Expectations are that the Ravens will take a late-round flier on a quarterback in next week's NFL draft. If they do, it'll be for a player who has passed all their reference points — just as with any other position.
What does Eric DeCosta, the team's director of player personnel, want in a third-day quarterback?
"It's a guy that plays well on tape, first of all," DeCosta said. "Our coaches and scouts have looked at these guys. Intelligence is important at that position, and accuracy is important. Experience, production, character … a whole bunch of different things, just like with every other position."
In a draft with more variables than in recent years — such as delayed free agency, a proposed rookie salary cap and no player trades — the Ravens need to use their nine picks prudently. Because they don't yet know whether free-agent quarterback Marc Bulger will return to the team in 2011, the backup to Joe Flacco right now would be Hunter Cantwell, who spent last season on the practice squad.
As usual, the Ravens will look for a value pick, a player who for one reason or another falls deeper in the draft than expected.
The man responsible for investigating the 2011 quarterback class is Craig Ver Steeg, who was an offensive coordinator in previous stops at Rutgers and Utah before joining the Ravens in 2008.
"We've ranked all these quarterbacks in value," DeCosta said. "Craig Ver Steeg has done a great job looking at all of these guys. We've got a good quarterback board, and if there's a good player at some point in the draft available, we could turn the card in.
"I don't know how many years we've drafted quarterbacks, but I think you can never have enough good quarterbacks on the team."
Aside from grabbing Flacco (2008) and Kyle Boller (2003) in the first round, the Ravens have mostly dabbled in late picks at quarterback. The best was Derek Anderson (sixth round, 2005), who made the Pro Bowl in Cleveland. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith was a fifth-rounder in 2007, Jon Harris a sixth-rounder in 2004 and Jon Stark (1996), Wally Richardson (1997) and Wes Pate (2002) all were seventh-round choices.
Anderson and Smith were the only players who ever won a game for the Ravens.
Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting, said their chances of taking a quarterback late depend on whether there's a run on the position early.
"We talk about corners," Hortiz said, "and they all seem to go higher than you think they'll go. Sometimes that happens to quarterbacks, other times it doesn't. Obviously, it didn't happen to Tom Brady. No one thought that much of him, apparently."
Websites are projecting anywhere from two to seven quarterbacks going in the first round next week. Seven?
"That would shock me," Hortiz said.
Cam Newton (Auburn) and Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) will go early in the first round. Colin Kaepernick (Nevada) has been shooting up draft boards of late. Christian Ponder (Florida State), Jake Locker (Washington), Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Andy Dalton (Texas Christian) have been mentioned as possible first-round picks, albeit with second-round grades.
That likely leaves the Ravens with a short group of third-tier prospects, including Ricky Stanzi (Iowa), Greg McElroy (Alabama) and Nathan Enderle (Idaho), unless one of the above drops precipitously.
Stanzi has been working on his mechanics with former Brady mentor Tom Martinez in California, trying to quicken his release.
"It has to do with getting rid of the ball as fast as possible," Stanzi said at the NFL combine. "That's something you always want. And definitely accuracy, that's something that starts from the feet up. When you're trying to throw the ball accurate, you want to have a good base."
Stanzi started three years under Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, a former Ravens assistant. Ferentz has a pro-style offense that translates well to the NFL.
"The way he has his offense set up is very similar to how some other [NFL] teams do it," Stanzi said. "We're under center a lot. It's a lot of two-back sets, a tight end. … All that definitely gets you more familiar than a spread quarterback would be or someone who hasn't had that."
Ponder had offseason surgery on his elbow after struggling through a subpar senior year in Tallahassee. He is accurate, athletic and smart — all traits the Ravens admire. But it's unlikely he would fall far enough to find Baltimore.
McElroy could be a late-round steal. He played really well at Alabama in his two seasons as starter, throwing for 37 touchdowns and only nine interceptions, and won a national title. But he broke his passing hand in the Senior Bowl and didn't throw at the combine.
Playing under Nick Saban will help McElroy, too.
His strength, McElroy said, "is just my ability to prepare. I've played in the big game. … I've been successful in the big game. I've been fortunate to win at every level, I think that's a strength.
"I'm fairly accurate, fairly efficient within my offense. I do exactly as my coaches told me to do, and that's protect the ball, get it into the playmakers' hands as soon as possible; get us in the correct run play, pass play."
These are some of the quarterbacks the Ravens might look at in the later rounds of the draft:
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa (6-4, 221)
Projection: Fourth round
Of note: 30 interceptions in last three years.
Synposis: Good athlete, good arm, but limited production.
Greg McElroy, Alabama (6-2, 219)
Projection: Fourth or fifth round
Of note: Completed 70.9 percent of passes as a senior, 60.9 as a junior.
Synopsis: Lots of intangibles; could make excellent career backup.
Nathan Enderle, Idaho (6-4, 235)
Projection: Sixth round
Of note: Threw 16 interceptions in new offense as a senior.
Synopsis: Strong arm but stares down receivers.
T.J. Yates, North Carolina (6-3, 221)
Projection: Seventh round
Of note: Threw 1,277 passes in four years, but only 58 for touchdowns.
Synopsis: Inconsistent college career makes him a borderline project.
Adam Weber, Minnesota (6-1, 221)
Projection: Seventh round
Of note: Passed for 10,917 yards in four years as starter.
Synopsis: Made bad decisions and has accuracy issues.