Last year’s quarterback class had a tough act to follow after a 2012 class for the ages. Geno Smith and EJ Manuel both had their rookie ups and downs while Mike Glennon showed flashes after taking the Buccaneers job when Josh Freeman was released. This quarterback class has received a lot of hype, but it can’t help but remind me of the 2011 draft. That draft featured plenty of quarterback needy teams which led to many teams taking players with a higher pick than their talent would suggest. You would like to think teams have learned from their mistakes by now, but with the draft being an inexact science it doesn’t always happen.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: Every year, there are a few players that are heavily ridiculed through the draft process for whatever reason. This year, that prospect is Bridgewater. Between a disappointing pro day showing to being compared to a fictional quarterback by an anonymous team executive, we’ve really seen everything being said against him. Regardless of all that, Bridgewater is still my choice as the top quarterback in this draft. He’s able to step up in the pocket when facing pressure, doesn’t make many mental mistakes and also has the mental/physical toughness teams would look for out of their quarterback. On top of that, he’s also very accurate in the short to intermediate passing game.
Now the cons, have been heavily talked about but they are fixable for Bridgewater in the NFL. The main flaws against him are his frame along with arm strength and deep ball accuracy. While I’m not comparing them to Bridgewater as player, Tom Brady and Drew Brees showed that it is possible to grow at these traits while in the pros. Bridgewater should be able to bulk up once he gets into a team’s strength program and with that would come growth in arm strength. The deep ball accuracy will also improve as he gains chemistry with his new receivers.
I’m not sold on anyone in this draft class as a franchise option. However, if I had to choose one, Bridgewater would be my choice. Of this crop of quarterbacks, he has the highest floor and the ability to be at least an above average quarterback for years to come.
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: A staple of the NFL Draft has always been the dramatic figure and in Manziel, we have the most controversial quarterback prospect since Tim Tebow. There is little to no middle ground in most evaluations of him with most listing him as a superstar or a bust with no in between. Here’s what we do know: he made tremendous leaps as a passer between his Heisman winning campaign and this past year, he’s super competitive and will do whatever it takes to win and has once in a generation escapability and improvisational skills in the pocket. With those positives also come flaws.
There are many instances where he took off and ran at the first sign of pressure in the pocket and often times looks to make the huge play instead of just what the defense gives him. A point that you don’t hear as much about Manziel as you should is how strong his supporting cast was in college. Along with Luke Joeckel who was the 2nd pick of last year’s draft, Manziel also had Jake Matthews protecting him who figures to be a top 15 pick in the upcoming draft. Along with them, he also had the 6’5 Mike Evans (who also looks to be a top ten pick) bailing him out whenever he threw a ball up for grabs. If Manziel was to go to a team picking very early in the draft, chances are they wouldn’t have that much talent at his disposal already.
In my opinion, Manziel’s success will mostly depend on what team he ends up with. If he gets on a bad team, there is the chance he could develop unbreakable habits while being thrown into action too early. The best case scenario would be if he ended up falling in the draft as he would be able to learn behind a veteran for a year or two while the draft day slide would result in him a giant chip on his shoulder.
3. Blake Bortles, Central Florida: Essentially an afterthought at the beginning of the 2013 season, Bortles burst onto the scene as he led UCF to their first BCS win in school history. At 6’5 232 pounds with some running ability, he has received some physical comparisons to Andrew Luck. He is able to get the ball into tight spaces and does very well on short to intermediate throws. While Bortles very well could be the first pick in this draft and has the physical traits to become a franchise quarterback, I have my doubts. Mainly that being a top pick could be the worst thing that could happen for his career.
At UCF, Bortles ran an offense that consisted of numerous dink-and dunk passes where he only had to make one read. It is also very important to note that when under pressure, his footwork regresses and at times tends to throw off his backfoot. All of these traits remind me of Blaine Gabbert coming out of Missouri in the aforementioned 2011 draft. People knock Gabbert now, but many experts had him as their top quarterback in that draft class while having many of the same skills Bortles offers both positively and negatively. Bortles did get better each year he was at UCF, so if a team gives him a year or two to adjust to the NFL game (which was recommended of Gabbert but obviously didn’t happen), he could develop into an above average starter.
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State: Carr has a lot of the attributes teams would look for in a quarterback. A three year starter and team captain, he has all the intangibles scouts look for. Along with that, Carr is an underrated athlete in terms of mobility and ability to roll out of the pocket while also having ridiculous arm strength.
