ORLANDO, Fla. – When Stanford's Andrew Luck decided to pass on entering the NFL draft to return to school for his senior season, NFL teams in need of a quarterback all let out a collective groan.
Without Luck, the pool of potential first-round draft picks in the 2011 quarterback class lost its most-coveted prize.
But heading into Saturday's East-West Shrine Game, the first major college football all-star game of draft season, several signal callers will be trying to prove their class isn't as top heavy as some think.
"Life is about opportunities, and all you can really do is ask for one," said former Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, representing the West. "A lot of us out here are just looking for that one opportunity to show who we are. We've heard people say things about our class as a group. But it's a tough grind and it keeps you motivated."
Quarterbacks projected to go in the first round include underclassmen Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and reining Heisman Trophy-winner Cam Newton of Auburn, and Jake Locker of Washington.
Most of the more than 200 NFL scouts and team officials that attended practices this week in Orlando are expecting to identify most of their potential early round picks at next weeks' Senior Bowl in Alabama.
But there are some quarterbacks in town this week that could go in the middle rounds. Of that list, Delaware's Pat Devlin has easily commanded the most attention. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound transfer from Penn State, he has drawn comparisons to former Blue Hen standout Joe Flacco.
Flacco transferred to Delaware from Pittsburgh in 2006 and shined for two years in the Football Championship Subdivision before being drafted 18th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008.
As much as Devlin might like being linked to NFL-caliber talent, he said the comparisons end at their shared alma mater.
"I think we're two different guys, totally," said Devlin, who passed for 3,032 yards and 22 touchdowns this past season. "I didn't watch film on him and say 'Oh, I want to be what he is.' He's a guy that has superhuman arm strength. I never tried to step into his shoes or anything. I just tried to play within the offense we had at Delaware and be efficient."
Devlin said he has had conversations with Flacco, but that they "barely" talked about football. He said he's put a lot more stock in the one-on-one talks he's had with East coach Dan Reeves this week.
Having played in a shotgun system the past two seasons, he's valued getting pointers from Reeves on the pro-style, drop back systems.
"It's been really great to have him as the quarterback coach here," Devlin said. "He's taught me a lot. As elementary as an all-star game offense is, I've been able to learn a lot and get under center and work on that."
Former NFL quarterback James Harris, the Detroit Lions' senior personnel executive, has evaluated players for more than 20 years. He said that every scout at these all-star games is mindful that he could find an underrated jewel. That's especially true among quarterbacks, he said.
"It's a good opportunity for a quarterback trying to elevate himself into the middle rounds," Harris said. "The draft is a process and this is a part of it. You come here and you put your skills on display and try to have a good outing. You've already had your college season, we've evaluated that, and this is the second part. You want to do well in as many parts of the process as you can."
And that's what former Virginia Tech standout Tyrod Taylor has kept in the back of his mind all week.
The 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year threw for 2,743 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. But he's somewhat undersized at 6-1 and 210 pounds, and scouts question whether he will be able to make a roster as a quarterback.
There were several Canadian Football League scouts on hand this week, but Taylor said he has maintained tunnel vision about his future prospects.
"I just want the opportunity," Taylor said. "God gave me the opportunity for this and I'm trying to go out there to impress a lot of people. My goal is to go to the NFL. If it's somewhere else, I'll deal with that when it happens. But I've always wanted to play in the NFL. I feel like I have NFL talent and that's what I've come out to prove."