INDIANAPOLIS -- The stark difference between the star-studded 2006 NFL draft class and this year's group of college talent can probably best be viewed through the prism of the game's most important position.
A year ago, three quarterbacks were seen as potential franchise-savers and, surprisingly, all three - the Tennessee Titans' Vince Young, the Arizona Cardinals' Matt Leinart and the Denver Broncos' Jay Cutler - ended their rookie seasons as starters.
This year, the early favorite as the top quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, was designated so mainly on the strength of his Sugar Bowl game, in which he led LSU's 41-14 rout of Notre Dame, completing 21-of-34 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns.
Russell's counterpart in that game had the exact opposite experience. The Irish's Brady Quinn might have tarnished a sterling body of work as a college passer when he laid a 15-for-35 egg, throwing two interceptions along the way.
And neither might inspire the same level of confidence among NFL personnel people that the three top signal-callers from a year ago did.
Yesterday at the NFL scouting combine, Russell, who is coming out of college a year early, was laid-back and grateful to be considered a potential No. 1 selection. Quinn oozed confidence and contended that he's the most prepared player in the draft. Neither plans to work out with the other college quarterbacks tomorrow at the RCA Dome, opting instead to do his thing for the scouts at Pro Days.
"To tell you the truth, my main thing is just getting an opportunity to go out and showcase my skills of football at the next level," said Russell, who at 6 feet 5 and 265 pounds is bigger than most linebackers. "There really won't be any disappointment because everybody doesn't get a chance to go as high as No. 1 or No. 2. I'll be more than happy, whatever position I go in."
The 6-foot-4 Quinn has the advantage of having played for two seasons under former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who is credited with helping turn Tom Brady into a near-certain Hall of Famer.
"There's not one other player that has had the coach I've had for the past two years," Quinn said when asked how he would sell himself to NFL teams. "There's not one other player who has done what I've done the past couple of years. You've seen the progress and the numbers at Notre Dame. I feel I'm the best leader for any team that needs someone to step in and do that job."
To be sure, as a senior Quinn passed for more than 3,400 yards, 37 touchdowns and just seven interceptions but saved his worst for last in the Sugar Bowl.
"I don't think one game necessarily makes a career for someone but ... in the second half [of the Sugar Bowl] we played terrible as a team, not just myself, but as a team," he said. "Of course, anytime that's how you end your last game going into the NFL, that's what people are going to harp on. That's the last memory."
Should the Ravens go quarterback shopping in the draft, neither Russell nor Quinn figures to be within reach, leaving a second tier that features players such as Stanford's Trent Edwards, Houston's Kevin Kolb, Ohio State's Troy Smith, Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Texas-El Paso's Jordan Palmer, younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals star Carson Palmer.
Heisman Trophy winner Smith, like Quinn, saw an otherwise stellar year sour at the end with a horrible finale in the national championship game against Florida when the Gators trounced the Buckeyes, 41-14. Smith, at 6 feet, is also battling the label of being too short.
Asked about being the third- or fourth-rated quarterback despite winning the Heisman, Smith said: "People who make those opinions don't really have a say-so to where we go. I'm talking about anybody. I think there are a lot of great players in college football and I think a lot of great players who play football. People who pass out the awards and the accolades, who's to say those players who get the awards are the chosen people? People's opinions don't really mean anything."