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QBs the Talk at the Top

The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They will be a frequent contributor on in the weeks leading up to the draft.

With just days until the commissioner walks to the microphone at the start of the NFL Draft on Saturday, the big story is, surprise, the quarterbacks!  And as we expected, much of the chatter revolves around the very top of the first round.  The Saints (#2), the Titans (#3), and the Jets (#4) all have multiple options with their first selection, making predictions hard to come by.  Each has also put stories out there to likely serve as smokescreens for their real intentions.  All of this leads us to ask, who will be the top QB in this draft?  Who will be the one to do the Aaron Rodgers freefall?  Which teams will make the aggressive move to make Leinart, Young, or even Cutler their future QB?  Let's review.

The Saints don't need Leinart due to the signing of free agent QB Drew Brees, or so it would seem.  Early word out of New Orleans though, was that the Brees deal was essentially a one-year deal that gave the team an out if his surgically repaired shoulder didn't fully recover, or if Brees didn't return to his Pro Bowl form.  The Saints could draft Leinart, let him take the bulk of the reps in the preseason while Brees continued to work back into shape, and then let Leinart learn from the sidelines during the season and release Brees if they felt it was time to make the change.

Then there was the Jamaal Brown story.  New Orleans announced that Brown, the team's #1 pick last year, would make a permanent move to left tackle, which would seem to take them out of the D'Brickashaw Ferguson business.  But there's one problem.  Jamaal Brown has never played LT, not even in college.  He played RT, his natural position, last season as a rookie.  So there is a large group of scouts around the league that believes that story is nothing more than a smokescreen to mask the Saints interest in Ferguson.

The current story is that DE Mario Williams is their guy.  That can be justified with the loss of Darren Howard in free agency, but they still have Will Smith and Charles Grant, two capable pass rushers to rely on, which makes us think the team has greater needs, like at linebacker where AJ Hawk could be a possibility.  But many scouts feel that taking a linebacker that high is a risk.

Move on to the Titans now.  Tennessee has so many needs that it would be hard to find fault with any pick they make in this spot.  But the big story has been the battle over QB's.  Offensive coordinator Norm Chow is known to be fighting hard for his former protégé Leinart, and head coach Jeff Fisher, a former USC Trojan is in agreement.  However, GM Floyd Reese is on record as saying he likes Young.  Who wins out remains to be seen, but as much as Fisher and Chow like Leinart, if Reese can get a deal that allows the team to move down and makes sense, they could very likely leave Leinart there on the board for someone else.

The Jets are in a similar boat.  They have a pressing need at offensive tackle, they could use a pass rushing end with Williams' size and speed, and a playmaking OLB like Hawk for their new 3-4 defense, they could use a big, fast, receiving TE like Vernon Davis, and the fans are clamoring for a QB.  The possibility of Davis being the pick has been floated out to the New York papers, and there are rumors that the Jets won't take Leinart, and may not even want a QB that high, a point that was made in this column a couple of weeks ago.

The Green Bay Packers (#5) and the San Francisco 49ers (#6) aren't expected to be looking at any of the QB's after spending 1st-round picks on signal callers last year, and neither seems likely to trade up for anyone other than Williams.

All of this serves to make the folks in Oakland more than a little uneasy.  There is a growing faction in the Raiders front office that likes Young, and they are the team most likely to move up on Saturday.  Our sources tell us that the Saints and the Ttians are both fielding calls from teams looking to trade up and you can bet the Raiders are one of them.  But of course, nothing is exactly as it seems in this business.  We also hear that some in the Raiders organization feel that they can stay at number seven and still get Young.  They wouldn't be hurt by staying put, because if Young doesn't fall to them, they can still address needs at OLB and OT with Hawk and Winston Justice.

Leinart fired his agent last week and word has it that his camp is worried about his draft stock falling.  Where could he fall to?  If the Saints pass on a QB, and the Titans select Young, Leinart could go to the Jets at #4.  However, if the stories are true that New York won't take Leinart, then he could fall to the Raiders at seven.  But Oakland has been looking for a strong-armed QB to drive their vertical passing game, and that doesn't play to Leinart's strengths.  If Oakland passes, would Leinart go to the Bills?  We hear the new regime is not high on JP Losman and would be thrilled to have Leinart fall in their lap.  And while the Lions spent plenty of free agent money on QB's this winter, Leinart might be too much for them to pass up.  We certainly don't see him getting past the Cardinals at #10.

Our scouts have had Young and Cutler as the fallers from the get-go.  We didn't jump on the Young bandwagon in January, and had him going as low as #16 to the Dolphins before the Culpepper trade.  However, as we have gotten closer to draft day, several teams have become enamored with Young's potential, knowing that he won't contribute right away, and it appears he won't fall past the Raiders.

That leaves a question as to where Cutler will go.  While he was the beneficiary of a lot of pre-draft hype at the Senior Bowl, the combine, and at his pro day workout, many of our scouts have not been impressed.  While Cutler possesses a strong arm, and a gunslinger mentality that so many prognosticators talk about, his technique and consistency are suspect, and his accuracy is only average. 

If Leinart and Young are gone by the seventh pick, Cutler becomes the next best QB.  But is he a franchise QB?  That answer will come in the next six picks.  Buffalo, Detroit, Arizona, Cleveland, and Baltimore at #8, 9, 10, 12, and 13 respectively are all in the market for a franchise signal caller.  But the Bills likely don't see him as enough of an upgrade over Losman, and the Lions are feeling the same way with their two veterans in place.  Arizona has a former draft pick in John Navarre backing up Kurt Warner.  Cleveland is keeping Trent Dilfer around because they are not yet sold on Charlie Frye, last year's third round pick, and Baltimore is still going with Kyle Boller until they find a better answer.

If Cutler is the real deal, he will go to one of these teams.  If not, expect him to fall all the way to #17 where the Vikings will snatch him up to be the eventual replacement for the aging Brad Johnson

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