The 2013 NFL draft class will be hard-pressed to top last year’s quintet of Andrew Luck (Colts), Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins) and Nick Foles (Eagles). Only time will tell, but as to the incoming crop of signal-callers having the same impact or better success, I give them two chances: slim and none. What the NFL, fans and the league learned in 2012 was that in order to win your division, get deep in the playoffs and have an opportunity to win the Super Bowl, the pocket passer is still a much-needed commodity. But the new wave of the running quarterbacks from a scheme called the read option proved very effective and is here to stay.

Having an elite quarterback at the helm is every franchise’s No. 1 priority. I try to avoid the comparison game. Not only will that get you in trouble, it basically gives talent evaluators a comfort zone in which they feel good about a player instead of grading them for the attributes and skill set they bring to the table and how those skills can be utilized at the next level.

This is the first position of the Top 5 by position series. I will explain in detail the critical factors and athletic skill set for each position, which is what NFL personnel men look for when grading a player’s DNA (film), and how size, injuries and character issues may affect draft boards in all 32 war rooms.

QUARTERBACKS

Critical Factors

Mental Awareness: Intelligence, ability to take hard coaching, understanding coverages and ability to read defenses on the move. Make quick and good decisions while under pressure.

Leadership: Natural born leader, most respectful leader on the team, commands respect in the huddle.

Competitiveness: A clutch player with a win-at-all-cost attitude, with a high level of intensity. He is at his best under adverse and pressure situations, with the will to win. He has confidence in himself and his teammates have confidence in him.

Toughness: This most unprotected player in the game must have a high level of toughness. A clutch player to consistently deliver under pressure with ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.

Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations and in red zone with consistent results.

Arm Strength: The ability to spin the ball with a tight spiral, good velocity and zip, with the ability to deliver underneath with touch. Has deep ball accuracy with very little air under ball.

Third-Down Efficiency: Sustain drive production, clutch situational habits under pressure to convert.

Size/Strength: Does he meet the requirements for the position? Can he take the punishment and still deliver production?

Athletic Skill Set

Football Intelligence: Student of the game; film breakdown and playbook memorization. Football instincts with read reaction quickness and the ability to process information or situations fast. View the game like a coordinator. Help assimilate game plans.

Athletic Ability: Quickness, speed and ability to change direction with burst.

Accuracy: Split into two categories – 1. Short: ability to stick it on the receiver, accuracy and touch is more important than strength, along with anticipation and timing of routes. 2. Long: throw to an area and allow receivers to run under the ball or the ability to hit the receiver in stride with good ball placement.

Set-up quickness: Quickness from under center in traditional offense with smooth transition to get into drops.

Ball Handling: Footwork and ball protection on play-action fakes.

Drop: Foot quickness, punch step with smooth stride tree-, five-, seven-step drops with strong anchor. Look off safety in drops with eyes, shoulders and pump fake.

Delivery: Rhythm and timing are very important, with weight transfer and foot balance (18-25) inches, any wider then that is considered over striding, which effects a quarterbacks release point and accuracy. Is follow-through like a pitcher (body weight ending over post leg)?

Poise in Pocket: Stand tall in pocket under pressure keeping eyes down field on receivers with good field vision.

Escape Ability: Foot quickness with mobility in pocket to elude, slide and avoid pressure to escape and buy time.

Release: Can throw from different platforms with release over ear, shoulder or sidearm sling.

Arm Strength: Spin football with velocity, turn out zip, deep ball. Does the quarterback use a lot of hip torque or all upper body arm and shoulder thrower. Throw the ball with effortless motion.

Pocket Awareness: Feeling pressure to step up away from outside pressure off edge.

Decision Maker: A good decision-maker from the line of scrimmage to audible out of poor situations or change plays to gain an advantage and manipulate the defense.

Running Skills: A downfield threat with positive production, creating another added dimension for the offense.

Protections: Recognize and identify pressure from pre snap reads vs. blitz packages from base defense and sub packages.

