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Thursday, April 17, 2003
Palmer stands out among QBs

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

Here is how ESPN.com rates the top 10 quarterback prospects in the draft:

  • Carson Palmer (Southern California)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-5, 232 pounds, 4.73 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Because of a medical reshirt in 1999 (broken collarbone), played in portions of five seasons, completing 912 of 1,512 passes for 11,668 yards, with 72 touchdown passes and 46 interceptions. Huge year in 2002, when he threw for nearly 4,000 yards, had 33 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions, and won the Heisman Trophy.
    Upside: With 32 starts in four seasons, has a ton of experience, and played in a big-time throwing conference. Made quantum leap when Norm Chow arrived as offensive coordinator. Mechanically solid for the most part, sets his feet and naturally squares his shoulders before he throws, can deliver the ball into the deep seams and on the deep "out" pattern. Big in the pocket and has good feel and awareness for what is going on around him. Will make the subtle move sideways to buy some time. Decent athlete and has more than average deftness, throws the "touch" passes really well.
    Downer: Can be very streaky and, when he's struggling, his body language certainly advertises it. Never known for being mentally tough and is noted as a "reps," guy, a euphemism that usually deals with a lack of cerebral feel. A bit of an elongated release and will drop down and throw three-quarters when he gets sloppy. Doesn't always hold the ball high. Lacks great field vision and will throw into double coverage.
    The dish: The scouts seem to have forgotten that he was regarded as a flop until the last half of his senior season. In some drafts, he might not even be among the top three or four quarterback prospects. But timing seems to be everything in life, and in football, and he's the top guy in this lottery. Will be the first overall player selected.

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  • Others: Jason Gesser (Washington State), Juston Wood (Portland State), Josh Blankenship (Eastern Washington), Casey Printers (Florida A&M), Nate Hybl (Oklahoma), Bret Engemann (Brigham Young), Grant Noel (Virginia Tech), Tom Arth (John Carroll), Ryan McCann (Tennessee-Chattanooga), Marquel Blackwell (South Florida).

  • Rising: There are teams who feel that Brian St. Pierre isn't very tough and that the Boston College quarterback disappears in big games. St. Pierre does not have a particularly strong arm but has looked good in recent workouts and, combined with his leadership skills, figures to be a middle-round pick now. Seneca Wallace of Iowa State ticked off a lot of scouts at the combine by declining to audition at other positions, like wide receiver, but seems to be less intransigent now. He is another middle-round candidate now that he has rehabilitated himself in the eyes of some teams.

  • Declining: It will be interesting to hear all those general managers, the ones who insist that the only statistic that counts for a quarterback is wins and losses, explain to Ken Dorsey of Miami why his stock has plummeted. His 38-2 record as a starter, and national championship ring, haven't helped him very much in draft projections. Dorsey is going to have to wait well into the second day to hear his named called. Iowa's Brad Banks had a big season in 2002, garnering several honors, including the Davy O'Brien Award as the country's top quarterback. He'd pawn the award for a spot on the first day, but it isn't going to happen.

  • Intriguing: Few players have regressed as much in the past two years as Jason Thomas of Nevada-Las Vegas, a guy who not all that long ago was being mentioned as a potential first-rounder. But Thomas got out of shape, and his press clippings went to his head, and he was miserable in both '01 and '02. He might never make it back to being even a solid quarterback but it's hard to ignore his size (6-feet-3 ½ and 240 pounds) and arm strength. Some teams have worked him out as a wide receiver prospect and he may get into someone's camp on his potential versatility. Someone needs to break down his mechanics, start from scratch, and build him back up. Zach Threadgill of Nevada is mostly a dink-and-dunk passer but he has touch and knowledge of the passing game.

  • Sleepers: Rob Adamson of tiny Mount Union has excellent size and he led the Division III school to consecutive national championships, winning all 25 starts in the past two years. Adamson wasn't invited to the combine, but attended on his own just to meet some team officials, and definitely made a good impression. He's got a very good arm and, if he isn't drafted, look for him to be a so-called "priority" free agent. Dee Bryant of Iowa Wesleyan has some stature, a quick release, and poise under pressure. He's very raw, as anticipated, but should be in some team's training camp.

