Everyone needs their pinatas. Dan Shaughnessy has Theo Epstein. Dick Vitale has his imaginary Duke critics. John Kerry has the Democratic Party. (G-d, I wish he would go away.) And I have the "Gang of Six." Anyway, to continue piling dirt on a grave that was dug when Boise State visited Athens, here's a remark from an NFL scout in Chris Mortensen's article arguing that Jay Cutler should be the first quarterback taken in the Draft ($):
"It can't be fun playing quarterback in the SEC," the scout said. "I mean, most of the teams are five and six deep at cornerback -- it's not even close when you compare it to the Pac-10. The speed on defense across the SEC is ridiculous. The defensive coordinators, well, some of them should be coaching in the NFL. Some of them have, in fact. Playing quarterback in the SEC is a task. Playing it well every week is a bigger task."
Now, to play Devil's Advocate for the "Gang of Six" propagandists, they could point out that there are six Pac Ten QBs starting in the NFL, as compared to three SEC QBs and that's certainly a valid point. On the other hand, two of those six quarterbacks - Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington - are the two most vilified quarterbacks in the NFL by their own fan bases. Additionally, Mark Brunell is well past his sell-by date and is keeping his position warm for Jason Campbell, a product of the SEC. NFL depth charts do support the scout's statement that SEC teams have better corners than Pac Ten teams, as there are 15 starting corners in the NFL from SEC schools, as opposed to eight from Pac Ten schools. It's truly remarkable that the SEC produces so many good corners when they're only trained against Pop Warner offenses that make Woody Hayes' Ohio State offense seem complicated by comparison.
In the Cutler/Leinart/Young debate, Cutler probably is a better prospect than Vince Young. Texas runs the modern version of a college option offense. No NFL team has implemented a run-based spread offense based off of the zone read play, probably for the same reasons that the option hasn't been run in the NFL: the defenses are too smart and fast to be bamboozled by that offense, plus a quarterback will not be able to survive a whole season taking hits from NFL defenders in practice and in games. Thus, Young won't be in the best offense for him and it's anyone's guess as to whether he has the throwing skills to master an NFL offense. He didn't have to make that many hard throws at Texas because defenses were so paralyzed by the run threat. Does he have the accuracy and arm strength to make those throws in the NFL? I'm skeptical.
Cutler/Leinart is a closer call. Leinart has been as very productive quarterback throughout his college career. Yes, he has been surrounded by a lot of talent, but it's important to remember that he won the Heisman in a year in which USC had to replace their offensive line and receiver corps. He's very accurate and has enough arm strength to get the ball down the field. He seems like a Chad Pennington with more velocity. He seems very likely to succeed on the next level. Cutler is interesting. His stats weren't overwhelming this year. 6.65 yards per attempt is nothing special. Sure, he doesn't have much talent around him, certainly relative to Vandy's opponents, but Tim Couch put up huge numbers with less talent than his opponents (and look where all that production got him,) albeit in a different offense. I'm going on a gut feel, but I never got the sense that I was watching a great quarterback when I was watching Cutler. He wouldn't be a bad first round pick, but I don't see him as a top five guy, certainly not in a loaded draft.