Like most drafts, the 2014 quarterback class had its share of ups and downs. Players such as Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr impressed and are projected by many to make big leaps in year two. Blake Bortles showed flashes of why the Jaguars took him at number three overall, but also signs that show why the team originally wanted to hold him out from action. This quarterback class is very top heavy and does not have nearly the depth of last years. While two players figure to be top selections and starting immediately, most of the other options are guys who will be development projects for at least the next year or so.
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State: Every draft seems to have a polarizing quarterback prospect, and this year it happens to be Winston. On the field, the physical tools and accolades are all there but some questionable decisions off the field (both reported and alleged) could scare some away. Judging him only as a football player, Winston would be my choice out of the quarterbacks in this class.
He has experience running a pro-style offense, can make any throw and has also showed an advanced ability to read the field for a young quarterback. While he didn’t test as well as some hoped at the combine, Winston can move around in the pocket eluding sacks with his size. If there were any possible negatives, it would be with some of his occasional decision making (on the field) and his longer delivery. More so this past season than 2013, there were instances where Winston would force throws rather than take what is given to him. Some of these could have been as a result of defenders baiting him due to the aforementioned release.
While it’s not quite as bad as someone like Byron Leftwich’s was, Winston does have a bit of a windup when throwing. The windup gave defenders recovery time when they knew where the ball was directed, allowing them to gamble for interceptions. Other quarterbacks with similar releases have also struggled with allowing strip sacks, so that is a development worth monitoring. Overall, the pros on the field outweigh the cons on Winston’s pro status. While he may not live up to the “highest graded quarterback since…” he keeps receiving, the tools are there to be a very good quarterback for years to come.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: For me, Mariota is one of the tougher quarterbacks to try and evaluate in recent memory. This is mainly due to how much is unknown about Mariota at this time coming from Oregon’s unique spread offense. Chances are if Mariota is asked to start day one in a pro-style offense under center it won’t end well. But, if groomed to learn the nuances of the system and NFL level, the tools are there to succeed.
What we do know is that not many quarterback prospects have possessed the straight line speed that Mariota has. With the ability to throw on the move, that speed becomes even more valuable as it makes defenses have to be on their toes when he’s out of the pocket. Mariota is also a very good decision maker rarely forcing throws and taking what’s given to him. While he might not have the strongest arm, there are plenty of times where Mariota stepped into his throw to drive it to his receivers.
The negatives regarding Mariota are mainly things that nobody is sure if he can or has had to them. How much did he have to read defenses? What will he look like in an offense that doesn’t create so many open receivers through busted coverage? Due to the minimal reads, pocket presence is something Mariota should also address in the pros. Yes, the speed is there to elude sacks but frequently going outside of the pocket also adds risk of injury. Despite that, quarterbacks like Russell Wilson have showed that athleticism like Mariota’s can be extremely dangerous if they keep their eyes down field.
This year, Mariota follows in Teddy Bridgewater’s footsteps of being nitpicked leading up to the draft. If you’re going to pass on a player solely because they lead by example rather than vocally, you could be in for a big mistake. Mariota has the raw skills, smarts and work ethic to succeed at the next level. It’s all just going to come down to who picks him and how he’s utilized.
3. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State: This time last year, Grayson wasn’t discussed much if at all for quarterbacks that would eligible for the 2015 draft. However, a great 2014 in a pro-style system changed that. It has been made known that Grayson’s improvement the past few seasons has come from focusing on his mechanics. Despite not having the strongest arm, almost everything said about Grayson talks about his touch and accuracy on deep throws. The improved mechanics could have played a very big part in that.
At this stage, Grayson could still improve in terms of his decision making as he could sometimes focus too much on one option. Despite that, the size and other aspects are there to make Grayson a very good development option in what has turned out to be a weak quarterback class.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor: Petty has NFL attributes in his size and arm, but his conversion to the league from Baylor’s one read system will be what makes or breaks him. Petty is the first quarterback to enter the draft from this system since Robert Griffin III. As you know well by know, Griffin has struggled since his rookie year (while hampered by knee injury, the offense his rookie year also incorporated many Baylor-esque looks).
Petty has tools to work with, but would greatly benefit having a year or two to learn how to read defenses and go through progressions. With the right coaching and patience, he could turn out to be one of the top quarterbacks in this class.
