There is no more important position on the football field than the quarterback position. Last year's draft class was subpar, with only one player landing in the first round. While this year's class is ruled by underclassmen, there are a number of prospects who could hear their name called on the first day of the draft.
Louisville Junior Teddy Bridgewater is the headliner. Despite being a true junior, Bridgewater has a ton of experience, taking over as starter part way through his freshman year. Bridgewater shows poise and maturity on the field beyond his age, and that's what puts him near the top of the list this year. He has plenty of arm to make all the throws, and can even change his arm angle and deliver a strike with plenty of velocity. He's also a very good athlete, with tremendous pocket mobility and pocket presence. He can easily avoid the rush, and throws well on the move once outside of the pocket. He is a good enough athlete to make plays with his feet, but he is a pass first QB all the way. Size is the only question mark with Bridgewater, but even that is nitpicking. He'll need to pack on some weight to his frame but come draft day, he'll likely have a frame resembling Robert Griffin III, which hasn't prevented him from being a high pick and playmaker in the NFL. Bridgewater is all but assured of landing within the top five, and is the discussion for the first overall selection.
From a talent perspective, there isn't any better than UCLA's Brett Hundley. He is just a redshirt sophomore, but is such a talent that he can impact the game despite being raw. He has the pocket passer size and arm, but has the athleticism, quickness, and speed to play a number of positions on the field. Hundley has a very good arm, showing the ability to make plays vertically and to fit the ball into tight windows. He is an accurate passer, but definitely needs to work on his touch. He needs to learn to put a little more air under his throws at times, but that should come with time. Hundley's ability to make plays with his feet at his size is what makes him special. He is quick, elusive and has the speed to turn the corner and run away from defenders. His strength makes him a load to bring down. The ability is there to be a superstar and franchise caliber player, but Hundley will need time to refine his skills. He is raw as a QB, makes simple reads, needs to improve his touch, and looks to run a bit too much. But he's shown skills very few players have, and should he continue to improve, could be the best QB out of this draft. With Oregon's Marcus Mariota announcing his decision to return to school, Hundley could be as high as the second QB selected, which could put him in the top half of the first round.
- Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
- Blake Bortles, Central Florida
- Johnny Manziel, Texas AM
- Derek Carr, Fresno St.
- Tajh Boyd, Clemson
- AJ McCarron, Alabama
- Zach Mettenberger, LSU
- Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
- Stephen Morris, Miami
- Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
There isn't a more talked about quarterback in college football than Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football has created quite a circus with his actions on and off the field. On the field, the first freshman to ever win the Heisman is as electric as anyone in the college game. He plays with a confidence that crosses the line into arrogance at times, although more often than not it results positively for A&M. He makes big play after big play with his feet and arm, and the talent level definitely carries over to the next level, although there are questions about his size and how he'll hold up in the NFL. The true questions about his potential and likelihood of reaching it stem from his decision making off the field and some maturity questions that go along with it. Manziel has been caught partying and drinking despite being underraged, and has allegedly received illegal benefits. It puts a target on his back on the field, but he hasn't helped the cause by getting flagged for taunting opponents. He isn't making the best decisions, and once in the NFL, the dedication to your craft and your team has to be much stronger. On the field, he does take too many chances with his throws, and some of his big plays have come as a result. But they are plays that simply will not be made in the league, so he will need to learn to be a bit more disciplined and make better decisions in the NFL. He is a kid and just a redshirt sophomore, so there is time to mature, on and off the field, although it appears likely that he declares after this season. There is talent there, but character and size questions may push Manziel down the board a bit. He could definitely use more college seasoning, but Manziel feels he's ready for the challenge, and some team will likely take a gamble on him in the late first round.
Fresno State's Derek Carr is former #1 overall pick David Carr's, younger brother. And he plays a lot like it. Carr has decent size for a pocket passer, with an excellent arm. He shows decent mobility inside the pocket and can side step the rush to extend the play. The physical tools aren't a problem. Like his brother, and many quarterbacks, Carr has a tendency to get flustered under pressure. He panics, rushes himself, and which can lead to mistakes. His mechanics break down and his accuracy suffers, and he can make some questionable throws. Carr does show excellent accuracy and decision making on the short to intermediate routes, when he can has time to throw and can get the ball out quickly. The type of offense he lands in may dictate just how good he becomes, but Carr has the tools and mental make up to flourish in the NFL.
As Central Florida has risen to a BCS bowl game, so has their junior QB Blake Bortles, to a legitimate NFL prospect. Bortles wasn't on any lists at the beginning of the year as a potential early entry candidate, but he's squarely in the discussion now. He has an impressive blend of physical tools and toughness, even if no physical tool really jumps out at you. He has a sturdy frame at 6'3 230lbs, has a good enough arm to make every throw with ease, and is a surprisingly good athlete for a stronger QB. Bortles has impressed with his ability to stand in the pocket and take hits while delivering a strike. He has the pocket presence to feel the pressure and has the feet to elude the rush, and can even get out and make plays with his feet on occasion. His completion percentage is tremendous, but it is a bit misleading because of the amount of short throws he makes. He does do a good job putting the ball where it can be caught, but he can get a bit erratic on throws at times, especially as the distance gets longer. Bortles is a solid prospect that could benefit with another year and lock up a first round grade, but he could also choose to declare on a high because of the attention him and his team has received this year. The first round is a possibility based on how things shake out, but he would be an excellent day two selection for teams that pass on a QB in the first round.