Like many others in this class, he could use a few years to develop before being turned to as a possible starting option. Carr didn’t really do much work from under center at Fresno State as they usually operated in shotgun or pistol formations. In the offense, he also made a lot of short, wide receiver screen type throws which helped pad the video game type numbers Carr put together this season. With a nice skill set along with the intangibles and drive to improve, Carr could be a very good option for a team looking to groom a young quarterback into their eventual starter.
5. A.J. McCarron, Alabama: A four year starter who led Alabama to two national championships, McCarron might be one of if not the most “NFL ready” quarterback in this class. At Alabama, he had to work out of pro-style offense operating both under center and in shotgun. McCarron has very nice accuracy on his short to intermediate throws, takes what the defense gives him and doesn’t force anything.
Due to being surrounded by what was essentially a minor league NFL team at Alabama and not having top tier arm strength, McCarron will probably be considered a “game manager”. While some may that is an insult, I would gladly take that out of a quarterback in this draft class. As of now, two of the top three quarterbacks figuring to be selected have giant “boom or bust” potential. A team would be able to take McCarron in the second round or later and know that they’re getting a guy that could be playing at a solid level in the league for a decade or so.
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU: Like Ryan Mallett and Tyler Bray before him, Mettenberger fits the label of what is almost becoming an annual draft class tradition. That label would be “SEC quarterback with a bazooka for an arm that also has questionable character”. At 6’5 224, Mettenberger is your prototypical pocket passer and can make every throw in the book. Working with Cam Cameron this past year, Mettenberger also has experience playing in more traditional pro formations and made huge strides as a player in 2013.
Like many young quarterbacks, he has moments where his footwork can get sloppy and could also work on throwing with more touch. When evaluating Mettenberger, it is also important to note he was playing with a very strong supporting cast and that quarterbacks with his skill set will thrive in the pro day/individual workout setting. Mettenberger has a lot of very positive traits, but with so many teams in need of a quarterback, I’m worried he will be drafted too high and as a result forced into action sooner than he should be.
7. Aaron Murray, Georgia: It sounds difficult to have teams buzzing when rehabbing a torn ACL limits workouts, but Murray has managed to do it. As a four year starter at Georgia in a pro-style offense with the intangibles teams look for, Murray has a lot going for him as he is willing to stand in the pocket and is a solid decision maker.
The biggest knock on Murray has been his size, but it almost seems as if that may help him come draft day. The NFL is a copy cat league and with the latest Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson being on the shorter side, teams may look beyond height more than they used to. Murray’s draft selection will be interesting to watch as along with rehabbing the injury, he is more of a finished product than the majority of quarterbacks available in this class. When it’s all said and done, he could end up going somewhere in the second to third round.
8. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois: With Eastern Illinois being known for producing Tony Romo and Saints head coach Sean Peyton, it’s not surprising teams became excited about the emergence of Garoppolo. He has a very quick release, keeps his eyes down field at all times and teams will like the fact that he is a four year starter.
Due to coming from Eastern Illinois, he will face questions about the level of competition he played against and for playing in a spread offense. In what I saw of Garoppolo, his throws mainly consisted of screens and check downs with only a few intermediate throws sprinkled in. He could develop into a serviceable starter if drafted by a team that runs a West Coast offense based off shorter passes and accuracy.
9. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh: Less than a month before the draft, there may not be any quarterback who has seen his stock rise more than Savage. A former top high school prospect, Savage sat out two years due to transferring multiple times and it is easy to see what the NFL scouts like. He has very good size at 6’4 228, has experience in a pro-style offense along with the ability to make any throw.
The downside is that Savage doesn’t have the greatest awareness in the pocket and along with that, he can force throws while at times displaying poor footwork. Those are all habits that are very hard to break at the next level. However, Savage has plenty of positives going his way so a team will almost certainly take him maybe as early as the second round. Like many others in this class, he would be best off learning for a few year to develop and fix his flaws.
10. Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The phrase “shouldn’t have stayed in school” isn’t one heard very often but when it is, chances are it surrounds a quarterback prospect. As players such as Brian Brohm, Curtis Painter and Matt Barkley could attest to, the longer you play college football the more scrutinized your play will be. I’m convinced that if Boyd came out last year he would have been the first quarterback selection off the board as GM’s were looking for the next best thing to run the read option. Boyd has scrambling ability but also has the ability to stand in the pocket and make big throws. When it was all said and done, Boyd had successful senior year at Clemson, but his accuracy was very inconsistent at the Senior Bowl which will scare teams. I still think Boyd has enough positives that he is worth a shot as a developmental pick on the third day of the draft.
2014 class grade: B-