Ranking the Senior Bowl QBs

It all starts with the quarterback. It is the cornerstone of the franchise.

That is what NFL teams continue to say. But for whatever reason, many of those teams continue to hit and miss when judging that position.

Quarterback is probably the hardest position to break down because there’s so much to cover. Scouts and personnel executives must keep track of so many things — footwork, release point, follow through, accuracy, arm strength, field vision and pocket presence. And that list doesn’t include intangibles such as leadership skills and being able to read a defense.

Taking all of those points into consideration, here’s a look at how the six 2011 Senior Bowl quarterbacks have done this week in practice and in which rounds I see them going in this year’s NFL draft.

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

What I liked: Kaepernick was terrific from the start of Monday’s practice and he really didn’t let up. He was quite accurate on most of his passes up to 30 yards. And his touch was terrific. He throws with very good timing and anticipation for such a young signal caller. I also liked that he was willing to throw the ball into tighter areas. That’s something most young quarterbacks won’t try to do. And his athleticism is outstanding. He’s clearly the best quarterback out of the six and it’s not even close. If he has a great performance during February’s NFL Combine, it’s not out of the question that Kaepernick goes in the first round.

What needs improvement: There is one small issue. He has a slightly long release point, which causes his passes to be a little late every now and then. That’s something that can be adjusted by his quarterback coach in the NFL.

Round projection: Second.

Andy Dalton, TCU

What I liked: You can see how he had complete control of his surroundings despite having to learn an offense which is quite different from the one he commanded at TCU. That’s a very good sign that he’s a quick learner and is coachable. Dalton is a true rhythm passer. Once he gets it going, he’s capable of hitting several passes in a row, even under duress. He demonstrated that during the second half of the Monday practice.

What needs improvement: Dalton does not have a strong, elite arm. But when he steps into his throws and gets power from his back foot, Dalton is capable of getting the passes there on time. He just needs to be more consistent in this area. This is something that is easily correctable.

Round projection: Third.

Jake Locker, Washington

What I liked: You can clearly see his outstanding athleticism. Locker, like many of the quarterbacks here this week, throws fairly well on the run. He is better passing outside of the pocket. He also has pretty good arm strength.

What needs improvement: His release point is going to need to be adjusted in the NFL. Locker rarely made two solid or accurate throws in a row, which is a troubling sign. Too many of his passes sailed high or away from his intended receiver. The ball simply does not come out of his throwing hand well — which is alarming.

Round projection: Third.

Christian Ponder, Florida State

What I liked: When I scout quarterbacks here, I tend to ignore what others say and just judge the player on his practice performances through the week. Ponder had lots of injury issues coming into Mobile, but if you just base everything on what he did here, you’d have to be optimistic for his future. He has pretty solid arm strength and throws particularly well on the run. I also liked his pass placement for the most part. You can see he has an idea where he wants to go with the football at most times. That’s a pretty good trait for such a young quarterback. He showed a lot of potential this week, and considering his injury history, he’s probably well ahead of where many personnel evaluators thought he would be at this point.

What needs improvement: At times, Ponder became too much of an arm thrower instead of getting his body into his passes. He was very inaccurate on several deep passes because he did not always get his shoulders squared up. Also, some of his passes to wide-open receivers sailed a bit.

Round projection: Third.

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa

What I liked: Stanzi has the ideal size (6-4, 220) that scouts are looking for in a quarterback. He clearly has better-than-average arm strength. When he sets his feet and gets his body or torque into his passes, he’s fairly accurate. Stanzi leaves you always wanting more, which is not such a bad thing.

What needs improvement: Stanzi has inconsistent passing mechanics, which need to be fixed. He needs to get with a good quarterback coach who can break down his mechanics. Once he is able to set his feet properly and consistently step into his throws, Stanzi will have a chance to become a factor in the future. He has potential.

Round projection: Fourth/fifth.

Greg McElroy, Alabama

What I liked: After getting off to a slow start, McElroy showed improvement as the week progressed. He did a nice job of throwing on the run. He was particularly accurate on shorter throws. You can really tell that he’s a quick learner, because he seemed to have a good idea where his intended targets were on the field. That’s not easy to do when you have to learn a new offense in just a few days.

What needs improvement: He simply is unable to drive the ball downfield past 20 yards or so. And because of that, McElroy will be passed over in the draft by teams that use a vertical approach in their passing game. He will need to go with a team that runs a West Coast offense.

Round projection: Sixth/seventh.