Teams needing a young quarterback that weren’t willing to spend a pick in last year’s draft on what was a meager crop of passers that were more suspect than prospect, soothed themselves with this disclaimer: “We’ll get our guy next year.”

Yeah, they talked about expecting the quarterback class of 2011 to be loaded. They compared it to the great quarterback class of 1983, that gave the NFL John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Teams needing a young quarterback that weren’t willing to waste a pick on one in last year’s draft pinned all of their hopes on this year’s crop and now those teams are facing this question: Will they be able to find their guy in this draft?

A lot of this crop’s luster has dulled. Jake Locker had a bad year. Christian Ponder had a bad arm. Ryan Mallett is a big guy who had a big year but the mention of his name causes personnel people to wrinkle their nose in silent suspicion. Cam Newton? Yeah, he’s talented, but can he make the transition from the college spread to the pro pocket?

On and on the questions go. What about Colin Kaepernick’s throwing motion? Will Andy Dalton be anything more than a run-and-shoot passer? Is Blaine Gabbert really worthy of the first overall pick?

Let’s look at it this way: Yeah, there are a lot of questions about a lot of quarterbacks, but that’s a good thing because it means that, at the least, this is a draft that has a deep crop of prospects and, yes, they are more prospect than suspect.

Gabbert is thought to head a list of four quarterbacks that’ll be drafted in the first round. The other three are Newton, Mallett and Locker. Gabbert has a chance to be the first overall pick. Yes, he’s that good.

He’s big, strong, young and on the rise. He grew up in a pass-happy Missouri offense and has worked with top receivers. He is this year’s version of Sam Bradford.

Newton has rare talent and a natural throwing motion. He can make all of the throws. He can make all of the runs, too, but that’s what concerns scouts. He’ll have to be broken of that instinct for flight and he’ll have to be taught how to take a drop from center.

Mallett is all pocket all the time. He has Ben Roethlisberger size but doesn’t play as strong. Arkansas coach Bob Petrino did wonders in developing Mallett’s game last season.

Locker is raw talent. He suffers bouts of throwing wildness.

Will there be a run on quarterbacks? There almost always is. Hey, Tim Tebow was drafted in the first round, right? Enough said.

If a run should develop, Ponder and Kaepernick would seem to be capable of challenging the bottom of the first round, though most consider them to be top-of-the-second guys. Ponder had a sensational junior season; he looked like the next Matt Ryan. Kaepernick has a pitcher’s arm and delivery. He’s an effective and sophisticated runner and might possess more upside than any quarterback in the draft. Somebody is going to fall in love with Kaepernick.

Dalton had a knockout pro-day workout at TCU. A couple of teams are hot on his trail and one of them is likely to jump on Dalton in the second round.

After Dalton, it starts to get a little iffy.

Nathan Enderle is a big passer with a solid arm and lots of upside. He was hidden at Idaho.

Ricky Stanzi was “The Man” at Iowa, but there are questions about his arm strength. He could be a steal for somebody in the late rounds.

Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor really came on as a passer late last season, but he’s a runner first and doesn’t project as anything more than a change of pace backup.

Greg McElroy won a national title at Alabama and has a solid game-manager quality to him. He was groomed well by Nick Saban and McElroy will likely stick somewhere.

As many as five other passers carry draftable grades: Pat Devlin of Delaware, Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M, T.J. Yates of North Carolina, Ben Chappell of Indiana and Scott Tolzien of Wisconsin.

Even the small-college ranks have a prospect, a fast-rising guy in Josh Portis of California (Pa.).

Yeah, it would seem the 2011 quarterback crop has lost some of its luster, but it offers no shortage of prospects, and that’s a significant improvement over last year’s weak crop of passers. If you want a guy, this might be a good year to spend a pick on one because there are concerns that the proliferation of spread offense in college football is only going to produce weaker crops of pro-style quarterbacks in the future.

Vic Ketchman is a veteran of 39 NFL seasons and has covered the Steelers and Jaguars prior to coming to Green Bay.