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QB rankings for 06'
1. Matt Leinart, USC ? Leinart is to the nation?s quarterbacks in 2005 what USC is to the nation?s programs?the standard bearer by which all others are judged. If he?s not the first player, much less the first quarterback, taken in 2006, it?ll be an upset. Heck, had he left Troy early, he would have the 49ers? top pick this past April. By Jan. 5, Leinart might be the most decorated quarterback in college football history, but it?s not the individual awards that have the pros salivating. No, they?re more infatuated with his pocket presence, tight spirals, field vision and leadership skills. How soon most forget that Leinart threw to a bunch of pups last fall and was one of just two Trojans to start the 2004 Rose Bowl and 2005 Orange Bowl. Unlike Carson Palmer, he?ll get a chance to prove he?s not just a Norm Chow marionette now that the offensive guru is employed by the Tennessee Titans.
2004 Numbers ? 269-of 412 for 3,322 yards, 33 TDs and 6 INTs
Shades of?Peyton Manning
2. Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green (Jr.) ? It's growing into a poorly kept secret that many out there aren't 100% sold that Matt Leinart is the best quarterback prospect coming into this year. An almost ridiculous blend of size, speed and throwing ability, Jacobs won?t return for his senior year if he even approaches last year?s 45 touchdowns and 4,347 yards passing. Granted, he had a tremendous receiving corps to work with and he got to blow up MAC defenses, but that didn't bother scouts who fell in love with Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.
2004 Numbers ? 328-of-490 for 4,347 yards, 45 TDs and 4 INTs ? 113 rushes for 389 yards and 6 TDs
Shades of?Marc Bulger
3. Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson ? If Whitehurst was listed on the NASDAQ, he?d be a strong buy this summer. Coming off the worst season of his football life, he?s just too talented not to rebound in 2005. Last year was an unmitigated disaster; the line was leaky and the receivers dropped too many balls, but Whitehurst himself was just plain miserable, making too many bad reads and crafting one of the most disappointing individual efforts of 2004. Still, this looks like a case of a good quarterback getting off to a bad start, and never recovering. He enters the new season with a quiet determination and a new coordinator in Rob Spence, who brings the same high-percentage passing attack that opens up deep routes and helped make Bruce Gradkowski a star in Toledo. Buy low and sell high next April on Charlie Whitehurst.
2004 Numbers ? 177-of-349 for 2,067 yards, 7 TDs and 17 INTs
Shades of?Joey Harrington
4. Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M ? Already one of the most nimble quarterbacks in the nation, McNeal dramatically improved his passing in 2004, raising his NFL stock and bringing him a big step closer to being a complete quarterback. He cut down on his mistakes, managed games tighter and displayed the poise of an upperclassman, signs he was growing more comfortable in his second full season in Dennis Franchione?s system. McNeal still has some fine-tuning to do this fall, and while not small, has a somewhat frail physique, which could become an issue when he?s bee-bopping and scatting in front of 240-pound NFL linebackers next September.
2004 Numbers ? 200-of-344 for 2,791 yards, 14 TDs and 4 INTs ? 151 rushes for 718 yards and 8 TDs
Shades of?Aaron Brooks
5. Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt ? Never judge a book by its cover or a quarterback by the talent that surrounds him. Cutler?s a Vandy product with Rocky Top skills, but remains a well-kept secret because his program is among the least competitive of the six BCS conferences. He?s the elder statesman of SEC quarterbacks, a three-year starter, who thought seriously in December about pulling a Lionel Ritchie, and leaving the Commodores for a shot at the pros. The senior?s attributes go well beyond his 6-4, 225-pound frame, NFL arm and scrambling ability; he?s also bright, super competitive and the undisputed team leader. Cutler?s passing numbers won?t make jaws drop this fall, but his combine numbers should next February.
2004 Numbers ? 147-of-241 for 1,844 yards, 10 TDs and 5 INTs ? 109 rushes for 349 yards and 6 TDs
Shades of?Rich Gannon
6. Darrell Hackney, UAB ? Built like a battleship and blessed with a powerful right turret, Hackney is one of this year?s most intriguing prospects. After struggling with injuries his first two seasons, he put it all together in 2004, throwing 26 touchdowns, carrying the Blazers to a program-first bowl game and developing a local cult following. Like other wide-bodies that preceded him, such as Daunted Culpepper, Byron Leftist and Jared Lorenzon, Hackney can be surprisingly nimble when flushed from the pocket. And because Culpepper and Leftwich broke barriers a few years ago, many pro scouts now agree that big is indeed beautiful. Hackney?s toughest challenge for the upcoming season will be to adjust to life without Roddy White, his favorite target and the first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons.
