In February, when Tom Savage was an unheralded prospect trying to boost his stock after bouncing among three college programs, the former Cardinal O'Hara quarterback recalled advice from an old Arizona teammate.
"Stay patient, block out the noise," Eagles quarterback Nick Foles told Savage.
"Obviously, I don't have a lot of noise, but I block out whatever is there," Savage said at the scouting combine in February.
The noise has gotten louder in recent weeks. Savage has become one of the fastest-rising players in the NFL draft and is no longer considered a late-round pick. It is conceivable Savage will go off the board in one of the first two rounds. He reportedly turned down an invitation to the draft, evidence that he will be one of the top quarterbacks selected when it begins on May 8.
"When you just look at the number of visits he's had and the number of workouts he's had, that's hard data there that you can tell there's buzz and some excitement building on him with the number of teams talking to him and working him out," said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout.
Savage was a top recruit at O'Hara in 2009, playing with future Ohio State receiver and fellow NFL prospect Corey "Philly" Brown. Savage began his college career at Rutgers, where he started as a true freshman in 2009. After suffering a hand injury and eventually losing the No. 1 job, he transferred to Arizona, where he sat out the 2011 season.
"I was [a 20]-year-old kid, bitter and ticked off," Savage said. "I thought I had all the answers and decided to leave. Obviously, looking back now, I could have handled it a different way, but I definitely matured from the whole process."
Foles started that season for the Wildcats, and coach Mike Stoops was fired after 11 games. When Rich Rodriguez was hired, Savage no longer fit into the Wildcats' plans. Savage wanted to go back to Rutgers, but the NCAA denied a hardship waiver that would have made him immediately eligible.
He needed to walk on at his next school, Savage said, and he couldn't pay for Rutgers' out-of-state tuition. So he transferred to Pittsburgh, went from scout team to starter, and threw for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2013. Savage established himself as a prospect in the process while remaining honest about all the questions that have come his way in recent months.
"You see someone transfer twice, your immediate thought is probably a red flag, there is something wrong," Savage said. "Obviously, my journey has been a little different. It's helped me mature as a person and I wouldn't want to do it any other way."
Savage is the latest in a line of Philadelphia-area quarterbacks who have figured prominently in the draft. Malvern Prep's Ryan Nassib went in the fourth round last season; Penn Charter's Matt Ryan and Audubon's Joe Flacco were first-rounders in 2008; and West Chester East's Matt Schaub was a third-round pick in 2004.
"I'd like to say we're tough guys and can handle the Northeast media attention," Savage said.
At 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, Savage has prototypical size for a quarterback. Jeremiah praised Savage's arm strength. NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, who spent four decades in the Cowboys' front office, compared Savage's arm to that of Troy Aikman.
"You see him make some drive throws you don't see these other guys make, really driving deep comebacks, driving skinny posts, plenty of velocity and accuracy there," said Jeremiah, who added that Savage is not as immobile as he first thought.
Jeremiah believed Savage has a "very real shot" of going early in the second round, if the top teams pass on quarterbacks in the first round. He mentioned Houston and Jacksonville as potential fits.
Savage keeps in regular contact with Foles; they last spoke a few weeks ago, and Foles thinks highly of his former teammate. Savage is far from a finished product, even though he turns 24 on Saturday. But he started 28 college games, has experience in multiple systems, and is now discussed in the same breath as some of the draft's top prospects, despite an itinerant college career.
"I would just stay at Rutgers, be patient, and earn my job back. Who knows?" Savage said, when asked what he would do over.
"Maybe I wouldn't be here. But looking back, one virtue I didn't have was patience. I had early success and didn't know why I had early success. I kind of made a mistake and left."