QBs: Stafford, Sanchez Are Best in Class

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This is the first in a series of position-by-position stories on the NFL Draft by newyorkjets.com.    

The Jets find themselves in a very interesting position at quarterback heading into the draft. They have three young passers on their roster, who've combined to start eight NFL games, and thus far the organization has declined to add a veteran to the stable either through trade or free agency.

"I think it's going to be great competition between those three guys [Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge], and if something else comes along, so be it," says rookie head coach Rex Ryan. "We have confidence in those guys."

Even though the 25-year-old Clemens serves as the group's elder statesman, Ryan brought some mentoring experience to the group in QB coach Matt Cavanaugh. But the Jets, owners of the No. 17 overall selection in this year's Round 1, have not ruled out the possibility of getting even younger at the position.

In fact, the Los Angeles Daily News recently reported that New York's AFC representative is expected to work out Southern Cal QB Mark Sanchez before the Trojans' pro day on April 1.  And according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, a Jets' contingent flew to Manhattan, KS this week to work out Kansas State QB Josh Freeman.

"There are a lot of quarterbacks to be encouraged about. I think you'll see at least a handful go in the first round," says Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "How that all turns out remains to be seen but I think there are a number of guys that will be successful at the next level."

You could witness a Ryan/Flacco effect in April. After watching the rookie success of both Matt Ryan, a Boston College product who passed for 3,440 yards while leading the Falcons to an NFC wild card berth, and Joe Flacco, who passed for 2,971 yards in helping the Ravens during their AFC postseason run, teams might be more inclined to take an early flyer on a QB.

Stafford: I Love Detroit

Don't be surprised if the Detroit Lions make Georgia QB Matthew Stafford the first overall selection. The 6'2", 225-pounder, coming off a record-setting campaign with 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns, wants to call the Motor City home.

"I'm being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money — I would love to go to Detroit," Stafford said in a Sports Illustrated story. "My friends say, 'C'mon, gimme a break.' But I'm a competitive guy. The Lions have passionate fans, a great stadium, and I'd be throwing to the biggest freak [Calvin Johnson], with the most talent, of any receiver in the NFL."

Electing not to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, Stafford will put his gifted right arm on display at UGa's pro day next week. In his Athens tenure, Stafford led the 'Dogs to bowl victories in each of his three seasons and soon he might get the opportunity to reverse a legendary curse.

When the Lions traded away Bobby Lane in 1958, a sour Lane supposedly said they wouldn't win for 50 years. Over the past half-century, the Lions have totaled one playoff victory and have had one Pro Bowl quarterback.

And the real kicker is Lane and Stafford attended the same Texas high school — North Highland.

"It's crazy. It really is weird to think about. It's kind of a cool irony, I guess, that it could happen," Stafford says.

Southern Cal head coach Pete Carroll didn't think it was too cool when Sanchez made himself eligible for the draft.

"The facts are so strong against this decision," Carroll said. "After analyzing all the information, the truth is there — he should have stayed for another year. He lost out on a chance to fully prepare himself. The facts are there's a 62 percent failure rate for underclassmen quarterbacks."

But Sanchez certainly proved a lot his junior season, passing for 3,207 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was masterful in his final collegiate game, setting a Rose Bowl record by completing 80 percent of his passes and throwing for four touchdowns and running for a score in the 38-24 romp over Penn State.

"I can't promise I'm going in any round or any pick or to a certain team," said the 6'3", 225-pounder. "All I can promise is that I will work as hard as I ever have. I'll set myself up just fine."

Freeman Idols: Big Ben, Donovan

Stafford and Sanchez figure to go 1-2, but K-State's Freeman likely will join those fellow junior entries as a first-round selection. The 6'6", 248-pounder, who owns the Wildcats' career marks for most completions (680), attempts (1,151), yards (8,078) and total offense (8,421 yards), compared his play to a couple of quality NFL signalcallers.

"I'd say, first and foremost, Ben Roethlisberger for the size and ability to move around the pocket and extend the play. And also Donovan McNabb, just the way he harnesses his athletic ability and is still able to sit in the pocket and be a pocket passer," Freeman said.

At the combine, Freeman posted a respectable 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash and his 9'11" broad jump and 33.5" vertical jump placed him first and second respectively among quarterbacks.

"A lot of people assume that a 6-6 guy is going to be a big ol' lumbering-type guy," Freeman said. "But I have a lot of athletic ability and ability to throw the ball."

Sam Houston State's Rhett Bomar also has a lot of athletic ability. Bomar began his college career at the University of Oklahoma but was kicked out of school after getting compensated for work he didn't do at a car dealership in 2005.

But Bomar (6'2", 225) resurfaced at SHSU and passed for 3,355 yards and 27 TDs as a senior. His 4.06 time in the 20-yard shuttle at the combine ranked first among QBs.

"It doesn't matter where you play," Bomar said. "If you're good enough, they'll find you."

The Mid-American Conference has produced some solid pro quarterbacks over the past decade when you think about Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Nate Davis, a Ball State product, led the Cardinals to a 12-0 start last season as they reached No. 12 in the national rankings.

Operating out of the spread attack, Davis posted phenomenal numbers over three seasons. His 9,233 passing yards, 74 TD passes, 678 completions and nine 300-yard games all set school records.

"I never had a favorite team. I just loved watching football," Davis said. "I'm just trying to find one right now. I'd like to play for any team right now. I'm just trying to find that one."

West Virginia's Pat White may have his list of detractors, but he put on a show at the combine. Not considered a strong passer, reports indicate that he threw the ball better than any other prospect in Indianapolis.

The speedy White (6'0", 197) set an all-time NCAA rushing record for QBs with 4,480 yards, rushed for 100 yards in 16 games and was named MVP of three bowl games. Back in December, he completed 26 of 32 passes for 332 yards in the Mountaineers' scintillating 31-30 Meineke Bowl victory over North Carolina.

"Now you look at his athletic ability and the things he brings to the table from an athletic perspective and I think he can be a guy that can come in much like [Antwaan] Randle El," said NFL.com's Mike Mayock. "Put him on the field and let him do some magical things for you, whether it's throwing the football or running the football."

Other Notables

Chase Daniel, Missouri; Cullen Harper, Clemson; Graham Harrell, Texas Tech; Brian Hoyer, Michigan State; Curtis Painter, Purdue.

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