This is the first of an eight-part series previewing the NFL draft on April 25-27. Today’s installment: quarterbacks.
Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone sat quietly in the corner of the room as his old quarterback was interviewed by his new team.
That scene played out in January at the Senior Bowl, when Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib sat down with the Bills’ front office for the first time.
“I actually took myself out because I think that if I asked him a question, I knew how he’d answer,” Marrone said. “It would be hard for me to ask him a question without laughing, really, at the end of the day.”
Needless to say, the Bills should have the best scouting report possible on Nassib, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing their due diligence. General Manager Buddy Nix attended the Syracuse Pro Day, and the Bills had a private workout with the quarterback.
The release of Ryan Fitzpatrick and addition of Kevin Kolb this offseason hasn’t changed the fact that finding a franchise quarterback is Buffalo’s biggest need.
Do Marrone and Co. think Nassib can be that guy? It’s one of the most interesting questions in the draft.
“You don’t get to choose the team you go to, but would I like to play for coach Marrone? Absolutely,” Nassib said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “We had a great relationship at Syracuse. We won some games. I feel like we had some great success at Syracuse from the time he came in. So that would be great.”
Nassib played all four seasons for Marrone with the Orange, starting all 38 games over the last three. He blossomed in 2012, throwing for 3,749 yards, 26 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions as Syracuse went 8-5 and won the Pinstripe Bowl.
At 6-foot-2, he’s got adequate height for the position. At 227 pounds, he’s built solidly and has shown a willingness to stand in the pocket and take the hits when necessary. The 23-year-old started this past season 2-4 with the Orange, but helped them rally to a 6-1 finish. Syracuse re-tooled its offense two weeks before the start of the regular season, switching to an up-tempo, no-huddle attack. The Orange also ran some elements of the read option with Nassib, who has decent athleticism. He ran a 5.06-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
“I think any kind of system, read option, I’ll do OK,” Nassib said. “I’m not going to pull a ball down and run for 60 like some other guys might be able to, but one thing with the experience we had running the read zone, you just make smart decisions. You can add different things onto that read zone.”
“The more I watched Nassib, the more I liked him. On the positive side, he has shown a good, strong arm and can make touch throws. On the negative, he has lacked consistency on corner routes and deeper routes and has struggled with accuracy,” said Lackawanna native Ron Jaworski, in an article on ESPN.com. “Mechanically, he’s very good. I like his quick stroke. Even with a little load, he gets the ball out fast and secures the ball well when he gets it in his hands. Those might seem like little things, but in the NFL all the little things are amplified and can be the difference between success and failure.”
Jaworski ranks Nassib as the second-best available quarterback in the draft, behind West Virginia’s Geno Smith. Interestingly enough, Nassib went 3-0 against Smith in head-to-head matchups, with Syracuse outscoring West Virginia, 106-51, in those games.
“My No. 1 quarterback based on the film study I’ve done is Ryan Nassib. I like him overall more than Geno Smith,” said NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell last month on an episode of NFL Network’s “Path to the Draft.” “I think he’s a much more precise intermediate thrower. I think the ball comes out with a little better velocity at the intermediate level. And I think he’s a little more accurate. I like his footwork a little bit better.”
Jaworski reverses the rankings, with Smith ahead of Nassib.
“I project him to be a solid starter in the NFL and certainly the No. 1 quarterback off the board at the draft,” Jaworski writes of Smith, before cautioning he’s “not without flaws.”
“I was concerned about some of the inaccurate throws I’ve seen him make – particularly on deep balls – and wanted to see a more consistent throwing slot. But I thought he answered some of those questions at his pro day. He has made beneficial adjustments. I left there feeling a lot better about him as a prospect.
“He made all the throws, and the ball came out of his hand with good velocity and spin. Although he has a strong arm and is a powerful thrower, he also can throw with touch. As I tick off all the attributes of a successful NFL quarterback, Smith has the most checks in the plus column among this draft class.”
Unlike in 2012 – when it was a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III would go first and second overall – there is no guarantee that Smith and/or Nassib will be chosen at the top of the first round.
In fact, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., in sizing up the quarterback class, does not see a player who’s worth drafting in the top 20.
“You have a first-round quarterback in Geno Smith. I’ve said all along he’s 20 to 32,” Kiper said. “It has been an interesting dynamic trying to evaluate where he’ll project.”
Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley, a four-year starter, is also a borderline first-round pick, according to Kiper, who ranks Nassib as a second-round talent.
Of course, the last time a quarterback has even fallen out of the top three of a draft was in 2000, when the New York Jets took Chad Pennington 18th overall. Since that time, a quarterback has gone No. 1 overall in every season except 2006 and 2008, when Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell went third overall, respectively.
If the Bills do decide to pass on Smith, Nassib and Barkley, they might have to consider moving up from their 41st overall selection in the second round to get their guy. There is a glut of teams at the top of the second round, included among them Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Arizona and the New York Jets. They’re all teams who pick ahead of the Bills and may consider a quarterback in that spot.
Florida State’s E.J. Manuel has risen up draft boards, and at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, is an imposing physical presence. He ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds and can run the read option.
“I love the kid. Great character, just tremendously likeable,” Kiper said. “Just comes into a room and you have to root for this kid.
“I just saw a kid who didn’t go through progressions to the third or fourth option. He’d go one, two, underneath. … That’s a concern.”
North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon is a big (6-7) prospect with a live arm. But he’s a below-average athlete whose accuracy comes and goes, and also struggles with his decision making at times. Other likely day two candidates include Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, who’s a solid leader, but doesn’t have great arm strength, and possibly Tennessee’s Tyler Bray. He’s considered to have the most natural arm talent of any quarterback in the class, but has faced questions about his maturity and ability to lead.
Day three candidates include Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert, Arizona’s Matt Scott, Duke’s Sean Renfree and Washington State’s Jeff Tuel.
The Bills have hosted Manuel, Glennon, Smith, Tuel, Jones, Scott, Barkley and Bray on pre-draft visits.
Next: Wide receivers
Arm strength / Top 10 quarterbacks in the draft
Rk. Player School Ht. Wt.
1. Geno Smith West Virginia 6-3 218
2. Ryan Nassib Syracuse 6-2 227
3. Matt Barkley USC 6-3 227
4. E.J. Manuel Florida State 6-5 237
5. Mike Glennon N.C. State 6-7 225
6. Tyler Wilson Arkansas 6-2 215
7. Tyler Bray Tennessee 6-6 232
8. Landry Jones Oklahoma 6-4 225
9. Matt Scott Arizona 6-2 213
10. Zac Dysert Miami (Ohio) 6-3 231