The League


Year of the Underclassman

The 2009 NFL Draft is all about the underclassmen. At several positions, juniors and third-year sophomores have taken over the top of the rankings. As a result, the NFL will be getting younger and younger.

This particularly true at the premier position of quarterback, where none of the top four prospects in this year's draft -- Georgia's Matthew Stafford, USC's Mark Sanchez, Kansas State's Josh Freeman and Ball State's Nate Davis -- are seniors

Here's a look at what those young signal callers bring to the table.

Stafford is a player who several scouts projected would eventually be a No. 1 overall pick when he was coming out of high school, so his expectations were high in college and they'll remain high once he reaches the NFL. He has a rocket arm with a good deep ball and excellent accuracy. He is capable of making every throw that an NFL quarterback needs to make. Stafford's decision making could use some work, but that's something that many coaches will be able to easily correct at the next level. A future franchise quarterback, Stafford has all of the tools needed to develop into a perennial Pro Bowler. Stafford is a lock to go in the Top 10 and has a very good chance of being the first pick in the draft.

Many scouts and executives were surprised when Mark Sanchez actually decided to enter the draft. With just 16 starts at the collegiate level, his inexperience screams "Bust!" However, Sanchez's skill set is among the best that USC has produced since Carson Palmer was the first pick of the Bengals back in 2003. He has a great football IQ along with the leadership skills and intangibles that teams covet at the next level. He won't be expected to start next year. Instead he'll ride the bench, learn the system and the speed of the game. Palmer too spent one year learning behind Jon Kitna in Cincinnati and that turned out well. Sanchez should be taken among the Top 15 picks in the 2009 draft.

Josh Freeman reminds me a lot of Daunte Culpepper. At 6-5, 250 lbs, he has the kind of frame that teams at the next level fall in love with. His arm strength has also been compared to JaMarcus Russell's, the former No. 1 pick of the Raiders. Freeman has good mobility for a player of his massive size and he's shown that he can throw on the run. I'd expect to see Freeman taken in the late-first to early-second round. Like Sanchez, Freeman will likely sit out a year and learn the game at the next level before he's thrown into the fire.

After Ball State's amazing regular season in 2008, Nate Davis used his success as a junior and made himself eligible for the 2009 draft. While he doesn't have the same size or arm strength that the other elite quarterbacks have, he may be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in this year's draft, as evidenced by his terrific 64.2% completion percentage this past season. Davis is a mobile player with the ability to throw on the run. And his 74/22 touchdown-to-interception ratio during his career with the Cardinals, indicates that he makes good decisions with the football. Davis grades out more as a late-second to early-third round pick.

Among the senior quarterback class, Rhett Bomar from Sam Houston State ranks at the top. A similar player to Brett Favre, Bomar is a gunslinger with a very strong arm and quick release. He has some character questions -- he was kicked off the team at Oklahoma when it was learned that he was accepting larger-than-earned payments from a car dealership in Norman where is he was supposedly working -- that need to be answered. Bomar should be taken in the third or fourth round.

Other notable senior quarterbacks:

Graham Harrell - The Texas Tech star is a bit overrated and really struggled at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine. At one point he was looked at as a second or third round pick. Now he could slip to the sixth or seventh round.

Pat White - The only quarterback to ever win four bowl games, the proven winner from West Virginia has seen his stock rise after a terrific display at the 2009 Scouting Combine. White's throwing mechanics have seriously improved since the season ended and now he's seriously being considered as one of the top senior quarterbacks behind Bomar.

Tom Brandstater - A tall quarterback with great size and a strong arm, he never put it all together in college and will be a project for the team that drafts him.

John Parker Wilson - A proven game-managing quarterback with excellent intangibles, many scouts feel that Wilson lacks the arm strength to play at the next level. He profiles as a future backup and a late-round pick.

Stephen McGee - Former option quarterback at Texas A&M who really impressed at the East-West Shrine game and at the Combine. His stock is on the rise.

By Shawn Zobel  |  March 3, 2009; 12:18 AM ET  | Category:  Draft , Quarterbacks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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