Written by Sal Conti
Now that College Football’s Bowl Season is complete, NFL Draft season has begun, and what better positional group of prospects to analyze first than the quarterbacks.
Several teams will be drafting a quarterback in May to compete for a starting job, while others might draft a signal caller to groom and develop for the next few years. Also, there are many anxious fans of QB-needy teams that I’m sure would love some early, in-depth analysis on this upcoming draft’s crop.
Whomever’s perspective you view doesn’t change the fact that it’s crucial to study up on which QBs are worth drafting and why.
So, without further ado, here are the top ten QB prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft as of now.
First Round Grades
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Mentally, Teddy is so ahead of the game that it’s silly. I love his poise in the pocket, his subtle movements that help him evade pressure. Rarely does he force passes. While he doesn’t boast the strongest arm, he throws with great timing and accuracy. Also, in my opinion, his leadership is unrivaled amongst other college quarterback prospects. There’s a lot to like.
On the con side, Teddy doesn’t have the best ball placement on his deep throws, but that might be my only major critique. That is, the only one that Bridgewater can improve on. Scouts aren’t in love with his barely 6-foot tall, 190 pound frame, and neither am I. In the NFL, quarterbacks need to have a figure that will be prepared to take a beating from freakish defensive lineman and linebackers, and Teddy simply lacks that type of build or height.
But, what does stand tall in face of Teddy’s shortcomings are his gaudy numbers. This past season, he had a passer rating of 171 to go with 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. This impresses me, considering he never got the opportunity to play with talent around him like some of his fellow QB prospects have (Johnny Manziel, McCarron). Teddy brings the best out of his fellow receivers and running backs, and that’s a quality that every NFL GM looks for in their quarterback of the future.
Projection: Round 1
Best Fit: Houston, Jacksonville
Blake Bortles, UCF
Blake’s size presents no red flags unlike Mr. Bridgewater. In fact, Blake Bortles’ size is a big-time plus. He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs around 230 pounds, and, while he is primarily a pocket passer, can eat up yardage with his legs when given a running lane. Think Andrew Luck-type mobility, or Alex Smith.
Bortles has the above average arm strength that’s needed to throw any one of the NFL’s inventory of different passes. I like his calmness in the pocket in the face of pressure. In UCF’s bout against South Carolina, Bortles was pressure by the ever-so-intimidating Jadeveon Clowney on multiple occasions, never once showing panic. All he would do to fend off USC’s bullish-pass rusher was step up into the pocket or out of his way, effortlessly.
While Blake’s mechanics are normally good, he has shown some inconsistencies. More times than I’d like has the UCF product thrown a pass off of his back foot. This usually saps away the zip on his quick passes and hinders the ball placement on his deep throws.
But, when it’s all said and done, what does an NFL GM want in its’ signal caller of the future? A winner, and a performer in the clutch; that’s what Bortles is for sure. Ask Penn State, Louisville, or Baylor.
Projection: Round 1
Best Fit: Houston, Minnesota
Second Round Grades
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel certainly doesn’t lack popularity; this isn’t the first time someone’s done an evaluation on him. Although his stature has been criticized by some, Johnny is about the same size as Russell Wilson, who‘s made himself quite a brand name with the Seattle Seahawks.
What really stood out to me about Manziel during his two year stint with the Aggies was his ability to make plays happen, plain and simple. We all remember his famous ‘Chuck and Duck’ throw that was, somehow, converted against Alabama, his 19 yard flick to Josh Labhart for a touchdown that included him jumping over an incoming Duke defensive lineman, and all of his other theatrical moments. His ball placement is unbelievable, and doesn’t get any worse when throwing on the run, either. Statistically, he earned himself 4,873 total yards and 46 touchdowns. He’s a serious threat with his arm or legs.
The minor knock I have on Johnny Manziel is his arm strength. He sometimes opens his front shoulder very early in his motion, which removes a considerable amount of velocity from the ball. Also, like Blake Bortles, Manziel reveals his tendency to throw off of his back foot. These little things can be corrected.
I’m worried about how Johnny’s game could or could not translate to the NFL. Whichever team drafts him must let him, be him, plain and simple. Don’t turn him into a pocket passer, let him roam free and correct his mistakes on the job. If Manziel gets drafted to a team that’s smart about using him, he could achieve the level of hype that’s being thrown his way.
