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Green Bay Packers draft preview: They need another Matt Flynn

But Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson isn't likely to be the guy

Apr. 22, 2012
 

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Quarterbacks

• Overall: An unusually strong class in the first two rounds with what could end up being the best 1-2 quarterback picks in league history with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

• Best prospect: Stanford’s Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, has Peyton Manning attributes and is a better athlete.

• Packers outlook: They’re a good bet to select a developmental backup prospect in the second half of the draft.

• Rising star: Because of the premium on quarterbacks and his up side as a prospect after playing receiver his first two years in college, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill could be a top-10 pick.

• Falling star: Arizona’s Nick Foles has the size (6-5, 243) and arm of an NFL quarterback, but the closer scouts look, the more they question whether he plays the game fast enough to make it in the NFL.

• Sleeper: Austin Davis broke some of Brett Favre’s passing records at Southern Mississippi, and though he’s a tad on the short side (6-1 5/8) is a gamer who has the mental makeup that might help him become a solid NFL backup.

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Going into the 2008 draft, Matt Flynn was in the lowest tier of draftable quarterbacks after only one season as a starter at LSU.

One scout in the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s pre-draft survey identified Flynn as a sleeper because of the quarterback’s moxie and ability to find a way to make plays despite his limitations while leading LSU to the national championship in 2007. But most scouts dismissed Flynn as not much of a prospect because he didn’t seem to have an outstanding compensatory quality for his ordinary physical makeup.

“I watched two games and didn’t write up a report because I didn’t think he had enough arm strength to play,” one scout said recently. “And I feel the same about Graham Harrell. I wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole and now he’s a No. 2 (with the Packers). Flynn was wired right would be my guess, that’s why he took to (coach) Mike (McCarthy) so well.”

Though Flynn was overmatched when he had to fill in as a rookie for an injured Aaron Rodgers, by his third season in the league, he was a viable backup. Then in his fourth season, during which he blew up the Packers’ single-game passing records in the regular-season finale against Detroit, he did well enough to get his shot as a starter when he signed as a free agent with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason.

That’s exactly what teams with an elite quarterback are looking for when they draft a developmental quarterback late — in Flynn’s case, the seventh round.

With Flynn gone, general manager Ted Thompson almost must select a quarterback in the second half of this draft to compete with Harrell and Arena League signee Nick Hill for the Packers’ backup job. With nine picks from the bottom of the fourth round down, including two compensatory selections at the end of the fourth and seventh rounds, Thompson will have plenty of chances to select a lower-round prospect he thinks has a better chance than the rest to become another Flynn.

The premium on the quarterback position pushes the most promising players at that position up the draft board each year, and six almost surely will go in the first three rounds of this draft: Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler.

So Thompson will be looking to identify the quarterbacks behind them who might have that “it” while also keeping in mind the Packers’ compelling needs elsewhere on defense, at running back and on the offensive line.

One of the most interesting and polarizing players who might be available after the third round is the University of Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl last season and was a three-year starter at North Carolina State before that.

Wilson has the leadership and intelligence teams love, but he elicits polarized evaluations from scouts because at 5-10 5/8, he’s extremely short for the position. Even Drew Brees, who is one of the game’s best players and the champion of shorter quarterbacks everywhere, measured about 1½ inches taller at 6-0¼ coming out of Purdue in 2001. NFL teams are wary of quarterbacks under about 6-2 because so few have succeeded.

Though at least some scouts think Wilson might be selected as high as the late third round, his height could be enough to take him off the Packers’ board, or at least knock him down a few rounds. Thompson learned scouting from former Packers GM Ron Wolf, who regardless of the draft round rarely compromised on the size minimums he established for each position. In seven years as the Packers’ GM, Thompson appears to be at least as stringent as Wolf. Flynn cleared the 6-2 bar by a quarter-inch, Harrell by an eighth of an inch, and Hill by five-eighths of an inch.

Some scouts give Wilson little chance to be a starter or good backup in the NFL because of his height, though enough scouts appear to like him that he’ll probably get drafted by the fourth round.

