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Draft is light on impact quarterbacks

There are three types of NFL teams.

Those with franchise quarterbacks. Those with quarterbacks who have the potential to become franchise players. And those who fall short in both areas.

"Every team in the league that doesn't have an all-pro quarterback or somebody that got votes for All-Pro is looking to improve their position," new Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Good luck, Chan. Judging by the slim pickings in the draft and free agency, you and four other teams in the same predicament are going to need it.

Buffalo, Cleveland, Washington, Seattle and St. Louis are seeking long-term answers at a position where there are only questions and also-rans available. The biggest names on the free-agent market - Chad Pennington, Daunte Culpepper and David Carr - were drafted in the first round as franchise quarterbacks long ago, but no longer fit the bill.

The trade market also is dry with no Matt Cassel- or Jay Cutler-sized deals in the offing. Donovan McNabb would command strong interest, but Philadelphia brass already has asserted that he's not on the block.

Who can blame the Eagles for thinking that way? Even though backup Kevin Kolb shows promise, there are no guarantees he can have the same success McNabb continues to enjoy in Philadelphia.

"There are a lot of different definitions of a franchise quarterback, but I think of it as a quarterback who just can't be replaced," University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford recently told me and co-host Derrick Brooks on Sirius NFL Radio. "It's someone who is so vital that if they were to get rid of him, it would change the entire complexion of their offense."

Bradford himself could become that type of player. But we won't learn much more about him or the other top two draft prospects at the combine. Bradford (shoulder), Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen (toe) and Texas' Colt McCoy (shoulder) are recovering from injuries and won't participate in throwing drills. Neither are Florida's Tim Tebow and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, with both opting to wait until their respective pro days. That leaves just 14 invited quarterbacks to showcase their wares. None have a realistic shot at being drafted in the first round come April.

The doom-and-gloom surrounding this year's draft class wasn't here a year ago. Bradford, Tebow and McCoy are among the most celebrated college quarterbacks of this past decade. All three opted to return for their senior seasons unlike peers Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman.

From an NFL standpoint, the latter trio made the right move. Stafford (Detroit), Sanchez (New York Jets) and Freeman (Tampa Bay) had all become entrenched as NFL starters by the end of last season while the draft stock of Bradford, Tebow and McCoy took a hit.

Bradford missed most of 2009 with a shoulder injury that required surgery, which is a red flag for interested NFL suitors. Tebow was once again a Heisman Trophy finalist but never bettered his poor throwing mechanics playing exclusively in a spread offense that isn't NFL friendly. And McCoy struggled in some of his team's biggest games, especially with a three-interception performance in the Big 12 championship against Nebraska. McCoy couldn't make amends in the NCAA title game after injuring his shoulder on the first series against Alabama.

This isn't to say the Class of 2010 lacks other potential stars. Some scouts regard Cincinnati's Tony Pike as a poor man's Joe Flacco. West Virginia's Jarrett Brown flashed a strong arm and good mobility at the Senior Bowl. Mississippi's Javon Snead and Oregon State's Sean Canfield had their moments in college.

But when it comes to potential top-15 picks, the only legitimate candidates are Bradford and Clausen. Barring a late charge by Clausen - an early-entry junior who showed significant improvement in 2009 -- the general consensus has Bradford being the first quarterback drafted.

The Rams (No. 1 overall pick), Redskins (No. 4), Seahawks (No. 6) and Browns (No. 7) will take a particularly long look. St. Louis passed on selecting Sanchez and Matt Ryan while holding the second pick in each of the past two drafts. They may not want to let Bradford slip away even though two defensive linemen - Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy - are regarded as the top overall prospects.

Asked why the Rams should choose him, Bradford gave an 87-second answer listing his positive traits. Bradford cited his accuracy, mobility, intelligence, work ethic, competitive nature and the back-to-back Big 12 titles that Oklahoma enjoyed under his leadership.

"Those are the reasons why St. Louis or whomever would want to pick me," he said.

Considering the state of NFL quarterbacking, that just might be enough to make Bradford the most coveted player in this year's draft.