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At the NFL scouting combine last Friday night, the next generation of pro quarterbacks did 15-minute speed-dating interviews with team after team. Baylor's Robert Griffin III went from discussing his peripatetic military upbringing with Chiefs coach and fellow Army brat Romeo Crennel, to explaining the Baylor route tree to Browns president Mike Holmgren, to talking three- and five-step pass drops with Eagles coach Andy Reid. "Our route tree is almost infinite," Griffin told the Cleveland coaching and scouting party. The room fell silent.
When presumptive top overall pick Andrew Luck of Stanford chatted with the Chiefs, Crennel asked him what he liked to do away from football. "Read," Luck said, giving what was likely the first such response in combine history. General manager Scott Pioli asked him to name his favorite book. "Papillon," Luck told him, referring to the 1969 tale of a Frenchman convicted of murder and eventually sent to Devil's Island. "I like historical fiction, mostly."
"Wow," Crennel said. "You remember the movie?"
"Yeah, the one with Steve McQueen?" Luck said. "I loved that too."
Barring some miracle, the Chiefs, picking 11th, won't have the chance to choose either Luck or Griffin; the pair is likely to go one-two in the first round of the draft on April 26. But that didn't stop Pioli from dreaming after he and his staff interviewed the two prospects back-to-back. "Never mind drafting these guys," Pioli said. "I wish my daughter would marry one of 'em."
There aren't many weaknesses in Luck or Griffin. For potential megastars, this year rivals 2004, when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger came out, and 1998, the year of Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. But that's just the beginning of the 2012 quarterback story. This off-season could be the most eventful in NFL history at the position, and not just because of the depth of the rookie class, which includes not only Luck and Griffin but also Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, a converted wide receiver, and the intriguing 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, a onetime righthanded pitcher who was drafted ahead of Curtis Granderson 10 years ago.
This year is weird too, because one of the greatest passers of all time will likely be available, as will one of the most tantalizing quarterbacks in the 19-year history of free agency. Peyton Manning. Matt Flynn.
"It's the most unusual year I've seen," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "You've got good college players, potentially good free agents. You've even got a baseball player. And don't forget the big kid, [Arizona State's 6'6" Brock] Osweiler. He's really interesting."
"And," another G.M. added on Sunday, "there are going to be three starting quarterbacks out there—Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell and Chad Henne. This year if you have a need, there are so many ways you can go. You can try to strike gold with Peyton, build for the future with Flynn, and I know one team that thinks Weeden can start on Opening Day and win for them. I've never seen a year anything like this one."
In interviews with personnel evaluators and coaches at the combine last weekend, the following picture emerged of this once-in-a-generation (or longer) quarterback market: