April 21, 2014

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NFL draft: Brandon Weedon’s age holding him back

If Brandon Weeden were 23 years old, he’d be a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft that begins Thursday night. He’s 6-foot-3½, 221 pounds, stands tall in the pocket, has a big arm and throws with a classic motion. He went 12-1 in 2011.

Weeden will turn 29 in October, and he isn’t going in the top 10. The second half of the first round is possible, but so is the second round.

All because of a 1983 birth certificate.

“Weeden is the most underrated player in the draft, because of his age,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy recently told The Chronicle-Telegram by phone. “He’s definitely a first-round pick. He’s got the body of a 24-year-old. He’s healthy, he hasn’t been hit.

“He’s mature, married and has been through the growing stages you go through as a young player. Money won’t affect him. And not many people walking on the face of the Earth throw the football like him.”

No matter how well he slings it, he can’t overthrow the age factor.

A 10-year NFL career puts him at 39, which is old even for a quarterback. The age also makes it a necessity that he plays right away.

“It’s a factor,” Browns general manager Tom Heckert said last week. “Is it a big deal? No. It’s something you just have to use your head.”

Heckert declined to say whether he thought Weeden was ready to start in the NFL. But the Browns are open to finding a replacement/challenger for Colt McCoy, and Weeden will be strongly considered at No. 22. The Browns could also gamble that he will still be available in the second round at No. 37.

If the Browns address running back and receiver in the first round and are able to land Weeden at No. 37, they could have the foundation for a turnaround.

“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, you walk away and say Brandon Weeden makes the most difficult throws in college football,” ESPN’s Jon Gruden said on a conference call. “He’s got a tremendous arm, great anticipation.

“It’s a pleasure watching Weeden throw the football. The only downside of Weeden right now is his age.”

Weeden is so much older than the rest of his draft class because he spent five years as a minor league pitcher after the New York Yankees drafted him in the second round out of high school. He never made it above Class A and decided to give college football a try, despite playing just one year of high school football.

After a redshirt season, he spent two years as a backup before starting the last two seasons and going 23-3. He completed 66.9 percent with 34 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a junior in the Cowboys’ spread attack. He was even better in 2011, setting school records with 408 completions in 564 attempts (72.4 percent) for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns. He threw 13 interceptions.

“He’s really accurate when he sets his feet,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call. “He’s a timing and rhythm guy. His accuracy is tied into those things. When he’s on time in good rhythm, he’s really, really good.

“When he has to reset his feet, he loses some of that great accuracy. That means he’s a guy you will have to develop a little bit.”

Gundy acknowledged the issue but didn’t think it would be a problem at the next level.

“There were times that (pressure) affected him more than you’d want it to,” he said. “The reason is we protected him so well here. In the NFL, those guys deal with considerably more pressure than in college. He’ll adjust to the collapsed feel of the pocket, sliding up and getting used to those situations.”

Weeden capped his Cowboys career with a thrilling Fiesta Bowl win over Luck and Stanford. In the regular season he beat Griffin and Baylor, Tannehill and Texas A&M and Landry Jones and Oklahoma. Against Top 25 teams he went 5-0 and completed 71 percent with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

“I love Brandon Weeden,” Gruden said. “If you want a quarterback that’s tough as hell, that’s a winner.”

The urgency to play a top rookie is always there, but it will be at another level for Weeden. The more time that passes before he starts, the more the pick looks like a wasted one.

“It’s the toughest position to play in all of sports,” Weeden said at the scouting combine. “The maturity factor really helps me have an opportunity to play right away if I’m needed to.

“I’ve already been a pro. Baseball is a game of failure. I’ve failed and I’ve had some success and I’ve kind of ridden the roller coaster. I started playing professional baseball at 18. I drove to Tampa as an 18-year-old and was just on my own. I was able to overcome that and do some good things there.”

Gundy saw that maturity in the win over Texas A&M. The Cowboys trailed 20-3 on the road at halftime, but Weeden finished with 438 yards in the 30-29 victory.

“We were behind, it was 100 degrees. It didn’t matter, didn’t bother him,” said Gundy, who thinks Weeden will be able to start right away. “There’s no substitute for his demeanor and attitude. Things don’t affect him.”

Weeden has even managed to handle the redundant questions about his age. He can’t always hide his annoyance, but has become a pro at dealing with the questions.

“It used to kind of get under my skin, but there can be a lot worse things I can be answering questions about,” Weeden said. “That’s really the only knock on me is my age. I have fun with it. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think a lot of teams are worried about it. I feel like with all these great quarterbacks, I belong in the middle with all of them.

“And here’s the fact: I can’t change it. I can change a lot of things, my footwork, throwing motion, release, this and this and this. I can’t change my birth certificate. I wish I could pull a Danny Almonte, but I can’t do it.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.