Last season, three NFL quarterbacks -- Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and JaMarcus Russell -- were starting for their teams after having come out of college as underclassmen. This year, two others joined them: Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. It's safe to say that Big Ben has been a rousing success, but Russell is in his third year and struggling, and rookies Stafford and Sanchez are works in progress. Rodgers will likely attend many Pro Bowls in his career, but remember, he had three years to incubate, develop and learn before he took over in Green Bay.
Based on these numbers, I’m sure someone could build a case for encouraging underclassmen QBs to stay for their senior seasons. Many general managers I spoke to about this were adamant that the extra year is crucial to the development and maturation of an NFL quarterback. Even Bill Parcells has said he won’t put an underclassman QB on his draft board without the following: He must have his degree, must have started for three years and must have at least 23 wins.
Here’s a look at the NFL’s underclassmen QBs since 1990:
Draft yr Name Pick Team School Year
2009 Nate Davis 171 49ers Ball State Junior
2009 Josh Freeman 17 Bucs Kansas St. Junior
2009 Mark Sanchez 5 Jets USC Junior
2007 JaMarcus Russell 1 Raiders LSU Junior
2006 Vince Young 3 Titans Texas Junior
2005 Alex Smith 1 49ers Utah Junior
2004 Ben Roethlisberger 11 Steelers Miami (OH) Junior
2003 Rex Grossman 22 Bears Florida Junior
2001 Michael Vick 1 Falcons VA Tech Sophomore
1999 Tim Couch 1 Browns Kentucky Junior
1998 Ryan Leaf 2 Chargers Wash. St. Junior
1994 Heath Shuler 3 Redskins Tennessee Junior
1994 Trent Dilfer 6 Bucs Fresno St. Junior
1993 Drew Bledsoe 1 Patriots Wash. St. Junior
1992 Tommy Maddox 25 Broncos UCLA Sophomore
1991 Todd Marinovich 24 Raiders USC Sophomore
1990 Jeff George 1 Colts Illinois Junior
1990 Andre Ware 7 Lions Houston Junior
It can be argued that only two QBs on that list, Bledsoe and Roethlisberger, are worthy of being called franchise quarterbacks.
Within the agent community last year, I heard that Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford would have come out if he had won his bowl game and was a lock to be a top-five pick. Only Sam knows if that’s true.
I have to tell you, I was a bit disturbed Wednesday when I saw how ESPN was promoting Bradford’s press conference, which was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the east. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought the press conference was being produced by ESPN. It was starting to feel somewhat sensationalized, which probably didn’t sit well with many people in Oklahoma. I was actually glad to see it cancelled.
By the time this story is posted, it’s possible we’ll know more about the fate of Sam’s season. I hope he chooses to get himself fixed for the long term and come back for his senior year. From what I’ve gathered from scouts, he’s a special player -- maybe not a special physical talent but a QB who posses special intangibles and accuracy comparable to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning. I also know that Sam is surrounded by a good support system. His father has been gathering information directly from good football people inside and outside the Oklahoma program. Whatever decisions that Sam and his family make will be well thought out.
The Oklahoma coaches and scouts I’ve talked to have nothing but great things to say about this young man. He’s not someone who will be motivated by money, fame or status. Rather, he’s a rare breed who seeks success and winning first and foremost, regardless of the path and time it takes to achieve them. Throw in an injury, extended rehab and the track record of underclassman QBs, and I’m fairly certain we’ll get to Bradford in an Oklahoma uniform next year.
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