Who is Going to Lead the Rams in 2013?

Doug Pensinger

With the second week of fall practices about to begin, the competition for the Rams starting quarterback position is heating up. A decision is expected sometime this week, and four different players are looking to make their name heading into the first depth chart.

A source of much controversy in the 2012 season was the revolving door of quarterbacks the Rams featured. Garrett Grayson started the season at the top of the depth chart and remained there for five games before he broke the collarbone in his non-throwing shoulder. He was replaced by senior M.J. McPeek who saw his first collegiate action before sustaining his own injury against San Diego State. And in came the redshirt freshman Conner Smith. Smith won over fans with his downfield ability that both Grayson and McPeek could not provide. Now with Grayson completely back to health, he must battle with Smith for the top spot with two freshmen behind them looking to stir things up.

Garrett Grayson (Junior)

78 for 138, 946 Yards, 8 TD (1 Rushing), 3 Int

Grayson's career began when he filled in for former Ram Pete Thomas when he was injured in the 2011 season. Grayson brought new energy to the Rams with a dual-threat ability Thomas did not have. When Thomas transferred to North Carolina State between the 2011 and 2012 season, the role of starting quarterback was Grayson's to lose.

Grayson led the Rams to season opening win against rival Colorado with an effective passing attack, throwing for 173 yards and two touchdowns. He put up modest, but not ground-breaking, numbers in his next three starts before his injury against Air Force. He briefly took the field against Wyoming, but was still affected by his collarbone and did not contribute much.

What Grayson brings that the other quarterbacks on the roster do not, is his ability to threaten defenses with his legs. He is quick enough to evade pass rushers and turn a busted play into a couple yards. This also allows the coaches to implement run options into the game plan that the other QB's are not as effective at running. Although his arm strength is average compared to the rest of the group, he is the most accurate and that fits well in McElwain's system.

The "x-factor" Coach McElwain looks for in his signal caller is the ability to step up and be a leader for their team mates. He has said numerous times that he is still waiting for one of the quarterbacks to step up and be that guy. In the past Grayson has typically not been that guy, but the rest of the offense supports him and trust in him to get the job done.

Conner Smith (RS Sophomore)

80 for 126, 1022 Yards, 6 TD, 6 Int

One thing Smith demonstrated last season was his ability to get the ball downfield with velocity. When the ball leaves Smith's hand, it gets to its target quickly. The problem he has is hitting that target. He is still an accurate passer, completing 63 percent of his passes in 2012, but when he misses it can cost him; he threw six interceptions in each of his six games played.

Some of his issues are due to his struggles picking up the playbook and reading opposing defenses. Throughout the season he failed to read the defense correctly leading to missed opportunities or turnovers. He will no doubt benefit from another spring and summer in the playbook, but he needs to show vast improvement if he wants to get on the same level as Grayson.

Another disadvantage he has is his immobility. He does a good job moving around in the pocket to escape pressure, but when he is flushed out of the pocket he does not possess the speed and agility Grayson has. In terms of leadership, he is even more soft spoken than Grayson and does not command the huddle quite like Grayson does.

Craig Leonard (RS Freshman)

Craig (CJ) Leonard did not make it onto the field for the Rams last season, but he made contributions in his own way. Leonard was the primary quarterback to lead the scout team against the defense during the 2012 season. His football IQ allowed him to play the role of multiple quarterbacks and give the Rams defense a good look in practice.

A Fort Collins native, Leonard threw for 2,558 yards and 26 passing touchdowns in his senior season at Fossil Ridge High School, leading all Colorado 5A quarterbacks.

McElwain constantly compliments Leonard for the leadership he displayed with the scout team all of last season. It is clear he is the most natural leader of the group, but he has a hill to climb to gain the camaraderie of the older players. He provides mobility somewhere in between Grayson and Smith, with some flashes of quickness, but he has suffered from knee injuries since his high school days and that could still be a concern for him moving forward. Leonard's arm strength is similar to Grayson's but he has trouble keeping his passes on target. If he wants to compete for the position, he will need to work on his mid-range accuracy.

Nick Stevens (Freshman)

Stevens is the wild card. He graduated in the spring from Vista Murrieta High in California where he led the Broncos to 27 victories in 28 career games, including a state championship title. He threw for 4,057 yards and 38 touchdowns in his two seasons, despite sitting out the second half in several blowout victories. He also showed his versatility with his legs rushing for 1,567 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Steven's biggest draw are his intangibles. He is an extremely intelligent player, earning a GPA of 4.21 and garnering interest from Yale. He is smart with his decision making, completing 60% of his passes and only throwing 13 interceptions in his senior season. But most of all, he is a leader and a winner. He was a leader on a team that nearly went undefeated two seasons in a row, only losing in one of their two state championship appearances. He can also "turn it on" when the lights shine brightest. In his two championship game appearances, he had 608 yards throwing and passing, and three touchdowns.

We have only seen him in five practices so far, but his arm strength rivals Smith's, his ability to use his feet is on par with Grayson, and he has the leadership qualities of Leonard. It is doubtful he will get the top spot on the roster with him just picking up the playbook, but he could slip into the number two spot and will be a legitimate option to start next season.

Projected Depth Chart:
Grayson, Smith, Stevens, Leonard

Right now, Grayson is the most complete player among the quarterbacks. His arm may not be the strongest on the team, but he can hit his receivers on a consistent basis and is always a threat to run. Behind him, both Smith and Stevens will battle season-long for the backup position and either one will be an effective option if Grayson is injured or underperforms.

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