Quarterback is the most-important position on a football field. That’s why NFL teams start frothing at the mouth when “can’t-miss” prospects emerge from the college ranks.
With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck projected as an immediate NFL star and the next Peyton Manning, let’s examine the 10 most-prized NFL quarterback prospects dubbed by fans, media and NFL scouts.
10. Ryan Leaf (Washington State)
Said Colts owner Jim Irsay to The Beach Reporter of Manhattan Beach, CA, last year: “It was amazing how so many people around the league with all their analysis and brilliance came to the conclusion that we could not go wrong either way (between Leaf and Peyton Manning). Nobody saw it coming, a Super Bowl star and four-time MVP, and a complete bust.”
Yes, Leaf was a Heisman Trophy runner-up, a dynamic talent with a cannon arm and prototype size who led Washington State to its first-ever Pac-10 title. He also was supposed to be a fine consolation prize to Manning in the 1998 NFL draft. That’s how big the hype was surrounding the eventual second overall pick, who busted out after four disappointing seasons. His first of three books about his life, “Switch 596,” was just released on Saturday.
You dodged a bullet, Irsay.
9. Vinny Testaverde (Miami FL)
The 1986 Heisman Trophy winner, Testaverde entered the NFL as one of the great players at Miami (FL), which had been a power program in the 1980s. He was billed as the second-best prospect since Joe Namath to enter the NFL and a savior to the perpetually awful Bucs, who gave him a contract in excess of $8 million – the richest at the position in NFL history up to that point. Testaverde, a physical specimen who could make all the throws into his 40s, had a good NFL career that spanned two decades. But it never matched the fever pitch at which he entered the league.
8. Jeff George (Illinois)
The Colts not only gave George the biggest rookie contract ever, they also traded away the farm – including WR Andre Rison – to get him. George’s tenure with his hometown Colts was as big a bust as the expectation that surrounded him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 NFL draft. With his trademark gunslinger style – complete with a backpedal instead of traditional drop – George excited the Colts with his tremendous arm strength and natural ability that he showed off in two impressive years at Illinois and made him look the part of a future Hall of Famer. But his 13 seasons in the league with six teams weren’t good enough to justify the selection of a physical freak who underachieved and constantly butted heads with coaches. Now 43, George still thinks there’s a place in the league for him.
7. Peyton Manning (Tennessee)
The current Colts’ QB seemingly had it all coming out of Tennessee – the pedigree as Archie Manning’s son, the size at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and a “laser, rocket” arm. But Manning was criticized for his struggles against high-powered Florida – a knock for play in big games that still follows him to this day. And it was a debate as to whether he or Leaf should be taken with the top overall pick in the 1998 draft. Yes, Manning was a hot commodity coming out of college but had more warts than one might remember.
6. JaMarcus Russell (LSU)
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had high praise for Russell, whose skills he called “John Elway-like” in 2007. Kiper then predicted big success for the eventual flame-out No. 1 overall pick, who last played in 2009 and wasn’t around to fulfill Kiper’s prediction. “Three years from now, you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league.”
Maybe Kiper was blinded by the Russell’s reported ability to throw a ball more than 60 yards from his knees, a feat that earned him more praise, higher expectations and a fat contract – none of which he could handle. He’s now back in Baton Rouge and reportedly thought about taking classes this semester.
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