2004 Numbers ? 197-of-358 for 3,070 yards, 26 TDs and 8 INTs
Shades of?Byron Leftwich
7. Josh Betts, Miami (OH) ? For Betts, last season was a time to learn from mistakes and gradually mature in his first year as a starter. This season is his salary run. Had he not been following RedHawk legend Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Betts? 23 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards passing surely would have generated more than yawns and snickers. If he can stop trying to force the ball into traffic, the physical tools are already in place for him to have an enormous senior season. Betts is a sturdy 6-3, 225, owns a great fastball and moves real well in and out of the pocket. Plus, he gets back Biletnikoff Award candidate Martin Nance to team up with speedy Ryne Robinson and give Miami one of the better pass-catching tandems in America.
2004 Numbers ? 268-of-444 for 3,510 yards, 23 TDs and 14 INTs
Shades of?David Carr
8. Brad Smith, Missouri ? Smith?s run to into last year?s Heisman discussion got detoured by a drop in production, an increase in turnovers and some questionable play calling. The Tigers are determined to get him back on track this fall by featuring a no-huddle, spread offense designed to get the most from his plethora of physical talents. Expect a second 2,000/1,000-yard season and plenty of national exposure. Smith is as explosive an athlete as there is under center, and as he hones his passing skills each year, he becomes more desirable to the NFL. There is work to be done, however. Smith has just adequate arm strength, can be sloppy at times with his mechanics and went in reverse in terms of decision making in 2004. He?s still a developmental prospect with a considerable upside.
2004 Numbers ? 191-of-369 for 2,185 yards, 17 TDs and 11 INTs ? 165 rushes for 553 yards and 4 TDs
Shades of?Donovan McNabb
9. Brodie Croyle, Alabama ? Injuries in each of the last two seasons have gotten in the way of Croyle fulfilling Signing Day expectations and becoming the most prolific passer in Tide history. A bum shoulder sidelined him in 2003 and a torn ACL in his right knee curtailed a hot start to 2004 after just three games. The knee should be fine in time for the opener, but questions about Croyle?s durability will dog him until he plays an entire season uninterrupted?no small feat considering the current state of the ?Bama O-line. When he?s in pads, he sports terrific arm strength and a keen sense for the position. He?s also a high character kid, which scouts and GMs always adore. Croyle has NFL ability, but needs a landmark senior season about as much as any other player in America.
2004 Numbers ? 44-of-66 for 534 yards, 6 TDs and 0 INTs
Shades of?Chad Pennington
10. Kellen Clemens, Oregon ? Oregon?s recent funk has helped keep Clemens further below the radar than he ought to be. Last season was the best of his Duck career, and should serve as a launching pad for a breakthrough year in 2005. The arsenal around him is outstanding, and new coordinator Gary Crowton has installed a spread offense designed to get those playmakers into open space. Put it all together, shake well, and you?ve got the ingredients for some gaudy passing numbers and post-season accolades for the Oregon offense. Clemens is a gifted all-around athlete, whose versatility and quickness makes him difficult to defense. He brings a high energy to the huddle, but has never been accused of having a cannon for a right arm.
2004 Numbers ? 223-of-372 for 2,548 yards, 22 TDs and 10 INTs
Shades of?Drew Brees
5 more that need to be watched for the 2006 Draft
1. Tyler Palko, Pittsburgh (Jr.) ? In just one season as a starter, Palko established himself as one of college football?s rising stars under center. His makeup and work ethic just scream winning quarterback.
2. Sam Keller, Arizona State (Jr.) ? Keller gave a sneak preview of his vast potential in last year?s Sun Bowl, throwing for 370 yards and leading the Sun Devils to a comeback win in the first start of his career. His future is now.
3. Chris Leak, Florida (Jr.) ? If Derek Jeter was a quarterback, he?d be Leak. He?s got many of the qualities coaches look for in a young quarterback, but at 6? tall, lacks the prototypical size for a dropback passer.
4. Vince Young, Texas (Jr.) ? A future first-round draft choice if he makes the necessary strides as a pocket passer while he?s in Austin. Some NFL quarterback coaches are going to dream about getting his hands on VY, while some offensive coordinators are going to dream about lining him out on the outside.
5. Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo - Gradkowski is a shining example that it?s not where you begin your college career, but where you end it. Unheralded and almost universally ignored by I-A schools, he?s taken the Toledo opportunity and ridden it to the doorstep of the NFL. Over the past two seasons, Gradkowski has run the spread offense flawlessly, tossing 56 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions.