansas is 4-7. Wilson has taken a beating and has 12 interceptions. He has pretty good accuracy and he shows toughness. He doesn’t have ideal height, at 6 feet, 1.6 inches. His arm is good but not elite.
• Mike Glennon, North Carolina State: Glennon has a big-time arm. He throws deep comebacks and vertical routes well. He shows some gutsiness, leading a comeback win over Florida State last month. He’s 6-6 and 220 pounds. As with a lot of very tall QBs, the downside is he’s immobile. As a passer, he reminds people of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. He doesn’t move in the pocket as well as Flacco.
• Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: A three-year starter, Nassib has improved every year. His yards-per-game pass averages have gone from 179 to 223 to 302. His completion percentage has gone from 56.4 to 62.4 to 63.4. His profile was low entering the season because the Orange ended last year with five straight losses. He’s 18-17 as a starter. He’s a pocket passer with some mobility. His arm looks pretty good. He’s a scholar-athlete working on a master’s degree in accounting. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, a former Saints aide, runs a pro-style offense. Kiper said this week Nassib could go in the mid- to late-rounds. He might be underrating Nassib.
• Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: In his first season as a starter last year, he led the Hokies to 11 wins and produced 30 touchdowns (19 passing, 11 rushing). His 6-6, 260-pound frame prompted some comparisons with Newton. But this season, Thomas’ completion percentage has dropped from 59.8 to 53.6, and he has 14 interceptions. Virginia Tech is 5-6. He’s a junior.
“He’s had a bad year but ... he has things that nobody else has,” Kiper said, “which is the great size, physicality, arm strength and all that, mobility. He would be a guy a quarterback coach would have to work with and tweak some things, but as far as potential, he has the most.”