The NFL draft is nearly upon us, and while the debate and speculation about who will go where and when goes on, the anxiety only builds for those hoping to hear their name called come draft day. Few draftees, however, undergo the same scrutiny as a quarterback, whose transition to the next level comes with the pressure of proving he's worthy of becoming the next face of a franchise.
Over the next few weeks, ESPN's "Year of the Quarterback" presents "Three for the Show," a three-part series digging deeper into the lives of Cam Newton (Auburn), Jake Locker (Washington), and Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech) as they begin their journey on the path to the career of their dreams.
The series provides an intimate portrait of each quarterback. We meet their families, go inside their homes, and have an unfiltered access to their everyday lives -- allowing the viewer to ride the ups and downs of the entire draft process from three very unique perspectives. The first episode (April 19, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) chronicles each quarterback's unique path from the final game of their collegiate careers to preparing for the NFL combine.
Filming for the series began in the summer of 2010 with Jake Locker. Though Locker was projected by some to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, he chose to return to Washington for his senior season. Director Jon Hock and his team maintained a low profile, shooting with a crew of only two or three in order to blend in. Locker's storyline in the first episode revolves around his decision to return to a team that had gone just 5-7 in the previous season and his quest to make it to a bowl game.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said Locker's return was an opportunity to shape Locker's game to a pro style of offense that would be more attractive to NFL teams. "Jake's come a long, long way in terms of being a true drop-back quarterback," Sarkisian said at the beginning of the 2010 season. "I wanted to get back to the basics and fundamentals and we wanted to make him a pocket passer."
But it's Locker's immeasurables that impress the most. His heart and determination are on display in the Huskies' Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska. Hock's team miked up Locker and Sarkisian for the game for never-before-seen or -heard access in the final game of Locker's collegiate career.
Newton's story begins in San Diego, Calif., where he moved to begin training for the combine and his pro day after winning the national championship with Auburn.
In addition to proving he can change his game from a spread-offense quarterback to the pro-style drop-back model so appealing to NFL teams, Newton must also respond to questions and doubts about his character.
"They say 'Cam Newton this, Cam Newton that' I don't see it, so I'm trying to get what they don't see in me," Newton says as he discusses his critics.
Hock's team captures Newton's raw emotions, but the most revealing moment comes when Newton speaks candidly about the impact the pay-for-play allegations against his father, Cecil Newton, have had on their relationship.
"Me and my father has had long talks a lot of times throughout this past year. It was extremely hard for me to see a person who is extremely influential in my life to be tarnished in the media," Newton said. "I wish I could show that Cecil Newton is not what you see when you Google Cecil Newton. If I'm blessed to have kids, to have a son, I'm going to be the same father figure that my father was to me."
Taylor's tale is different from that of the other two quarterbacks. Despite an impressive collegiate career -- one in which he became the winningest quarterback in Virginia Tech history -- many scouts and analysts say the 6-foot-1 Taylor would be better suited as a running back or wide receiver. Taylor's response? "I'm a quarterback, always been a quarterback, only played quarterback. I played well at Virginia Tech as a quarterback, not another position."
Taylor's coach at Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer, makes a strong case for Taylor. "I can tell you the guy that I feel the same standing over there on the sidelines as I did when Michael Vick was here is Tyrod Taylor," Beamer said. "It's like knowing this next play may be a big play."
A shining example of that big play-making ability was Taylor's performance in the Orange Bowl against Stanford, when he was miked up during one of the most impressive passes of his career. Falling out of bounds and about to be sacked, Taylor fired a bullet to running back David Wilson in the back corner of the end zone.
Unlike Newton, who constantly has his private quarterback coach and his father at his side, Taylor spends six weeks training at the Competitive Edge Sports complex in Duluth, Ga., with several other quarterbacks. "With access to Ty's inner circle, we witness up close how his coaches, agent and Ty himself battle the perception that he can't make it in the League," Hock said.
ESPN's Year of the Quarterback series "Three for the Show" continues on consecutive Tuesdays, with Episode 2 airing April 26 and Episode 3 airing May 3, both from 8-9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
ESPN's Blair Soden is a producer for ESPN's "Year of the Quarterback."