Clock Management: Two-minute drill, adverse situations and normal.

Voice: Strength and clarity.

Hand size: The larger the better.

Matt Barkley Southern California 6’2-227 30 3/8 10 1/8 The only true freshman quarterback to start a season opener and every game in his career as a Trojan (47/47). A good athlete and right-handed passer who aligns in both shotgun and traditional with good footwork in 3-, 5- and 7-step drops; balance and weight transfer, with smooth and fluid over-the-shoulder delivery, with very good skill set and positional attributes for the next level. Barkley is competitive and tough. Carries ball numbers-high in his drops. Good patience and composure; a rhythm passer who plays confident and poised. Barkley has very good anticipation, timing and touch to drop passes over the top, stick it on the receiver or throw only where receivers can make the play, along with good red zone production. Has good awareness in pocket, and eyes are always downfield to locate primary and secondary receivers, ensuring good decisions. Will need a more consistent play action fake, but waggles are very smooth. Arm strength is good, not great, rendering him best suited for a short-to-intermediate passing scheme. He can take that shot downfield to keep a defense on its toes, but not a consistent deep ball thrower. Good pocket presence with mobility to slide and avoid and throw on the move. Understands and recognizes pressure based on pre-snap reads. While more of a pocket passer, he flashed downfield running skills early in his career. Nonetheless, he is not a downfield threat. Good to sustained drive production, with solid clock management to thrive under pressure. I saw some deer-in-the-headlights looks a few years ago, and that was a concern. Barkley has played under two head coaches in two different pro style philosophies. Has excellent production, accuracy in pocket with a career completion percentage of 64.1 percent. First-round talent.

Geno Smith West Virginia 6’2-218 32 1/2 9 1/4 A very good athlete who is smooth, has body balance and control with short-area burst and acceleration, plus good positional attributes. He passes the eyeball test with an athletic frame to add bulk. This right-armed passer plays strictly from the shotgun formation in a spread and read option scheme. Decision-making is crisp, as he understands and recognizes coverages and blitz packages, and is competitive and tough. Smith has excellent arm strength and velocity to make all the passes, including deep ball production. This signal-caller has very good feet to slide and avoid pressure and can throw from several different platforms, keeping plays alive with his feet. Will bounce in place to gain rhythm at top of quarterback drop zone. He has a short, roundhouse delivery motion and steps into his throws, handling pressure with escapability and a quick release. Smith is a short-to-intermediate rhythm passer with good accuracy, anticipation, timing and touch to drop it over the top or squeeze it in a tight window. He can pin it on the receiver in stride, executes back shoulder fades well and boasts deep ball accuracy. Is very good rolling to his left, squaring his shoulders and delivering strikes. This player’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is exceptional, and his career completion percentage (67.4 percent) improved each and every year. Works to sustain drive production. Very good run skills and is elusive in space, but will need ball-carrying refinement to tuck it high and tight; currently waves the ball outside frame in running motion to retain balance. With the NFL quickly becoming a passing league, this QB will fit in a shotgun spread scheme and could contribute in the new-wave read-option scheme. First- or second-round talent.

Ryan Nassib Syracuse 6’2-227 32 10 1/8 This quarterback has an impressive frame with both upper and lower body thickness, and is very muscular. He aligns in both shotgun and traditional formations. This right-handed signal-caller has good footwork in 3-, 5- and 7-step drops; short step and set when aligned in the shotgun. Carries ball below numbers with a quick windup delivery motion. Good field vision to stand tall in pocket and deliver under pressure with accuracy. Good pocket awareness with feet to slide, avoid and stay active in pocket. Accuracy is good outside the pocket on the move. Very good toughness to stand tall in pocket under pressure and take the big hit. Adequate run skills beyond the LOS (line of scrimmage), but is not a downfield threat. This quarterback has very good ball placement, anticipation and timing to throw over the top with good arm strength and velocity; solid production in the seam and outside numbers downfield. Nassib’s footwork, weight transfer and delivery needs tweaking, as he tends to fall back to his left and fades backward on deep balls instead of stepping into his throws. Consistency is definitely lacking in this area, despite production. His knowledge seems extremely polished in the passing game. Very good pre-snap reads and coverage recognition with shoulder bob and pump fake to freeze single high safeties; good body language and eyes. The play action fake part of his game reminds me of a young Peyton Manning (great actor). I saw a lot of dropped balls in films viewed. NFL coaches will help him to throw balls away instead of taking unnecessary sacks. First- or second-round talent.

