Heading into next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, many teams will be looking for their next franchise quarterback, one that could potentially step in immediately like the Ravens' own Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons.
According to Mel Kiper, Jr., and Mike Mayock, two of the foremost draft gurus in the business, finding that rare gem won't be as easy this year.
Sure, Flacco and Ryan may have exceeded expectations with their standout seasons.
Ryan, a Boston College product, was named the NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year for completely turning around his franchise's fortunes and earning a playoff berth with his steady leadership and accurate arm. Flacco, who finished the Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year by a fan vote, had similar success, even advancing all the way to the AFC Championship.
But they were both tenured seniors on their collegiate squads and came out with more seasoning than Georgia's Matthew Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez, both of whom are entering the Combine as juniors.
"They both came out as underclassmen and that's dangerous,'' Kiper, ESPN's top draft analyst, said in a conference call. "Everybody knows the more experience you get in college, the better you are."
Seeing how Flacco and Ryan both performed in 2008 could cloud the way Stafford and Sanchez, regarded as the only two first-round locks in April's NFL Draft, are viewed, especially considering the weight of the position they play.
"The potential franchise quarterback is the most important position on your team," Mayock said. "If I'm building a franchise, the first thing I'm going to do is [investigate] the quarterback position. This year, the guys you better evaluate are Stafford and Sanchez."
Which is exactly what the Ravens did while pinpointing Flacco. Even though he came from the unheralded Division I-AA University of Delaware, Baltimore sent a team of coaches and scouts to hold private workouts with the promising 6-foot-6, 230-pounder.
After those intense sessions, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson both came away incredibly impressed.
So impressed, in fact, that the Ravens dropped back from their original No. 8 spot to 26, and then back up to 18, where they eventually selected Flacco.
Part of that had to do with his tremendous arm strength, size and athletic ability, but it was also because of the maturity that comes with extended experience under center, something neither Stafford nor Sanchez have.
Stafford started 33 games as a Bulldog before declaring an early exit, while Sanchez only has 16 starts on his Trojan resume.
"My concern with the underclassmen this year with Sanchez in particular was 16 starts," said Mayock. "He can make every throw and I'm totally impressed with his arm strength, athletic ability, and toughness. Is he a talent that is starting quarterback worthy? Absolutely.
"My problem with he and Stafford is I don't think they'll be ready in the immediate future," Mayock continued. "I think 13 or 14 more starts would have helped Mark become a better quarterback. His pocket awareness and presence, that I would question for him and Stafford. It's whether they can stand in an NFL pocket and keep their eyes downfield and make NFL throws and get rid of the football on time.
"I look at Ryan and Flacco and they are amazing talents, but they also had an emotional maturity and toughness about them. For Sanchez and Stafford, I think they're a bit of a project because they need more time."
While it was nearly impossible to correctly predict how much of an impact Flacco and Ryan would have on their respective teams, there was more of a consensus built through an extra year in college.
Stafford and Sanchez will spend the next few months trying to prove they can be the types of game-changers their first-round predecessors were. That begins at the Combine.