With the college football season approaching, it’s time to begin evaluating the talent pool for the 2011 draft. Sporting News draft expert Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts will take assess each position in the coming weeks. First up: quarterbacks.
Lande’s take: There is more debate about the rankings of this quarterback class than there has been about classes of the recent past. If you ask four scouts, they will likely give you four different rankings of the top four QBs. There are widespread opinions about the rest of this class, too. Here is a breakdown of the top 10 quarterbacks entering the 2010 college season.
* — underclassman
1. Andrew Luck, Stanford *
A redshirt sophomore, Luck is a very athletic QB who had a remarkable freshman year. If he improves as much in 2010 as he did in ’09, he could be a candidate for the top pick in the draft. He has a good, strong arm and has shown excellent accuracy while displaying the ability to make all the necessary NFL throws. He is patient and poised in the pocket and does an excellent job of reading defenses. He also is adept at moving defenders around with his eyes to open up room for his receivers.
2. Christian Ponder, Florida State
Ponder is a redshirt senior who already has an undergraduate degree in finance and his MBA. He is well-built with very good athleticism and has consistently shown the ability to make big plays with his arm and legs. He makes strong, accurate throws on all the passes NFL teams require. To take his game to the next level, however, he has to do a better job of identifying which throws need to be touch passes and which need to be gunned. With a strong senior season, he could move into the first round. Right now, he is a second- or third-rounder.
3. Jake Locker, Washington
Locker is a rare athlete with the ability to make game-changing plays with his arm or legs. He has a rocket arm and can make 20-plus yard throws downfield with uncommon zip. Based solely on 2009 film, he would be a third-round prospect. But if he improves as much in 2010 as he did in 2009 under new coach Steve Sarkisian, he could vault past all the other quarterbacks to the top of the 2011 draft.
4. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
A transfer from Michigan who is a fourth-year junior, Mallet showed rare arm strength last year and flashed the passing skills to become an elite NFL quarterback. He is far from a finished product. His footwork needs to improve and he needs to quicken his release and improve his accuracy, but all the physical tools are there. When he was on his game in 2009, he looked like he had the potential to become an elite NFL quarterback.
5. Pat Devlin, Delaware
Devlin is a tall, big-armed player who is coming off a strong first season as a college starter. He began his career at Penn State and backed up Daryll Clark before transferring to Delaware. He has shown the ability to make strong and accurate throws all over the field, but he need to do a better job of getting the ball to the receiver just as he comes out of his break. He made some mistakes common to first-year starters and will have to boost his game to establish himself as an elite small-school prospect.
6. Jerrod Johnson, Texas A&M
He is a big, athletic quarterback who has flashed the ability to make every NFL throw with zip and accuracy. If he can continue to improve, he has a chance to develop into an upper-echelon quarterback. He has the athleticism to make big plays with his legs and buy second chances in the pocket. Though he is clearly a step below the top four quarterbacks right now, he has a combination of physical skills that few prospects possess.
7. Nathan Enderle, Idaho
Enderle is a very good small-school prospect and has a chance to move up to the second or third round with a strong senior season. He is tall, with the thick build and strength to shake free from pass rushers and buy second chances. He has shown a big arm and the ability to make all the NFL throws, but he will have to prove he can make the big jump to the NFL.
8. Andy Dalton, TCU
He is shorter than ideal (just under 6-2) but is well-built with the arm strength and athleticism to make the jump to the NFL. There is little doubt he is a developmental player, but few prospects enter the NFL with Dalton’s combination of arm strength, toughness, competitiveness and excellent running skills. There is definitely upside to work with.
9. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Kaepernick is athletic and has been highly productive at Nevada, but he is a developmental prospect. Though he isn’t playing at a big-time program, he reminds us of Titans’ Vince Young based on his athleticism, raw mechanics and ability to make strong and accurate throws from awkward positions. With Kaepernick’s ability to carry his team, scouts think he could be one of the real surprises of the 2010 season.
10. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa
Stanzi is not a highly polished passer, but he has good size, athleticism, awareness and the knack for making plays in key situations. He is not a special talent, but he has everything it takes to be an excellent NFL backup. Quarterbacks like him often end up developing into solid, workmanlike starters after spending a number of seasons as a valued backup.
Former NFL scout Russ Lande evaluates college players for Sporting News’ Pro Football War Room and GM Jr. Scouting LLC.
This story appears in July 14’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.