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'13 QB class could surprise people

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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There’s been a lot made of the ineptitude of the 2013 NFL Draft quarterback class.

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“Not even close to last year’s crop,” one GM told me last month at the league’s annual owners meetings.

Minutes later, we were talking about just how talented the offensive guards and tackles were.

“There’s no RG3, Luck or Wilson. [Tannehill] probably would have be the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft,” said a trusted league source in a phone conversation last week.

Minutes after the comment, we moved right along to Manti Te’o and whether he’s capable of playing three downs at middle linebacker in the NFL.

This is how most conversations about this year’s quarterback prospects go. A quick acknowledgement that there’s no future Hall of Famer in the crop, a brief comment, and then a swift change of topic to something seemingly more interesting. When all every team seems to be looking for is the next great hope at the quarterback position, it’s amazing to see this year’s crop getting dismissed even before taking the field.

It’s got to be a maddening thing to be written off before you’ve even entered the league. In an era when everyone is searching for morsels of motivation and bulletin-board material, I would imagine this year’s QB class is taking note of the complete disregard for what they have to offer.

Why are they being overlooked? Because of the Class of 2012, that’s why.

Last year’s rookie quarterback class could end up being the greatest the league has ever seen. Though fans of the ’83 and ’04 crops will point to Hall of Fame blazers, playoff victories and Super Bowl rings — I look at the depth, immediate impact and game-changing skill sets of the 2012 rookies.

Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III became the first trio of rookies to start NFL playoff games in the same year, while Ryan Tannehill started 16 games for the Dolphins and Brandon Weeden started 15 of 16 in Cleveland.

Add in the string of promising performances from Philadelphia backup Nick Foles, the potential of Denver backup Brock Osweiler and the capability of Kirk Cousins and it makes for one of the deepest draft classes at any position, let alone quarterback, in recent history.

So how do you follow that up? What do you do when you’re asked to take the stage after The Beatles?

It’s a question this class isn’t being faced with. They’re not even being subjected to those comparisons. It’s as if they’ve already been given a free pass; a forgotten draft class already — long before any of them have even suited up.

“I just don’t see the ‘it factor’ in any of them,” one scout told me last week. “They’ve all got their flaws. And it’s a very deep draft at other positions.”

My response? Which quarterbacks don’t have their flaws?

We seem to forget that Russell Wilson slipped to the third round in 2012 and that in addition to 30 other teams, the Seahawks drafted two players before him. Wilson must have had flaws last April, too.

But hindsight is 20-20 in this game, and when you put a team on your back and lead it to the second round of the playoffs, your lack of NFL height, lack of NFL arm strength and questions about your ability to adapt to the pro game somehow get put in a little time capsule where the key has been misplaced.

I like the quarterbacks in this class.

Are they as talented at the top or as deep as the 2012 one? Probably not. But they’re not the bunch of misfits they’re being portrayed as, either.

I hate to make excuses for anyone, but we forget that Matt Barkley was widely heralded as the “no-brainer” No. 1 overall pick for the 2013 NFL Draft exactly a year ago.

Geno Smith, when his team was 5-0 and he was passing for 600 yards every Saturday, was being labeled as a "can’t miss" prospect by the same draftniks tearing him down the past few months. Before Bobby Petrino did whatever Bobby Petrino did and three Razorback wideouts were drafted into the NFL, Tyler Wilson had a pretty promising draft profile, too.

These three young men are just a handful in a list of nine quarterbacks who I think could all be more than just serviceable backups in this league. They can all be players.

The 2012 class was different. Luck was widely heralded as the greatest quarterback prospect to enter the league since Peyton Manning. Griffin was a Heisman winner and the future of the Redskins. And the rest of the first rounders were all starters from the day they stepped on their respective training camp practice facilities. Expectations were high, and in just about every case, the rookie quarterbacks of 2012 exceeded them.

This year’s class? There’s nothing. There’s dust bowls rolling over pro days with nary a comparison to Peyton Manning, Eli Manning or any person ever named Manning. The usual breathless excitement over the quarterbacks has been matched with indifference and subtle jabs. Read a scouting report and you’ll see negatives outweigh the positives in just about every instance.

So what’s that do? Well, at the very least, it can serve as a motivational chip on the shoulders of all these guys. We’ve seen it time and time again. A player who uses draft day as his motivation to propel himself to the next level and overcome all doubters. But have we ever seen an entire group of men at one position do it?

In a recent column, I compared this class to the forgettable ’07 quarterback class that included JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, John Beck and Kevin Kolb as the first quarterbacks selected. The difference, however, with that class and this one is that even those quarterbacks were expected to be franchise guys.

Here’s Todd McShay, ESPN’s respected draft analyst, weeks before the 2007 NFL Draft on Jamarcus Russell: "I can't remember being in such awe of a quarterback in my decade of attending combines and pro days. Russell's passing session was the most impressive of all the pro days I've been to. His footwork for such a big quarterback was surprising. He was nimble in his dropbacks, rolling out and throwing on the run. The ball just explodes out of his hands."

Here’s former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin on the then-LSU prospect: "He's like a video game. There's not a throw he can't make and there's some he can make I'm not sure anyone else can make. That's exciting.”

Remember, we in the media were all shocked that Brady Quinn slipped into the twenties of the first round that year. When the Browns traded up to grab him, it was considered an all-around steal and former Browns GM Phil Savage was tabbed a genius.

Russell was the athletic specimen from another world; Brady Quinn was the ultimate leader.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone speak so highly on any of the quarterbacks in this year’s class. It’s as if everyone used up all their flowery adjectives and praise on young quarterbacks over the past 12 months.

I’d like to advise caution on forgetting this crop, though.

These guys are competitors. Barkley started four years for one of the the most high-profile high school football programs in the nation, and then started four years at USC. Though he had his low moments in 2012, he also had a highly decorated college career amid some unusual circumstances.

He's a leader, he can run an NFL offense from Day 1, and he’s dealt with skeptics before. You’re telling me Matt Barkley — because of a few interceptions and a college injury — can’t take an NFL team to the playoffs?

Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel and Ryan Nassib all threw their teams on their backs and led them to winning seasons in 2012. Tyler Wilson, Landry Jones and Zac Dysert have all been the leaders in their locker rooms for multiple years. Mike Glennon may not look the part, but I’m certain there are some teams willing to roll the dice on a 6-foot-6 quarterback who was once one of the most hotly pursued high school quarterbacks in the nation. They all bring something to the table.

It’s easy to write off this year’s quarterback class. I’m already hearing scouts move on to Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, two new-age gunslingers who’ll be the mock draft favorites throughout the 2013 college and pro football seasons.

But I’d hold off on all that.

This class might not make the immediate impact, right out of the gates, that last year’s did. It might not get the media love and adoration of the 2011 one.

But these kids can play.

Despite what you might be led to believe.

Tagged: Browns, Broncos, Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Giants, Seahawks, Redskins, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson

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