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It’s April, which means March Madness is nearly over and Major League Baseball is ready to open its season. It also means that Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN starts to earn his paycheck, because the NFL draft is all of a sudden around the corner.
I will be previewing the top players at each position up until draft time. In this edition, let’s take a look at quarterbacks.
Strengths: The 21-year-old to be, Stafford, has consistently improved each year at the University of Georgia. In his junior season, Stafford completed 61.1% of his passes with 3,209 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Bulldogs did not have to rely on Stafford’s arm all that much during the last two seasons because of their powerful running game headed by Knowshon Moreno.
Stafford possesses arm strength that mirrors Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Because of his arm strength, Stafford is a very, very sound on his passes out of the pocket in bootleg play calls. Although he doesn’t scramble much, Stafford can when his opponent is sleeping. He won’t run a flashy 40-yard dash but think of him as a poor man’s Matt Cassel when he leaves the pocket. Stafford would prefer to throw the ball and throw it deep. Coming from such a conventional offense at Georgia, the transition to the NFL shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
Weaknesses: In one of the biggest games of the season, against Florida, Stafford threw three interceptions and was out of rhythm for the duration of the game. Stafford, as matter of fact, only had two games where he threw more than two touchdowns, thus showing his inconsistency. He rarely puts together two great performances. Instead, he will have one great game, follow it up by an OK showing, then bam, there’s a bad game from Stafford.
Stafford also struggles looking off defenders. He tends to lock in on his receiver immediately, however, that is a lingering problem with all young quarterbacks today. Playing at Georgia, Stafford has terrific talent around him, which include Moreno and a couple of NFL prospects at the wide receiver position. When he gets to the professional level he must learn to take some off of his fastball. He hasn’t shown that he has any type of touch on the intermediate routes, and that’s something he had to develop.
Overall: Stafford has been highly touted for a while now and teams looking for quarterbacks will drool over his tools. If he can become more consistent and learn behind a veteran quarterback, then he can be a very good player in the NFL, however, he can’t be thrown into the frey right away because he could very well have an Alex Smith-type rookie season. Stafford must command the field better and widen his vision of the field.
Projected Round: 1st (Top 10)
College: University of Southern California
Strengths: Sanchez is a true leader who has followed a great line of USC quarterbacks that included Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and John David Booty. Pete Carroll has done a masterful job in developing great professional athletes and that only benefits Sanchez. His football IQ is very high and he should grasp the offensive playbook very early in his career.
Although he isn’t flashy, he is a winner who is very durable. He is that quarterback who would do less, stats wise, for the better of the team. Even though his stats aren’t great, Sanchez is very consistent and he rarely has a below-average game. Playing in a pro-style offense is a huge help for Sanchez, as he can come right in and play as a rookie. He threw for 30 touchdown passes this season, but he only netted 2,794 yards, showing that he’s very effective throwing out of the pocket.
Weaknesses: When it comes to accuracy, Sanchez needs a lot of work. USC, year in and year ou t, has the most talented roster and that was the case during this past season. There is a question regarding whether or Sanchez’s ceiling is rather short. His potential is rather limited. Even though the USC offensive line is one of the better lines in the country, Sanchez holds onto the ball way too long. So long that is it actually irritating to watch, he rarely throws the ball away, therefore he forces it or takes the sack, or in some case, finds one of the speedsters on the outside. Sanchez has failed to put up big numbers, with the talent around him, so that could be a concern for scouts.
Overall: Sanchez is an NFL-ready quarterback, like every other USC QB under Pete Carroll. He does need work, like any other young quarterback, but his pure leadership alone will make him a fan favorite for years to come. He will win the locker room over and do anything for his team. Again, his potential is limited, and I don’t know if he will ever be a great NFL quarterback. If anything else, he will be the type of player who has the opportunity to start some years and back up during other years.
Projected Round: Mid-Late 1st
College: Kansas State
Strengths: At just 20 years old, one thing is apparent when looking at Freeman. Well, he’s 20 years old. Don’t laugh, because that could be one of his better strengths. Being so young will allow him to develop nicely behind a veteran quarterback for a couple of seasons. His real strength however, could be his arm strength where I rank him second behind Matthew Stafford. His quick feet and release allow him to get the ball out in a fast fashion and set up deep.
Now at 6-6, 250 pounds, Freeman is a big fella who can either spread the field or scramble if you leave him open. Kansas State isn’t exactly the hot spot for NFL talent and Freeman knows that. Because of his porous offensive line, Freeman was often roaming outside of the pocket, so if you place him behind a good offensive line he could flourish.
Weaknesses: After a great sophomore season many, including myself, thought that Freeman was going to have a terrific junior year. Well, that wasn’t the case. His numbers declined and it appeared that he regressed. Kansas State was in the mist of a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season when the team looked for Freeman to step up, he was nowhere to be found. He disappeared and so did his fellow teammates. He still needs to mature and play within his skill set. Also, Freeman must work on his accuracy on the shorter routes if he wants to be more of a complete quarterback.
Overall: A true boom or bust type prospect. Freeman was highly touted coming out of high school but hasn’t really lived up to that hype. It’s imperative for him to have a very good coach behind him along with a corp of solid wide receivers. You won’t hear from Freeman for a very long time, I can tell you that much. He’ll be one of those players that gets drafted and doesn’t see the field for four seasons, but again, his age could be his best strength. He has so much potential and he just needs that right system to be a successful football player.
Projected Round: 1st round