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A great debate at QB: Quinn or Russell?

This is the first of a series of stories on players eligible for the April 28 NFL draft. Today's story deals with quarterbacks.

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One is a polished senior passer with a great resume and pedigree. The other is a junior with the size of a linebacker and an arm like a cannon.

There is no doubt that Brady Quinn of Notre Dame and JaMarcus Russell of LSU are the top two quarterbacks entering the NFL draft. But there is some debate as to which one is the best.

Quinn entered last season as the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect, but Russell's stock soared after outplaying Quinn with a 332-yard, two-touchdown performance that led LSU to a 41-14 rout of Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.

The same QB debate raged last year between Matt Leinart and Vince Young. Like Leinart, Quinn is viewed as more NFL-ready. But Russell's tremendous upside is similar to Young's.

Five teams drafting in the top 10 could use a quarterback -- Oakland at No. 1, Detroit at No. 2, Cleveland at No. 3, Minnesota at No. 7 and Miami at No. 9. Only two will get one, and it will come down to personal preference as to which one they want.

"This one is going to be beauty in the eye of the beholder," said Tom Modrak, the Buffalo Bills' assistant general manager. "So much of it is fit your system. Some teams are going to like one of them over the other, and if you had all the boards up, a lot of teams will have it reversed."

Russell had a solid career at LSU (more than 6,000 passing yards and a 25-4 record as a starter), but he acknowledged that the Sugar Bowl performance raised his national profile more than anything he did before.

"Things went good for a couple years, but just to have a big bowl game, you know, it's such a big-caliber game to some people," he said at the NFL scouting combine. "I guess it pushed me up real high."

At LSU's "Pro Day," Russell solidified his position with a workout some scouts said was the best they have seen from a quarterback. Blessed with tremendous arm strength, he can make every throw with great velocity and accuracy.

He's also surprisingly nimble at 6-foot-5 1/4 and 256 pounds, running the 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds at his pro day.

"JaMarcus' talent is substantial," said Cleveland GM Phil Savage. "He's a rare combination of size and arm strength. It's a little bit out of the norm to take somebody 6-5 plus, 250 pounds plus and can throw the ball around like he can. He is coming out as a junior, which leads you to think there's upside to him. And he's played in a pro-style system at LSU under Nick Saban and Les Myles."

Quinn's career at Notre Dame took off when former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis became head coach. Quinn threw for more than 4,400 yards, 26 touchdowns and 25 interceptions in his first two seasons. In the final two under Weis, Quinn completed over 62 percent of his passes for 7,345 yards, 69 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions.

The chiseled, 6-4, 232-pound Quinn has prototype size, an NFL-caliber arm and, according to Weis, possesses the same intangibles as another Weis protege, New England quarterback Tom Brady.

Yet for all Quinn accomplished at Notre Dame, more attention has been paid to what he didn't do. He struggled in several big games and closed out his college career with lopsided losses to Southern Cal and LSU.

"I don't think one game necessarily makes a career for someone, but . . . in the second half [of the Sugar Bowl] we played terrible as a team, not just myself, but as a team," he said at the combine. "Of course, anytime that's how you end your last game going into the NFL, that's what people are going to harp on. That's the last memory."

Quinn, who calls himself the most prepared collegiate player in the draft, is perplexed by talk of his draft stock falling. He's not alone.

"Who said his stock is falling? The NFL Network?" Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden cracked at the combine. "I don't understand. The guy's a four-year starter at Notre Dame. I don't care who coached him, the guy is a physical talent. He threw 37 touchdowns and seven picks this year at Notre Dame. He's been in the biggest pressure cooker there is in college football and handled it well. So I don't know how his stock would fall."

No matter where Quinn and Russell are drafted, they will be linked as long as they play in the NFL. But being the first overall pick obviously means more to Quinn than Russell.

"To tell you the truth, my main thing is just getting an opportunity to go out and showcase my skills of football at the next level," Russell said. "There really won't be any disappointment because everybody doesn't get a chance to go as high as No. 1 or No. 2. I'll be more than happy, whatever position I go in."

After Quinn and Russell, the second tier of quarterbacks includes Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Houston Kevin Kolb, Stanford's Trent Edwards, Brigham Young's John Beck and Texas-El Paso's Jordan Palmer, the brother of Cincinnati star Carson Palmer.

Ohio State's Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy, but he is viewed as a borderline first-day pick.

Next: Running backs.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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