Projection: High 1st Round
Best Fit: Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland
Derek Carr, Fresno State
In Derek Carr, I see a player with the physical tools of a phenomenal prospect, with the great possibility to let a LOT of people down. That being said, any QB-needy team drafting in the top-10 will give David’s little brother a good look, as there is much to like about his game.
Carr has a lightning quick, 3/4 –type release that, along with the torque from the snapping of his wrist, gives a lot of zip to his throws. While naysayers critique Carr’s durability by pointing to the sports hernia he suffered in 2012, I, in turn, rave over his ability to play through the pain. Winning is the ultimate measuring stick of an NFL QB, but toughness is, without a doubt, a highly sought after trait as well. Derek Carr is tough.
Mechanically, Carr has some serious work to do. His feet are very bouncy and jittery in the pocket, whether he’s facing the blitz or in a clean pocket. This lack of sound footwork prevents Carr from properly shifting his weight into his throws, causing them to sail. On deep passes, this is an especially big problem, as any floating deep ball thrown towards an NFL safety will almost always be picked off.
Projection: Round 1
Best Fit: Cleveland, Tampa Bay
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
“Mett” is a towering college prospect, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing around 245 pounds. His arm is just as big as his stature; this kid can dart the ball 50-60 yards down field, moderately effortlessly at that. It certainly helped that he had what was probably the best 1-2 punch at wide receiver in the country, with Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham (who are both potential high round draft picks in May’s draft).
Just as I’ve tweeted before, I found Zach to be the most intriguing QB prospect to evaluate. There were moments when he looked like a runaway first round pick. Against Mississippi State, Mett made several, well-timed throws that came with some heat. He placed the ball so his outside receivers could win jumps on back shoulder passes and led them inside on inside routes to maximize their YAC.
Physically, Mett has it all. Where his game lacks is all between his ears. While he showed improvement in Cam Cameron’s system at LSU from 2012 to 2013, I still noticed on tape that he stares down his main read quite often. He also throws up a lot of 50-50 balls deep, down field, in tight single or even double coverage. Another weakness of Mett is that he’s extremely slow, and is typically oblivious to pressure, which leads to easy sacks.
As if this all wasn’t conflicting enough, Mettenberger tore the ACL in his left knee on December 3rd, about a month ago. Although we don’t know his exact timetable of recovery, ACL injuries are hard to recover from. I wouldn’t expect him to return completely for at least 8-10 months. Mett will not be a factor in the 2014 NFL Season. But, if a team were to draft Zach Mettenberger in the 3rd-4th round to let him heal and develop for a couple seasons (Lattimore Style), he could prove to be a major steal.
Projected Round: Early 4th
Best Fit: Lions, Saints, Bengals
Third Round Grades
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Jimmy Garoppolo has gone under the radar for FAR too long.
Let’s address the obvious concern with Jimmy’s prospects, first. As soon as you read which college he attended, the question that instantly popped in your head was, “Eastern Illinois? He put a kid from EASTERN ILLINOIS…over A.J. McCarron? Tajh Boyd?” After all, EIU isn’t even a bowl-subdivion squad; they play in the FCS. Despite the lack of competition, Jimmy is still a good college QB prospect. I don’t do handouts, folks.
I love how the ball zips out of his hand, similar to Derek Carr. This velocity paired with excellent timing and ability to lead receivers on crossing routes makes for a dangerous passer over the middle of the field, and that’s what Jimmy Garoppolo is.
What Garoppolo needs to improve on the most is his decision making. His gunslinger mentality makes for some fantastic throws, but those translate into mistakes more often than not in the NFL. I believe his overall accuracy will increase after he becomes a more conservative passer. Also, his consistency throwing out routes and back shoulder throws will increase with game reps. This kid is raw, but he shows much promise for a small schooler. Don’t forget the name.
Projection: Mid-3rd Round
Best Fit: Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis
A.J. McCarron, Alabama
McCarron is, without a doubt, the most decorated quarterback in the University of Alabama’s ever-so-praised football history. During his 3-year span as the Crimson Tide’s main man, he averaged 2,876 pass yards, 25 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions per season. His TD:INT ratio is a rare case of a college QB’s stats making a direct correlation to a trait in his game. A.J does a decent job of making sure he doesn’t turn over the ball. More than his ability to throw touchdowns and win games, though, are his ability to lead and get better as a player. He’s a hard worker and a motivator on and off the field.