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA: For those who are reading my draft coverage for the first time, the “Brian Brohm Award” was founded in 2008 for quarterbacks who hurt their draft stock by playing another year in college and not striking while the iron is hot. The winners in recent years include Curtis Painter (2009), Jevan Snead (2010), Matt Barkley (2013) and Tajh Boyd (2014). After an impressive junior season, Hundley seemed like the consensus third quarterback on the board if he were to come out in the 2014 draft.
While it is rarely a bad thing to stay in school, college quarterback prospects is one of the few cases where that might not apply. By playing an extra 12 or so games, that just gives scouts even more material to look at when evaluating a player. For Hundley up to this point, he has mainly just shown flashes of his potential. At 6’3” 226 pounds with speed, Hundley certainly looks the part and has the physical skills but pocket presence (or lack thereof at this point) is a huge factor.
Most of Hundley’s throws this past season were of the shorter variety. This is usually done with quarterbacks to prevent them from facing more defenders in the pocket. When facing pressure, Hundley seems to struggle anticipating it or going through all of his reads. This could be indicative of the 125 sacks he has taken the last three years. One team will fall for Hundley’s physical tools and if given the chance to develop, it will be interesting to see how he fairs being selected from anywhere as day two going into the early parts of day three.
6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State: As a four year starter also coming from a pro-style offense, Mannion is a rarity these days for draft prospects. Teams will not only like the 6’6” 229 pound frame, but also how he has fared throwing timing routes in a more professional looking system. Compared to most quarterbacks of his stature, Mannion doesn’t have the arm strength that you would figure he possesses. The lack of mobility in the pocket isn’t a great sign either. Despite that, Mannion has shown he can be an effective passer when he’s in a rhythm. Don’t be surprised if he emerges down the line as a game manager type in a west coast offense.
7. Blake Sims, Alabama: At 5’11” 218 pounds, Sims is built more like a running back than a quarterback. Well, that’s because he was one. After winning Alabama’s quarterback battle last offseason, Sims showed the ability to play in a pro-style offense and gave the Crimson Tide a running element at the position they haven’t had under Nick Saban. Sims showed the ability to sell play action (as so many Alabama quarterbacks have), and the ability to take the top off defense with his deep ball. His accuracy at times can be sporadic, but he is worth developing in a top heavy, but overall weak quarterback class.
8. Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion: Coming from a program that recently started up a football team, Heinicke has pretty much every school passing record you can think of. The school’s most talked about arm since Justin Verlander, Heinicke displays good poise in the pocket and moves around well within it. While he doesn’t have the biggest frame or arm strength, Heinicke makes up for it in accuracy and timing when given the chance to throw. Due to what he lacks and being from a smaller school, Heinicke may end up being a priority free agent signing. However, if he catches on with the right team and scheme, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stick as a backup.
9. Brandon Bridge, South Alabama: Bridge is the first winner of the new “Logan Thomas Award” Like its namesake from last year’s class, Bridge is an athletic, physically imposing prospect with all the arm strength you could want but has issues with accuracy. If a team is looking for a raw developmental project on day three, Bridge could very well be their guy.
10. Cody Fajardo, Nevada: It may be hard to believe, but Fajardo has been the quarterback of the Wolfpack since Colin Kaepernick was selected in the 2011 draft. Like the quarterback he followed, Fajardo has the ability to beat you with his arm and legs when outside the pocket. The ability is there to make accurate throws outside the pocket and to his credit, he started sliding more after runs this past season.
At 6’1” 223, some will question Fajardo’s size or ability to hold up as a running quarterback. A knock in terms of mechanics has been the ability to reset his feet when making throws after avoiding pressure. Because of this, accuracy can be an issue and the negatives were on display in the postseason All-Star games. Maybe others are thinking this or I’m completely insane (both possible), but some of the pros and cons sound similar to a polarizing prospect who was taken in the first round last year. Obviously it isn’t possible to do, but it would be interesting to see how Fajardo would be regarded if he had two tackles who were top ten selections and a freakish receiver (also a top ten pick) at his disposal. Fajardo, like others mentioned, would be best developed in a west coast style offense.
2015 Class Grade: C