Next Ravens QB will have long road to leading drives

Possible draft pick would get chance to develop behind McNair

Pro football

April 27, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

In the 1998 NFL draft, Ryan Leaf was the second player selected overall and Matt Hasselbeck was the 187th.

Nine years later, Hasselbeck is the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, enjoying a career that has taken him to the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl. Leaf is the golf coach at West Texas A&M University after bouncing around four NFL teams.

So, why did Hasselbeck flourish and Leaf flounder? In Hasselbeck's mind, it's because he was a sixth-round quarterback and Leaf was a first-round pick.

Quarterbacks taken in the first round receive a huge signing bonus, but those taken in the second round or later receive time to develop.

Hasselbeck doesn't like to think how his career would be different if he had been in Leaf's situation.

"I would have probably fallen on my face," Hasselbeck told ESPN on Wednesday. "The coaching staff probably would have gotten fired and the next regime would have come in and gone with a new [quarterback]."

The Ravens are exploring the possibility of taking their quarterback of the future in this weekend's draft, but they don't want to rush him along like they did with Kyle Boller.

With Steve McNair projected to be the starter for the next two seasons, the Ravens are looking at developing one of the second-tier quarterbacks in this year's draft.

There is a chance one of these quarterbacks will become just as effective as the draft's top two quarterbacks, JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.

In fact, six of the 10 top-rated quarterbacks last season were taken in the second round or later, or went undrafted.

"When you draft a quarterback in the first round, that quarterback has to live up to what he perceives to be a certain standard," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "When you draft a quarterback in the third or fourth round, he feels a lot less pressure from fans, media, coaches and other players on the team. It's a different dynamic."

Most first-round quarterbacks play as rookies, which can put them in a hole immediately.

Because coaches don't want to overwhelm their young prospects, they adjust the offense to make it simpler. Quarterbacks who watch on the sideline are given the chance to absorb the entire offense over time and not just in pieces.

"If you're a gym rat -- the guy that is going to be around and soak this stuff up -- then you can evolve much faster in an offense," Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel said. "Sometimes I think you can almost retard a quarterback's development by putting him in the game. Not because it's hard but because you have to limit him."

It's unknown whether Boller would be a different quarterback if he had a chance to learn the offense instead of starting five months after being drafted in the first round.

If the Ravens draft a quarterback this weekend, they will take a more patient approach. This prospect could begin as the No. 3 quarterback this season, back up McNair next year and possibly take over as starter in 2009.

"In general, I think most quarterbacks benefit from sitting for a while and getting more acclimated to the speed of the game," DeCosta said. "I think the longer a quarterback can sit, the better it is."

Quarterback is the one position that the Ravens have struggled with throughout their 11 years of successful drafting. From Boller to Chris Redman to Wes Pate, the Ravens have not found a premier passer whether it's at the top of the draft or the bottom.

This position is the toughest to evaluate because of all the variables, whether it's throwing accuracy, leadership ability, maturity or football IQ.

That's why DeCosta laughed when someone asked him to pick out the Pro Bowl player from the second tier of quarterbacks.

"If I could do that, I would be a genius," DeCosta said. "I could look at the top 10 linebackers and predict what they will do in the league and be 90 percent accurate. At quarterback, I would probably be 50 percent."

A look at the second-tier quarterbacks in this year's draft:

Kevin Kolb, Houston. A four-year starter, he finished third in total offense and fourth in passing in NCAA history. Kolb has an above-average arm and has shown nice touch on his passes.

"He's got a great quarterback release," Neuheisel said.

Drew Stanton, Michigan State. A fiery leader, Stanton is considered the most competitive quarterback prospect. His biggest weaknesses are inconsistency and questionable decision-making.

"He's got the prototype quarterback body," Neuheisel said. "I think his best football is in front of him."

Trent Edwards, Stanford. He is an intriguing prospect because he has good size, intelligence and throwing mechanics. But he struggled as a senior on an injury-depleted team.

"He's been through some turbulent times at Stanford and hung in there," Neuheisel said. "He didn't point fingers, which is a great attribute for a quarterback. He's got a very strong arm."

John Beck, BYU. He's a 25-year-old rookie because he served a two-year church mission before going to college. Beck is a polished thrower with adequate arm strength.

"He's good at distributing the football," Neuheisel said. "He's highly efficient."

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