“He had everything you’d like in a quarterback with the exception of size,” one scout said in expressing the majority opinion of those interviewed by the Press-Gazette the past three weeks. “Even Brees will have to slide left and right, you’ll see him up on his toes, making throws from his toes so he can see over the line. That would be the case with Wilson, he’d have to slide to the left or right to find windows to make his throws. I think he’ll struggle in the NFL with that.”

But one scout loved Wilson and thought he was quick, athletic and smart enough to compensate for his height.

“I love everything about Russell Wilson,” the scout said. “I see this guy developing into a starter in the league. Get him on a team as a No. 2, if the No. 1 gets hurt, he’ll never get his job back.”

Two other later-round prospects who drew the most mention from scouts were Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish and Tennessee-Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman, both of whom probably will be selected anywhere from the fifth through the seventh rounds.

Harnish doesn’t quite hit the 6-2 barrier but at 6-1 5/8 is close. He has good overall size (219 pounds) and played in an offense in which he ran and passed. He was a four-year starter and Mid-American Conference player of the year last season, and he had good athleticism (4.71-second 40, 32½-inch vertical), decent arm talent and intangibles.

“I think he’s got some stuff,” one scout said. “Good mechanics, arm strength is good, quickness, athletic, he can run, obviously can do all that stuff. Appears like he’s a smart, put-together kind of kid.”

Said another scout: “I don’t know if Harnish gets picked, but I sure like that kid. He’s really into it. He and that Southern Miss guy (i.e., Austin Davis) are kind of that half-run, half-pass type college guys that are into it and have a skill set that you maybe want at the end of the draft.”

Coleman transferred from Tennessee in 2009 after losing the starting job in the spring to Jonathan Crompton, who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 and is on the Washington Redskins’ roster. At 6-3 and 233, Coleman is bigger and stronger-armed than Harnish but not as athletic.

“He’s not a natural thrower, but he has an NFL body. He’s 6-3 and change, 225, (2)30 pounds,” a scout said. “He’s willing, it’s important to him. He’s just not real polished and he gets greedy. Just does his own thing and it gets him into real trouble. I think he’ll be all right. I don’t know if he has the poise though, he lacks a little poise when things start moving a little fast on him.”

Another scout said: “I’m thinking fifth round, sixth round at the latest. Both those (two) guys are very competitive. They have that ‘it’ factor for a backup quarterback that has a chance to develop. B.J. probably will go ahead of Harnish because he’s bigger, but I like Harnish, too.”

Top quarterback prospects

Andrew Luck, Stanford, 6-foot-4, 234 pounds, projected to go in Round 1

The Indianapolis Colts reportedly have told him he’ll be the first pick in the draft, ahead of Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who’s expected to go No. 2 to the Washington Redskins. “The top two guys are so far beyond whatever is next it’s like dropping off a cliff,” one scout said. “These two guys are better than the (2004 Ben) Roethlisberger-(Eli) Manning-Philip Rivers group just because they’re so much better athletically and as good or better with the regular quarterback stuff. So these guys have a chance to really be high-end players, both of them. Luck’s better (than Griffin), it’s not even close to me, because he does all the professional stuff right now. Robert is going to be terrific, but you have to Cam Newton the guy and give him some stuff he did in college. (Washington) can’t just throw him right in and have him do what (Rex) Grossman did last year.” Junior entry redshirted his first season, then as a three-year starter had a 31-6 record. For his career completed 66.4 percent of his passes, threw 80 touchdowns and 21 interceptions; last year completed 70 percent with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Also averaged 6.0 yards on 159 carries and had three runs in career for more than 50 yards. Surprised some scout by running a fast 40 (4.63 seconds). By comparison, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers ran 4.71 seconds coming out in 2005. “Certainly looks the part,” another scout said. “He’s got very good mechanics as a passer, liked his anticipation hitting his receivers. The thing that was more impressive, he was a better athlete than I thought he was. He has good mobility. Watching early on I thought he was just mobile in the pocket, but watching more he’s a much better athlete than you think.”