Landry Jones Oklahoma 6’4-225 33 9 1/8 A right-armed quarterback with excellent size, albeit merely adequate athletic ability on film, and the numbers from the combine results prove that. Jones is a pocket passer who gets much respect for his career numbers (50/53 starts, 16,646 yards, 123 TD/52 INTs and a 63.6 completion percentage as the all-time leading passer in school history) and accuracy. Aligns in shotgun formation a high percentage of the time, but has aligned in traditional in the past with very good play action fake and trail hand finish. Stands tall in the pocket with good feet and setup quickness, and is always balanced in weight transfer and in position with over-the-shoulder delivery and good release point. Right-armed quarterback with quick delivery to get ball out. Good pocket awareness to slide, step and avoid with eyes consistently downfield. Very good pre-snap reads, coverage recognition and read progression. This quarterback makes all the throws needed to be successful at the next level. Very good anticipation, timing and touch, and will bounce to gather rhythm. (This is not a negative.) Good velocity on short, intermediate and deep balls to squeeze into a window, also on over-the-top, back shoulder fades; throws balls where only receivers can make a play. Great job with eyes downfield, using pump fake to freeze safeties and send linebackers in opposite direction when dropping into coverage. Is very productive and effective in the red zone. Jones has good mental toughness to fight through adversity within a game (see: Kansas State, 2012). Has poise to sustain drive production and third-down efficiency. This pocket passer’s mobility lacks burst and acceleration, fading rapidly outside the box. When the dust settles on the 2013 draft class, Landry has the skill set to be the best of the bunch. First-round talent, second-round pick.

EJ Manuel Florida State 6’5-237 35 10 3/8 A true passing quarterback with running skills, he is the total package. Manuel’s run skills make him even more attractive for those teams looking to pick up where RG3, Wilson and Colin Kaepernick left off in 2012. A playmaker both in and outside of the pocket, through the air or on the ground. Is a downfield run threat with elusiveness and cutting ability in tight and open space, with burst and acceleration to defy angles and a nose for the end zone, resulting in many a diving effort to score. This right-armed quarterback has exceptional size with very good athletic ability and movement skills for a 6-5, 237-pounder. Aligns in shotgun and traditional with good play action fake. Very good footwork in setting up; solid balance with weight transfer and over-the-shoulder delivery. Manuel has a natural and smooth throwing motion. Very good movement skills on waggles and rollouts with production and accuracy outside the pocket. Manuel has excellent arm strength, and velocity can be considered one of the best in the draft on deep balls. Feels pressure and resorts to natural instincts to run when pocket is squeeze; has happy feet and looks to run first in many cases. This quarterback can stand tall in the pocket when not pressured, displaying good presence and the ability to slide and avoid and stretch plays. Tends to stare down primary receivers with spotty read progression and coverage recognition on the move and pre-snap. Accuracy is good with a career completion percentage of 66.9; can make all the throws needed at the next level (back shoulder, fade), but best throwing to an area and allowing a receiver to make a play. This player’s DNA (film) is better than what I saw at the Senior Bowl, and he was the MVP there. Manuel’s size, athletic ability and ascending production each collegiate season makes him very attractive. He is the best athlete and runner at the quarterback position of the 2013 draft class. First-round talent, second-round pick.

Others to watch:

Tyler Wilson Arkansas

Mike Glennon North Carolina State

Zac Dysert Miami (OH)