ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden hosted his annual pre-draft QB Camp series which allows draft prospects to show their football smarts, skills and personality. In all, Gruden spent significant time with 12 of the top prospects in this year's draft class, which included some non-quarterbacks. During a conference call this week with reporters, Gruden offered his analysis of the quarterbacks. A number of mock drafts have projected the Eagles selecting a signal caller when the NFL Draft takes place this upcoming week.
Gruden ranked Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, a West Chester, Pa. native and Malvern Prep alum, as the No. 1 quarterback in the draft.
"I selfishly really like this kid in Syracuse," Gruden said. "I think he's a nuisance runner. I think he can scramble for first downs. If we want to run the read option, I think he can execute those plays. He's really sharp mentally. This is a guy that's been trained by Doug Marrone, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. So he's been in a really ambitious offensive scheme, taking care of the ball. He's proven he's tough, durable. I like his upside.
"He threw some tight window completions, and that's hard to find sometimes in college football. You don't see a lot of really contested, tight window throws under duress. I thought Nassib proved that he could make the difficult plays when there wasn't a clean pocket. He didn't have a great supporting cast, no disrespect to Syracuse. But there were times that Nassib had to make something happen for Syracuse to win, and I thought he did that enough to prove that he can do it at the next level."
Gruden thinks that West Virginia's Geno Smith is "as complete from a versatility standpoint as anyone in this draft."
"He can run 4.55. I've seen him drive the ball accurately down the field. I've seen him throw the ball with touch and accuracy, make quick decisions, and I've seen him be dominant at times," Gruden said. "Obviously, down the stretch I think they got manhandled in a couple of football games. They didn't play well on defense. They got into a situation where they had to score basically every time they had the ball, and that is a hard way to play quarterback. People have to remember also that West Virginia switched conferences. That is a real challenge on a quarterback when you show up your senior year and you're playing a lot of opponents you've never seen before in stadiums where you've never been. So I credit Geno Smith with not only being productive, but I think his skillset is very versatile, and I think he's going to adapt nicely to any system that you want to run."
Gruden admitted that he is concerned about Smith's propensity to fumble the ball.
"They don't use a tight end. They don't use a lot of maximum protection. They really don't. This is to a large degree a high-risk offense. They go up and snap after snap, it's a pass first offense, really and the quarterback is vulnerable back there," Gruden said. "But I'm not making excuses for him. I think he's got to do a better job taking care of the football, managing the game on a snap by snap basis. That is something we talked a long time about. It's not about the yards and the number of snaps. It's about the execution of every individual play. I think sometimes that gets away from you in this up tempo style of college football. But ball security is an issue. I had him on the field and I was impressed with his deep ball. I wouldn't buy into that criticism personally. I think he's an excellent deep ball passer."
Gruden thinks Florida State's EJ Manuel will thrive under a creative offensive coach.
"I like EJ a lot because I think you can call just about any scheme you want to call. I've seen him run the direct quarterback runs. He's a presence inside the 10-yard line, much like Cam Newton in Carolina is. I've seen him run various option plays, and we know that's certainly a major point of emphasis in the NFL right now. I know he can bring a lot to the table from an athletic standpoint," Gruden said. "He's a really fun kid to be around. The players like him. He helped the Seminoles win 12 games and an Orange Bowl. I think he can improve as a passer. I think he can improve his protection awareness and understanding. I don't think he's anywhere near to a finished product, but I do think he has a big upside. He has a tremendous skillset that allows him to do a lot of different things."
Gruden believes USC's Matt Barkley will be a starter in the NFL.
"He's coming off an injury. He's done an excellent job rehabbing that. I saw him make all the throws personally with my own two eyes. Other than that, he's going to have to function as a pocket passer. I don't think he's going to be a scrambling, option style quarterback, obviously," Gruden said. "I think he's going to be a guy that relies on his system, complete execution around him. I think his supporting cast is going to be important to him. But I've seen Matt Barkley throw the ball extremely well and in tight windows, and he's done it for four years. What I love about Barkley is his experience, not only at USC, but he's also started for four years in high school at a pretty doggone good high school program at Mater Dei. So, you're getting a kid that can function in the pocket with great anticipation and accuracy. I think he has enough arm strength to be a very, very good at throwing the ball down the field."
Gruden was impressed by Tyler Bray of Tennessee's arm strength.
"I just think this kid has a rare ability to throw the football, and a lot of what he did at Tennessee, I think, is overshadowed with their win-loss record," Gruden said. "They scored 35 points (at South Carolina). They scored 44 points (at Georgia). They scored 48 points against Missouri in losses. So moving the football was not a problem at Tennessee. I just think there is a lot of refinement that needs to take place. He's got to learn how to manage some situations better. He's got to deliver at crunch time. He's got to polish his game. He's got to do better in terms of handling pressure. He's not a mobile quarterback. He's got to know where his hot receivers are. He's got to know what audible to get to. I think his preparation needs to increase so he can be all that he can be. But when it comes to pure talent throwing the football, there is one thing Tyler Bray can do as anyone in this draft. That's what he can do now. He can really throw it."
Gruden acknowledged that Oklahoma's Landry Jones, once considered a first-round prospect, took a step back in 2012.
"I think when he's in rhythm and has protection, he's very, very good. I think when he gets knocked off the spot or he's under duress, I think he took a step back this year," Gruden said. "But remember Oklahoma didn't have a tight end much this year. In the past they had a tight end, a strong running game and a better play-action passing system. Obviously, with the injuries they had at the tight end position, they were more wide open, and that puts a lot of pressure on your quarterback. They didn't run the ball particularly well or often, and they were a tad bit one-dimensional. But I like Landry Jones. I think if you're looking for a quarterback that's proven he can take care of the football, make a variety of throws and be reliable person on and off the field, I think Landry Jones might be for you."
Lastly, Gruden thinks Arkansas's Tyler Wilson could succeed if paired with the right coach as evidenced during his college career.
"I like Tyler Wilson because he's tough, number one. I saw him as an All-SEC quarterback two years ago playing for (Bobby) Petrino. And Petrino, I think is one of the more respected X-and-O football quarterback men in the business," Gruden said. "I saw Tyler play extremely well taking Arkansas to a Cotton Bowl. I think losing Coach Petrino the way they lost him, losing his offensive coordinator, losing three very good receivers and having the injury early in the season against (Louisiana) Monroe derailed Tyler Wilson. I credit him for trying to hold the Razorbacks together and a lot of adversity. This was not his best campaign, no question about it. But he's tough. He has some functional mobility in the pocket. He's sharp, and I think he's got some real leadership traits that are going to work for him at the next level. He's going to help somebody. He needs to get with the right coach and the right system, no question."
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