Countdown to the combine: More Kiper Jr.

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The NFL Scouting Combine begins next Thursday in Indianapolis as teams ramp up their preparations for the draft and free agency. The combine is the breeding ground for many free-agent deals. Agents informally shop around with clubs, who are informally doing window shopping, and the parameters for most big deals are hammered out well before free agency opens.

But more on free agency in the coming days. For now, we’ll dive into more of Mel Kiper Jr.’s teleconference from Wednesday with more thoughts on quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez and where they might fall in the draft.

On Stafford and Sanchez:

“You look at Stafford with the big arm. He’s got the great arm. You can put him in the same class with any of the others that have come out. I’m not going to say anybody has a John Elway or Bert Jones arm. Their arm was in a class all by itself. [Jay] Cutler’s arm isn’t as strong as Elway’s or Bert Jones, and Stafford is in the Cutler mold. He’s inconsistent like Cutler was at Vanderbilt and still is with the Denver Broncos. The inconsistency sometimes doesn’t leave you. It was there with Cutler and is still there. ….Stafford had it at Georgia and if he still has that inconsistency in the NFL he’ll be an up-and-down quarterback. People will be raving about him one week and criticizing him the next. Stafford has great upside. … Inconsistency reigns supreme with some quarterbacks and that’s something he’s going to have to prove otherwise.

“Sanchez only played and started one year plus, 15 or 16 games. He had the knee injury when the season began and played with that brace. He had a whole new supporting cast, so he had a lot of things going against him early on, but he really played well late. He had a great game against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. He’s got skills. He doesn’t have the Stafford arm, but he throws very accurately on the move. He’s a tremendously passionate football player. Loves the study of the game, has great work ethic, very diligent to the studying of the game and putting in the time.

“Stafford’s not quite as instinctive as Sanchez, but Sanchez doesn’t have the arm that Stafford does. Both have qualities that you like and they have something that bothers you a bit. Someone is going to roll the dice on these quarterbacks, whether it’s the Lions at No. 1, Kansas City at No. 3 or San Francisco at No. 10. And the Jets might be looking at a quarterback unless they like Brett Ratliff enough. In terms of Stafford and Sanchez, they are going to have high grades. Hopefully both of them turn out to be good quarterbacks. Both are going to end up going to teams that aren’t very good probably and be asked to be very good early in their career. Can they handle it? We will see.”

On the Jets’ options following Brett Favre’s retirement:

“In terms of the quarterback position, the guy that they really liked internally is Brett Ratliff. … He was an undrafted kid out of Utah, good size, very good arm and looked very good in the pre-season situations last year. Here is a kid that may be ahead of the game, maybe even ahead of Kellen Clemens, who was a former second round pick. I’d say Brett Ratliff is a guy off the radar nationally that I know they have high hopes for. … He could be that diamond in the rough.”

On the trend of drafting left tackles:

“It’s a great class. It’s not as good as last year in terms of depth. …This year there are three, Andre Smith from Alabama, Jason Smith from Baylor and then Eugene Monroe from Virginia. All three I would think would be off the board by the 10th pick or maybe even off the board by eight.”

On how Kiper rates players:

“I rate players from their junior year through their senior year, or a third-year sophomore on if they come out. You’re rating kids not just based on one year. You’re basing it on two years at least. These grades I have right now are not going to jump that dramatically. If you know where a kid is ranked before the Combine and you have rankings on all these kids, yeah, you’ll move them up some and you’ll drop some kids some, but it’s not going to be significant because the rating is based on how they played. The Combine is based on how a kid works out. Now if a kid’s not within a certain range, his stock is dropping. Because I don’t care what he did in college, this is the NFL. If his numbers are not close to the numbers that you need, or the range that you need, his stock is going to drop.”

On the process of assessing players’ abilities, using the combine vs. game performance:

“What I would suggest is to embrace the process and don’t fight it. You’re going through it one time in your life. You’re going to deal with it, why? Because the numbers have to correlate from year to year. You have to compare and contrast players and that’s what you’re doing. The drills can’t change. All the numbers you’re looking for can’t be adaptable to a different scenario. I like to look back and see what a kid did in 1982 as opposed to 2009. If you have numbers that are different because they changed a certain drill then it’s not applicable.”

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