  • Notable: Tom Arth of John Carroll played wide receiver in high school because the quarterback was Dave Ragone, who went on to be the starter at Louisville. … Wisconsin's Brooks Bollinger was a 50th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000. … Dee Bryant of Iowa Wesleyan began his career at Duke and spent some time playing on the basketball team there.

  • Position trend: Given that teams are consistently looking for quarterbacks who can manage a game, who are complementary and satisfied to just be one of 11 players on offense, the second day of the draft has produced most of the quarterbacks in the past few drafts. Look for teams to once again take a lot of quarterbacks in the sixth and seventh rounds.
  • Byron Leftwich (Marshall)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-5 3/8, 241 pounds, 4.86 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Began his career as backup to current New York Jets starter Chad Pennington, then took over in 2000 and started in the final three years of his career. He threw for 11,818 yards, including 4,132 yards in 2001 and 4,628 yards in '02, and had 89 touchdown passes and just 26 interceptions. Impressive career completion mark of 65.2 percent. Had 68 touchdown passes in his final two seasons.
    Upside: Large player with prototype pocket stature, will hang in and stand tall, wait until the last minute to deliver the ball. Can throw all the passes, but arm isn't as strong as some people think, and will get some flutter on the long ball. Nice, compact release point, gets the ball out, can fire darts from his ear. Accuracy has been a real strength. Can muscle the ball into small spaces when he has to get it there. Has become much better at looking the defenders off and also in finding secondary and tertiary receivers. Unlike some of the one-year wonders in this draft, has been productive throughout his college career. Natural leader and an engaging and popular player. Very bright both on and off the field.
    Downer: Suffered fractures of the left shin in two consecutive seasons and still has a surgical rod in the leg. Even before the injuries, not especially mobile, and offers pass rushers a big target. Will take sacks rather than throw the ball away. Loses accuracy when he is on the move. Has played most of his career in the shotgun and will have to get accustomed to being up under center. Will have some streaks of scattershot inaccuracy. Likely not a viable candidate for teams that use a West Coast offense.
    The dish: People keep trying to find warts and, truth be told, his workout last week was a bit disappointing. Looked rusty throwing the ball, but the good news was that he showed no limp, and moved pretty well. Should still be a top 10 choice.

  • Kyle Boller (California)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3, 234 pounds, 4.59 in 40.
    Numbers game: From time he was a true freshman, started at least eight games per year, missed some time in 1999 with separated shoulder and in 2001 because of a back injury. Saved his best effort for his senior season, throwing for 2,815 yards and 28 touchdowns, establishing career bests in every passing category. Even with the big senior year, though, finished with a career completion rate of just 47.8 percent.
    Upside: Excellent athlete, can move around the pocket and buy time, but not a scrambler. Big and physical, quick feet gets him back quickly, into his pass setup, and ready to deliver the ball. Strong arm and, when he muscles up, can really hum the fastball. Hard worker who significantly improved his mechanics entering senior year. Played in a new offense in 2002 and put up some huge numbers. Has made big-time strides since end of '02 season.
    Downer: Has really only been successful one season, when passing guru Jeff Tedford arrived at California as head coach. Tedford installed system that camouflaged some of Boller's deficiencies by making him read just half the field. Could well be a "systems" guy who regresses. Not accurate, and completed less than 50 percent of attempts each of first three seasons. Over those three years, had only three more touchdown passes than interceptions, 36-33. Never completed more than 163 passes in a year until 2002.
    The dish: Scouts and coaches have fallen in love with him, even though his body of work doesn't reflect greatness, and there's some risk that he isn't as far along as some guys in this class. Whatever the minuses, he's going to be the second or third quarterback chosen, certainly in top half of the round, and possibly in the top 10.

