How does 2012 look for teams that miss out on the golden arm this year?

The first day of the draft day isn’t the time for gambling, and especially not during the fickle game of selecting a franchise quarterback. If even the slightest doubt in a players’ ability comes to fruition, a massive debt could be accumulated.

While the player is off sipping his purple drank, the organization is left to dig out of a hole for several years. For all of his other-worldly potential, we’ve seen these doubts cast over Cam Newton this year given his single season at Auburn, and his heavy reliance on his legs.

Newton has been ranked as high as the first overall pick–indeed, the Panthers have strongly hinted at their intention to swiftly end the Jimmy Clausen era–and as low as 21st. Meanwhile, Jake Locker is projected for late in the first round or early in the second but will need some time to develop, making Blaine Gabbert perhaps the only quarterback forecasted for the first round with few lingering questions.

The risk involved in drafting a first round quarterback comes from more than just the player in question, with the talent to be had in the later rounds also factoring heavily. Typically there are two-to-three quarterbacks taken in the first round, and 12 have been selected over the past five years. But currently 15 teams list a quarterback atop their depth chart who waited until the second round or later to hear his name called. That list includes two infamous hidden gems: Tony Romo (undrafted), and Tom Brady (sixth round).

All of that negativity leads to some warm and happy thoughts (maybe). With no clear No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, and no sure-fire golden arm on par with recent first round quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford, maybe waiting until next year for that franchise QB is the better option.

Or maybe not.

Here’s a look at the pivots likely to crack the top five of their position one year from now when we do this all over again. Surely none of this will change over the next 365+ days.

Next week, we’ll preview the linebackers for 2014.

The list: the top five 2012 draft eligible quarterbacks

*= Junior following the 2011 season who may not declare for the NFL draft

5. Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)

2010 stats: 2,825 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 66.9

Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor nearly brought up the rear, but his heavy reliance on legs and athleticism could make him 2012′s version of Newton, just with a far inferior arm. Pryor had 754 rushing yards in 2010, and while he improved as a passer this past season, Mocking the Draft observes that his footwork is still shaky, and he isn’t in an offence that requires multiple reads.

Cousins doesn’t possess Pryor’s flare, but he’s shown the accuracy and vision required of an effective pocket passer. However, his meltdowns in the spotlight against Iowa and Alabama this season are concerning.

4. Ryan Lindley (San Diego State)

2010 stats: 3,830 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 INT, 57.7 completion percentage

This rank may be a tad aggressive, but it reflects the likely ceiling for Lindley’s development.

With Landry Jones, Matt Barkley, and Andrew Luck heavily projected to be the first three quarterbacks selected in 2012, Lindley’s accuracy problems make him a wildcard, which is why he chose to return to San Diego State for his senior year. Draft prognosticators around the Interwebs have widespread estimates for Lindley’s landing spot in the 2012 QB rankings, going anywhere from second to sixth.

3. Landry Jones (Oklahoma)*

2010 stats: 4,718 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, 12 INT, 65.6 completion percentage

Jones filled in for Bradford two years ago when an injury ended his season prematurely, so he has more experience than the average junior who sat behind a former Heisman winner. Unlike Barkley, there’s more question surrounding Jones’ willingness to bolt early.

But if he continues to post these monstrous passing numbers during his second full season as the Sooners’ starter, Jones could easily challenge Barkley to be the second overall QB in 2012, and then be faced with a decision to stay or go similar Luck’s recent dilemma.

And you thought college was all keg stands and cheap beer…

2. Matt Barkley (USC)*

2010 stats: 2,791 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 INT, 62.6 completion percentage

Look at those numbers, and then consider that Barkley is playing for a struggling Trojans team that was firmly knocked on the canvas by NCAA sanctions as the Lane Kiffin era began. That takes character, and in this age of droopy pants, paying to play, and stolen computers, character carries significant value.

Boosting Barkley’s stock further is his status as a starter since his freshman year, broadening his experience through USC’s pro-style offence.

1. Andrew Luck (Stanford)

2010 stats: 3,338 yards, 32 touchdowns, 8 INT, 70.7 completion percentage

Any noble, reasonable person values education and the college experience, but not enough to potentially leave a pot of gold on the draft table. But that’s what Luck did when he chose to return for his senior year, an approach that backfired severely for Locker.

Luck would have been that no doubt, blue chip first overall pick this draft lacks. Barring a colossal collapse, staying on campus should work fine for Luck next spring, just as it did for Bradford last year. But it still wasn’t a risk worth taking.

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