Projecting the top QBs in the draft

Geno Smith had an inconsistent season at West Virginia this past season. Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports

Even before the quarterback class of 2012 ever took the field, most NFL observers knew it was going to be one of the better ones in recent years. Scouts generally listed Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III as the best quarterback prospects since at least 2004, and maybe since Peyton Manning back in 1998. And when we at Football Outsiders applied our statistical formula, the Lewin Career Forecast, it came out in total agreement with the scouts: Luck ranked as one of the top 10 quarterback prospects since 1998, and Griffin topped Philip Rivers for the best-ever projection using the LCF system.

Or at least he would have, except for one player who had an even higher projection than Griffin: Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.

The idea of Wilson as one of the strongest prospects ever seemed ridiculous at the time. We dubbed Wilson "The Asterisk" and tried to explain why his projection might be incorrect. The system is only meant to be used on players chosen in the first two days of the draft, and most people didn't think Wilson was going until the third day. We thought the system overrated his senior improvement because he had transferred from NC State to Wisconsin. And LCF couldn't account for his height because no quarterback under six feet had ever been drafted in the first three rounds.

Seattle then drafted The Asterisk in the third round, and he led the Seahawks to the playoffs with a Total QBR of 69.6, roughly the same as Griffin's and higher than Luck's. The moral of the story: Use common sense when analyzing a statistical projection system that doesn't incorporate everything scouts can learn from watching film. But unexpected numbers might be telling you something.

That's an important lesson when looking at the 2013 draft class because the LCF likes this class a lot more than the scouts do. This year's top prospects rank among the highest we've ever tracked, even though none is seen right now as a first-round talent. Will players such as Geno Smith and Matt Barkley rank with Colt McCoy and Brady Quinn as the LCF's biggest failures? Or will one of these players surprise the way Wilson did?