Underclassmen QBs to watch in 2010

When the National Football Post began unveiling its top 100 senior draft prospects last week, Washington QB Jake Locker stood atop the list. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll the top quarterback off the board at the 2011 draft. Today, the NFP takes a look at some of the top underclassmen quarterbacks in the nation who could challenge Locker for the top spot next April.

Top challengers

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (6-6, 238)

The breakdown

Mallett might be able to walk into the NFL and have the strongest arm in all of football -- that’s how physically gifted he is. He showcases an ability to spin throws down the field and is at his best stepping up into the pocket and throwing darts in the deep passing game. He possesses good overall accuracy when he’s able to see a throw and has the arm to fit the ball into very tight areas. However, similar to just about every other strong-armed quarterback, Mallett has a tendency to get lazy with his mechanics and will trust his arm too much at times, which causes his accuracy to get spotty. His footwork in the pocket is sometimes lethargic, and he struggles when asked to quickly reset his feet and change his throwing angles. Even so, he led the SEC in just about every major passing category in his first full season starting at the NCAA level and seems to be scratching the surface of his potential.

What the future has in store

There aren’t too many coaches in the NCAA who have the ability to develop quarterbacks better than Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. I feel comfortable saying that we’re likely to see a much more polished Mallett in 2010. But the one thing I look forward to evaluating most is his ability to complete throws in the intermediate pass game, where he needs to rely on his timing and anticipation as much as he does his arm strength. If Mallett can tighten up his footwork this offseason under Petrino and become a more decisive passer in the short and intermediate pass game, there’s no reason to think he can’t go No. 1 overall in 2011. However, if he continues to rely solely on his arm strength and not take the kind of steps needed from a technical/mental standpoint, I think we could see a lot of teams shy away from him because of the number of physically gifted quarterbacks – Ryan Leaf, Kyle Boller, JaMarcus Russell – who never put it together.

Andrew Luck, Stanford (6-4, 235)

The breakdown

It’s extremely rare to find a quarterback prospect as young as Luck display the type of polish in all areas of the game that he does. He possesses good balance and footwork from his drop, does a great job transferring his weight from his back foot to his front foot and gets the ball out of his hands in a hurry with his quick, compact release. Physically, the guy has all the tools needed to make every throw at the next level and does a great job manipulating defenses, looking off safeties and working his eyes back across the field. Plus, he’s a surprisingly nimble athlete for his size and knows how to handle to football cleanly when working the play-action game. He also looks natural when asked to get outside the pocket and is very accurate on the move. The only thing I’m waiting for with Luck is for the game to slow down. He still didn’t look completely comfortable at times last season – which was to be expected for a redshirt freshman quarterback. However, he’s obviously a smart kid with a great group of coaches, and I expect him to take the next step in a big way.

What the future has in store

Maybe we’re putting too much pressure on the kid since he’s only going to be redshirt sophomore who has yet to even start his second season at the NCAA level. However, when you see a prospect with his type of physical skill set paired with his overall polish, you can’t help but think the sky is the limit. Also, the fact he’s working every day in an NFL-type system at Standard under former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh further adds to his value. All the ingredients seem to be in place at this stage for Luck to take that quantum leap into stardom next season and make a legit run at the top spot in the 2011 NFL Draft. Again, he’ll only be a redshirt sophomore at the end of the season and might need more time to develop, but if this guy matures in year two the way I expect, as much as I love Jake Locker, I’d pass on him in a second in favor of Luck.

Others worth noting:

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (6-5, 240)
Another strapping, strong-armed quarterback who flashed a big-time NFL-caliber skill set last season. But like any other first-year starter, he needs time to continue to mature.

Jacory Harris, Miami (6-4, 190)
He needs to add more bulk to his frame, but Harris showcases good touch down the field and has really evolved as a decision-maker under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

John Brantley, Florida (6-3, 218)
A highly talented, former four-star recruit who’s a natural pocket passer with the ability to spin the football on all levels of the field. Will be one of the key juniors quarterbacks to watch in 2010.

Cameron Newton, Auburn (6-6, 247)
He’s a perfect fit for the Tigers’ spread offense and should be ready to make a big impact in the SEC from day one.

Aaron Corp, Richmond (6-3, 200)
The former USC transfer possesses good overall athletic ability for the position and looks comfortable shifting his way through traffic, keeping his eyes down the field and making plays on the move.

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