One of the developing storylines as the draft gets closer involves the quarterback class and how there isn't a far-and-away premier option in the draft. As such, we could be looking at the first NFL Draft since 2008 where a quarterback won't be taken first overall.
Monday afternoon's South team practice magnified that, but it also showed three quarterbacks with early round potential. Under the guidance of Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, Florida State's E.J. Manuel and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson rotated throughout drills in preparation for Saturday's Senior Bowl. Linehan remarked after practice that there wasn't a single fundamental issue with any of them during the practice. No botched snaps, no incorrect play calls.
"We put together an offense in two hours last night," Linehan said with a smirk. "This is a good setup because they're all coming from different systems, the terminology's brand new to all of them, so they're all on the same boat. But being able to see them adapt … these guys are obviously equipped to go to the next level."
An informal poll among NFL analysts in attendance had Wilson as the best quarterback, but it was close judging by their work Monday. Just as Wilson had a fantastic practice, he was picked off by Georgia Southern cornerback J.J. Wilcox late in 11-on-11 drills. Still, the smooth delivery and accuracy Wilson has shown in college is enough to make him stand out the most.
"I had heard a lot about him," Linehan said. "His college coordinator and I worked together, so we talked a little bit prior to [the Senior Bowl] and all the things he told me you can see here. He comes from a very good system that translates to the pro game because he basically ran a real pro-style offense. I think he'll make the transition rather quickly to whatever team he ends up with."
Where does that leave Jones and Manuel? Jones seemed more "NFL-ready" than Manuel as he also had a smooth delivery but didn't quite have the dead-on accuracy Wilson had. A team is sure to spend a Top 60 pick on him nonetheless based on his experience and fundamentals.
"He's got really good arm talent, he's an accurate passer, throws a very nice ball," Linehan said of Jones. "They called pretty much everything as a no-huddle offense from the sideline, but that's not unusual now in the pro game. As pro offenses evolve, that will help him because everybody's trying to do that up-tempo system. I told him, 'I want to see how you call our offense and our offensive plays,' and he worked extremely hard in the last 48 hours to do so. I see no issues there."
Manuel is the wild card, not just on the South roster but in this draft. He's not a polished talent by any means -- a noticeable hitch in his delivery is an example -- but it's obvious he has the build and athleticism to make NFL coaches drool. Manuel has proven his ability to work in a read-option offense, among others, and that paired with his physical traits could really help his draft resume.
"NFL teams are all going to like what they see from him because he's got the really good mix of a skill set plus he's got a great background and [played in a] really good system," Linehan said.
So how close are these quarterbacks in terms of skill set and how it relates to their draft stock? Time will tell.
"They're all in that 'very good' category," Linehan said. "We'll see, it's the first day. But they have the traits we're looking for both physically and mentally for the next level, all three of them."
More from Monday's practice:
- Several wideouts received praise during and after practice. Baylor's Terrance Williams, Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton and Georgia's Tavarres King did some good work. Williams especially gave good effort on a deep pass from Wilson and on an out pattern from Manuel. Texas A&M's Ryan Swope had some drops, including a notable one in 7-on-7 drills.
- Clemson's Andre Ellington and Florida's Mike Gillislee had their moments throughout practice as rushers and pass-catchers. Gillislee especially flashed burst throughout the session and has the size (5-11, 207) to help him find work early on Draft Day.
- It was a tale of two skills for tight ends Michael Williams (Alabama) and Vance McDonald (Rice). Williams was the dominant tight end in blocking drills but had several drops during passing drills, including one from Lions tight end coach Bobby Johnson during position drills. He also got scolded after making a catch for not tucking away the football. McDonald struggled as a blocker, drawing some coaching pointers from Johnson throughout the drill, but he did well as a receiver save for one drop.
- Seen watching from the sidelines: New Eagles coach Chip Kelly, new Bills coach Doug Marrone and Bills general manager Buddy Nix, several Saints coaches -- including Joe Vitt and Steve Spagnuolo along with their general manager, Mickey Loomis -- and Alabama coach Nick Saban. At one point, Kelly and Saban were watching practice together.