In 2012, three rookie quarterbacks made their teams happy, namely Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Andrew Luck. However, only one of the four quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft has actually earned his position atop the depth chart in my opinion, and that is Cam Newton. The other three, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and Christian Ponder, have left their teams in need of a new starting quarterback.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are in the worst position of any team, with the Gabbert project failing miserably. Taken as the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gabbert was supposed to be the Jaguars’ franchise quarterback that they would build from the ground up. The problem is he wasn’t at ground level; he was at the bottom of a deep pit. He has thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns and has a sloppy 53.8 completion percentage. His overall career rating is 70.2, and I know the Jaguars aren’t the best franchise, but they have standards to meet. There is also backup quarterback Chad Henne, but he can’t really be considered anything other than a good backup, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in the five years he’s been in the league.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a great pocket passer, with all of the skills you want to see in a quarterback. He can scramble if absolutely necessary, but he would much rather look for an open target, even if facing pressure from the pass rush. He rarely loses his cool and has the characteristics that you need to be a successful NFL quarterback. Smith is almost certainly going to be taken by the Jaguars as the second overall pick in this year’s draft… unless the Kansas City Chiefs trade their first overall pick to the Bills or some other needy team.
The Tennessee Titans are also in a tough position. There are no good veteran quarterbacks on the market, and Geno Smith is probably not an option if the Jaguars make the right decision and take him with their pick. This leaves other rookie quarterbacks as a possible solution to their quarterback problem. Taken eighth overall in the 2011 draft, Locker has been plagued by injuries and has not shown consistency, even when healthy. The Titans picked up former Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick over the offseason, but if the Bills don’t want you, then that says something. This leaves two options, USC’s Matt Barkley and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel. Barkley makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage like a pro and is accurate at close range. Manuel can pick up six points with his feet due to amazing mobility and has shown his toughness by playing on a broken leg. They are both good picks, but Manuel seems to fit the Titans better than Barkley, especially since the Titans have running backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene. The option could become an option for the Titans’ offense if Manuel is selected in the draft.
If Manuel drops far enough in the draft, it may be smart for the Minnesota Vikings to take him. Though the Vikings made the playoffs last year, Ponder has not worked out too well, averaging a 77.1 passer rating over the two years he’s been in the league. Manuel backed up Ponder at Florida State and got to start when Ponder was injured, so it could be just like old times.
The Jaguars will take Smith if they are smart. If they pass him up, he will probably go to the Arizona Cardinals or the Cleveland Browns. In any case, that leaves the Titans with Manuel and Barkley as good potential picks. If either Manuel or Barkley is still available by the time the Vikings get to pick, they should invest in one of them, since they have two first-round picks this year.
Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.