McCarron has good accuracy up until 20 yards downfield. However, any further pass that than has a much lesser chance of being converted. He tends to act too jittery in the pocket, which upsets the balance in his feet. A.J. loses mostly all of his zip on throws due to not being able to drive off of his back foot, as well as having a long, sluggish release. Throwing a 35-yard post with tons of air underneath it might pass if you’re throwing to an Alabama receiver against a Georgia Southern cornerback. That type of throw simply won’t fly in the big leagues; any good safety would deflect or intercept it.
Game Manager. That’s the label A.J. McCarron has been given, and that’s what his ceiling is as an NFL QB. Think Matt Schaub.
Projection: Late 2nd Round
Best Fit: New England, San Diego
Fourth Round Grades
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Tajh would be an attractive option for any team wanting a backup quarterback that can run well. At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds and a 4.64 40 yard dash time, according to CBS Sports, Boyd is very athletic and quite the load in the open field. He’s also a patient runner; you won’t see him sprint right at the hole without him surveying the defense, first.
Tajh is another quarterback that has a quick release, and, in turn, creates a lot of RPMs (rotations per minute) on the ball. He can drive passes into tight windows well on the seams.
I see a lot of flaws in how Boyd reads defenses. There’s a difference between being a gunslinger and making too many risky decisions, and Tajh belongs in the latter category. More times than I’d like has he tried to fit balls into too tight of coverage. Any quarterback with that tendency combined with good, not great, arm strength AND mediocre ball placement is destined to throw many interceptions.
Boyd also has shown tendency to tuck the ball and run too quickly after his main read or two have been covered. Dabo Sweeney’s offense at Clemson was very vanilla, much too simple compared to the play calls and reads Tajh will have to learn at the next level. His learning curve is huge, and I see his college production as being very gimmicky.
Projection: Early 3rd Round
Best Fit: Seattle, Arizona
Brett Smith, Wyoming
Like Jimmy Garoppolo, Brett Smith is a name to remember come May, albeit he comes from a school that plays lighter competition than some of the other names on this list.
A good prospect comparison to Brett is former Nevada QB, and current San Francisco 49ers’ star player, Colin Kaepernick. Colin had a stronger arm when he was a prospect himself, but both he and Smith play through the same mold. Brett had 573 rushing yards in 12 games, including 4 contests in which he ran for over 90 yards. Against Hawaii, Smith had a QBR of 94.8, he completed 29 of 48 passes for 498 yards to go with SEVEN touchdowns, as well as 142 rush yards and a rush touchdown. I understand, it’s Hawaii we’re talking about, but those numbers are very strong.
My favorite element of Smith is his ability to keep cool and evade pressure in the pocket. It’s similar to Johnny Manziel, but on a lesser stage. Against Nebraska in Wyoming’s first game, Brett showed poise by shuffling in and out to avoid defenders, and, while keeping his eyes downfield, making accurate throws. Even on the run, Smith squares off his shoulders and delivers a clean ball, with even better placement than when he sits in the pocket to throw.
If Brett Smith played college football five or ten years ago, he probably would not generate the sleeper buzz in the draft community that he is in 2014. Why is this? It’s quite simple: Brett Smith is a good, but very raw, pocket passer, with the ability to make defenders miss tackles inside the pocket and in the open field. Thanks to the league demanding QBs to be more mobile, Smith draws my interest on this list.
Projection: Late 3rd Round
Best Fit: San Francisco, Minnesota, Philadelphia
Fifth Round Grades
David Fales, San Jose State
Rounding out my list is David Fales. He drew a surprisingly large amount of buzz very early on in the draft process, thanks to his ability to keep his eyes downfield in any situation, as well as making sound reads.
Calm as Fales may be, there’s not as much ‘pop’ in his arm to speak for. Yes, he can make throws on the run, accurate ones at that. That doesn’t change the fact that any weakly thrown ball that’s in the air longer than 20 yards will almost always be intercepted in the NFL.
Fales might be the most patient pocket passer on this list, which is a very nice trait to have as a young, developmental quarterback in the NFL. But, while patience is key in order to succeed as an NFL quarterback, too much patience can ruin a play instantly. I saw on tape that Fales tends to shy away from taking chances downfield, and would rather wait longer for an underneath route to get back open. This sometimes resulted in a sack. Even if the play would’ve resulted in an interception, I would’ve liked to see Fales just ‘let it rip’ more often and play more like a gunslinger.
For me, David Fales just doesn’t pass the eye test. At best, he could be a premiere backup in the league.