Top Three Quarterback Candidates and One Possible Sleeper

By Bill Walsh

PSX Draft Insider Special



Even without Tennessee's Peyton Manning, the 1997 NFL draft has three can't-miss quarterbacks and one sleeper who has the potential to develop into something special.

I am extremely interested to see how teams perceive these quarterbacks, because I personally believe at least one of these quarterbacks has rare abilities that could make him one of the best to play the game.

Which one? Can't say until after the draft. After all, I'm still working with the 49ers. But I will discuss the top three candidates and the one surprise, or sleeper, prospect who has interesting long-range potential.

See if you can figure out which quarterback that interests me the most.

The media, most scouts and fans seem to agree that these are the top three quarterback prospects -- First, Jim Druckenmiller of Virginia Tech. Then pick either Jake Plummer of Arizona State or Pat Barnes of California.

I agree these are the top three. A little farther down the line is the player I believe has potential to develop -- Chuck Clements of Houston.

Let's take a closer look at each of these prospects, in the order most people list them.



He has good size, about 6-5, 235, and a strong arm. He has such great potential and athletic ability, a la Drew Bledsoe, that he is a can't-miss.

Although the college program in which he played isn't quite as strong as some of the others, his physical attributes cannot be denied. He moves well for his size. There is certainly no doubt about his arm strength.

He throws extremely well down the field, with a combination of strength and the type of accuracy and touch that helps receivers stay in stride, and when the ball arrives it is relatively easy to catch. He is a take-charge type of guy you want to be your leader at quarterback. In terms of throwing and leadership ability, he has been compared to Jim Kelly, who is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks ever to play the game.

Although statistics can often be misleading, I'm sure most people want to know them anyway. So here are Druckenmiller's numbers from Virginia Tech.

Career passing (including Bowl games) -- 657 passes, 353 completions (53.73 pct.), 4,959 yards (14.05 yards per completion), 39 touchdowns, 19 interceptions.

Senior year -- 250 passes, 142 completions (56.8 pct.), 2,070 yards (14.58 yards per completion), 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions.


PAT BARNES, Cal-Berkeley.

Another can't-miss guy with superb skills and instincts. He is about 6-3, 212 and his arm is very good. Not as strong as Druckenmiller, but that is sometimes overrated by those evaluating players for the NFL.

He has good touch on short and medium passes and throws a very good deep ball. He does move around fairly well so he can avoid the pass rush to some degree.

Barnes had the advantage of playing in an excellent system at Cal under coach Steve Mariucci and it shows. If he continues to be handled properly in the pros, he could step in as a starter rather quickly, within a year or two. But there is no doubt that many of his techniques already reflect excellent coaching.

During his last two seasons at Cal he was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation. As a junior had a streak of 132 passes without an interception, and as a senior he had a streak of 150 passes without being picked off. I like quarterbacks who avoid interceptions. That's a good sign he can keep the chains moving -- in the right direction.

Here are his stats:

Career passing -- 912 passes, 522 completions (57.24 pct.), 7,047 yards (13.50 yards per completion), 51 touchdowns, 26 interceptions.

Senior year -- 420 passes, 250 completions (59.52 pct.), 3,499 yards (14 yards per completion), 31 touchdowns, 8 interceptions.


JAKE PLUMMER, Arizona State.

Unlike the Druckenmiller and Barnes, Plummer is what most scouts would consider slightly undersized at about 6-2, 190,and it would appear that he does not have quite as much arm strength.

On the other hand, he is quicker and has more agility and uses it well to find ways to make good things happen. In that regard, he already is very good at reading defenses and making quick decisions. Much of this is from studying a great deal, but a lot of it is instinctive.

I am particularly impressed with his ability to remain composed and focused in clutch situations or when a play seems to break down. Intensively competitive, but in control. He has obviously been well-coached in the mechanics of the position and has a quick release with no wasted motion.

As far as leadership, he is a charismatic leader and players respond to him.

Here are his stats:

Career passing -- 1,107 passes, 613 completions (55.37 pct.), 8,626 yards (14.07 per completion), 64 touchdowns, 34 interceptions.

Senior season -- 313 passes, 179 completions (57.19 pct), 2,575 yards (14.30 per completion), 23 touchdowns, 9 interceptions.


Now for my longshot. At Houston, Chuck Clements began to show top skills as a senior. I'm sure to a large degree this reflected the input of former NFL assistant coach Kim Helton.

Don't get me wrong, Clements still has some bad habits because of the style of football he played in college. I like his release. He throws a tight spiral. He's active. He's had certainly a lot of experience throwing the ball and in his senior season he threw 21 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and completed better than 63 percent of his passes.

With good coaching and a lot of attention to detail I believe that he has shown the potential to become a surprisingly good NFL quarterback. And somebody might find him as steal in the late rounds, or maybe even as a free agent.


Also see:

How Bill Walsh Evaluates Quarterbacks

This Year's Quarterback Prospects