Robert Griffin III, Baylor, 6-2, 223, Round 1

Junior entry had a 22-18 record as a starter, including 10-3 last season while winning the Heisman Trophy. Played in a spread-option offense in which his 4.35-second speed in the 40 stressed and stretched defenses. The presumptive No. 2 pick by Washington. “If they don’t start doing some of that QB fake-the-handoff-and-keeping stuff, they’re not playing to the kid’s strength,” a scout said. “The guy that did the best job of anybody last year was the (offensive) coordinator down there in Carolina (i.e., Rod Chudzinski), to figure that out for Cam (Newton) and implement that stuff and get it to work and they’re a top-five offense. If they’d tried to square peg it, they’d have been bottom quarter. Luck ran 4.6-flat. Now Griffin’s 4.38 or whatever. I just think they’re both terrific.” Three-year starter, for career completed 67 percent of his passes (72.6 percent last season), threw 77 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Rushed for 2,199 yards and a 4.3-yard average for his career. Had the majority of his sophomore season wiped out by a knee injury. Besides the exceptional 40 had a 39-inch vertical. “Griffin’s a gimmick,” said his lone detractor of the scouts the Press-Gazette interviewed. “For the system he was in, he’s good. But if you took Andrew Luck off that team in Stanford, there’s no way they win as many games, and he didn’t even have any receivers.”



Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M, 6-4½, 222, Round 1

Switched from quarterback to receiver in camp of his redshirt freshman season, led the team in catches for two years, then moved back to quarterback full time in 2010. “Liked him a lot, I think he’s good, I think he’s this year’s Jake Locker,” a scout said. “He’s a top-of-the second, bottom-of-the-first type talent that gets picked in the top 10. There’s some poise issues. His release is really, really low and doesn’t change much from there. He can get on some bad stretches and have a hard time getting himself out. But he’s a wonderful prospect.” Finished his career with 62.2 completion percentage, threw 41 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, including 28 and 14 last season. Averaged 4.7 yards on 112 carries last season. “I think there’s five of them or so that are better than any of (the quarterbacks) last year,” another scout said. “I’d say those guys are Luck, RGIII, then like Tannehill, then the Oklahoma State kid (i.e., Brandon Weeden) and the Michigan State kid (i.e., Kirk Cousins). I think those five are really good. I really liked (Tannehill), thought he’s a special guy. I like him better than all the guys from last year.Great mechanics, athletic, balanced, gets the ball out quick, looks liked he saw the field well, has movement skills. Then he’s in a pro offense where you can see him do all the throws. I thought he was pretty good.” Had a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery in the offseason and prevented him from working out for scouts until in late March, when ran the 40 in about 4.61 seconds. Lost four games last season that Texas A&M led at halftime, and coach Mike Sherman was fired after the season. “They lost five in a row there in the end, and their third quarters (of their losses) they were outscored 70-something to nothing (actually 76-7), something ridiculous like that,” a scout said. “But I like the kid a lot. Personality-wise he’s interesting, he’s very serious, kind of quiet-ish, I don’t know, nothing gregarious about him, nothing that you’d say would unite a group. His play and his actions would unite more so than his personality. He’s just kind of a very serious guy.”



Kirk Cousins, Michigan State, 6-2 5/8, 214, Rounds 1-2

Three-year starter and captain had 27-12 record, including 22-5 his last two seasons. “Cousins is better than Weeden for me, Cousins can throw it better,” a scout said. “I like Cousins a lot, a lot. He does some dumb (stuff), but the guy is a quick-twitch type guy that can get the ball out fast, and he’s more powerful than I thought he was, and he can move around pretty good. He’s another guy that’s only 4.86 (seconds in the 40), but he gets away. He’s not as fast as Tannehill or anything, but ….” Completed 64.1 percent of his passes in his career for 65 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, including 63.7 percent, 24 and seven his senior year. Had a 28½-inch vertical. “Liked his size,” another scout said. “He’s a sharp guy. He had good receivers that helped him, he wasn’t as accurate as you’d like and had some receivers that went up and got the ball. I think you’d draft him to be a strong No. 2 and give him an opportunity to compete (for the starting job).”



Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State, 6-3½, 221, Round 2

Former minor-league pitcher who turns 29 in October. “To me (his age) is an issue,” a scout said. “Everybody says no, it’s not an issue. I think that’s (B.S.). First of all, if you have two guys that are comparable, then you’re going to take the younger guy. (Only) if it’s clear-cut you take (Weeden). And then the other issue is what do have (already at QB)? You wouldn’t bring in an older guy to back up an older guy. I clearly think it’s an issue. Now, if you have to find a guy who’s a starter (immediately) and you have to find a guy through the draft, and he’s the best guy, then you take him.” Was drafted in Major League Baseball’s second round by the Yankees in ’02, had a 19-26 record and 5.02 ERA pitching in the minors for Yankees, Dodgers, and Royals. Left baseball because of torn labrum and tendinitis in his rotator cuff. Didn’t have surgery, went to Oklahoma State, redshirted, played sparingly for two years, then went 23-3 as a starter his final two years. For his career completed 69.5 percent of his passes, threw 75 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, including 72.4 percent with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season. Says throwing a football doesn’t bother his shoulder. “Once you (get past) Weeden then it really falls off a cliff,” another scout said. “If I had them equal, him and (Cousins), I’d take (Cousins) just because you’re going to have him longer.”



Brock Osweiler, Arizona State, 6-7, 242, Rounds 2-3

Junior entry committed early in high school to play basketball for Gonzaga but became a better football prospect and went to Arizona State. “There’s some stuff you don’t like about him. At times he can make terrible decisions,” a scout said. “But he has ability. Size is fine — you don’t want them all that big, but he’s athletic so it doesn’t matter. He can run, he can move, a basketball player. I really liked him.” Didn’t become a full-time starter until last season, had a 7-8 record. Declared early for the draft because new Arizona State coach Todd Graham requires running quarterbacks. “(Osweiler) is so unknown,” a second scout said. “He’s been out of high school for three years — three years ago, he’s getting ready for prom. He’s coming out way too early.The next coach that’s coming in is going to do the QB-run stuff, and that’s not (Osweiler’s) style, and he doesn’t feel like transferring, so he said to hell with it. He’s just really raw as a player and a person, and he doesn’t really have that great of arm strength or accuracy.” Last year completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in a spread offense. Had a foot injury that prevented him from working out for scouts until late March, when he reportedly ran in the mid-4.9s. “People are going to take him way too early,” a third scout said. “I saw him as a fourth, fifth round. I wasn’t impressed with the throwing. He’s big and competitive and smart. I just don’t think he’s a polished quarterback ready to compete for a starting job in the NFL.”



Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, 5-10 5/8, 203, Rounds 3-4

Started for three years at North Carolina State, then after graduating early transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where he was eligible immediately. His main issue is height. “You’re going to have to sprint him out, put him on boots, run play action and get him on the edge,” a scout said. “But as far as doing it and being a winner and preparing and being a leader, there’s nobody better. Nobody. His arm, he’s got a good arm. Doesn’t have a cannon, but he’s got a good arm. What he’s got is a great touch. He’s not going to knock you down on a 5-yard crossing route. Some guys, a 7-yard crossing route they throw the same velocity as a 22-yard dig. Like Blake Gabbert (in last year’s draft), everything he threw was 100 mph. Russell has great touch.” Had a 30-20 record overall. At Wisconsin, completed 72.5 percent of his passes for 2,879 yards, 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions. For his career, 60.7 percent for 11,424 yards, 107 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Averaged 3.2 yards on 435 carries. “He just doesn’t have enough,” another scout said. “The Virginia Tech guy (drafted by Baltimore in the sixth round) last year was twice as good as him, Tyrod Taylor. This guy can’t do it. He’s similar (to Boise State’s Kellen Moore) in that he’s got all the intangibles, wonderful person, feel for the game, movement skills, he can move a lot better than Kellen. But he got exposed at the Senior Bowl, his arm isn’t as good as I thought it was, trying to throw the ball outside the numbers and all, it just isn’t.” Was drafted in Major League Baseball by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round in 2009. Ran a 4.55-second 40. “People are missing out on this guy, I’m telling you,” a third scout said. “I went back to 2010 and watched a ton of tape there, I watched almost every game this year, this guy’s a hell of a football player, he’s just 5-10 5/8. That’s the only thing that will kill this kid. If somebody will just give this guy a chance. He was the best quarterback at the Senior Bowl, threw the ball exceptionally well. They’re going to have to create an offense a little bit like what they do for Drew Brees: shotgun, short-set him, roll him out, let him throw on the run. Do some stuff like that and get him a good run game, this guy’s a hell of a football player. … I love everything about Russell Wilson.”



Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, 6-3¾, 229, Rounds 4-5

Four-year starter who put up a 23-26 record. “I don’t like him on tape, he’s pretty inaccurate,” a scout said. “But he’s big. With some work, he could be somebody, he’s a developmental guy. He’s got good size, he’s a smart guy, arm strength is pretty good. Just needs a little work and refinement. But not as accurate as you want.” For his career completed only 55.4 percent of his passes for 87 touchdowns, 47 interceptions and 12,277 yards. As a senior completed only 52.5 percent with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. “He’s got a wonderful arm but a pea brain,” a second scout said. Ran the 40 in 4.88 seconds, had a 29½-inch vertical. “I didn’t like him at the Senior Bowl,” a third scout said. “I didn’t like the way he threw the ball, his leadership skills, how he directed guys, I just didn’t see it. He was kind of a turn-off.”



Kellen Moore, Boise State, 6-0, 197, Rounds 5-6

Four-year starter finished with a 49-3 record. “I love the kid, but I don’t like the player for the next level,” a scout said. “He is as good a college football player as we’ve seen, and the success he’s had there has been remarkable. His football mind is — very few guys have that kind of mind for football. The instincts, the intangibles, are off the charts. But his physical is way below average. You can’t be 6-foot, 200 pounds and frail looking with a popgun arm.” Son of a high school coach, for his career completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 14,667 yards, 143 touchdowns and 28 interceptions (5-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio). “Where he has a chance is he’s got a real good ability to play the game,” a second scout said. “He can be accurate, he’s just got a good feel for it. He can do things kind of like a gym-rat guy, just makes things happen even though you don’t think he has it. His size is a problem, but more than that mechanically he’s not very good at all, sloppy technique, arm strength is not really good.” At the combine showed mediocre athletic ability for a small player — ran the 40 in 4.85 seconds and had a 27-inch vertical. “When you scramble (in the NFL) the defensive ends are running 4.7 instead of 5-flat,” another scout said. “Those things will be different. And when your receivers aren’t better than the teams you’re playing against every week it’s just different, and it puts more back onto the quarterback. The way you get over that as a quarterback is you’re physically able to make throws when you can’t step into it, which Kellen can’t do because he’s not strong enough.There’s guys like RGIII and Tannehill and Cousins, they can make throws off their back foot and still get it down the field because they’re so physically strong. But some of these other guys don’t have enough body strength to do that. I think Kellen’s like that. But what a great player. I just don’t see it translating.”



Nick Foles, Arizona, 6-5, 243, Rounds 5-6

Decorated prep at Westlake (Texas) High School who broke Drew Brees’ passing records began his college career at Michigan State but transferred after his freshman season. Three-year starter had a 15-18 record at Arizona. A big man with a strong arm. “He’s a competitive son of a gun,” a scout said. “I know he fought hard and played hard, but I saw him down the line, fourth round, fifth round. Can make a lot of different throws and a scrapper and fighter, but I don’t see him as a savior as a quarterback.” For his career, completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 67 touchdowns and 33 interceptions, including 69.1 percent, 28 and 14 as a senior. Ran the 40 in 5.14 seconds and had a 30 1/2-inch vertical. “I don’t have a lot of hope for Foles,” a scout said. “He’s just kind of slow. Everything he does is slowwww.”

pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @petedougherty.

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