  • Rex Grossman (Florida)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 ½, 217 pounds, 4.81 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Despite enrolling in spring of '99, still took redshirt year that season. Started much of 2000 and then full-time his final two seasons in Gainesville. Finished with 677 completions in 1,109 attempts for 9,164 yards, with 77 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions. Was second in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a sophomore in 2001. Bypassed final year of college eligibility to enter draft.
    Upside: If you've played for Steve Spurrier, and survived the experience, it is always viewed as a plus. Mentally tough, ultra-competitive, and possesses undeniable self-confidence. Arm is good enough to get the ball there and is enhanced by strong technical proficiency. Good footwork, compact release make up for lack of muscle on the ball, but he can drive it into the tight spaces at times. Great desire and proven football intelligence. Pocket feel and innate sense of the traffic surrounding him. Well-coached and, since he played in a sophisticated passing game and in a big conference, probably won't be awed by the jump to the next level.
    Downer: Lack of physical stature is a factor for some teams. Doesn't have the strongest arm and, when he's throwing the deep ball, he tends to put a little too much air under it. Makes some bad decisions, forces the ball, and throws interceptions in bunches. Had 29 pickoffs his final two years. A rhythm passer and when he is disrupted he can go south for stretches. Not exactly viewed by everyone as warm and fuzzy and his cockiness sometimes crosses the line.
    The dish: There are few gray areas with him. The teams that love him, love him a lot, and the others don't. No worse than a high second-round pick and could be chosen in the bottom half of the first round. Pittsburgh Steelers coaches are enamored with him.

  • Chris Simms (Texas)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-4 3/8, 220 pounds, 4.82 in the 40.
    Numbers game: The son of former New York Giants star quarterback Phil Simms originally signed with Tennessee and then opted to attend Texas. Experienced some growing pains, especially early in his career, and did not start full-time until junior season. Threw for 5,810 yards combined in 2001-2002, had 48 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions in that period. Most noted stat, though, is his 13 interceptions and zero touchdown passes in games against top 10 opponents.
    Upside: Can't ever discount the fact he has been around the game for a long time, growing up around the Giants locker room, and is a mature player. Has his father's work ethic and study habit and wants to be good. Nice size, but not as meaty as he could be, has some room to add weight in upper body. Arm is big enough and is especially effective on the intermediate throws. Nice touch. Very good on the play-action fake. Technically sound player. Has proven to be more athletic than scouts felt.
    Downer: Can be erratic and, despite his background and tutelage, does not do a good job of looking off defenders. Will get tunnel vision, especially when throwing the ball between the hashes. Release point is inconsistent. Seems to overestimate his arm strength and will force some passes and get burned when he can't drive the ball between defenders. Needs to make better decisions and to play bigger in the biggest games.
    The dish: There are a few scouts who feel he will be better in the NFL, which is more suited to his game, than in college. That may be true but it probably won't get him into the first round. Some team, however, might get a steal in the first part of the second round.

  • Dave Ragone (Louisville)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 5/8, 249 pounds, 4.94 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Started just one season in high school and then had to wait two seasons in college, one as a redshirt and the other as backup to current Ravens quarterback Chris Redman, before earning starting job in 2000. Was named Conference USA offensive player of the year three straight seasons. In that stretch, completed 703 of 1,206 for 8,785 yards, with 77 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions. Very consistent, with over 20 scoring throws in each of three years as the starter.
    Upside: Great physical strength, built more like a linebacker, simply exudes confidence. Has a lineman's mentality and knows the direction to the weight room. Can drill the ball on the inside routes. Will stand in the pocket for a long time. Smart on and off the field and understands the passing game and the theory behind design.
    Downer: Might be too big for his own good. Not muscle-bound but he could play at 10-15 pounds lighter and perhaps improve his footwork. Gets hit a lot of times, suffered more sacks than any quarterback in the country last year, and really looked ragged at the end of most contests. Played behind a miserable offensive line but some sacks were his fault because he is too competitive and won't waste a snap.
    The dish: Regressed throughout the season, rehabilitated himself nicely at the combine, but has slipped some in recent workouts. Certainly can't play in a West Coast-style offense. Should be chosen in the second round but a chance he will slide into the third stanza.

  • Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-3 ½, 213 pounds, 4.73 in the 40.
    Numbers game: One of the college game's most prolific passers over his career, posted mind-boggling numbers 2000-2002, his three seasons as the full-time starter. Playing in a "spread" offense, operating near-exclusively from the shotgun formation, threw for over 3,000 yards each year. Finished with 1,174 completions in 1,783 attempts for 11,562 yards. Had 88 scoring passes and 38 interceptions. Amazing senior year in which he completed 447 of 669 passes for 4,642 yards, 42 TD passes and 12 pickoffs.
    Upside: Smart player in an advantageous system and knows where to go with the ball. Remarkable accuracy as reflected in career completion rate of 65.8 percent. Very proficient timing passer in the short zones. Very nice touch. Hard worker and has good enough size.
    Downer: The "spread" offense undoubtedly ballooned his statistics. Has just ordinary physical tools and marginal arm strength. Even when he guns the ball he lacks velocity and struggles to throw the deep "out" route. Will lob the ball and, at the NFL level, corners will be able to drive on his passes. Doesn't have very good feet. Just like Byron Leftwich, played virtually three straight years in the shotgun. Has to learn to play under center and to make the remedial three- and five-step drops.
    The dish: A classic dink passer who will need to improve arm strength. A middle-round choice.

  • Curt Anes (Grand Valley State)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-0 ½, 216 pounds, 4.84 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Extremely durable four-year starter, missed just one game as redshirt freshman starter in 1999 and three in 2001 after tearing posterior cruciate ligament in left knee toward end of 2001 campaign. Just incredible numbers in his final two years, when he had 96 touchdown passes and only nine interceptions. Threw for 6,965 yards in 2001-2002. In first two years, had just one more touchdown pass than interception (19-18), then learned to take care of the ball. Led school to Division II championship last season.
    Upside: Very careful with the football, doesn't commit turnovers, will throw the ball away rather than force the action. Accuracy is hardly a problem. Has nice touch and throws a catchable ball. Decent pocket feel and accurate on the run or the half-roll. Too hard to ignore his numbers.
    Downer: Hasn't played at a major level and might experience a touch of culture shock when he gets into an NFL training camp. Not very big and lacks an escape element in his game. Has had knee surgery in the past.
    The dish: His savvy and outstanding knowledge of the passing game might overcome modest physical skills. A second-day choice who might make a roster as the No. 3 quarterback.

  • Brooks Bollinger (Wisconsin)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-1 1/8, 203 pounds, 4.78 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Of all the prospects in the top group, the only one who is a real running threat, and that was a major part of his game. Threw just 747 times in four seasons, completing 402 of them for 5,464 yards. Had just 36 touchdown passes for his career, six fewer than Kingsbury had in 2002 alone, and 16 interceptions. Rushed 504 times for 1,685 yards and scored 25 times. Had six or more rushing touchdowns four consecutive seasons.
    Upside: Outstanding competitor, has been a starting quarterback and the guy everyone else has looked to since junior high school. Natural leader and his teammates rally around him. The kind of player who gets everyone into the game mentally and has willed his team to victory on occasion. More wins than any quarterback in Badgers history. A quarterback who knows how to manage the game in a league looking for just those kinds of players. Maybe the best running quarterback in this draft, will make positive yardage when he pulls the ball down and takes off.
    Downer: More an athlete than a quarterback at this point and his leadership might not translate as well or allow him to overcome physical shortcomings. Not a pure passer. Doesn't throw in rhythm and isn't very accurate. Might be better on the run than in the pocket. Never had more than 220 attempts in a season and never completed more than 119.
    The dish: Might get drafted as an "athlete," a guy who can do a little of everything and maybe serve as a team's No. 3 quarterback.

  • Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois)
    Vital statistics: 6-feet-2, 230 pounds, 5.01 in the 40.
    Numbers game: Got one start as a redshirt freshman in 1999 and then took over full-time at the top of the depth chart the next season. As the starter, threw for nearly 8,000 yards and had 82 touchdown passes, including 34 of them in his 2002 senior year. Really lit it up in 2002, completing nearly as many passes as in two previous seasons combined. Won the Walter Payton Award as the outstanding player in Division I-AA in 2002.
    Upside: Especially accurate in the short and intermediate zones and has some zip over about 25-30 yards. Takes care of the football and has always had a very good touchdown pass-interception ratio. Has gotten better every year and developed solid study habits. Good, compact release.
    Downer: Doesn't throw the deep ball or drive it hard up the seams or to the sideline. Lacks linear speed but, far more important, is slow to the pocket and tardy in his setup. Can't buy himself much time with his feet. Will get too focused on one receiver and allows the defense to read his eyes.
    The dish: Has had some impressive enough workouts that scouts seem to like him. A project who might make a roster as the third guy or at least be on the practice squad as a rookie.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.