STILLWATER — Brandon Weeden will gather with family and friends at his parents' home in Edmond Thursday night to watch the first round of the NFL Draft.
The former Oklahoma State quarterback will first see his buddy and former go-to receiver, Justin Blackmon, likely get selected somewhere in the top 10. After that, the suspense will begin, as Weeden is in the odd position of being a borderline first-round pick who may have to wait until Friday to find out his professional destination.
Just a few months ago, it appeared Weeden had no shot of being selected on the draft's first night. He was projected as a middle-round pick, sitting behind guys like Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, Arizona's Nick Foles and even San Diego State's Ryan Lindley on some way-too-early mock drafts.
But since his record-breaking OSU career ended, Weeden has steadily climbed draft boards and is generally regarded as the fourth-best quarterback in available. Wednesday afternoon, ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper moved Weeden into the first round in his latest mock draft, predicting that the Cleveland Browns will select him with the No. 22 overall pick.
“Weeden is the last QB in the draft after RG3 (Baylor's Robert Griffin III) that most front office folks believe can start games early if called on,” Kiper wrote Wednesday. “The Browns really want to find competition for Colt McCoy. If they don't get Weeden here, they risk losing him.”
What has contributed to Weeden's rise over the past three-plus months?
Though he had an inconsistent showing in the Senior Bowl game, he impressed during the week of practices, especially in proving he could transition from the shotgun to under center. His throwing session at the NFL Combine yielded mixed reviews, but he was sharp at OSU's Pro Day last month and ran a faster 40-yard dash time (4.87 seconds) than expected.
Combine Weeden's performances at those pre-draft showcases with his strong, accurate arm and production seen on film — he went 23-3 in two seasons as a starter and passed for 4,727 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2011. Also add in his head-to-head results against several other top quarterbacks in college football — he beat Andrew Luck, Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Landry Jones and Foles last season — and his maturity that surely showed through during interviews with NFL teams.
“If you counted the top 20 throws that Andrew Luck made, the top 20 throws that Robert Griffin made, the top 20 throws that (Ryan) Tannehill made, Weeden, Kellen Moore,” former NFL coach-turned-ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said earlier this month. “you walk away saying ‘Brandon Weeden makes the most difficult throws in college football.'
“He's got a tremendous arm, great anticipation.”
That maturity — Weeden will turn 29 in October — has, of course, been the biggest knock against the former Cowboy. It also makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft, perhaps second only to the athletic-yet-inexperienced Tannehill, who is surely the most polarizing figure.
Cleveland, which currently holds the 22nd and 37th overall picks, seems like the most likely destination for Weeden because of the opportunity to immediately challenge McCoy for the starting job. Miami is also a strong possibility in the second round — if the Dolphins opt not to select Tannehill with the eighth overall pick. Others teams interested in Weeden include Kansas City, Philadelphia, Buffalo and San Francisco, according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King.
Last season showed that a quarterback taken early in the second round can have a major impact. Andy Dalton, who was selected 35th overall by the Bengals following a highly successful career at TCU, led Cincinnati to the playoffs in his rookie season.
That's where Weeden will most likely go. And even with Weeden's rise, Kiper still calls the former Cowboy one of the most underrated players in the draft.
“If he were 22, might be the second quarterback off the draft board,” Kiper wrote earlier this week. “He really is that good, but his age is holding him back. Still, were he to get starts early in his NFL career — and succeed — you would be looking at a player who could easily give a franchise seven or eight very good years.
“Is that something to scoff at?”
What they're saying about Brandon Weeden's NFL Draft stock:
ESPN NFL Draft Expert Mel Kiper: “Weeden is smart, has excellent mechanics and can drill the deep, intermediate throws with as much pace as any other quarterback, right there with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He's accurate, although he has flashes of inconsistency. He gets through his progressions. He's a leader and will command respect early, and he won't be overwhelmed by an NFL playbook.”
Sports Illustrated's Peter King: “I know he'll be 29 in October, but if you think a player can be a good starting quarterback in the league for eight years, and several teams do, he's worth a lot more than the 27th pick.”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde: “You can hope Brandon Weeden's there (if the Dolphins don't take Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick). You're probably going to have to trade up to get him, though, because there will be a lot of people who think he can play. The age factor is the question that's dropping him down.”
NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock: “What's happening in this quarterback-driven league," he said, "is that we're getting a frenzy toward these top guys, and it's pushing value up. Most persons think Weeden or Cousins are third-round talents, but most people think they'll be drafted in the second round -- with Weeden the first to go. The reason: While the quarterback class is top heavy this year, it thins out quickly ... which means you better get one while you can.”