How Much of a Dying Breed is Matthew Stafford?

Georgia's Matthew Stafford is the consensus best quarterback in the 2009 NFL draft. He's tall, has a big arm, and played in an offense in college that mirrors many pro schemes.

He's also a junior coming in early, and if you look at the list of early entrants taken in the first round since 1990, you'll see that his non-senior status makes him a risk. The only unequivocal success of the bunch is Ben Roethlisberger, though Drew Bledsoe had a nice career and Trent Dilfer managed to ride a historic defense to a Super Bowl win.

Even so, Stafford is in much better shape than the other guys who are projected to go in round one. He started for almost three full seasons, which gives the scouts plenty to look at, and he had a fine junior year despite the offensive line injury hell that surrounded him.

Mark Sanchez had one good year, but that's hardly enough to make anyone feel all that comfortable. He did better than John David Booty did, but Sanchez was ordinary in fill-in duty in 2007 and his head coach (a former NFL guy) said he was making a mistake.

The No. 3 guy is Josh Freeman, who is basically JaMarcus Russell only even more turnover prone. Russell at least appeared to have his head screwed on straight most of the time, which is more than anyone can say of Freeman.

In short, this is not a great year for drafting quarterbacks. The fourth guy on Mel Kiper's list is Stephen McGee of Texas A&M, a thrower who got turned into an option quarterback under Dennis Franchione and lost his job last year under pro style guy Mike Sherman.

Purdue's Curtis Painter is also in many people's top ten, and he lost his job at one point last year too. The No. 6 guy according to College Football News is Pat White, who no one thinks will even be a pro quarterback.

Next year's draft is looking even worse from the "pro style" quarterback perspective. All of Kiper's top five for next year come from spread schemes. The first and fifth guys (Sam Bradford and Cincy's Tony Pike) don't run much, but two through four (Dan LeFevour, Colt McCoy, and Tim Tebow) do. LeFevour rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2007, McCoy led the Longhorns in rushing in 2008, and Tebow's running skill is well documented everywhere.

Granted at this time last year a lot of people thought Todd Boekman was going to be a pick in the first three rounds (not me, for the record), so it's not like today's predictions matter that much.

Even so, there are fewer and fewer "pro style" quarterbacks coming from the major college programs. The cream of the crop this year is three juniors, and one has gigantic red flags and another only started for one season. Starting in the 2010 draft, it's mostly going to be spread offense quarterbacks.

The big armed, statuesque quarterback is never going to go away. The SEC has one eligible for the 2010 draft in Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, though I'd be surprised if he left that early. Tim Tebow's successor John Brantley fits the prototypical NFL quarterback mold as well.

But with more and more shotgun spread quarterbacks heading for the pros in the coming years, it would make sense for teams to look into incorporating more and more spread elements.

The most famous pro spread team was the 18-1 New England team from two seasons ago. Both Super Bowl teams, Pittsburgh and Arizona, have run quite a bit of shotgun spread lately too, for instance. We even saw the spread creep in last year the same way it did in college (as an equalizer for an under-talented team) with Kansas City and Tyler Thigpen.

A true zone read spread option offense almost certainly will never be run in the NFL. Too much money is invested in quarterbacks to have them take that many hits. However, spreading the field has proven to be profitable to teams that have the receivers to do it. Plus, Florida has shown at times over the past three years how to run a spread offense with a tight end and fullback, two things that every pro team has.

Should the spread catch on some more in the NFL, it will certainly mean good things for spread quarterbacks in the draft. They'll probably not be all that successful if teams try to shoehorn them into a system they're not used to running too early. However, it stands to reason that a spread quarterback would do well in a professional spread offense.

Until and unless that happens, we’ll have to take the spread quarterbacks on a case-by-case basis. It’s what people already do with pro style quarterbacks, as no one doubts Matthew Stafford based on the NFL play of David Greene, Chris Weinke, Thad Busby, and other quarterbacks groomed by Mark Richt.

In the meantime, let’s all just relax and enjoy one of the most entertaining offensive schemes to come down the pipe. And, lest we all forget,  defense wins championships.

Here's the final question to leave you with. If the pro teams can't be patient with quarterbacks and develop them properly to become what they want them to become, is that the fault of the colleges or those NFL teams?

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