Common thread for 4 QBs: talent

Pro football: Their backgrounds couldn't be more different, but their abilities put them in the same highly sought-after category.

Nfl Draft

Pro Football

April 22, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Eli Manning comes from the first family of football. Ben Roethlisberger comes from the disregarded Mid-American Conference.

Philip Rivers grew up a coach's son, watching practice as a tyke when he could barely throw the ball. J.P. Losman grew up five minutes from the UCLA campus, but played across the country in New Orleans at Tulane University.

Disparate backgrounds, common skills.

It's the ability to move an offense down the field in dire circumstances, to make plays that are there -- and some that aren't -- that will bring these four college quarterbacks together on Saturday in the first round of the NFL draft.

Each will bring a unique pedigree.

For Mississippi's Manning, the probable first pick in the draft, that means living up to the lofty standards established by his quarterback father, Archie, and his Most Valuable Player brother, Peyton.

For Roethlisberger, it's carrying the torch for Miami of Ohio and the under-appreciated MAC. For Rivers, it's showing that an awkward throwing motion born in his adolescence can be effective in the NFL.

And for Losman, it's the chance to step out of the shadows of the Manning clan in New Orleans.

"It was very humbling, I'll say that much," Losman said during the NFL scouting combine of playing in the Mannings' backyard. "If I played in California or something like that, things would have been a little bit different as far as the hype and stuff like that.

"I think it was good for me as a person, good for me growing up as a man, to be humbled like that."

Losman, described by some personnel men in the league as Brett Favre-like, figures to be the fourth quarterback drafted in the first round. There's a reasonable chance he'll wind up in Green Bay with the Packers' three-time NFL MVP.

But fittingly, it'll be a Manning who leads off this quarterback cast.

There are few doubts Eli Manning will be the first pick in the draft. The question is, by whom? The San Diego Chargers, who own the first pick? The New York Giants, who reportedly covet the prodigy? Or some other quarterback-needy team that strikes a deal at the last minute?

This truly is football's first family. In 1971, Archie Manning was the second overall pick in the draft. In 1998, Peyton Manning was the first choice in the draft.

Eli considers that legacy a blessing.

"I've never thought, `I wish my last name was Smith,' " he said. "I've always been proud to be a Manning. It's been great watching Peyton play football. ... He's always been a role model, someone I looked up to, through high school and college and in the pros. It's been fun."

The expectation is that he can be the franchise quarterback that Peyton has become with the Indianapolis Colts. At 6 feet 5 and 221 pounds, Eli is virtually the same size as his brother, with a similar style and work ethic.

"When it comes to studying film and working out and doing all these things, I'm just as competitive as he is," he said. "I want to win. I want to be a great quarterback. I want to be the best.

"I would say we're pretty similar quarterbacks."

That's good news for whoever gets him. And while Roethlisberger carries similar draft grades to Manning, some have voiced concern that the MAC quarterback might be the next Ryan Leaf to Peyton's younger brother. Leaf was a bust as the second pick in 1998.

Roethlisberger doesn't begrudge anything to Manning.

"Obviously, Eli Manning is a great quarterback," he said. "He's got everything, including the name. He is the No. 1 pick in the draft, according to a lot of people, and he deserves it."

Roethlisberger, a 6-5, 240-pound pocket passer, took the unconventional path to the NFL. He was a wide receiver in high school until his senior year because the coach's son was the quarterback.

At Miami of Ohio, he drew inspiration from quarterbacks Chad Pennington (New York Jets) and Byron Leftwich (Jacksonville Jaguars), who also came through the MAC.

"It's a big knock on myself that we play in the MAC," he said. "Then I just say, look at Byron Leftwich, Randy Moss, Chad Pennington [all Marshall players]. They've done it and they're doing it now. They kind of paved the road for people like myself."

Rivers never missed a game for North Carolina State, proving both durable and efficient. His sidearm motion raised eyebrows until he had an MVP performance in the Senior Bowl.

"I think the throwing motion was a concern early in the [Senior Bowl] week, but gradually as the week went on, it became less of a concern," he said.

"For the most part, the feedback I've gotten is that they're not going to mess with the motion [in the NFL]."

Another minor concern with Rivers is that he operated in the shotgun 70 percent of the time, by his estimation. But he doesn't feel it's an issue.

"For 51 games, I've done enough of every little thing that I don't think it will be a problem," he said.

Losman started his college career at nearby UCLA, but knew almost immediately he made a mistake.

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