A surprise March signing by the New Orleans Saints sent shockwaves throughout the National Football League and thus changed the landscape of April's draft. The Saints, who were expected to tab a quarterback with their second overall selection, instead grabbed their franchise passer in free agency when they inked Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million contract. Brees played at a high level in San Diego the past two years, throwing for 6,735 yards, 51 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
"We're going to leave all of our options open on the second pick, including taking a player there," said New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis at the press conference announcing Brees' signing. "We haven't shied away from trading up, down or taking the pick in the past. Our philosophy about that isn't going to change. We've got a lot of work to do between now and draft time before we decide what the best course of action is for our team."
The Saints probably will now pass on a college signal caller, but three quarterbacks USC's Matt Leinart, Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler & Texas' Vince Young - are expected to be taken off the board by midway through round one. Cutler impressed pro scouts both during Senior Bowl Week in Mobile, Alabama and then at the Indianapolis Combine. Most recently Cutler was showing off his strong arm at Vanderbilt's Pro Day despite brisk winds and cool temperatures. "He threw the ball well. I think you saw a variety of things. He threw the ball on the run and under a little bit less than ideal conditions," said Tennessee GM Floyd Reese of Cutler. "He came today and performed, and I can't imagine too many quarterbacks performing better than he did today." Let's now take a closer look at the 2006 Quarterback Class...
Most prognosticators believe Leinart will be the first quarterback selected. Leinart doesn't possess a cannon or terrific feet, but he's extremely accurate and throws with great touch. He started 39 games for the Men of Troy and passed for more than 200 yards in 36 of those contests. His 99 touchdowns were the sixth-largest total in NCAA history. After winning the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship as a junior, Leinart returned to Southern Cal to throw for 3,815 yards, 28 touchdowns, eight interceptions and completed 66 percent of his passes. Leinart, who played in a pro offense, won't get rattled by expectations and compiled a 37-2 record as a college starter. The 6'4¼", 224-pound Leinart played under Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow for three seasons in college and could reunite with Chow in Nashville. The Titans own the third selection in this year's draft and they're sure to take a quarterback. Oh by the way, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is also a SC alum.
Nobody's stock has risen more in recent memory than Cutler. Some scouts see Brett Favre in Cutler, a fearless kid with a gun and good feet. While at Vandy, Cutler set school records for total offense (9,953 yards), passing yardage (8,697 yards), touchdown passes (59), completions (710), and attempts (1,242). He played in the talented Southeastern Conference and compiled just an 11-34 record as a starter, but the Commodores don't get the same athletes as the Gators, the Dawgs, the Vols, the Tigers, etc€¦ Cutler, 6'2 7/8", 223 pounds, likes the challenge though and his last college pass was a game-winning touchdown as he led Vanderbilt to a comeback win at Tennessee. It was Vanderbilt's first win over the Volunteers in 23 years. Cutler will be asked to stop throwing off his back foot and forcing things at the next level. The three-time team captain has tremendous confidence and his teammates gravitated towards him at the college level. Some NFL team is going to take Cutler within the top 10 selections (if not the top five), and he may be on the board when the Jets select at number four. He has tremendous potential.
After leading Texas to its first national championship in 36 years, junior Vince Young declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. Who will soon forget Young's Rose Bowl masterpiece when he torched USC for 467 total yards 200 running and 267 passing? He leaves Texas with a 30-2 record as a starter and as the school's all-time leader in offense (9,167 yards), touchdowns (81), and career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (37). At 6'5", 230, Young has prototypical size and is both strong and tough. His speed and mobility are unique, and he is very dangerous when protection breaks down. Scouts don't love Young's low release point and that hurts his passing lanes. He improved his accuracy throughout his college career, but Young is not as accurate as either Leinart or Cutler. Young played in a shotgun offense at UT and will have to adapt to taking snaps from behind center. Off the field, reports of Young's low score on the Wonderlic intelligence test may scare teams away. But the kid loves the big moment and is a wonderful athlete who can do it all. The Raiders own the seventh selection in April and Oakland is a possible destination, but Young is a wild card. Tennessee may also opt for Young with that third selection.
Brodie Croyle could be the fourth quarterback selected and shouldn't last past round three. Croyle's a pocket passer with a strong arm and good touch. The biggest knocks on Croyle are he's light at 200 pounds and he's had a number of injuries throughout his career. He won't last in the NFL unless he gets bigger and stronger. Croyle can throw the rock though and put on an impressive performance in Indianapolis. Jets fans know a little something about another Alabama quarterback, but it's Croyle who leads the school in the following categories: career completions (488), attempts (869), yards (6,382) and touchdowns (41). Croyle won 13 of his past 15 starts while reading defenses well and rarely turning the ball over. This is a guy who could become a very good professional quarterback if he commits himself to the weight room.
Playing quarterback is in Charlie Whitehurst's blood. His father, David, played the position for eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers. The younger Whitehurst, 6'4¼", 216, has good arm strength and can be very accurate. His first three seasons were spent in the shotgun and Whitehurst also had arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder in December. He's not mobile and wasn't a great tremendous decision maker in college as evidenced by his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons.
You can place Omar Jacobs in the project category. The 6-4, 224-pound Jacobs played at Bowling Green and operated out of the gun. Jacobs threw 71 touchdown passes against only 11 interceptions, but he wasn't asked to make a lot of difficult throws while working the spread. He has a good arm and mobility is a plus, but he has to learn to become more patient in the pocket. Mechanics and footwork need work.
Two Pac-10 passers could make some noise come draft weekend. Oregon's Kellen Clemens, 6'1 5/8" 219, suffered a broken ankle which ended his college career on October 22, 2005. Clemens was timed at 4.75 in the 40 and his legs allow him to make plays on the move. He doesn't have tremendous arm strength but he's considered a diligent worker.
Drew Olson led a football revival at UCLA. It was in question whether he would start his senior year, but then Olson went out and threw for 3,198 yards and 34 touchdown passes while completing 64% of his passes. He led the Bruins to a 10-2 record, displaying a good arm and accuracy. The 6'3", 217-pound Olson tore knee ligaments during a '05 Bowl game, but he returned in spectacular fashion. If you give him time, Olson can pick a defense apart by reading and finding a man. He is not elusive and that will be a problem if he doesn't release the ball. He will probably be an early selection on Day Two.
- More Notables D.J. Shockley (6' ¾", 205): Started only 12 games at Georgia after backing up David Greene. Shockley didn't have a good week at the Senior Bowl either, but he's a talented athlete.
- Darrell Hackney (5'11 3/8", 240) UAB: Strong kid who can move in the pocket and throw with some zip. His lack of height and surplus weight are detriments.
- Reggie McNeal (6'2", 195, Texas A&M): Runs like the wind with consistent sub 4.4 times, but McNeal might be betted suited for another position in the NFL.
- Bruce Gradkowski (6'1", 220, Toledo): Team player who was a leader. Gradkowski lacks a big-league arm and isn't big. He may earn his way onto a roster as a number three quarterback.
- Brett Basanez (6'1" 209, Northwestern): Try hard guy who really doesn't have the prototypical tools. He did have a great senior season in the Big 10.
- Bruce Eugene (6'0" 5/8", 263, Grambling: Weight is an issue, but Eugene can let it go.
- Marcus Vick (6', 212, Virginia Tech): Major character issues. Mike's baby brother might not even get drafted.