One of the story lines for this year’s NFL draft is that there isn’t an elite quarterback prospect. Last year there were two can’t-miss QBs in Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Ryan Tannehill also went in the top 10.
Although there are a handful of promising prospects, the consensus is no quarterback has distinguished themselves to be the first off the board.
Many believe the top player is West Virginia’s Geno Smith, others believe Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson heads the list, while still others believe Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib will be the first signal-caller taken.
Nassib believes he is tops among his peers.
“Absolutely,” he said at the NFL Combine in February in Indianapolis. “If you’re a really competitive person, you’re going to come out here and you’re always going to feel like you’re the best. You have to think that way if you want to be successful.”
A three-year starter for the Orange, the 6-foot-2-inch, 227-pound Nassib has good size, though he’s a couple of inches shorter than the current prototype.
He was 21-17, including 2-0 in bowl games, and led Syracuse to an 8-5 mark in 2010, his first year as starter, the first winning record for the program since 2001. Syracuse was 5-7 in 2011 and 8-5 in 2012.
Nassib was 3-0 head-to-head vs. Smith.
His numbers aren’t overly impressive — he completed 60.3 percent of his passes with 70 touchdowns and 28 interceptions — but his experience will come in handy, as will his field smarts.
“Being able to start for three years, playing for four, I’ve experienced a lot of things. I’ve been in multiple systems, multiple styles, I’ve learned a lot of football,” Nassib said. “Football is my passion. I enjoy learning it. It’s my favorite subject in school. It’s just something that stuck with me. Football language is something I enjoy doing. When it comes to the interview process, hopefully I can show off I know quite a bit.”
Among those who believe in the Philadelphia-area native (he spent his early days in football watching local stars Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub) is former Raiders and Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden.
“If you need a quarterback and you need one of these players that are going to come in and start, you’re going to take the man that you think has the most versatile skill-set,” said Gruden, now an ESPN analyst. “You’re going to need to be able to adapt your offense to that quarterback. That’s why I like Nassib.
“I think he can run just about any play that you can think of, whether it be an option, a full-field progression,’’ Gruden continued. “You want to move the pocket, throw the quick game under center or in the shotgun or you want to go no huddle, you want to come up with 10 or 12 new plays this week, I think he can handle it. I think he’s proven he can handle it. I do think there are some other quarterbacks that will develop, but I don’t think they’re as ready as Ryan Nassib is because of his pedigree at Syracuse.”
That was just a fraction of the excitable Gruden’s reasoning on why he believes Nassib is NFL-ready.
His opinion is shared by Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who would take Nassib over Smith.
“I think he’s a much more precise intermediate thrower [than Smith], I think the ball comes out with a little bit better velocity at the intermediate level and I think he’s a little more accurate and I like his footwork a little bit better,” Cosell said. “You start to split hairs, but . . . no one here is at the Luck, RGIII level, maybe not even the Tannehill level. But at the end of the day, Nassib, at this point, is the guy I like most.”
Others, however, look at film and question Nassib’s touch and accuracy, qualities not easily taught.
But Gruden’s coaching days are behind him, and as respected as Cosell is, he’s not calling the shots for an NFL team.
Nassib may have a sure-fire suitor, however. Former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is now the head coach in Buffalo. The Bills need a QB and Marrone will install his own system, which has elements of the read-option that’s growing in popularity in the league.
Nassib could fill that need and knows what the coach is looking for.
Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix is on the record as saying quarterback is a draft priority, and it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that a Nassib-Marrone reunion will happen.
Marrone downplayed his relationship with Nassib and the other Syracuse players in the draft when asked about his former QB.
“Obviously, I do have a little bit more insight into them. I’m just going to say that they’re great kids and whatever you see on the field, that’s what you’re going to get,” he said. “Other than that, I’m not going to lie to you here today. I think it’s information that is an advantage for us, the Buffalo Bills, as an organization.”
It may be a reach for the Bills to take Nassib with the eighth overall pick, with other needs and stronger players at other positions, but their second-round pick is at 41.
“I think it would be big,” Gruden said of Nassib going to Buffalo. “I think it would be huge, without a doubt. I think Tannehill last year going to the Miami Dolphins, a lot of people didn’t think he was going to go as high as he did, but Mike Sherman, his former coach at Texas A&M went to the Dolphins as offensive coordinator, and that had a lot to do with Tannehill bursting on the scene like he did.
“I’m not saying that’s going to happen for sure with Nassib. But system familiarity is a huge tool with any quarterback, certainly with a young quarterback. So if Buffalo could get Nassib, I think it would be great for both sides.”
The Bills’ staff was in Syracuse within the last week for a private workout with Nassib and other players, a reunion of sorts, but one that was more about business than reminiscing.
In a week or so, Nassib and Marrone could be together again, perhaps this time for the long haul and as key pieces hoping to turn around a Bills franchise that has long been looking for success and stability.