The quarterbacks are always the marquee players in any NFL draft, and 2014 is no exception. But while a handful of signal-callers have been mentioned as potential top overall selections, each of them have just enough question marks to prevent them from being labeled “sure things”.
Here’s a quick pre-draft look at the top end of the 2014 quarterback class, with selected quotes from both the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide magazine and the 2014 FRG Draft Guide digital magazine, a production of FirstRoundGrade.com, a USA Today Sports Digital Property.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – 5-11, 205
An outstanding athlete with innate playmaking ability, both as a runner and a passer, Manziel comes off a record-setting, award-winning abbreviated stay at Texas A&M. In 26 collegiate games he threw for 7,920 yards and 63 touchdowns—and ran for an additional 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns. He’s a bit undersized as NFL quarterbacks go, and there are questions about how his scrambling, improvisational play will hold up in the NFL. Scouts are also concerned about the drama and potential off-the-field issues that Manziel has been a part of in the past. Ultimately, like with Robert Griffin III a pro team will need to embrace Johnny Football’s creativity and build their offense around it, rather than try to harness it.
NFL Comparisons: A gunslinger like Brett Favre, with the run/pass combo and “keeping a play alive” creativity of Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, or Fran Tarkenton.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Undeniable facts are that Johnny Football is a playmaker, winner, highly competitive and an exciting player.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “He has “it”, and while he doesn’t always make the right decisions off the field, he certainly has a competitive edge and drive that exudes “winner”.”
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville – 6-3, 196
Up until a sub-par pro day, Bridgewater was generally considered the most NFL-ready quarterback in this class. Despite an off day in shorts, Bridgewater’s film still shows a natural pocket passer with underrated athleticism, good accuracy and a quick release. He has good footwork, remains poised in the face of a pass rush, and will buy time in the pocket while continuing to look downfield—almost to a fault, as his lean frame raises concerns about his durability. Bridgewater makes good decisions and throws receivers open, with both touch and arm strength. If you want to nitpick Bridgewater’s accuracy wanes in the deep vertical game and his productivity—9,817 passing yards, 72 touchdowns—came against unimpressive competition, but his positives should still get him out of the green room early on Day One of the draft.
NFL comparisons: At the top end, Bridgewater resembles Aaron Rodgers in his ability to move in the pocket and threaten defenses with underrated rushing ability while still delivering an accurate pass. Other scouts compared Bridgewater’s skill set to that of Sam Bradford or Alex Smith, which is still solid but not quite as optimistic.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “A good package of tangible and intangible assets.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “All signs point toward him becoming the leader of an offense who has the ability to reverse the fortunes of a down franchise picking early in the Draft.”
Blake Bortles, Central Florida – 6-4, 230
Physically, Bortles is the kind of quarterback NFL general managers assemble in their dreams. He has the size and the arm, with quick feet and enough athleticism to move around in the pocket and make throws on the run. His mechanics are sound, and he possesses both the zip and accuracy to squeeze throws into tight coverage windows. Most scouts view Bortles as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in this draft class, but he is still refining mechanics and picking up the nuances of his position. Bortles also played in a college offense that didn’t ask him to read through complicated progressions, so he’s far from a finished product.
NFL comparisons: Physically, Bortles resembles big-bodied NFL quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Andrew Luck. His skill set has also drawn comparisons to Roethlisberger and Luck, though less enticing names like Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker also get mentioned.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Prototypical dropback NFL quarterback.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “Will need a year or two of coaching before he’s ready to compete for a starting job in the NFL.”
Derek Carr, Fresno State – 6-2, 215
Carr’s gaudy numbers (12,731 yards, 113 passing touchdowns over the past three seasons) were no doubt inflated by Fresno State’s spread offense and lesser competition. Still, he sports NFL arm strength and the same physical attributes that made his brother David the first overall pick in the 2002 draft. A quality arm, zip and accuracy in the short game and what some scouts consider the best long ball in this quarterback class make Carr an enticing package. However, there are plenty of questions about his ability to remain accurate in the face of pressure. Additionally, despite his strong arm most of his throws in college were horizontal rather than vertical. If he develops there’s plenty of upside, but there’s also the risk of him suffering the same fate as his brother—essentially having the potential beaten out of him playing behind a porous offensive line.
NFL comparisons: Carr’s upside has drawn several comparisons to Matthew Stafford; other scouts see a risk/reward quarterback like Jay Cutler or Tony Romo. And of course, there’s the similarities to his brother, who never threw more than 16 touchdowns in an NFL season and only once topped 2,800 yards.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “One of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in this draft and should make quick adjustments to the next level.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “He’s one of those guys that have a high ceiling, but also a low floor.”
Zach Mettenberger, LSU – 6-5, 230
Mettenberger is playing catchup with this draft class due in no small part to a torn ACL that prematurely ended his final season at LSU. His mobility was already considered suspect, as the phrase “heavy-footed” appears in just about every scouting report on Mettenberger. The upside is a tall, physical pocket passer with an NFL arm who drives the ball downfield and has experience in an NFL-style offense—specifically under former NFL coach Cam Cameron. Depending on if you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person, Mettenberger either stands tall in the pocket and scans the field in the face of pressure… or he’s immobile and can’t feel the pass rush. He’s reportedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from the ACL injury, something prospective NFL teams can check up on while also investigating how much he’s matured from his 2010 arrest.
NFL comparisons: You’d field a pretty slow relay team with the list of pocket passers Mettenberger has been compared to. On the upside there’s Drew Bledsoe and Carson Palmer; in the middle, Kerry Collins and Matt Schaub. And the low end includes Kyle Orton and Dan Orlovsky, which certainly can’t excite Mettenberger’s potential fan bases.
From the USA Today Sports NFL Draft Guide: “Has talent to be a future NFL starter with arm strength to stretch a secondary.”
From the 2014 FRG Draft Guide: “A big-armed developmental quarterback that could find his way into a starting job after sitting behind an established veteran for a few seasons.”
Other quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class to keep an eye on: A.J. McCarron, Alabama; Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois; Aaron Murray, Georgia; David Fales, San Jose State; Brett Smith, Wyoming; Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Stephen Morris, Miami; Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Keith Wenning, Ball State.
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