Tajh Boyd of Clemson has drawn some Russell Wilson comparisons, although that's a bit of a stretch. It stems more from his playmaking ability and lack of size, but Boyd is not as refined as a passer. He is a legitimate two way threat, possession the passing and rushing skills to hurt defenses either way. Boyd displays a strong arm and get it anywhere he wants. He excels getting out of the pocket and throwing strikes on the run. His lack of height does pose some issues inside the pocket, as he has trouble seeing the entire field. His accuracy in the pocket is not as good as it is outside and on the move. His decisions are not as sharp either. He's more willing to force the ball into coverage from the pocket. Boyd's athleticism is top notch for a QB, and he's a threat to run the ball whether by design or as the play breaks down. He is a bit too willing to try and run at times, but he is a playmaker trying to make plays. Boyd could be one of the more underrated players in the draft on draft day. The depth at the position, his lack of height, and the need for refinement will push him down boards. But he is a gamer that can make big plays and wins games. A team willing to cater to his skills and that can improve his awareness in the pocket could have a steal come draft day.
AJ McCarron of Alabama is going to have a lot of varied opinions on his potential. He doesn't blow you away physically and has had a ton of help around him at Alabama, making his job easier. McCarron has good enough size for the position, but will need to bulk up and get stronger to handle the beating NFL QB's take. While he isn't going to throw the ball 75 yards in the air, he can make all the throws he will need to in the NFL. McCarron has shown excellent accuracy and efficiency through his career. He delivers strikes to his receivers whether on the move across the field, down the field, or on timing routes coming back to the play. But, how much of that is aided by the protection he receives up front? DJ Fluker and Chance Warmack were first rounders last year, Barrett Jones was an All American and Outland Trophy winner, and Cyrus Kouandjio is a protected first rounder this year. McCarron has had time to sit in the pocket with time to let plays develop. It's a valid question, but that may be an overrated factor in determining McCarron's value. He's not going to win games on his ability to dissect defenses through the air, but he is a passer that will make smart decisions, get the ball where it needs to be, and help his team win games. That counts for something, and gives him a chance to be a successful starter in the NFL.
Miami's Stephen Morris is a rare breed among top QB prospects this year: He's a pocket passer with experience in a pro style attack. While some teams have taken advantage of athletic QB's and changed their offensive system to incorporate that ability, most teams still feature drop back passers, so Morris will be attractive to many teams in April. It isn't just the experience in a pro style offense, it's that he has displayed the skills to continue his success at the NFL level as well. Morris has an excellent arm, releasing the ball with ease on every throw he makes. At times, he has shown tremendous accuracy, hitting his receivers in stride and perfectly placing the ball between defenders. There is some concern though, that he hasn't developed as much as expected. He still has some moments where he doesn't put enough touch on the ball and many more times where he relies on his arm strength too much. He'll force the ball into coverage, which could lead to turnovers in the NFL. Morris is also a solid athlete, showing the ability to elude defenders in the pocket, and while not a big play threat with his feet, can get outside the pocket and pick up positive yardage. Morris isn't a sure fire NFL standout, but he shows the skills to develop. The arm, experience under center, and the ability to get the ball where it needs to go will translate to the next level and he could be a late second, early third day steal for some team willing to put in the work to develop his skills.
Zach Mettenberger of LSU had a tremendous senior season before going down with an ACL injury, ending his collegiate career a few games early. While the lost games may not hinder his draft stock, the inability to perform in the workout portion of the draft could. There may not be a bigger “beauty in the eye of the beholder” type of prospect than Mettenberger, who's reviews are all over the map. To some, he's a Drew Bledsoe type that can sling the ball all over the field and put a lot of points up on the board. To others, he's a statue in the pocket that will not thrive in today's NFL. Mettenberger has tremendous size and a great arm. He is the prototype as a pocket passer. He displayed a lot of growth as a senior, making better decisions with the football and becoming much more accurate with his throws. He definitely is a sitting duck in the pocket though, as his lack of mobility does limit his ability to make plays at times. The ACL injury is not going to help this aspect. There is a lot of bad film with Mettenberger, even this year, with erratic accuracy and poor decisions. He had a 22-8 TD-INT ratio this year, but even that is misleading. It was 12-2 in out of conference action, 10-6 in the SEC. The injury has brought any momentum he had to a halt, and he won't be able to show off improved mechanics and footwork in workouts. Mettenberger could use the interview process to possibly impress, but that's a doubly importance aspect now. He must ace interviews to show his football intelligence, but there are also some off the field concerns from early in his college career. Some team will take a chance on Mettenberger on day three because there is little risk that late, but he won't approach the possible day one status some have projected him as.
Aaron Murray of Georgia flirted with the idea of leaving for last years draft but decided to return to school and finish out his career. Murray is a gifted passer. He displays a very good arm from the pocket, and is also a very good passer on the move. He is a good athlete that is comfortable out of the pocket, and is able to keep his head up and find receivers down the field. The glaring knock on Murray is his size. He is short and a bit light for a pocket passer in the NFL. It raises durability questions, but also raises questions about his ability to see the field and get the ball off. He has had a number of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, which is a direct result of his lack of height. He also has had a tendency to force a lot of throws, although that may have more to do with competitiveness and decision making than it does his size. There are positives with Murray's game, but some obvious questions as well. Murray's career came to a premature end near the end of November, as he tore his ACL. The injury will cause him to miss all star games and workouts, which were vital to his draft prospects. Never write off a player on size alone, and Murray has the arm and skills to make up for it. The injury has cast some more doubt about his future, but he will get a chance to stick in the league. Someone will likely select him later in the draft, and could stash him on the physically unable to perform list to begin his NFL career.
Other names to watch: David Fales(San Jose St), Keith Price(Washington), Jimmy Garoppolo(E. Illinois), Logan Thomas(Virginia Tech), Bryn Renner(North Carolina)
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